In most fairy tales, there is a quest structure that the protagonist follows through. The typical quest structure is as followed: an ideal happiness, disruption of the ideal happiness, tasks to reinstate happiness, and finally the reinstating of happiness. The cycle is never broken. In Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, this quest structure is abandoned. Unlike the typical quest structure, the protagonist, Coraline, undergoes a coming of age quest in which the quest structure deviates from the typical structure. Coraline’s quest signifies her coming of age when she overcomes what Freud calls her “infantile complexes,” which then allows her to break the typical quest structure by abandoning her childhood and embracing her adulthood.
The typical quest structure that protagonist follows in the majority of fairy tales consists of distinct stages. The stages (the ideal happiness, disruption of the ideal happiness, tasks to reinstate happiness, and the reinstating of happiness) are cyclical. The quest narrative is always present in some form and the cycle is never broken. The typical quest structure allows the story to reach an absolute resolution to the threat of the happiness. The cycle allows for the return to the “original status” which is the ultimate goal for the protagonist. It allows for a victory without significant change and the return to the ideal happiness. In Coraline, it becomes apparent that Coraline’s quest structure does not follow the typical structure form the beginning based on the relationship between Coraline and her parents.
In Coraline, Neil Gaiman makes it clear that Coraline’s family is anything but the ideal, happy family. Gaiman states, “both of her [Coraline] parents worked, doing things on computers, which meant that they were home a lot of the time” (7). Coraline’s parents both work at home, yet the time spent on interactions between Coraline and her parents is greatly limit. The parents are more concerned about work and the house rather than spending time with Coraline. In response to Coraline’s pestering about what she is allowed to do, her mother replies, “I don’t really mind what you do…as long as you don’t make a mess” (6) while her father asks Coraline to “leave me alone to work” (7). Throughout the beginning of the story, Coraline is constantly pushed away and made second to work leaving Coraline alone. This hardly makes for the ideal happiness that the typical quest structure begins with. Coraline starts off with a less than perfect setting that the protagonist loathes. Coraline starts off wishing for something else other than her current family, which contradicts the typical quest where the goal is to return to the ideal happiness the protagonist possessed in the beginning.
The fact that Coraline starts off with a less than ideal happiness then leads to another deviation from the typical quest. In the typical quest, there is a disruption to the happiness that leads to distress and sets the quest arc in motion. In...