If you've ever seen a Guillermo del Toro film, you know you carry snapshots of it in your mind for long after: the bomb planted in the courtyard of "The Devil's Backbone," the girl facing the tree that leads into "Pan's Labyrinth," and much worse that we won't discuss here. All of these images were born in the pages of del Toro's personal notebooks, which are the subject of "Cabinet of Curiosities."
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In the introduction we learn that del Toro was a voracious reader as a kid, consuming a book every two days. The first book he ever bought for himself, at age 7, was "Best Horror Stories," edited by Famous Monsters of Filmland creator Forrest J Ackerman. Del Toro's family owned two sets of encyclopedias, which he read in their entirety: one on medicine, the other on art — a tidy explanation for his obsession with deformities.
But it's del Toro's notebooks that fascinate. He spills out his plans in such fervent detail that were he not a film director, he'd surely be a lunatic. It's not often you glimpse so much of an artist's creative process — and when you do here, it feels a bit like del Toro's reapers, monsters that peel back their jaws to reveal another layer of fangs and claws.
It's as creepy as it is mesmerizing. Or, as author Neil Gaiman writes in one of the book's essays: "It was as if Guillermo had made a secret film, and that everything the audience would ever see was only the innocent, jutting-out top of the iceberg. They would never know how huge the Titanic-sinking world beneath was."
Jennifer Day is editor of Printers Row Journal.
"Cabinet of Curiosities"
By Guillermo del Toro, Harper Design, 264 pages, $60Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun