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During the last two decades, filmmaker Guillermo del Toro has become known as one of popular culture’s great visionaries. He’s channeled his wild, restless imagination to create dark worlds of fantasy and horror, crafting beautifully rendered stories that function as modern fairy tales. Del Toro is interested in innocence and evil, and his tales are populated with winged, multi-limbed creatures, and human monsters.
His new book, Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions (Harper Design, $60), details Del Toro’s creative process, examining the pages of the leather-bound journals he uses to jot down ideas and drawings, many of which have found their way into his signature films, including Pan’s Labyrinth and this summer’s robots-versus-aliens blockbuster, Pacific Rim.
Curiosities also invites readers inside Bleak House, his Southern California sanctuary that’s home to a massive collection of pop culture artifacts, paintings, and novels. A lengthy interview with Del Toro accompanies photographs of some of his prized possessions.
Calling from Toronto, where he’s directing the pilot for the new FX vampire show The Strain, based on the trilogy of novels he wrote with Chuck Hogan, Del Toro spoke about this visual compendium as well as the six-volume horror series he’s curated for Penguin Classics — which includes the work of Shirley Jackson, Mary Shelley, and, a writer who has long inspired the genre aficionado, H.P. Lovecraft.
Q. What prompted you to want to share these personal collections (in a book)?
A. When I was a kid growing up in Mexico, it gave me great hope to read about (movie memorabilia collector Forrest J.) Ackerman or to read about Ray Bradbury’s library or Harlan Ellison’s house with all the crazy secret passages. It really fed my imagination. I thought, if a book like this gives hope to anyone ... with the same love and dedication and detail orientation anywhere in the world, it would be great. That’s what those people, those characters or those books and magazines did for me.
Q. The collection in Bleak House is so vast and varied. It even includes life-size replicas of H.P. Lovecraft and Boris Karloff. It’s interesting that you’re living with those gentlemen.
A. When I was 10 years old, all I could think of was who I wanted to meet, where I wanted to go.
I started reading at age 4 voraciously. I read most of the library in my parents’ house at that age. I bought my first book at 7. I started dreaming. There’s a writer, William Beckford, who wrote a Gothic novel called Vathek. He had an abbey ... and he filled it with curiosities from all over the world. When I was a kid, all I could dream of was having a house like that. I wanted a huge library and to have H.P. Lovecraft in the library.
Q. You’ve also curated a new Penguin series focusing on classic horror novels that have inspired you. Is there something fueling this examination of your artistic influences?
A. It was time to start articulating a dialogue with the audience that is a little more personal, beyond just the movies. I’m nearly 50, I’ve been doing this for 20 years now in features, and 35 years I’ve been involved in film in some manner or another. I’m more than halfway through my life span and I haven’t done a fifth of what I wanted to do. And that appetite is very much a part of my personality. Spiritually, I have a burning curiosity for the world and a hunger for lore and for stories. This is what propels what I write and is what propelled the book.