Pan’s Labyrinth – Guillermo del Toro, Cornelia Funke

It is said that long, long ago, there lived a princess in an underground realm, where neither lies nor pain exist, who dreamt of the human world. Princess Moanna dreamt of a perfect blue sky and an infinite sea of clouds; she dreamt of the sun and the grass and the taste of rain. So, one day the princess escaped her guards and came to our world. Soon the sun erased all her memories and she forgot who she was or where she came from. She wandered the earth, suffering cold, sickness, and pain. And finally, she died. Her father, the king, would not give up searching for her. For he knew Moanna’s spirit to be immortal and hoped that it one day would come back to him. In another body, at another time. Perhaps in another place. He would wait. Down to his last breath.

Until the end of time. 1 The Forest and the Fairy There once was a forest in the north of Spain, so old that it could tell stories long past and forgotten by men. The trees anchored so deeply in the moss-covered soil they laced the bones of the dead with their roots while their branches reached for the stars. So many things lost, the leaves were murmuring as three black cars came driving down the unpaved road that cut through fern and moss. But all things lost can be found again, the trees whispered. It was the year 1944 and the girl sitting in one of the cars, next to her pregnant mother, didn’t understand what the trees whispered. Her name was Ofelia and she knew everything about the pain of loss, although she was only thirteen years old. Her father had died just a year ago and Ofelia missed him so terribly that at times her heart felt like an empty box with nothing but the echo of her pain in it. She often wondered whether her mother felt the same, but she couldn’t find the answer in her pale face. “As white as snow, as red as blood, as black as coal,” Ofelia’s father used to say when he looked at her mother, his voice soft with tenderness. “You look so much like her, Ofelia.” Lost. They had been driving for hours, farther and farther away from everything Ofelia knew, deeper and deeper into this never-ending forest, to meet the man her mother had chosen to be Ofelia’s new father.

Ofelia called him the Wolf, and she didn’t want to think about him. But even the trees seemed to whisper his name. The only piece of home Ofelia had been able to take with her were some of her books. She closed her fingers firmly around the one on her lap, caressing the cover. When she opened the book, the white pages were so bright against the shadows that filled the forest and the words they offered granted shelter and comfort. The letters were like footprints in the snow, a wide white landscape untouched by pain, unharmed by memories too dark to keep, too sweet to let go of. “Why did you bring all these books, Ofelia? We’ll be in the country!” The car ride had paled her mother’s face even more. The car ride and the baby she was carrying. She grabbed the book from Ofelia’s hands and all the comforting words fell silent. “You are too old for fairy tales, Ofelia! You need to start looking at the world!” Her mother’s voice was like a broken bell.

Ofelia couldn’t remember her ever sounding like that when her father was still alive. “Oh, we’ll be late!” Her mother sighed, pressing her handkerchief to her lips. “He will not like that.” He . She moaned and Ofelia leaned forward to grab the driver’s shoulder. “Stop!” she called. “Stop the car. Don’t you see? My mother is sick.” The driver throttled the engine with a grunt. Wolves—that’s what they were, these soldiers accompanying them.

Man-eating wolves. Her mother said fairy tales didn’t have anything to do with the world, but Ofelia knew better. They had taught her everything about it. She climbed out of the car while her mother stumbled to the side of the road and vomited into the ferns. They grew as densely between the trees as an ocean of feathery fronds, from which gray-barked trunks emerged like creatures reaching up from a sunken world below. The two other cars had stopped as well and the forest was swarming with gray uniforms. The trees didn’t like them. Ofelia could sense it. Serrano, the commanding officer, came to check on her mother. He was a tall, bulky man who talked too loudly and wore his uniform like a theater costume.

Her mother asked him for water in her broken-bell voice, and Ofelia walked a little way down the unpaved road. Water, the trees whispered. Earth. Sun. The fern fronds brushed Ofelia’s dress like green fingers, and she lowered her gaze when she stepped on a stone. It was gray like the soldiers’ uniforms, placed in the middle of the road as if someone had lost it there. Her mother was once again vomiting behind her. Why does it make women sick to bring children into the world? Ofelia bent down and closed her fingers around the stone. Time had covered it in moss, but when Ofelia brushed it off, she saw it was flat and smooth and that someone had carved an eye on it. A human eye.

Ofelia looked around. All she could see were three withered stone columns, almost invisible among the high ferns. The gray rock from which they were carved was covered with strange concentric patterns and the central column had an ancient corroded stone face gazing out into the forest. Ofelia couldn’t resist. She stepped off the road and walked toward it, although her shoes were wet with dew after just a few steps and thistles clung to her dress. The face was missing an eye. Just like a puzzle missing a piece—waiting to be solved. Ofelia gripped the eye-stone and stepped closer. Underneath the nose chiseled with straight lines into the gray surface, a gaping mouth showed withered teeth. Ofelia stumbled back, when between them a winged body as thin as a twig stirred, pointing its long, quivering tentacles at her.

Insect legs emerged from the mouth and the creature, bigger than Ofelia’s hand, hastily scuttled up the column. Once it reached the top, it raised its spindly front legs and started gesturing at her. It made Ofelia smile. It seemed like such a long time since she’d last smiled. Her lips weren’t used to it anymore. “Who are you?” she whispered. The creature waved its front legs once more and uttered a few melodic clicking sounds. Maybe it was a cricket. Did crickets look like this? Or was it a dragonfly? Ofelia wasn’t sure. She had been raised in a city, between walls built from stones that had neither eyes nor faces.

Nor gaping mouths. “Ofelia!” The creature spread its wings. Ofelia followed it with her eyes as it flew away. Her mother was standing just a few steps down the road, Officer Serrano by her side. “Look at your shoes!” her mother chided with that soft resignation her voice held so often now. Ofelia looked down. Her damp shoes were covered with mud, but she still felt the smile on her lips. “I think I saw a Fairy!” she said. Yes. That’s what the creature was.

Ofelia was sure. But her mother wouldn’t listen. Her name was Carmen Cardoso, she was thirty-two years old and already a widow and she didn’t remember how it felt to look at anything without despising it, without being afraid of it. All she saw was a world that took what she loved and ground it to dust between its teeth. So as Carmen Cardoso loved her daughter, loved her very much, she had married again. This world was ruled by men—her child didn’t understand that yet—and only a man would be able to keep them both safe. Ofelia’s mother didn’t know it, but she also believed in a fairy tale. Carmen Cardoso believed the most dangerous tale of all: the one of the prince who would save her. The winged creature that had been waiting for Ofelia in the column’s gaping mouth knew all of this. She knew many things, but she was not a Fairy—at least not in the sense we like to think of them.

Only her master knew her true name, for in the Magic Kingdom to know a name was to own the being that carried it. From the branch of a fir tree, she watched Ofelia and her mother get back into the car to continue their journey. She’d waited for this girl for a long time: this girl who had lost so much and would have to lose so much more to find what was rightfully hers. It wouldn’t be easy to help her, but that was the task her master had given her, and he didn’t take it lightly when his orders weren’t followed. Oh no, he didn’t. Deeper and deeper into the forest the cars drove, with the girl and the mother and the unborn child. And the creature Ofelia had named a Fairy spread her insect wings, folded her six spindly legs, and followed the caravan. 2 All the Shapes Evil Takes Evil seldom takes shape immediately. It is often little more than a whisper at first. A glance.

A betrayal. But then it grows and takes root, still invisible, unnoticed. Only fairy tales give evil a proper shape. The big bad wolves, the evil kings, the demons, and devils . Ofelia knew that the man she would soon have to call “Father” was evil. He had the smile of the cyclops Ojancanu and the cruelty of the monsters Cuegle and Nuberu nesting in his dark eyes, creatures she had met in her fairy-tale books. But her mother didn’t see his true shape. People often grow blind when they get older and maybe Carmen Cardoso didn’t notice the wolfish smile because Capitán Vidal was handsome and always impeccably dressed in his gala uniform, boots, and gloves. Because she wished so badly for protection, maybe her mother mistook his bloodlust for power and his brutality for strength. Capitán Vidal looked at his pocket watch.

The glass face was marred by a crack, but the hands underneath still told the time and they indicated that the caravan was late. “Fifteen minutes,” muttered Vidal, who, like all monsters—like Death—was always punctual. Yes, they were late, just as Carmen had feared, when they finally arrived at the old mill Vidal had chosen to serve as his headquarters. Vidal hated the forest. He hated everything that didn’t keep a proper order, and the trees were far too willing to hide the men he had come here to hunt. They fought the very darkness Vidal served and admired, and he had come to the old forest to break them. Oh yes, Ofelia’s new father loved to break the bones of all those he considered weak, to spill their blood, and give new order to their messy, miserable world. He greeted the caravan. Smiling. But Ofelia saw the contempt in his eyes as he welcomed them in the dusty yard where once upon a time, peasants of the surrounding villages had delivered their grain to the miller.

Her mother, though, smiled at him and allowed the Wolf to touch her belly swollen with his child. She even gave in when he told her to sit in a wheelchair like a broken doll. Ofelia watched it all from the backseat of the car, despising the prospect of offering the Wolf her hand as her mother had told her to. But finally she climbed out, to not leave her mother alone with him, pressing her books against her chest like a shield made from paper and words. “Ofelia.” The Wolf crunched her name between his thin lips into something as broken as her mother, and stared at her extended left hand. “It’s the other hand, Ofelia,” he said softly. “Remember.” He was wearing black leather gloves that creaked when he enclosed Ofelia’s hand in a grip as fierce as a poacher’s trap. Then he turned his back on her, as if he’d already forgotten about her.

“Mercedes!” he called out to a woman who was helping the soldiers unload the cars. “Get their luggage!” Mercedes was slim and pale. She had raven-black hair and dark liquid eyes. Ofelia thought she looked like a princess pretending to be a peasant’s daughter. Or perhaps an enchantress, though Ofelia wasn’t sure which kind, good or evil. Mercedes and the men carried her mother’s suitcases to the mill house. Ofelia thought it looked lost and sad, as if it missed being a mill grinding fresh grain. Now it was overrun with soldiers, swarming around its withered stone walls like locusts. Their tents and trucks were everywhere, filling the wide yard surrounded by stables, a barn, and the mill itself. Gray uniforms, a sad, old house, and a forest filled with shadows .

Ofelia yearned to go home so badly she could barely breathe. But there was no home without her father. She felt tears welling up behind her eyes, when she suddenly noticed between sacks stacked a few feet away a pair of wings catching the sunlight as though made of paper-thin glass. It was the Fairy. Forgetting her sadness, Ofelia ran after her, when she made a beeline for the trees behind the mill. The little creature was so fast that Ofelia soon stumbled over her own feet as she chased her, dropping all her books. But when Ofelia picked them up, wiping the dirt from their covers, she saw the Fairy clinging to the bark of a nearby tree, waiting for her. She was. Oh yes. She had to make sure the girl followed her.

But wait. No! She had halted her steps again. Ofelia was staring at a huge arch that had appeared between the trees, spanning the gap between two ancient walls. A horned head stared down from the arch with empty eyes and an open mouth, as if it were trying to swallow the world. The gaze of those eyes seemed to make everything vanish: the mill, the soldiers, the Wolf, even Ofelia’s mother. Come in! the crumbling walls seemed to say. Ofelia could see faded engraved letters below the head but she didn’t know their meaning. In consiliis nostris fatum nostrum est, the words read. “In our choices lie our fate.” The Fairy had disappeared, and when Ofelia stepped through the arch, it cast a cold shadow on her skin.

Turn around! something in her warned. But she didn’t. Sometimes it is good to listen, sometimes it is not. Ofelia wasn’t sure she had a choice anyway. Her feet did the walking all by themselves. The corridor that opened behind the arch narrowed after just a few steps until Ofelia could touch the walls on either side simply by stretching out her arms. She dragged her hands over the withered stones while she kept walking. They were so cold despite the heat of the day. A few more steps and she reached a corner. Another corridor opened in front of her, leading left and then right toward another corner.

“It is a labyrinth.” Ofelia spun around. Mercedes was standing behind her. The shawl draped across her shoulders looked as if she had woven it from woolen leaves. If she was an enchantress, she was a beautiful one, not old and withered as they mostly looked in Ofelia’s books. But she knew from the tales that enchantresses often didn’t wear their true faces. “It’s just a pile of old stones,” Mercedes said. “Very old. Older than the mill. These walls have been here forever—long before the mill was built.

You shouldn’t come in here. You could get lost. It has happened before. I’ll tell you the story one day if you want to hear it.” “Mercedes! The capitán needs you!” a soldier’s harsh voice ordered from behind the mill. “I’m coming!” Mercedes called back. She smiled at Ofelia. There were secrets in her smile, but Ofelia liked her. She liked her very much. “You heard that.

Your father needs me.” Mercedes started walking back to the arch. “He is not my father!” Ofelia called after her. “He is not!” Mercedes slowed. Ofelia ran to her side and they walked through the arch, leaving the cold stones and the horned face with the empty eyes behind. “My father was a tailor,” Ofelia said. “He was killed in the war.” There were the tears again. They always came when Ofelia talked about him. She couldn’t help it.

“He made my dress and the blouse my mother wears. He made the most beautiful clothes. More beautiful than the princesses wear in my books! Capitán Vidal is not my father.” “You’ve made that very clear,” Mercedes said gently, putting her arm around Ofelia’s shoulders. “But come now. I’ll take you to your mother. I’m sure she’s already looking for you.” Her arm felt warm. And strong. “Isn’t my mother beautiful?” Ofelia asked.

“It is the baby who makes her sick. Do you have a brother?” “I do,” Mercedes replied. “You’ll see, you will love your little brother. Very much. You won’t be able to help it.” She smiled once again. There was sadness in her eyes. Ofelia saw it. Mercedes seemed to know about losing things too. Sitting atop the stone arch, the Fairy watched them walk back to the mill: the woman and the girl, spring and summer, side by side.

The girl would come back. The Fairy would make sure of that. Very soon. As soon as her master wished.


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