For many, the name Guillermo del Toro brings to mind fantastical imagery, the sort found in his award-winning films Pan’s Labyrinth and The Shape of Water. But for horror fans, the del Toro name might be better suited to conjure up images of Ron Perlman in the iconic role of Hellboy or the claustrophobic and eerie Spanish film The Orphanage. If you’ve followed the prolific multi-medium creator from the beginning, you’d also be familiar with early horror notables like Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone.
Del Toro has never stood still in one single genre or medium for very long. He’s directed and produced everything from low-budget horror flicks to the animated fantasy-comedy Rise of the Guardians, The Hobbit film series, and the gaijin-inspired sci-fi film Pacific Rim. And when he’s not busy duking it out in Hollywood, del Toro occasionally sets his sights on a more interactive medium. In 2014, he worked alongside visionary video game designer Hideo Kojima to release P.T., a psychological horror teaser for the ill-fated, never-released game Silent Hills.
But for how renowned and well-loved del Toro is among moviegoers and the mainstream public as a whole, there exists a side to the creator that often goes unnoticed—his literary, bookish side. Most people don’t even know that in addition to writing and working on films, he’s penned quite a few books. Let’s take a look at the best Guillermo del Toro books, the ones that fully harness his unique brand of narrative magic.
Special note: We're proud to announce that Guillermo del Toro's newest supernatural horror thriller, The Hollow Ones, which del Toro co-wrote with Chuck Hogan, is featured in our June/July Creepy Crate. Click HERE to learn more!
The book that launched the appropriately titled The Strain Trilogy, and the title on this list that’s most likely to be recognized by the movie-going, television-watching public, The Strain is a pandemic novel about a brutal virus—a theme that hits very close to home these days. Though The Strain is a vampire novel at heart, del Toro’s focus on characterization gets right under the reader’s skin. We’re talking about a virus in which the first thing an infected person does, after exhibiting symptoms, is go right back home to their loved ones to potentially expose them.
The novel begins urgently enough, with a Boeing 777 that lands at JFK, only to be discovered drenched in darkness and silence. Soon characters Dr. Ephraim “Eph” Goodweather, Abraham Setrakian, and the Canary Project investigate, and thus an epic narrative begins. With co-author Chuck Hogan in tow, del Toro masterfully paints a world where time itself becomes one of the most valuable (and rare) commodities.
Remember the 2010 mockumentary film, Trollhunter? Well, this book’s both like and entirely unlike that film. It meets the mockumentary halfway in its exhibition of the true mythical troll, the nasty sort that snacks on humans and grows multiple heads, and del Toro maintains that high fantasy edge so as to not scare off readers less adept at coping with grim horror.
The premise of Trollhunters is such: children are going missing in 1969 San Bernardino, California, and rumor has it they’ve been dragged away by trolls. After his uncle is kidnapped, a teenager named Jim and his friend “Tubby” venture into the underground depths of the earth, like the true heroes they are, to try to save him. Everything that happens along the way is about as light-hearted yet entertaining as you can get while still utilizing the terrifying origins of the mythical troll. This is a fun one, from del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth realm of fantasy.
The Hollow Ones
Del Toro’s latest novel, in continued writing partnership with author Chuck Hogan, sees the famed creator try out the well-oiled crime thriller genre. It begins with Odessa Hardwicke being forced to kill her partner, Walt Leppo, after he has something of a psychotic break while they’re investigating a spree killer. Where The Strain Trilogy focuses on the dark side of humanity in the face of an invisible viral threat, here we are introduced to a spiritual threat, one that corrupts the core of our very souls.
After the murder, Odessa is obviously distraught. She has to take some time off from work, going so far as to take a lower level assignment. But even so, she digs up a new mystery—that of a person named John Blackwood, who supposedly lived for centuries. Just to make things more complicated, Blackwood might just be the person to solve the unspeakable evil that’s seeping through modern society. It wouldn’t be a del Toro tale if it didn’t take on the supernatural, and The Hollow Ones proves that del Toro is going to explore every horror and thriller trope with masterful ease.
The Hollow Ones will be released on August 4, 2020.
In the second volume of The Strain Trilogy, del Toro and Hogan don’t skip a beat before continuing the insanities of the first book. The newly-revealed Master roams the world, attempting to gather the vampires and increase their numbers. Series protagonist Eph Goodweather, the head of the CDC, once again joins with Setrakian, with a common goal to save the world by hunting down the Master before any more damage can be done. This premise alone would be good enough for many thriller writers, but Del Toro goes one step further to explore the societal connotations of being a vampire—complete with characters who actually want to contract the virus.
The Night Eternal
The final volume of The Strain Trilogy, The Night Eternal builds off the tension of the first two books and brings about the possible end of the human world as we know it. The vampire realm has taken over, with the Master at its helm. The Master has successfully orchestrated a frightening mass-extermination of the human population. Once again, it’s up to Eph Goodweather and other mainstay protagonists to seek revenge, including Mr. Quinlan, a compelling half-human, half-vampire character with rage running in his veins. It’s a fitting end to a breakneck trilogy written in reverence of the tropes it uses, while also shaking things up enough to make the familiar fresh once more.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
Technically a companion book for del Toro’s screenplay of the same name, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a tale of a man descending into madness as he seeks out the elusive Tooth Fairies—Bloody Gums, Gnaw Bones, and Bone Crunchers—with whom he wants to communicate. Alas, in order to do so, the man needs the only sort of currency the Tooth Fairies trade in: children’s teeth. Keith Thompson and Troy Nixey’s illustrations bring out the inherent terror of this tale. This one’s marketed for kids, but with its utilization of childhood horror and commodification of child-like innocence and curiosity, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark transcends “kid’s book” and “companion” book to become a quick and delightfully creepy read.