Guillermo del Toro & Cornelia Funke: Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun (2019)
In 2006 Guillermo del Toro released the dark fantasy drama, Pan’s Labyrinth. The film received widespread critical acclaim upon release and landed a trio of Academy Awards to go with the praise. It missed out on the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film with the equally lauded, The Lives of Others, taking the prize instead. Both are excellent films but, for me, Pan’s Labyrinth is an unquestionable masterpiece and easily one of the best films of the 21st century. When Guillermo del Toro partnered up with Cornelia Funke to write a novelisation of the film, published in 2019, I knew I couldn’t resist grabbing myself a copy.
Pan’s Labyrinth is set in Spain in 1944 with Franco at the head of a fascist state and Republican insurgents are being whittled down in their remote hideouts in forests and mountains. Captain Vidal, loyal to Franco, operates in a secluded residence surrounded by dense forests and hunts down Republican guerrilla fighters with a barbaric pleasure taken in their suffering. Vidal’s heavily pregnant wife, Carmen, and stepdaughter, Ofelia, are brought to Vidal’s base. While Carmen battles through a difficult pregnancy, Ofelia is left to wander the surrounding grounds and stumbles upon a stairway leading into a labyrinth. Here she meets a mysterious faun who believes Ofelia is Princess Moanna, lost to the kingdom many years before but now returned. To prove her royal heritage, the faun gives Ofelia three tasks to complete. The question is will she be successful? What will become of Vidal in his pursuit of guerrilla fighters and, more importantly, what of Ofelia’s mother and her unborn child?
This novelisation remains faithful to del Toro’s stunning film so if you have seen it there are few surprises on offer here. What additions there are to savour include some beautiful artwork, while each section also includes a fairytale concerning the world of Princess Moanna and the faun. This adds some interesting world building beyond what the film conveyed, but also explains landmarks in the cruel world of 1944 Spain. These digressions are brief but always enthralling. The book is hard to put down, wonderfully recreating the story and it retains that balance between fantasy and realism. What I always loved about Pan’s Labyrinth is that the fantastical elements did not give one a feeling of escapism. The faun’s world is just as frightening and dangerous as the one Ofelia inhabits. It’s a world that resonates with the brutal reality of Spain seen through Ofelia’s young eyes. By the end it’s a great read but despite the artwork and the well-crafted prose, the novelisation doesn’t quite hit as hard as the film does. Had I read this first then my reaction may well have been different, of course. What I would say is if Pan’s Labyrinth is unfamiliar to you then take your pick between the film and the novelisation for both share a beautiful but gritty story.
Verdict: A worthy adaptation but, for me, the film remains the superior of the two.