One of the books I was most looking forward to reading this year was Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun, a novelization of the 2006 movie, directed by Guillermo del Toro.
I first saw Pan’s Labyrinth shortly after its DVD release, and fell in love not only with the story, but also with the visual elements. My love for the movie’s visuals was apparently shared by others, since the movie won three Academy Awards for Art Direction, Cinematography, and Makeup.
The movie takes place in Spain in 1944, and follows the story of a girl named Ofelia. At the beginning of the movie, she and her mother travel to join her stepfather prior to the birth of her stepbrother. Her stepfather, a captain in the Spanish army, is a very cruel man, and it is clear from the very beginning that he cares about no one…with the possible exception of his unborn son.
Upon her arrival at their new home, Ofelia follows a fairy into a labyrinth, where she meets a faun. The faun informs her that she is actually a princess, who has been separated from her kingdom, and gives her a book that will guide her through three tasks. If she can successfully complete these tasks, she will be able to return to her father’s kingdom. If not, she will never be allowed to return.
In terms of plot and characters, the movie and book are practically identical. But where the book excels is in its inclusion of several short stories that provide background information about some of the characters, as well as the labyrinth itself. These stories are scattered throughout the text, and add depth to some of the characters and creatures Ofelia encounters as she continues her quest.
While the novelization is extremely well written and faithful to the spirit of the movie, I have to confess that I actually do prefer the movie for a few important reasons.
First of all, I love the fact that the movie is in Spanish! Being able to hear Spanish dialogue (even while reading subtitles in English) really adds to the realism of the setting.
Second, while Cornelia Funke does a great job with description and includes wonderful illustrations that are true to the overall style of the movie, I feel like the visual and special effects have a more profound impact in the film. There are several visuals that stuck with me long after seeing the movie, which didn’t quite have the same impact in the book. One of the things that really stuck with me after watching the movie for the first time was the image of the dead tree (which you can see in the movie poster).
Third, the movie has an incredible soundtrack. It not only fits the story line perfectly, but it is also capable of getting stuck in your head for days (or even weeks) at a time. I actually found myself humming the most memorable of the songs, “Long, Long Time Ago,” as I was reading certain parts of the book.
And fourth, the acting in the movie is phenomenal. Ivana Baquero, who plays Ofelia, is at the center of nearly all of the movie’s most important scenes. She does a fabulous job of bringing the character to life, and it is easy to empathize with Ofelia because of her portrayal.
Ultimately, if you’re interested in experiencing Pan’s Labyrinth, I would highly recommend both the book and the movie. Since the book was written after the movie was released, I would recommend beginning with the movie and reading the book afterward. That being said, it is important to note that the movie does very much earn its R-rating. It includes a few scenes that could be considered scary by some viewers, graphic violence, and some strong language.
If you are planning to participate in next year’s POPSUGAR Reading Challenge, Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun does fulfill a couple of the 2020 reading prompts, including: “a book published the month of your birthday” (if you were born in July), “a bildungsroman,” “a book with at least a four-star rating on Goodreads,” “a book you meant to read in 2019,” or “a book recommended by your favorite blog, vlog, podcast, or online book club.”