I was intrigued by the story line of this book when I first heard about it as I was just completing an entry in my upcoming volume of contemporary legends on the Hoia Baciu Forest where this graphic novel takes place. This large forest has a large clearing within it which is a barren circle void of trees and other vegetation but not of supernatural phenomena. It is an area long thought to be cursed. The trees, said to once stand straight and tall, are now twisted into knots.
Locals assert the forest’s circular clearing at the center is a portal and that those who pass through it may never return. Regardless of the legends and the perceived dangers, Hoia Baciu Forest remains a popular tourist mecca with guided legend tours taking place both in the daylight and in the ghostly night.
The premise of the story line is the question of what happens when a foreigner ignores the warnings from the local inhabitants and, in search of his missing friend, travels to the middle of Romania’s most ghostly forest. Adam also ignores the warnings about the iele, a witch who hunts men in the area. Iurov familiarizes readers with the legend throughout the intense and vivid illustrations and pacing. She also incorporates some of the Romanian language to give verisimilitude both to the legend and the setting.
According to Romanian folklore, iele are reported to appear mostly at night by moonlight, as young, beautiful, naked, voluptuous supernatural creatures dancing Horas with their breasts almost hidden by long unkempt hair. They would leave the ground where they danced burned, the grass not able to grow for a long time but when it returned, it would be red or dark green. Animals would not consume it but, instead, mushrooms would thrive on it. When offended by someone who refuses to dance with them or mirrors their movements or are observed while dancing, or when people slept under a tree considered theirs, or when people step on the burned ground, they would inflict terrible punishments. A main characteristic is their stunning voices used to enchant their listeners. They are known to abduct the victim, punishing the guilty with enchanted spells before they cause them to disappear forever without a trace.
All of these characteristics are employed in the graphic novel while Adam attempts to locate his friend Vlad. Each of the three nights he spends in the neighbouring village and the forest emits more data and creates more and more threats to Adam in his quest to find his friend and then his own sanity. The illustrative style resembles that of manga. All of the actors in the drama are individuals and easily recognizable. The colour palate offers definite contrasts between the daytime in the village and the haunting darkness of the forest. The village and residents are brightly illuminated during the day, but nocturnal scenes in the Hoia Baciu forest are accurately frightening and the iele as a truly eerie supernatural being. The panel layout effectively offers an intense theatrical aspect to the story while remaining true to its oral storytelling and folklore roots. A special nod should also be made for the exquisite and appropriate lettering by Micah Myers.
In an introductory page, the author establishes the role of the folkloric iele before leaping into the story. This page and the one at the end of the story offering background information about the creator are stunningly illustrated with traditional textile designs and colours, completing the book as a compelling and satisfying package.
Highly recommended for horror fans as well as those intrigued by supernatural myths and legends.
WHISPER OF THE WOODS
By : Ennun Ana Iurov
Mad Cave Studios, 2023
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Romanian,
Character Representation: Romanian,