Cats of the Pacific Northwest by J.W. Donley
Dark Forest Press (July 2021)
74 pages; $6.99 paperback; $2.99 e-book
Reviewed by R.B. Payne
Most horror fans learned about horror through seemingly innocent fairy tales read to us by loving parents before bedtime. Illustrated in fanciful colors on glossy paper, and lit by golden lamplight, we were tucked in with visions of cannibal witches, evil sisters, dark spells and curses, goblins, and trolls beneath bridges.
Of course, these were “harmless” versions of the stories — by the 20th century most had revised or appended happy endings. We could fall asleep knowing that Mom, Dad, or Walt Disney was there to protect us from anything really scary in the world. It was only when we were older that we realized Cinderella murdered her stepmother, Sleeping Beauty was impregnated by the Prince while she slept, and that young children could make a tasty addition to a meat pie.
Cats of the Pacific Northwest, written by J. W. Donley and illustrated by Leo Corbett, tells the story of two university students who decide to spend some “alone time” backpacking in the backwoods of the Olympic Peninsula in a wet wonderland known as the Hoh Forest. Quicker than you can say “let’s make love in a damp tent,” they are lost.
You would think simply walking out of a rainforest would be simple.
And that’s when the story intersects with the Brothers Grimm and Rod Serling. I won’t say more, for this is a short tale suitable to be read aloud to a loved one (if adult!) with a snifter of brandy before a roaring fire in a dank castle on a windswept moor.
Reader Beware! The story has disturbing images but the scenes are never overplayed or gratuitous. This is a fairy tale with all of the trappings of medieval storytelling. I personally did not find the tale “stomach churning” but will admit that some of the imagery (which is deftly handled by the writer and illustrator) is visceral and memorable. And what happens is necessary. In Cats of the Pacific Northwest, like in any fairy tale, some events are required to present the consequence of action and therefore, the moral of the story.
A quick word about the illustrations. This booklet wonderfully captures the feel of a child’s tome. The illustrations are modern, delightfully stylized, and reminded me of medieval and Japanese woodcuts. The combination of the two artists — writer and illustrator — worked frightfully hand-in-hand and we can only hope they choose to work together again.
To wrap up this review — order this book. It’s charming on the surface. It’s disconcerting at its heart. The story takes us to a familiar childhood place while posing modern adult questions. Mom and Dad won’t be able to rationalize this story to help you fall asleep.
And Disney will never turn Cats of the Pacific Northwest into an animated feature.