The stories and illustrations in Emily Carroll’s book, Through the Woods, put me strongly in mind of childhood, despite (or maybe because of) the gruesome nature of the tales within. The stories and illustrations are rich and detailed, yet just spare enough to leave me grasping and hoping and wishing for more–just a little more story, just a little more explanation, just a little more something that’ll make this feel safe and resolved. Enough to make it feel settled and explained and comfortable.
Of course, these are not stories meant to comfort. These are stories to haunt and linger, for reading in the dark and giggling over to hide that shivery feeling. Carroll captures that unnerving feeling of the forest primeval after you’ve fallen off the edge of the map, and her stories and illustrations have a timeless feeling. They’re like reading fairy tales, but the darker, more violent stories that don’t often make the cut into friendlier, brighter children’s anthologies.
The five stories include A Lady’s Hands Are Cold, an unsettling marriage between Beauty and the Beast,Bluebeard, and screaming skulls. His Face All Red is an unnerving tale of jealousy and murder with a clever callback to a previous story of hers, Out of Skin. My Friend Janna calls to mind the Fox sisters in its set up, and The Nesting Place is perfectly Lovecraftian. There’s no way to give justice to this collection with words, so I encourage you to visit io9, where the first story, Our Neighbor’s House, is featured.
This is not a book intended for children, of course, and it’s possible that I was just a particularly disturbed child. This is a book I’d have treasured as a child, and I regret the impatience that drove me to choose a Kindle edition–and its instant gratification–over waiting to receive a print edition. If ebooks are your preferred method of reading, I recommend the ebook of Through the Woods without hesitation–it is absolutely beautiful. I simply feel like this book is so good it deserves a place on the shelf in my physical library, and I’m seriously considering making the additional purchase.