The MirrorWorld series of young adult novels from bestselling author Cornelia Funke exist in a fantasy world reminiscent of The Brothers Grimm. When Funke protagonist Jacob Reckless passes through a magic mirror to another world, he enters a place where witches eat children and grotesque ogres strike fear. Where dark fairies cast spells and a Goyl’s touch turns the skin of men into stone. Rich with detail, the author’s creations beg further exploration. There are questions that need answering such as, when a witch eats a child, does she use a recipe?
It turns out that yes, yes she does. And you can find numerous Child-Eating Witch Recipes in the MirrorWorld iPad app. More than a self-contained e-book, MirrorWorld, created by multiplatform storytelling company Mirada, is a story world extension that brings to life the many characters, backstories, and more detail-oriented elements from Funke’s books Reckless and Fearless.
Told in tales that are original to the app, fans of the series discover the origin of how Jacob Reckless became a treasure hunter and how his mentor Albert Chanute lost his arm to an ogre. Readers can peruse Chanute’s treasure list, read a detailed journal of various ogre types, or pore over an illustrated botanical guide of “Mischievous & Miraculous” plants.
“There are things in the novels that just cry out for exploration…like Chanute’s Treasure List. What is on that list? And what does it actually look like?” says Mirada chief creative officer and cofounder Mathew Cullen, who launched Mirada with director Guillermo del Toro, cinematographer Guillermo Navarro, and executive producer Javier Jimenez. “What is the full story behind the ogre, after whom Chanute named his Ogre Tavern and whose stuffed arm hangs over the bar? And then these questions and pursuits lead you to new questions: Are there different types of ogres?”
This very approach gave birth to the story “The Yearning.” When asking questions about some potential quandaries that might arise with child-eating witches, the question of what happens if a witch eats a child that’s too young arose. Turns out, such a careless sorceress finds herself in a mothering way. The original story that came of it, rendered as slightly animated lithographs, is at once macabre and heartrending.
Since the MirrorWorld universe is a take on mid-19th-century Europe, Cullen and his team referenced illustrations and artists of that time, and drew inspiration from various story and art forms, including cinema, graphic novels, shadow play, sculpture, oral tradition, tapestry, songbooks, and dreams.
Upon launching the MirrorWorld app, visitors are faced with a magic mirror. Tapping the mirror brings them to the Ogre Tavern, a dank and uninviting place where they can pan around to find ghostlike artifacts that lead them to individual stories, each of which bear unique graphic and navigational traits, many with narration by Funke. In “How the Tailor Came to the Hungry Forest,” a camera scanning over an illustrated tapestry tells the story of a murderous tailor, while in the “Bad Substitute Father,” distorted live action and shadow puppetry evoke the oral tradition of campfire tales in recounting a horrific attack. One of the most engrossing executions is in “The One for The Other,” a rescue-cum-romance story that uses multiplane illustration and a continual horizontal swipe navigation to take readers through the tale.
“We knew that we were evolving the concept of a book into modern day–we were giving it new breath, making it a living storybook,” says Cullen. “ ‘The One for the Other,’ for example, is designed to revisit the concept of a comic book or graphic novel, but without the limitations of a static piece of paper that requires panels. Scrolling is an easy answer, but then we added the layers, and the parallax, and then the dimensionalizing-animating effect became exponential. It brought it to life, but it seemed like a whole different form of life.”
While the interactivity of the app delivers on the promise of MirrorWorld being a “living storybook,” Cullen says, in creating it, they focused on the story first and foremost, with the navigational elements supporting rather than distracting from it. “We sought to make the user experience both diegetic and instinctive. The story world-meets-iPad logic. Look up to look up; touch where you would expect to touch. Each technological feature is focused on furthering the story, rather than on being a spectacle for spectacle’s sake,” he says.
With more than 20 books to her credit, Cullen says that Funke has always longed to create something that would show her readers her story world the way she’d envisioned it in her mind. “As I am also an illustrator, I see my story worlds quite clearly, but book illustration is not a visual tool that’s used nowadays as extensively as it was in the 19th century,” said Funke in a statement announcing the app. After a tour of the Mirada studios, Funke says she saw the potential to bring old illustrative crafts and modern technology together to visually bring her stories to life and “to show my readers these worlds as I see them in my head.”
According to Cullen, this collaboration to bring Funke’s dark fairy tales to life is merely the first. He says there are plans to create a Mirada-Funke digital publishing label that will bring the author’s abundant body of work into the digital realm.
Before future stories receive a similar treatment, however, there is one very important question that needs addressing. Were any children harmed in the making of MirrorWorld?
“We field-tested every recipe before publishing them,” says Cullen.” But we used tofu as a substitute. You may be interested to know that the Tankhuzkidjabloko recipe is actually derived from one of the oldest known recipes to ever exist. We stole it. And added some Funke.”