While fairytales today are said to be lighthearted, it is no secret that those stories were originally much darker. The creepy and sometimes disturbing versions of classic fables have long been the subject of media and artwork. This delicate blend of childhood whimsy and the horrors of the real world can be more unsettling than the goriest slasher film. That darkness in fairytales is explored in Emily Carrolls graphic novel Through The Woods.

Through The Woods is a collection of short horror stories where each section features a different main character, era, and gothic horror theme. And as a whole, the novel takes the reader into a supernatural world spanning many different hauntings over many different periods.

Through The Woods Pays Homage To Fairy Tale Language

The writing of Through the Woods mimics fables and fairy tales. Each story has a straight forward narrative with a protagonist, usually a young woman encountering something sinister. The language of the narration is deceptively simple, with illustrations fleshing out the story’s details. Despite the stories being short, they are meticulous in their word choices to be extremely effective.

A horse-drawn carriage traveling towards a large, Rococo estate in the middle of the woods.
“A Lady’s Hands Are Cold” // Emily Carroll

Like with any good horror, Through The Woods is full of suspense and distress that builds up to some incredible creepiness. And it is the folksy simplicity of Through The Woods‘ writing that factors into its eerie effect. As language mimics fairytales and bedtime stories, the format should be comforting. But when paired with a disturbing subject matter, it makes the effect all the more unsettling.

Additionally, despite it being a written homage to old fables, the writing does not follow a lot of old tropes. The hauntings are very original, balancing familiarity and subversion within each story. Carroll reimagines classic and common horror themes like ghosts, death, and parasites. However, her stories all end with some twist or subversion that makes the reading experience fresh and unique (and often unexpected.)

Through The Woods‘ Haunting Artwork

Carroll’s artwork is very folksy and expressive. Like fairytales, the artwork of Through The Woods draws the reader into a false sense of security. While her style may be elegant with masterful pen-work, Carroll does not shy away from body horror. But like her writing, Carroll is selective with her artwork and builds suspense over the pages. While the art is not gory, the book’s hauntings, parasites, and corpses are chilling in Carroll’s expressive style. Through The Woods is full of dynamic images that are equally beautiful and ghastly.

Panel from Through The Woods.  Two hands with ribbons around bloody wrists are clawing at a woman's necklace.
“A Lady’s Hands Are Cold” // Emily Carroll

Through The Wood‘s variety in the era and character design, it creates each story unique in tone and feels self-contained. The visual environment and clothing depict a different era without having to give any dates. Overall, the artwork is cohesive but has enough variety to give each story it’s own character and theme. Often, each story had its own unique layout and style. For example, “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold” hardly has any panels at all, with images flowing into each other. In contrast, “My Friend Janna” is confined with tight panels and floating images.

Page from Through The Woods depicting the narrator, Yvonne, observing a ghostly presence haunting her friend Janna.
“My Friend Janna” // Emily Carroll

Carroll’s illustration takes an unusual approach to comic art in that her words and images blend together on the page. The narration and dialogue interact with the artwork in an organic, illustrative way. But when textboxes or word balloons are used, their shape and colors flow into the artwork. It’s aesthetically pleasing, but also conveys vocal tone (such as using long, wispy boxes). The amount of detail from illustration to text means no space is ever wasted on the page. Through The Woods is captivating to look at, with every element working together for an artfully eerie experience.

A Feminine Perspective On Horror

Through the Woods subverts many of the outdated, gendered tropes of women in horror.  Additionally, the supernatural subjects of the stories often reflect feminine anxiety. The horror genre often embodies real-life anxieties, with monsters and killers acting as stand-ins for complex social subjects. This is very true in Through the Woods, as the stories feature distorted portrayals of what will torment the primarily female protagonists. “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold”, for example, deals with the helplessness of being a woman in traditional marriage and “The Nesting Place” resonates uneasiness about body autonomy and image.

Two page spread of Through The Woods, with Little Red Riding Hood in bed while the wolf outside her window warns her about having to keep avoiding danger.
“In Conclusion,” // Emily Carroll

Perhaps the strongest link to the horror in fairy tales is the retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” that the book closes with. In the classic story, Little Red Riding Hood is the story of a young girl encountering dangerous predatory figures like the big bad wolf. In Through The Woods, Little Red makes it home safely, lucky to have escaped danger.

However, the wolf tells her that while she has escaped danger, she will have to be just as “lucky” for the rest of her life. This unsettling realization of inescapable danger is one of the subtle strengths of the book’s horror-genre anxiety. While this is certainly a fear that can reach all readers, the specific use of Little Red Riding Hood has a thematic correlation to the rest of the dangers the girls and young women encounter in the book, often with unhappy endings.

Through The Woods Is Equal Parts Charming And Creepy

With seven different but equally effective short stories, Through The Woods is a wonderful look into fable-inspired horror. The writing matches well with the theme of the book, but the artwork is probably the most compelling part of the novel. Carroll melds different aesthetics to create visual distress and fear on the page, but her line-work and color pallets are so beautiful, it is difficult to look away from even the more unsettling pages.

As a collection, Through The Woods is haunting in a way that stays with the reader well after the conclusion. Through The Woods is available on Amazon and other bookselling websites. Additionally, Carroll has a lot of her eerily beautiful comics on her website to enjoy.

The Eerie Beauty Of Through The Woods
PROS
Original takes on horror, monsters, and ghosts that avoids cliches.
Folksy, expressive artwork and fantastically varied page layouts.
Haunting stories that can appeal to fans of many genres in and out of horror.
CONS
Little to no resolution or conclusions to the stories. Depending on the reader, this can be effectively creepy or can leave one wanting more context.
9.2
CREEPY