The heroine’s journey sees the adolescent girl receiving a mirror, seeing stone, or tool of knowledge and perception (like a book, magic spectacles, or a golden compass) rather than a hero’s sword. She quests, not to topple the tyrant and rule his kingdom, but to rescue a lost sibling, parent, or lover. However, her quest is no less valiant for its lack of weapons as the heroine often struggles through the darkness, helpless and alone, battling her deepest terrors to save those she loves. And she does it swordless.
Armed with only a seeing stone and her own wits, Coraline has plenty of horror to face, most particularly in the sickly-sweet Other Mother who wants to remake Coraline into a dark, frightening self. If Coraline agrees, the Other Mother will one day devour her and leave nothing but a ghost floating pathetically behind the mirrors of her home. This reflects the archetypal struggle for independence, as girls long to leave home and grow up, but the fairytale dark mother clings too tight, begging her to stay home and be a child forever, let her mother dress her and take over all aspects of her personality. Girls everywhere must learn to avoid the temptations of ice cream and dancing toys, to outwit the mother and become adults.
In the pattern of heroine quests everywhere, Coraline defeats the Other Mother with a hollow stone and a riddle game, and then conquers her disembodied hand with a doll’s tea set. As she does so, she’s following the tradition of mythic heroines across the world, who use magic thread, charms, potions, and their own wits to recreate the world and save their most beloved.