Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun by Guillermo del Toro and Cornelia Funke is a young adult fantasy novel that tells the same story as the movie created and directed by del Toro that came out years before. At the time I saw the movie, I thought it was completely weird, captivating, but hadn’t really watched it since then. When I saw this book at the library, I couldn’t help myself and just had to read it. The book is about a young girl named Ofelia and begins with a myth about an underground realm where a princess, Moanna, lived. The princess was curious about the world above the underground realm and one day escaped her guards. Moanna came to the realm above, but the sun erased all of her memories so she didn’t remember who she was or where she came from. The myth states that she ended up wandering the earth cold and in pain until she died. Her father knew her spirit was immortal and that her spirit would appear again in another body, at another time and possibly in another place, so he waited.
Next the story takes us to Spain during a war – sounds like a revolutionary war. We meet young Ofelia whose father died only a few years ago. Ofelia was sad for a while after her father passed, but became happy again when it was just her and her mother. We quickly find out that Ofelia’s mother met someone – Capitán (Captain) Vidal – who she will marry and whom they are traveling to live with much to Ofelia’s dismay. Ofelia’s mother is pregnant with the Captain’s son and has had a complicated pregnancy. Ofelia doesn’t like the Captain and can tell that he doesn’t love her or her mother. The journey from where they lived to the Captain’s headquarters was long and only made things worse for Ofelia’s mother. When they reached their destination, the Captain is hardly welcoming to Ofelia and her mother and it becomes clear to readers (and some characters in the story) that Vidal is solely concerned with his son.
Not too long after arriving, Ofelia notices the entryway to a labyrinth and hears something scuttling about; she’s about to enter the labyrinth when one of the cooks notices and is able to stop her. The cook named Mercedes shows Ofelia and her mother to their room, where their bathroom is and asks if they need anything. Vidal’s headquarters is an old mill house with a long and complicated history. The story tells about a toad that used to live in the pond next to the mill, an old witch who used to help the miller who lived there many years ago and of a watchmaker who made such beautiful watches that he was commissioned to make a watch for a general. So many different events took place at the mill and now it was used to track and attempt to capture the rebel groups living in the woods around the mill.
Ofelia, with the help of a fairy, finally finds her way to the labyrinth and inside. She meets Pan, a faun, who explains that she’s a princess and that she has to complete three tasks in order to prove she’s Princess Moanna and to earn her way back to the underworld realm. Ofelia tries to explain that she’s not the princess, but somehow can’t help but accept the Faun’s challenge. The Faun gives Ofelia a magic book that gives her instructions on what she needs to do for each task, the Faun tells her what items she’ll need for the task and either gives her the item himself, or the fairies have it for her. There is one fairy that accompanies her on most of her tests, but sometimes there are more than one fairy to help Ofelia.
The tasks are not necessarily difficult to complete, but can be if the instructions in the book aren’t followed exactly as they should be. Ofelia easily completes the first task with the help of one of the fairies, but quickly finds out during the second test how difficult they can be if instructions are not followed. She almost fails her second test and angers the Faun who lost two fairies in the test due to Ofelia’s inability to do what the book instructs. Ofelia feels guilty for her actions, is ashamed and apologizes profusely to the fairy (who lost her sisters) and the Faun who lost his fairies. The final test is the hardest of all, but Ofelia is determined to complete them and redeem herself in the eyes of the Faun no matter the consequences. This becomes easier for her to do when her mother dies in childbirth leaving her alone with a stepfather that doesn’t love or care about her and a half brother who will never know his mother.
There are many characters in this story other than Ofelia and many things happening at once; some characters are Vidal, the doctor, Mercedes, Ofelia’s mother, baby brother, rebel fighters, Vidal’s soldiers, the Faun, fairies and many others. The story has many layers to it that are masterfully woven together in a captivating and suspenseful novel. This book is difficult to put down, I don’t normally like fantasy novels, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
I thought the illustrations were intricate and added to the novel; some of the illustrations brought back vague memories of the movie I watched when attending college. The ending caught me off guard a bit, but somehow it was beautiful and sad all at the same time. Reading the book made me want to watch the movie again to see if it is just as good. I would recommend this book to any young adult and adult who loves fantasy novels, a good suspenseful book or is interested in Guillermo del Toro’s works. Readers of this novel will not be disappointed. I checked this book out on a whim at my local library, but it’s worth a purchase. You can find the hardback copy at Barnes and Noble for $19.99 (or $17.99 for Members)!
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