Thirty year-old Canadian artist Emily Carroll rocketed to internet fandom when her short horror story “His Face All Red”went viral back in 2012. Haunting and subtle, “His Face All Red” was a different kind of werewolf story to the blood-spattered savagery some readers may have expected. Carroll’s wicked little tale was seemingly inspired more by the Brothers Grimm and Edgar Allan Poe than anything that has been produced this century, and for an audience jaded by the worst the internet has to offer, this old-fashioned fright of “His Face All Red” was a welcome change of pace.
Carroll had been drawing comics for a relatively short time before “His Face All Red”, but since then, her work has appeared between the covers of Vertigo’s The Witching Hour, Dark Horse’s Creepy, The Anthology Project V2, and several other anthologies. This week Margaret K. McElderberry Books (a division of Simon & Schuster) will release Though the Woods, an anthology of Carroll’s horror stories.
Through the Woods features five stories, including the much-loved “His Face All Red.” The other four stories are exclusive to this collection. As with the case of “His Face All Red”, there’s just a hint of the familiar here: an echo of a forgotten ghost story here, the suggestion of a familiar folktale there, but readers should’t get too comfortable: There’s deep mystery just under the surface. Carroll’s beautiful art and spare but powerful narrative draws readers in just enough so that they’ll truly be shocked when she pulls the rug out from under their feet.
“Our Neighbor’s House” is the story of three sisters abandoned in an isolated farmhouse. As the snow rises higher, and the supplies leaner, the girls become desperate. When one of the sisters begins talking about a smiling man in a hat who is coming to the home take her away, the others think she’s mad – until they discover her gone the next morning. Not everything is as it seems, but Carroll only hints at what could bee the gruesome truth. As with “His Face All Red”, it is up to the reader to decide what really happened.
In “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold”, a young woman is married off to a mysterious nobleman with a terrible secret. When he embarks on a journey and leaves her behind to tend to the household, she discovers the horrifying truth – but will she live to share it? “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold” is an excellent new interpretation of the French fairy tale “Bluebeard.”
“His Face All Red” is the next story in the collection, and I can’t help to think that its placement is intentional. As jarring as the story’s conclusion may be, there’s still something familiar and traditional about the set-up. The same could be said about the two stories prior. The two stories after “His Face All Red” have an entirely different flavor, and readers should regard finishing the last frame of “His Face All Red” as crossing the Rubicon. The familiar is on the far shore, and from this point onward readers are in a new, strange land.
In “My Friend Joann”, a supernatural horror attaches itself to one of two thoughtless girls who had been amusing themselves by holding hoaxed seances. Only the unaffected girl can see the pulsing, incorporeal blob floating above the head of her friend, but is there anything she can do but watch her friend go slowly insane? While the Lovecraftian elements are obvious here, the entity and the madness it inflicts reminds me a good bit of the Guy de Maupassant short story “The Horla.”, (which is itself considered an early progenitor of the “weird tale” tradition with which Lovecraft would be associated.)
“The Nesting Place”, the concluding story, is the most gruesome and outright horrifying one of the bunch. It’s a Cronenbergian take on the “evil stepmother” theme, and readers who are in the least bit squeamish should probably skip it. Horror connoisseurs will consider it a treat. It’s probably the strongest story in the collection, which is certainly not an easy thing to say considering that there’s really not a band one in the bunch.
Readers are encouraged to being their journey Through the Woods sooner rather than later. It gets dark fast.