I picked up this short story collection on a whim when I was visiting my grandmother (how Red Riding Hood of me) and checked out the local bookstore. For a place whose English language section now stores nothing but bestsellers, naturally this new, creepy-looking book caught my eye. You can even get a taste online. The short story “His face all red” is on Emily Carroll’s home page, for free. I urge you to buy the book before you try the story because you’ll be wanting a lot more from where that came from.
Published by: Margaret K. McElderry, 2014
Hardcover: 208 pages
My rating: 8/10
First sentence: When I was little I used to read before I slept at night.
- Bluebeard (sort of)
- Red Riding Hood (sort of)
A fantastically dark and timeless graphic debut, for fans of Grimm Tales, The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and the works of Neil Gaiman
‘It came from the woods. Most strange things do.’
Five mysterious, spine-tingling stories follow journeys into (and out of?) the eerie abyss.
These chilling tales spring from the macabre imagination of acclaimed and award-winning comic creator Emily Carroll.
Come take a walk in the woods and see what awaits you there…
This was such a lucky buy. The cover stood out next to the mainstream paperbacks – the crass black, white, and red is the first eye catcher. When you open the book and leaf through it to see what the images are like, you’ll be stunned by the amazing and creative full color drawings that await you. I especially liked the two-page spreads with words flowing all over the pages, almost being part of the picture, the font type changing according to the story’s mood. The book was amazing even before I’d started reading it.
A few minutes later, I got home, the book in my bag, waiting eagerly to be devoured. I will admit that I read these short stories during the day and was very happy about the sun light and twittering birds outside. Reading this in darkness (well, comparative darkness… you’ll still need a lamp in order to see the pages) would have been more like watching a horror movie. And I know that my fridge always makes particularly strange noises after I’ve seen a horror movie. Even more so if I’m alone in the house. To say nothing of the cat, who seems to have a sixth sense for when I’m already on edge. Thanks to the sunlight, I was fine, the cat was oblivious, and the fridge made no more than the usual noise.
The tales in Through the Woods may not exactly be fairy tale retellings, although they are certainly fairytale-esque in nature. You can see glimpses of Bluebeard and Little Red Riding Hood in them, and if you look carefully, I’m sure many other fairy tales that feature woods would fit the bill. In tone, they are absolutely creepy, and I mean that in the best way possible. As graphic novels (or short stories) go, the author only has that much space to use for written words. The grunt of the work has to be done by the images. And Emily Carroll combines the two to create this magnificent, scary, yet somehow beautiful reading experience. When I finished the book, I wished there had been more stories. A good 400 or 500 pages more would have suited me fine.
It’s impossible to pick a favorite story because they each have elements that push all my fairy tale buttons. Terrible things happen to women and children (there’s a definition of fairy tales for you) and these stories don’t exactly end well. Some don’t even end at all. They leave you on the kind of cliffhanger I remember from the Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine. A big revelation right at the end, the rest is left to the reader’s imagination. We all know that our own imagination can create the most terrifying endings of them all. Emily Carroll does well in leaving a bit of work for her readers – it adds to the creep-factor. But like I said, it’s a really good kind of creepy. The kind that makes you want to go and tell your friends.
The blurb recommends this to fans of Neil Gaiman, and I see where that comparison comes from. There is a sense of the weird about Carroll’s monsters and a scariness that does remind me of some of Gaiman’s villains. I have had a middling relationship with his books but I can’t say anything bad about his villains. They are weird and cruel and creepy – they always evoke strong emotions, whether it’s repulsion or fear. And that’s similar to the feeling you get with this graphic short story collection. Add to that the fact that you can never be sure who the villains are or whether the monsters are evil or just misunderstood, and you’ve got a thrillride of black-white-and-red goodness ahead of you.
Reading Through the Woods is an immersive experience that is worth its price. It’s such a quick read that I’m sure I’ll revisit these stories in the not too distant future. It’s the perfect blend of horror and fairy tales – not that the two are exactly far apart – and if it does nothing else for you, it gets you in the perfect mood for more. Nothing is quite as it seems in Through the Woods and even the more genre-savvy readers will be surprised occasionally. What if Bluebeard had a good reason for killing his wives? What if wolves are the last thing you should worry about when entering the woods? Emily Carroll takes well-known tropes and spins them around to give you a creepy reading experience, filled with wonder and imagination. I can’t wait to read her next book!
RATING: 8/10 – Excellent
Other tales by Emily Carroll:
- The Prince & The Sea
A retelling of The Little Mermaid, with an added twist and lovely creepy images. Plus, the story is told in verse.
- The Hare’s Bride
This has an Alice in Wonderland feel to it but, again, turns what we know of the story up on its head. It’s a very short comic but I liked the clever protagonist and the creepy villain. There is no Disneyfication going on here…
- Anu-Anulan and Yir’s daughter
This reads like a tale out of mythology but is actually the result of a world-building project. I love the imagery! It’s not a horror story but instead a beautiful love story about a woman and a goddess.