Sometimes I start to read a Cannonball review and stop a paragraph in, because I know I want to read the book and I don’t want to spoil anything, so I run off and buy the book, the review half-read. Such was the case for Emily Carroll’s collection of graphic short stories Through the Woods. I started Malin’s review and immediately knew the book was for me. Now that I’ve read the book, I read Malin’s whole review, and it’s amazing. Much better than mine. You should go read it.
Through the Woods is a graphic novel made up of five scary stories, an introduction, and a conclusion. The book is vibrant and sumptuous. The pages are thick and glossy. The ink paintings are dominated by black and red, but faded watercolors are also used to create shaded figures and landscapes. The woods are featured prominently, full of unknown horrors. Each story is a sort of brushstroke of terror. There isn’t much dialogue, but what there is lends itself to the feeling that something is not quite right, until it blooms to the surface.
The stories are constructed like small, scary fairy tales. They all seem to be set in the past, such as the 18th or 19th century or the 1920s. Red Riding Hood is summoned up, most directly in the conclusion. The little girl walks through the dark, looming woods on the way home. Safe in bed, she thinks, “What a fine night! What a good walk! I knew the wolf wouldn’t find me!” Through the window white sightless eyes and feral fangs look in. “Oh, but you must travel through those woods again & again…said a shadow at the window. …and you must be lucky to avoid the wolf every time…But the wolf… …the wolf only needs enough luck to find you ONCE.” If there’s anything that summons the existential dread of my life, it’s that one scene.
This is the kind of book you should read to a vaguely odd child, like one of the children in Edward Gorey’s books. The disturbed stories remind me of Gorey, actually, and some of the artwork—rings of shade blackened around haunted eyes—as well. Spooky and beautiful, a grand combination.