I did not intend to review Through the Woods by Emily Carroll this month. Mostly because I kind of forgot it was coming out this month. But my friend let slip that they just put these on the shelves at Kidsbooks, and well, things escalated and … here we are!
As the back of the book says, it is a collection of five short stories. They are all horror, all coloured, and all in comic format. In other words, perfect for me. Hopefully, my post will help you decide if it is perfect for you too.
Now, I say “horror”, but Through the Woods is the kind of horror that a classic fairytale is. Each of the five stories have a definite fairytale-esque feel to them. The horror is sneaking and lurking and deceiving … until the moment it is not, until it is too late.
Even the Introduction from Carroll adds to the tension leading into the first story:
As you can see, the art work is gorgeous. And the book is meticulously illustrated from start to end. I’ve spoken here about Emily Carroll’s art before. Once when I was talking about her adaptation of “The 12 Dancing Princesses” and once in passing, when I was talking about a blog that she and Vera Brosgol (author of Anya’s Ghost) share. But my first introduction to Carroll was through a post that alerted me to a strange short comic called “His Face All Red“. I went to Emily Carroll’s website, read the story … and then I had to sit down and ponder my existence. The story was so simple but the execution made it incredibly powerful. I am glad to report that this story made it into Through the Woods. So, a sure way of knowing if this anthology is for you, is to read through this one.
The other four stories, however, are all new. I pretty much loved them all. I do, however, have two favourites. The first one is called, “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold”. And, honestly, if I say even a word about this one … it will be too much of a giveaway. So, for those who do pick this one up, look forward to “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold”. And also, “The Nesting Place” which is my other favourite. “The Nesting Place” is a story that, as far as I can tell, does not have a fairytale precedent. Well, not one obvious one anyway. Like all horror stories, I think it references several fairytales. The plot is this: a girl whose parents have passed away, stays with her newly-married older brother in the country … and ventures into the woods. Guessing by the costuming, I believe it’s set in the Jazz Age and is the most modern of Carroll’s stories. It sounds like it could feel incongruous to the rest of the stories (which seem like they are from another land let alone another age) but it is not.
There is something about the things that go bump in the night that sets off a timelessly primal reaction. The things we fear precede us, and even if it is defeated by us in our lifetime, it will most likely succeed us, waiting to be laid to rest by someone else. And this is why Emily Carroll’s work will always entertain me. Yes, her stories are luscious and visually stunning. Yes, they are backed every single time by artful storytelling. But they are also an odd reminder of how consciously (or, more likely, unconsciously) defiant we are of the things that scare us in real life. After all, as Carroll’s conclusion states, you “must be lucky to avoid the wolf every time …”