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Pan's Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun

Book review by
Kyle Jackson, Common Sense Media
Pan's Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun Book Poster Image
Dark, magical adaptation matches the intensity of the movie.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The book itself doesn't provide much historical context, but it may lead readers to investigate the Spanish Civil War, an oft-forgotten front of the war against fascism in Europe.

Positive Messages

Courage and self-sacrifice provide hope in times of cruelty and despair.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The young protagonist, Ofelia, and the resistance fighters battling the fascists display tremendous bravery and resilience, despite battling terrible odds. Captain Vidal, on the other hand, is purely evil and sadistic.

Violence

It's set in a war zone; predictably, lots of death, murder, torture, though book doesn't go into too much gory detail. Still, main characters meet gruesome ends, several firefights leave dozens dead, and a wounded soldier gets his infected leg sawed off.

Sex
Language

A couple of instances of cursing, including "son of a bitch" and "a--holes."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Soldiers drink brandy and smoke cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Pan's Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun, is a faithful adaptation written by children's fantasy author Cornelia Funke of Guillermo del Toro's classic film of the same name. The movie is often described as a work of magical realism, and the book as well is a dark, scary, and violent fairy tale set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). It includes scenes of murder, firefights, and torture, though the book doesn't go into too much gory detail. Still, some main characters meet gruesome ends, several firefights leave dozens dead, and a wounded soldier gets his infected leg sawed off. Despite the bleak storyline and terrifying monsters -- both mythical and human -- this is a story of resilience and self-sacrifice in the face of cruelty and hopelessness. There are a couple of instances of cursing, including "son of a bitch" and "a--holes."

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What's the story?

PAN'S LABYRINTH: THE LABYRINTH OF THE FAUN is an enchanted work of magical realism by famed Mexican writer and director Guillermo del Toro set during the waning days of the Spanish resistance against the fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Adapted into a novel for young readers and teens by best-selling fantasy author Cornelia Funke, the book tells the story of a young girl, Ofelia, who travels with her pregnant and recently widowed mother to an old mill that has been occupied by Franco's Falangist soldiers under the command of her new stepfather, Captain Vidal. On the night of her arrival, Ofelia encounters a magical fairy who leads her to an ancient maze behind the mill where she meets a magical faun who tells her that she is actually a princess and the heir to the throne of the underworld. To unlock her destiny and return to the underworld -- where she might be reunited with her dead father -- she must follow his instructions and complete three tasks. While Ofelia works on completing her magical mission, Captain Vidal and the Falangists battle with the guerrilla resistance fighters in the surrounding woods, who are secretly receiving assistance from the captain's servant, Mercedes, and his doctor, Ferreira. Ofelia retreats into the world of magic to escape the brutality of the war zone she's living in, but the horrors of Vidal's reign of terror are impossible to escape. The Wolf, as she calls Vidal, continues to torment both her and the rebels in his midst, leaving a trail of bodies behind him as he tries to snuff out the last hopes of the desperate opposition. Interspersed between the chapters of the main narrative, which tell the story shown in the film, are brand-new fairy tales that reveal the backstories behind many of the fantastical creatures in the book.

Is it any good?

Thrilling, enchanting, and heartbreaking, this well-achieved adaptation of a sensational film is an absolute page-turner. Cornelia Funke's writing is powerful and effective, preserving the mystery and wizardry of the original, while del Toro's handpicked illustrator, Allen Williams, adds striking visuals to accompany the text. As with any adaptation -- especially of such a stunning and imaginative film -- it's difficult to capture all of the creativity of the source material, but Funke does a nice job of re-creating the film almost shot-for-shot. And the new fairy tales are excellent additions that enrich the overall story and add something for fans of the movie who might wonder why they would want to read the book version. These allegorical vignettes not only give the reader a deeper understanding of del Toro's magical universe but also provide welcome relief from the unrelenting darkness of Ofelia's tragic struggle. By the end of the book, it's hard to know what was real and what was fantasy, but perhaps the lesson is that true magic is conjured out of courage, selflessness, and hope even in the face of insurmountable odds and unimaginable evil. 

While Pan's Labyrinth is certainly darker and less fun than Harry Potter or even A Series of Unfortunate Events, fans of those series who don't mind a bit of tragedy and history mixed in with their magic will find plenty to love in this reworking of a modern classic. 

 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Pan's Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun fits into the history of the Spanish Civil War and the fight against fascism in Europe. What do you know about the conflict, and how did it relate to World War II?

  • Why do you think fairy tales are sometimes violent and scary? What lessons do they teach?

  • How does the book compare with the movie? Why do you think Guillermo del Toro chose to attach his name to this adaptation so many years after the film's release?

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