Lizzy Librarian Reviews Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods

Welcome back, dear reader! I have another amazing graphic novel recommendation for you: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll. She won the 2015 Will Eisner Best Graphic Album Reprint and the 2015 Ignatz Award for Outstanding Artist for this book. It contains five stories, all written and illustrated by Carroll, and each one is haunting and lovely in their own ways. The tales have their own distinct feel and atmosphere, but two of them in particular really grabbed me. Let’s get to it, shall we?

“A Lady’s Hands are Cold” tells the story of a newlywed couple returning to his looming estate, a haunting song that awakens her at night, and leads her to a gruesome discovery. As the story progresses, she is lured throughout the mansion by the song that tells the story of marriage and death at the hands of her husband. Carroll’s weaving of the song’s text through the pages is both the narration of what became of the husband’s previous wife as well as a character in its own right.

Carroll’s use of colour is particularly striking in this work. Blue functions as the colour of the new husband, his environment, and his property, while red is the colour that is associated with the bride initially, and later the woman she discovers. I think one of the most significant representations of this is when the bride’s sleep is disturbed on her first night under his roof. Her cheeks and hands are tinged red, and blue shadows her profile (shown in the illustration above). She is no longer her own. She is another’s property, and she is marked as such.

As the song weaves it way throughout the story, it leads her around the mansion where she finds different body parts buried within the mansion. Each piece of the body has the same blue staining of the skin. When the new bride eventually pieces the body together, using red ribbon, what she encounters is not what she expects. She flees, but can she truly escape?

If you are a fan of the Gothic novel, you will love “A Lady’s Hands are Cold.” The setting of the looming mansion and winding halls, themes of isolation and the supernatural, and storyline are reminiscent of novels like The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe.

His Face All Red,” available on Carroll’s website, opens with the confession that a man has killed his brother. After volunteering to hunt an unknown creature that is plaguing their village, and after the subsequent laughter subsides, his popular brother offers to accompany him on this endeavor. The villagers are more accepting of this and take the offer seriously, which makes the narrator’s resentment of his perfect brother stronger. They venture out to the woods, where everything startles the narrator, but his brother identifies everything for him while remaining calm and jovial. His brother also confronts and vanquishes the beast, which proves to be nothing more than a wolf. This is the last straw for the narrator, as he knows the villagers will shower their appreciation on his brother rather than himself. This, he cannot stand. We do not see him commit the act of murder, but we do see him dragging the body to a nearby hole, his brother’s face all red. He returns to the village with a story of heroics and noble acts, and is welcomed with open arms and gifted his brother’s property. But what can he do when his brother comes back?

Carroll’s use of colour works in tandem very well with her powerful storytelling. I’d love to see her take on the Gothic novels of the Victorian era, especially Ann Radcliffe’s works.
Check out more of her haunting artwork and beautiful stories at her website, emcarroll.com. You won’t be disappointed. My favourite story she includes is “The Prince and the Sea” if you have a hard time deciding where to start.

Until next time, see you in the stacks…

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