Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is a personal favourite of mine.The strange parallels and thematic tessellations which accumulate throughout the film elegantly express the way that folktales haunt the worlds from which they spring. But how to make this rich texture yield to the page? Cornelia Funke, author of the Inkheart series, was apprehensive for this very reason when Del Toro approached her to author the novelisation. While the bulk of the narrative remains unchanged, Funke’s retelling captures both the childlike wonder and wartime terror which the film so skillfully blends. Funke’s writing softens some of the more frightening and gruesome moments, making it a bit more palatable for those who found the violence of the film a little overwhelming. Those familiar with the story will relish the vignettes detailing some of the concealed histories and myths which structure the original—from the opening paragraphs on Falangist Spain to the provenance of the Pale Man.
In the midst of the Spanish Civil War, Ofélia and her pregnant mother, Carmen, travel to the countryside where the ruthless Captain Vidal—Ofelia’s new stepfather—is engaged in a guerilla war with Republican rebels. Ofélia is drawn to a labyrinth which lies at the edge of the forest, and which is home to a mischievous faun. There she learns that she is the long-lost Princess Moanna, daughter of the king of the underworld, and that in order to reclaim her birthright (and her memories) she must complete a series of tasks to prove that she has not become changed by her time in the human world. As the conflict intensifies and the tasks become increasingly difficult, the worlds of the fairytale and the war blend together, giving the reader pause to reflect on how the stories we tell about nations, the unknown, the other, and ourselves can have disturbing, beautiful, and bittersweet consequences.