Through the Woods
As a child, I remember being terrified when I first heard the story of Bluebeard (“Be bold, be bold…” still runs a shiver down my spine). It may have been the first time I ever heard a truly scary fairy tale—something that toed the line between a fairy story and gruesome horror. Not much later, I was introduced to the original Grimms’ Fairy Tales, which, as lovers of fairy tales and myths we all discover, are absolutely nothing like the sanitized versions we know from Disney and the children’s section of most bookstores. Some prefer the gruesome ones; some prefer the nicer ones; some prefer a balance. Fairy tales, like most fictions, are totally subjective, but I definitely fell for the darker, bloodier stuff. “What do you mean, they cut her toes off to fit in that slipper?” More after the jump.
Emily Carroll’s wonderful new illustrated collection, Through the Woods, is the darker fairy tale’s descendent, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants, after putting it down, to have another look out the window. Comprising five stories, an introduction, and a truly chilling conclusion, Through the Woods promises to wonder, mystify, and terrify the crap right out of you. All of the tales echo fairy tale antecedents, but some of them have brilliant modern spins as they push forward through history: the first story, “Our Neighbor’s House”, falls somewhere in between a chilling ghost story, Hansel and Gretel, a Devil visitation story, and Little Red Riding Hood; “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold” follows it, and it’s a brilliant calque on Bluebeard; “His Face All Red” is something akin to the love-child of “The Monkey’s Paw” and “The Tell-Tale Heart”; “My Friend Janna” has characters from Downton Abbey (not actual characters) sandwiched into a Shirley Jackson story; and, lastly, “The Nesting Place”—just read this seriously creepy story to find out what that one’s about (not for the squeamish if you’ve got a thing about eyes, by the way).
This isn’t exactly new territory for many writers (cf. Neil Gaiman) or readers, but what makes this book so brilliant is its use of graphic storytelling rather than simple prose. Many of us remember the terrifying Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark and More Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark (I understand there’s a third, Scary Stories 3: More Tales To Chill Your Bones, which I never read), and part of what made those tales so bloody scary were the illustrations. Carroll’s illustrations are akin to a mix of Kate Beaton and Stephen Gammell (Beaton for style; Gammell for content). Simple, mostly two-dimensional, horrific, and outright disturbing. She also uses excellent palettes throughout the book that echo the story itself: “Our Neighbor’s House”, is heavy on browns, whites, and reds, which reflects the story’s setting in an isolated, snow-bound, frontier home perfectly; “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold” is rich in a primary palette that captures both its regency setting and the corpse that haunts it; “The Nesting Place” flaunts soft yellows contrasted with harsh black, deep browns, and jarring red. The colours play such a strong role, I’m not sure this book would have been nearly as scary or as effective in black-and-white, despite my comparison to Gammell.
Great, now I’ve got to go to sleep, and I’ve been flipping through this thing for the past little while. This is going to be fun…