Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll Rating: 4 stars

Of all of the gothic horror graphic novel fairy tales in this collection, Carroll’s unnerving take on Bluebeard A Lady’s Hands Are Cold blew me away. It’s the most complete and satisfying of the bunch. Gorgeous, vivid illustrations and lyrical yet elegantly simple prose. And the goriest story of them all while the others thrive mostly on what you cannot see.

There was a girl
& there was a man
And there was the girl’s father
who said, “you will marry this man.”

A Lady's Hands are Cold

After moving into her former widower husband’s home, this new bride hears a haunting song at night.

I married my love in the springtime,
But by summer he’d locked me away.
He’d murdered me dead by the autumn,
& by winter I was naught but decay.
It’s cold where I am and so lonely,
but in loneliness I will remain,
unloved, unhinged, & forgotten,
until I am whole once again.

After hearing it repeatedly and gaining no acknowledgement or explanation from the servants, our new bride sends them away and takes a hatchet to the many walls and floors of her opulent home. Body parts are what she finds, of the female variety.

Your hands … are so warm…
& your soft skin so fair…
Did you know, little one,
that is my necklace you wear?
& my bed that you sleep in?
My mansion? My lands?
I gave my love everything…
Do you think he loves you now?
Think you’ve usurped my role?
When I’ve torn you to pieces, girl,
then I’ll be whole.

The opening Introduction sets the scene by showing how a little girl’s reading at bedtime had creeped her out, making her scared of what’s hiding in the dark leading to difficulty sleeping.

Our Neighbour’s House. Three sisters are left alone in the house after their father doesn’t return home from hunting. In the event that should happen they were instructed to pack a few items and travel to their neighbour’s home. The eldest doesn’t wish to leave, so they stay. She says a man had visited her in the night yet there was no evidence of that in the snow and no knock was heard. In the morning she was gone. The same happened with the littlest sister. Middle Sister decides it’s time to obey her father’s last wish: travel to the neighbour’s house, where she meets the very same man her sister’s spoke of, except the tale ends with:

My sisters were wrong about one thing:
while the brim of his hat is very wide,
and while he does smile
(indeed, it looks impossible for him to do anything else),
it is obvious, just at a glance,

His Face All Red. A cowardly little brother is jealous of his sociable and popular older brother. Coward murders Popular after the hunt for the wolf plaguing the village ends in Popular slaying it. Coward pretends the wolf plaguing his village had killed Popular and takes the credit for taking the wolf’s life. Coward then gains the praise he’s always craved as well as all of his brother’s property. Until Popular walks in alive and well. Tell-Tale Heart style guilt and panic leads to Coward going to check his brother’s body. It’s still there. Still dead. Who and what is the identical imposter?

My Friend Janna. A Regency period tale of two friends, one of whom does readings for fun, pretending to talk to the dead while the other makes scratching noises and other sounds for dramatic effect, exploiting people’s grief and misery. Until one day Janna is haunted for real to the point of insanity while Sound Effects friend really can see ghosts.

The Nesting Place. Classic horror movie fare. Set in the 1920s. Cars are around but the female fashion is loose-fitting shapeless attire.

But the worst kind of monster was the BURROWING KIND. That sort that crawled into you and mad home there. The sort you couldn’t name, that sort you couldn’t see. The monster that ate you alive from the inside out.

Bell is picked up from boarding school by her much older brother. He takes her to meet his soon-to-be wife Rebecca for the first time. Bell hates her on first sight. She’s far too nice and accommodating. Rebecca disappeared for a while as a child and came back changed. Red worms can now come out of her eyes, nose and mouth. She’s a mother protecting her monstrous babies who need new hosts. Bell tries to scare her into isolation with the fear of discovery and experimentation if she should travel into the city. Bell and her brother go alone and during the trip she learns he’s infested too.

In Conclusion. ‘There once was a young girl… who lived at the edge of a deep, dense forest.’ Little Red Riding Hood having to be lucky to avoid the wolf every time she travels through the woods whereas the wolf only has to get lucky once. Eep. It reminded me of The 10th Kingdom.

Although Through the Woods tickled me a bit with its dark, lyrical and mysterious tales, my reaction after finishing a couple of the stories was ‘I don’t get it. Is that it?’ An incomplete feeling left me thinking those tales were forgettable throw-aways. My favourites were the ones with slow building tension to a gory ending; A Lady’s Hands Are Cold followed by His Face All Red and the Conclusion.

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