Pan’s Labyrinth bears an unusual relation to the 2006 film of the same name. It is a film-to-book adaptation rather than vice versa. Best-selling author, Cornelia Funke, has written a novel inspired by Guillermo del Toro’s film.
A very dark fairy tale for adults, Pan’s Labyrinth follows the plight of young Ofelia after she and her mother move in with her heartless and violent new stepfather. Stationed in a secluded area in 1944 Spain, her stepfather has been charged with suppressing the insurgents who inhabit the surrounding dark woods and continue to fight against the repressive regime. Ofelia’s only protector is her mother, who views her new husband as their chance at salvation.
After Ofelia’s mother become bedridden in the later stages of a difficult pregnancy, Ofelia must fend for herself.
She often wanders into the forest, where she finds a magical being who offers her protection and a new life, in exchange for proving herself by completing three increasingly complex and dangerous missions.
The story is beautifully written but irredeemably dark. The magical storyline mirrors the realist along clear lines. The violence and torture is horrific and I was left feeling quite hopeless and devastated at the end.
I was considering watching the film after reading the book, but I’m not sure I want to subject myself to the nightmares I know I’d end up with from seeing the Pale Man rendered on screen. Reading about this mythical beast who eats children and whose eyes are embedded in his palms was terrifying enough!
I did love the references to books and stories as ways to cope with, and escape from, dark realities. Ofelia is a card-carrying bookworm, something her mother doesn’t understand at all:
Ofelia didn’t remind her mother that for her, there was nothing better than a book. Her mother wouldn’t understand. She didn’t make books her shelter or allow them to take her to another world. She could only see this world, and then, Ofelia thought, only sometimes. It was part of her mother’s sadness to be earthbound. Books could have told her so much about this world and about the places far away, about animals and plants, about the stars! They could be windows and doors, paper wings to help her fly away. Maybe her mother had just forgotten how to fly. Or maybe she’d never learned.
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Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of review. This post contains affiliate links.