Pan's Labyrinth: The Labyrinth Of The Faun

by Guillermo Del Toro & Cornelia Funke

An adaption of Del Toro's seminal dark fantasy film set amidst the horrors of the Spanish Civil War.  Ofelia and her pregnant mother move to an old mill in the woods to be with Ofelia's step-father, a cruel Fascist Captain.  Soon, however, Ofelia enters the ancient labyrinth near the mill and meets a magical creature who tells her she is the reincarnation of a lost princess and can reclaim her heritage if she completes three dangerous tasks.

At first, whilst I was enjoying this book a great deal, I found my knowledge of the film version was interfering with my ability to really appreciate it on its own merits.  However, as the book goes on it begins to add more and more layers to what we already know.  The 'present' story unfolds much as it does in the film, but interspersed between the chapters dedicated to it, we get small fables telling the histories of various elements of the main storyline, such as the Faun, the mill itself, the labyrinth, the toad, the horrifying Pale Man and other elements.  These mini-legends are each enjoyable in and of themselves, but they serve to add new layers to the main storyline, as well as informing each other.  What you end up with is a novel with considerably more depth, mystery and magic than was in the original movie.

The biggest difference between the two mediums, and the thing that tipped me in favour of the book, is how it frames the magical elements of the story.  In the film, it's deliberately suggestive that the fantastical elements are Ofelia's mind trying to veer away from the prosaic fears and horrors that she sees around her; an escape from reality.  Here though it's overt that not only are the fantastical elements true, but they're more real than the world of fascists and rebels that Ofelia lives in.  It's a distinct feeling that the Spanish Civil War is merely a passing shadow and the real world, of ancient magics and mysteries, was there long before it began and will endure long after it has passed.  For me, that was the perfect tone to win me over.

5 out of 5


Polgara The Sorceress

by David & Leigh Eddings

A feminine perspective of the history of the Belgariad and the Mallorean beginning at the time of the recapture of the Orb from Terak.  This book differs from its counterpart, 'Belgarath the Sorcerer', in that its main focuses are love and politics, rather than events and people, although it does of course have plenty of that too. 

The Eddings writing style is as readable and engrossing as ever, really giving you a feel for the events mentioned and the subtle ways in which Polgara's perceptions of events differ from Belgarath's makes for very interesting reading.  However, this book has the problem of standing in the shadow of its counterpart.  The repetition of events I can live with, but Polgara herself is a much less likeable character than Belgarath and it detracts from a book written in first person when you can't actually stand that person.  Polgara is irritable, arrogant and is a lot less funny than the Eddings' seem to think.  She has none of Belgarath's joie de vive and lots of that particular brand of crankiness found only in women.  Perhaps a woman would enjoy this book more than a man, but being the latter I can only guess. 

Finally, I'd like to warn you about the endless and interminable repetition.  Whenever sex (an integral part of love and making families, let's not forget) comes into the story the authors puts in the phrase 'I'll leave it at that, shall I' or perhaps 'I don't need to say more do I' which is frankly irritatingly coy.  I'm not looking for a graphic sex scene, but to glaze over the subject with a platitude is condescending.  The next annoying repetition comes in the form of 'I got you that time didn't I Old Wolf' which occurs time and time again.  As a reader I understood the first time that the story is told as if the other characters would read it, so I didn't need these little reminders being jabbed into my eyes all the time.  Finally, in the repetition stakes there is the fact that whenever someone says something even mildly vague or cryptic in the story, one of the other characters always says 'I didn't quite catch that' (or similar words) so that all can be explained.  As a literary device I think you can only get away with it once or twice before it begins to suggest a lack of imagination. 

Generally this book is okay, but for the love of God read 'Belgarath the Sorcerer' before or instead of this one.

3 out of 5