I’ve never watched Pan’s Labyrinth. I remember borrowing the DVD from the library about a decade ago, but Chris vetoed it about 10 minutes in because it was subtitled and our tv was small. While I always intended to go back to it one day, I just never got around to it. That’s going to have to change, because I absolutely loved this novelization of the story. I feel like “novelization” is almost an insult, actually. Because, while I’ve never seen the movie, I know that the care with which this book was written and illustrated demands more respect that such nomenclature usually provides. Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun, is gorgeous in the same way poisonous mushrooms are: lush, inviting, but deadly.
“In our choices lie our fate.”
Pan’s Labyrinth is the story of Ofelia, a girl in 1940s Spain whose widowed young mother has remarried a hateful military man. Ofelia’s mother is pregnant, and the two of them are called to come live in the rundown mill when Ofelia’s new stepfather is stationed, in the midst of a forbidding forest. At least, that is the story on the surface. Deeper within, this is the story of a lost princess, a hidden kingdom, a calculating Faun, and the wars waging within and between and for the hearts of the Spanish people. I love the fairy tale vibe, and I adored the little fables tucked within the central plot, and how those ended up being such a vital piece of the narrative.
“Sometimes the objects we hold dear give away who we are even more than the people we love.”
Ofelia is a lovely character, brave and reckless and loving and everything you would wish for in a daughter. Her mother is blinded by her muddled love for, and fear of, Vidal, the new stepfather Ofelia has dubbed the Wolf. She loves her daughter, but is always scared for her. She’s also scared for herself and for the unborn son wreaking havoc on her health. Mercedes, the secondary heroine of the novel, was wonderful, and I loved her affection for Ofelia. She also has plenty to fear, but does her best to live bravely, anyway.
“Evil seldom takes shape immediately. It is often little more than a whisper at first. A glance. A betrayal. But then it grows and takes root, still invisible, unnoticed. Only fairy tales give evil a proper shape. The big bad wolves, the evil kings, the demons, and devils . . .”
The more fantastical entities of the story, the Faun and the Fairies and the Pale Man, were fascinating. Even those portrayed as good, the Faun and the Fairies, had an underlying cruelty to them. But the Pale Man is one of the most disturbing characters I’ve ever come across. He’s one of those rare beings whose exteriors match their spirits. His wickedness is writ large in the eyes that would no longer stay in his head. Just thinking about him is creeping me out.
“Although we may wish for it, true magic is a scary thing.”
This novel felt pretty dark for a middle grade novel, until I remembered some of the darker children’s books I read when I was younger. Kids seem to be drawn to darkness. I’m not a psychologist, but I think this might be in part because it makes them feel safer in their reality, or lets them know they’re not alone in their struggles. I would say that this particular book is a bit more mature that most middle grade books, and parents or teachers might should offer a couple of content warnings to children before pressing it into their hands. The content might ride the line between middle grade and young adult but, in spite of the darkness, the tone and style of this book falls firmly in middle grade territory, in my opinion.
“Mortals don’t understand life is not a book you close only after you read the last page. There is no last page in the Book of Life, for the last one is always the first page of another story.”
The writing is lovely, and often philosophical in a way that would make any reader no matter their age pause to think, but without pulling them from the story in any way. I found myself thankful that I had bought the Kindle book years ago, so that I could annotate without marking up the lovely copy my aunt bought me for my birthday. There was just a ton of food for thought here, made even more impactful by the beautiful prose.
“Libraries don’t keep secrets; they reveal them.”
After having read the book, I know that I must watch the movie as soon as I can get my hands on it. Unfortunately I couldn’t find it streaming anywhere, or I would have watched it as soon as I finished the novel. But the DVD is on the way and, in the meantime, I’m going to continue ruminating on Ofelia’s story, her tragedy and her triumph. If the movie is anywhere near as good as the book it inspired, I’m incredibly excited to watch it.
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