Almost for Children: The Whimsy and Morbid in Emily Carroll’s “Through the Woods”

I could not resist the temptation of picking up Emily Carroll’s graphic novel “Through the Woods” this past weekend. I’ve always been a fan of children’s books with a slightly morbid twist, one of my favorites being Alvin Schwartz’s “Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark” which is arguably a hauntingly terrifying book for children to read. Carroll’s work is just as good, and unlike the graphic illustrations one finds in Schwartz’s book, she pairs her writing with simple cartoon-eque  drawings that add a layer of creepiness to each story.  In a review of her work IGN Entertainment also comments on her art ” None of these stories would be nearly as successful as they are without Carroll’s art driving them. The dark fairy tale tone is perfectly encapsulated in her style…There’s a storybook quality to the imagery, albeit more “Mister Babadook” than Hans Christian Anderson.”

One of my favorite examples of this storybook quality is an untitled work in the “In conclusion” section of her book and features a spin on the little red riding hood. The illustrations are deceptively innocent and the colors give the pages a whimsical feel, until you reach the last two pages were the wolf -like creature is revealed.

"In Conclusion"
“In Conclusion”

One of her more unique stories in terms of the use of the page frames is “A Lady’s Hands are Cold” There is a lot of movement going on in this story, especially in the scenes where the ghost sings at night to warn the girl. In this specific scene there is no real frame, the two pages morph together to create one larger frame whose contents flow and ebb with the move of the song. I also liked the color scheme in this story and how Carroll manipulates icy blues and deep reds to continue the dark fairy tale vibe in her illustrations.


A Lady's Hands Are Cold
A Lady’s Hands Are Cold

After reading the story the plot also reminded me a bit of the film Crimson Peak which I have not yet seen but shares a lot of similarities with Carroll’s narrative of a young lady who marries a man and moves into a mansion with many secrets; as the IMDb description briefly mentions “Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds – and remembers.” The poster art for the film also carries the same color scheme of bright reds, blues, and blacks. Whatever similarities coincidental or not, I really enjoyed reading Carroll’s short anthology and look forward to following more of her work. It very difficult I think to pull of something like what she has done, the eerie magic she is able to conjure up in her pages, whether appreciated by young or old, is simply unique.