Back in 2006, Guillermo del Toro released Pan’s Labyrinth and it took the world by storm through it’s fascinating and captivating story and its innovative use of make-up, CGI, and practical effects that brought various weird and wonderful creatures to life.
13 years later, del Toro’s vision has been adapted into a book. A joint collaboration between the director himself and the extraordinary author, Cornelia Funke who wrote the Inkheart series and the Reckless series.
The story follows Ofelia who has been sent to stay with her new stepfather, a ruthless Captain of the Spanish army. For him, the dark and eerie forest that Ofelia is drawn to serves only to hide the resistance fighters in the drawn-out civil war.
With Ofelia’s mother bedridden, carrying the Captain’s child, Ofelia is left unchecked and becomes enchanted by the mysterious aura surrounding the forest. Obsessed with fairy-tales, Ofelia is drawn deeper into the mythical world which turns out to be both kind and cruel, benign and deadly. To earn her place in the Labyrinth: the palace of the Faun, Ofelia must undertake multiple tasks to prove her worth.
I was lucky enough to receive this book prior to its release and I read it all in two sittings- is it obvious that I loved it?
The book is absolutely brilliant in so many ways, and I honestly could not put it down.
One of the best things about this book is how well it flows. Despite there being a few chapters that take place outside of the main narrative and focus primarily on the history of certain characters, they are all beautifully sewn together. Reading Pan’s Labyrinth is such a fluid experience. Once you start, finding a good place to stop is difficult because you instantly want to know more and you want to see where it goes next.
After re-watching the film, this book also allows other characters to flourish a bit more. Funke give characters that previously didn’t have a voice a moment to shine. As readers we’re given the opportunity to learn more about some of the characters- not only what they are thinking but also where they have been. As the villain of the film and book, learning more about Vidal was so intriguing. We also get to know the Fairies a bit more as well as Mercedes and even Ofelia’s father. Not only is this book a fantastic retelling of the film, but it is also a beautifully written expansion that dives into del Toro’s mythology in a way that the film couldn’t.
Both Funke and del Toro deliver an epic, haunting, and tragic tale that feels completely separate from the movie. Not only will fans enjoy it but also people who are new to the fearsome Underworld that del Toro created.
What separates Pan’s Labyrinth from other worlds is that this world comes with a cost, and despite desperately wanting Ofelia to escape from the harsh world that is her reality, the Labyrinth and the Faun highlight that not everyone has a happy ending. This lesson of a cost and the theme of rebellion which penetrates the book from start to finish are beautifully articulated through Funke’s words. There is almost a mirror image between the rebellion that Vidal is fighting and the rebellious nature of Ofelia, but what del Toro’s story really encapsulates is that rebelling isn’t always a good thing. There are consequences and it’s a hard lesson that Ofelia has to learn. Should she obey or rebel?
Pan’s Labyrinth is a harsh, poetic, and visually stunning book that is accompanied by some fantastic illustrations by Allen Williams. I urge you to pick this book up if you enjoyed the film and even if you haven’t seen it. If you love reading fantasy stories then this is the book for you, but be warned as this story is not for the faint hearted. The Underworld is both a cruel and kind world, but possibly kinder than the real world that surrounds Ofelia.
Pan’s Labyrinth is available to buy now on Amazon and at your local bookstore.
I also had the wonderful opportunity to talk to Cornelia Funke. We discussed the book, the thought process required to turn del Toro’s vision into words, and what being a fantasy author means. For Cornelia, fantasy is about providing an opportunity to let the imagination run wild and to broaden our perspectives. Yes there may be dragons and fauns running around but most fantasy novels are inspired by real problems that people and this world face. The fantastic allows people to have a wider view of the world. The story may take place in an entirely different realm but issues relating to our nature and the nature of the world always seep in. Pan’s Labyrinth, I believe, is the embodiment of this concept that Cornelia talked me through.
I will leave you with a message from Cornelia herself which resonated with me. Books should never be treated like medicine; you HAVE to read the book and if you don’t you won’t get better. Instead, books should be treated like chocolates. A treat, not a chore.
A massive thank you to Bloomsbury and to Cornelia for this wonderful opportunity and for a book I will treasure for a long long time.