Book Title: Pan’s Labyrinth
Book Author: Guillermo Del Toro & Cornelia Funke
What is the book about in your own words?
This novelization of Guillermo del Toro’s immensely popular film of the same name is a wonderful example of how fantasy and reality can intertwine. A work of dark fantasy akin to the great Neil Gaiman’s bibliography, “Pan’s Labyrinth” tells two stories which could not be more different: one, a whimsical fairy tale of adventure and magic, the other, an unforgiving portrait of war, abuse, and depression. Ofelia, the protagonist of the story, discovers that she is the heir to an ancient throne, and is sent on a quest by a mysterious creature, dubbed the Faun, who claims she must complete three tasks in order to reclaim her place in the kingdom. Meanwhile, her pregnant mother and vile stepfather shelter in a military camp, as Spain’s violent civil war wages around them. Vidal, Ofelia’s stepfather, is often described as a Wolf, and for good reason. The man is sadistic, abusive, and prideful, filled with hatred for all but himself and his unborn child. The novel also follows Mercedes, Vidal’s maid, who is secretly an informant of the rebellious forces Vidal wishes to destroy. As these threads slowly begin to intertwine, Ofelia is forced to reckon with the cruelty of the world and faces the ultimate decision: to believe in the power of magic, or to lose herself to reality’s crushing darkness.
What is your opinion of the book?
I love Guillermo del Toro’s unique directing style on the silver screen, and it comes as no surprise that his creativity clearly marked this novel, from start to finish. This book has a tangible atmosphere, conveying tension and wonder in the same breath, while still preserving the novelty and simplicity of a child’s fairy tale. That is, of course, what surprised me the most; this is no children’s story. Vidal’s brutal violence and Ofelia’s overwhelmingly depressing situation contrast strikingly with the magical labyrinth beneath their feet. This is a wonderful little novelization of one of my favorite films, and a refreshing perspective on the fantasy genre as a whole.
Five trivia questions
- What did Ofelia’s father do for a living before his death?
- What does Ofelia pull from the belly of a giant toad?
- What does Ofelia steal from the Pale Man, causing him to awaken?
- Why does Mercedes help Pedro and the rest of the rebels, though it puts her in great danger?
- What does Vidal’s father leave to him, as a reminder of bravery?
Three Discussion Questions
- Is it important that we see Mercedes’ despair at the end of the story? How does it change the meaning of the “happy ending”?
- Why is the setting of a war-torn country important to the story? How would the story change with a different setting?
- What does Mercedes’ triumph over Vidal symbolize?
(Answers to trivia)
- He was a tailor (page 215)
- A golden key (page 78)
- A grape (page 128)
- Because Pedro is her brother (page 13)
- A broken pocket watch (page 24)