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  • Imaging Fear:Inside the Worlds of Neil Gaiman (An Anti-Oedipal Reading)
  • Christine Wilkie-Stibbs (bio)

There is nowhere anything lasting, neither outside me, nor within me, but only incessant change. I nowhere know of any being, not even my own. There is no being. I myself know nothing and am nothing. There are only images: they are the only things which exist, and they know of themselves in the manner of images . . . I myself am one of those images; indeed, I am not even this but only a confused image of images."

(Dews 31, qtd. in Worthington 163)

My focus is on Gaiman's Coraline (2002), and two of his picture books, The Wolves in the Walls (2003) and MirrorMask (2005). The fictional worlds in all three stories are identified as narrative pluralities that unfold in dream-spaces and belie the fact that the "primary" narratives, constructed as "real world" are, in fact, as ephemeral, decentered, and unstable as those other scenarios that are presented as surreal and "other-worldly."1 In these spaces and places, characters are inscribed as a series of reflected and refracted images of selves projecting and working through primal fears in familial, fantasy settings—as in Freud's "the primal scene" ("Wolf Man" 259-80) played out through "the dream-work." I draw upon such other theoretical material as Bachelard's The Poetics of Space (1958) and Vidler's The Architectural Uncanny (1994), and argue that, despite a flamboyant display of narrative pluralism, hyperbolic wordplay, and the decentering and fragmentation of characters and space—all of which is aided and abetted by Dave McKean's zany artwork—the anticipation that the poststructuralist, post-Freudian-aware Gaiman might mount a challenge to the "imperialism of Oedipus," as described by Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus (2011), is thwarted because, I argue, Gaiman returns his narratives to an unreconstituted and conservative Symbolic Order status quo embedded in Oedipus and the patriarchal family nexus. [End Page 37]

This trio of Gaiman's children's works has garnered a good deal of critical attention within the field. It comes as no surprise, therefore, to find that some of this criticism has dabbled in a similar psychoanalytical pool2 because it would seem that these particular fictions appeal to, and arguably invite, these kinds of psychoanalytical analyses. In my reading of these narratives, Gaiman's fictional worlds comprise a hyperreality of reflected and refracted images and spaces that deny readers a stable point of entry and engagement. For example, in Coraline, the lonely, bored, and ignored young girl protagonist, Coraline, negotiates numerous spaces and identities in her quest for parental attention and affection. However, her movement between the parental house and its negative mirror image in the house of the other parents does not mark out either sets of parents or houses, or indeed Coraline, as the anchoring point of narrative engagement because all the narrative locations she inhabits are unquestionably as grotesque and unstable as the other. And Coraline's existential status is thrown into question when she wonders if, in fact, "she was even there at all (was there an other Coraline?)" (Coraline 81, 83). In Wolves, the child character, Lucy, is troubled by the "clawing and gnawing, nibbling and squabbling" (n.p.) of what she is convinced are wolves in the walls of her family house. Her family attempts to rationalize her fears by surmising that it may be, "mice," or "rats," or "bats," in the walls (and, by default, cast Lucy in the role of hysterical female with "an overactive imagination" [n.p.]). But their efforts are undermined when the wolves materialize in the family drama and take up their raucous residence inside the house as the uninvited guests in which event the whole family then becomes implicated. The blurry edges of Lucy's waking and dreaming as she moves through her fears about the presence of wolves in the walls, the ever-shifting viewpoints, and the permeable surfaces of the house, discomfort any drive for narrative stability. The family's desperate retreat from the house to the garden after the wolves have come out of the walls, and their eventual occupation of the space...


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pp. 37-53
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