Approximating the Hypertextual, Replicating the Metafictional: Textual and Sociopolitical Authority in Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth

By Kotecki, Kristine | Marvels & Tales, July 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

Approximating the Hypertextual, Replicating the Metafictional: Textual and Sociopolitical Authority in Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth


Kotecki, Kristine, Marvels & Tales


In an interview on The Charlie Rose Show, Alejandro González remarked that his friend and fellow filmmaker Guillermo del Toro keeps a floor-to-ceiling library packed with everything fairy tale, fantasy, and magic. If for González this means his son would prefer to switch fathers, for film viewers it means that Del Toro's intimacy with multiple and wide-ranging references in the fantastic has resulted in the richly layered FJ labeñnto del fauno (2006), released in English as Pan's Labyñnth. In addition to drawing imaginatively on the Spanish civil war, the film alludes to texts in a variety of genres and media. It references fairy-tale films like Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, literary fairy-tale characters like Karen from Hans Christian Andersen's "The Red Shoes," and multiple versions of fairy-tale types like "Snow White" and "Little Red Riding Hood." It also contains echoes of mythological characters like satyrs and religious themes like the trinity. On the official website for Pan's Labyñnth, Del Toro claims to pull widely from history, mythology, and fairy-tale studies, including the work of Maria Tatar, Jack Zipes, Vladimir Propp, and Bruno Bettelheim.

In this essay I suggest that Pan's Labyñnth's blend of fairy-tale motifs and references to popular film and culture displays a "hypertextual" aesthetic. Set in fascist Spain - an environment highly relevant to the current "war on terror," according to Del Toro in his DVD commentary - this fairy-tale film's hypertextuality displays resistance to some of the constructs assumed in the "canonical" literary fairy tales penned by Perrault and the Grimms as well as in some early twentieth-century fairy-tale films like Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and Cinderella (1950). Furthermore, while Guillermo del Toro is one among several contemporary fairy-tale filmmakers who resists replicating those fairy-tale stereotypes associated with patriarchal authority and who rely on a "hypertextual" aesthetic, Pan's Labyrinth stands out among them for its overt sociopolitical framing. This article thus explores how this film's use of both filmic hypertextuality and tropes from print textuality mediate fairy-tale content toward social and political critique.

A critical foundation for this study is Donald Haase's article "Hypertextual Gutenberg: The Textual and Hypertextual Life of Folktales and Fairy Tales in English-Language Popular Print Editions," in which he discusses the effects of hypertextual media on print fairy tales. Haase deploys two concepts, the Law of Approximation and the Law of Replication, to conceptualize how older and newer media influence each other formally. An older medium displaying characteristics of a newer one approximates the new; an example of the Law of Approximation would be a sequence of framed images in a print fairy tale approximating the newer filmic medium. A newer medium appropriating elements of an older one replicates the old; an example of the Law of Replication would be a book being opened on screen in a filmic adaptation of the older print medium (223).

Haase acknowledges that an older form approximating a newer one can produce an innovative effect; his study focuses primarily on the Law of Approximation, but he invites his readers to ask whether newer media might also innovate through replications of older media. In this essay I consider Haase's Laws of Approximation and Replication in relation to fairy-tale films in order to explore how some of these films adapt both formal elements of older media associated with fairy-tale texts that are judged to be authoritative and formal elements of the newer hypertextual medium. Fairy-tale films emerged early in film's development, and the technological innovations of the new cinematic medium produced a viewing environment conducive to magic, or wonder.1 This capacity for creating wonder aligns film with fairy tales; the newness of the medium, however, did not necessarily equal newness in the tales presented through it. …

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