I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful–a feary’s child,
Her hair was long her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.
-John Keats “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”
In honor of Mother’s Day, which I realize is not until next Monday, I’d like to make my first ever Main Character Monday post to be about The Other Mother from Neil Gaiman’s Coraline.
Why a villian? Well, as you will see in future posts: most of my favorite characters are villians. Not because I’m evil and not because I look up to them, but because in some ways I sympathize with their need to belong or sense of loss. And no, I do not plan on creating an alternate dimension to steal children; I am, after all, only 26 years old. I have time to make my own–thank you.
Sharper than a serpent’s tooth is a daughter’s ingratitude. Still, the proudest spirit can be broken, with love.
-The Other Mother
The Beldam, as the ghost children call her, creates dolls of children to spy on them. When things go wrong in the children’s lives, the Beldam, or Other Mother, corrects the issue. It’s all a trap though: all the Other Mother wants to do is sew buttons on their eyes and devour their souls.
In the movie adaptation, the Other Mother‘s true form is a giant creepy spider hybrid thing, in the book we never see what her true form might be. The Other Mother appears first in the form of Coraline’s mother (with buttons instead of eyes), but as the book progresses, the Other Mother grows taller, paler, and skinnier.
Now, we could see the Other Mother as a villian, an antagonist if you like. She steals children, she has super natural powers that she uses to abduct children and tantalize them with treats and their perfect world, she lives on the souls of children. Yep, evil. True facts are true.
Now ask yourself why. The Other Mother doesn’t masquerade as the Other Daughter. She portrays the mother figure archetype. She guides children, she pampers and takes care of children who are or feel neglected, and she even protests that she will die without Coraline. Although, I do believe that is because the Other Mother will starve to death without being able to eat Coraline’s soul. But back to the why. Why doesn’t the Other Mother portray herself as a daughter, or friend, or sister, or twin. A mother, traditionally, has to take care of children. Maybe the Other Mother survives on love and the souls of children who love her. The ghost children had sewn the buttons on their eyes because they wanted to stay in the other world. Maybe the ghost children, to some weird and altered extent, loved the Other Mother.
I swear it on my mother’s grave… I put her there myself. And when I found her trying to crawl out, I put her back.
-The Other Mother
The Other Mother admits to Coraline that she killed her own mother. The reader does not find out when this occurred but is left to assume it was long before Coraline’s tale began. The Other Mother might actually be a child who over came her predecessor (oooh, now there’s a theory).
Alright, I’m done trying to defend her now. She’s not the only woman in literature to lure her victims in with pretty things and the perfect world. In John Keats’ “La Belle Dame sans Merci,” The poem is about a knight who wanders a barren hillside. The knight meets a beautiful woman who brings him back to her residence, of sorts, by promising to love him. When they arrive she puts him to sleep. While the knight dreams, characters in his dream tell him he is under a spell, and when he wakes, La Belle Dame is gone.