Book Review: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark: Blackwood’s Guide To Dangerous Fairies
Three Stars: ***
An eerie Gothic tale, and not one to tell as a bed time story…
For centuries the ‘Hidden People’ were confined to fairy tale and legend, often told to entertain and scare children into obedience. But in this pseudo non-fictional prologue/field guide to the recent film release of the same name, the very origin of such stories is questioned. Based on the journal extracts of one Emerson Blackwood, we learn the fate of a man plunged into an increasingly insane world defiant of the rationale that he came to know as a naturalist, after he discovers an ancient link between science and folklore. Leading up to the chilling point which starts the movie, anyone who has watched it with a curious disposition towards the eerie ash pit the creatures spring from, would be well advised to indulge in this tale of obsession and destruction.
Guillermo Del Toro is a highly esteemed monster maker, and he has created a variety of hideous creations for the film industry, most notably in the Hellboy series and in Pans Labyrinth. Indeed, the child-eating ‘Pale Man’ from the latter, a demented figure with its eyes in its palms, is something from the worst of active imaginations. Here, his hungry horde of tooth guzzling goblins do not disappoint, although the pages of the guide itself conceal a whole host of horrific beings.
The bulk of the narrative is just as the title suggests, a guide cataloguing unpleasant creatures world-wide, in order to warn the unsuspecting of their dispositions. The names of these ghouls, such as Trolls, Pixies and Boggarts, will already be familiar to some, likely recalled from their own childhood or Harry Potter. Of course, the gruesome details of why these foul beasts should be avoided, are perhaps not. And some, like the French Croque-Mitaine and Chinese Xiang Yao, are even pictured, their spooky forms sketched in 19th Century style etchings. They are truely the stuff of nightmares and the images alone would be enough to deter any traveller!
It was a pleasure to find that the text mirrors a 19th Century format too, including traits such as a strong attention to detail, which helps build up a picture of the events going on around us. Of course, it is written in the first person perspective, but this only adds to the supposed authenticity. There is almost a Bram Stokeresque quality to it! The presentation is also to be applauded, the hardback cover adorned with the creepy mural of Emerson’s son being dragged to his horrific fate by the underground monsters. Such an image makes it look like a book you would expect to find only in the darkest corners of a library. It has a very Grimm feel to it indeed. Even the pages are pitch black.
While the back story of the Fairy Folk is explained in some detail, the narrative largely focuses on Emerson’s character and his mental status, as the years pass by and he inevitably arrives at his great tragedy, which is incidentally what this story is all about: a man succumbing to his own hubris, his thirst for knowledge. The field guide itself is really just an overview, and those who wish to know everything about the fairies and their Netherworld, might be a little disappointed to find that a lot is still left open to speculation! At the end of the day, we are limited to Blackwood’s own knowledge, and such questions can only be answered by his theories. For now.