Mythology and fairy tales play a leading role in Guillermo del Toro’s representation of Francisco Franco fascist regime. It seems to be the only possible way to show how atrocities of war could be perceived by an innocent child. For Ofelia, the magic world is an escape from the horrors of the real world. For a spectator, the fairy tale turns the movie into a beautiful cautionary parable. The main idea of this parable is based on the myth of Cronus.

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Paintings by Francisco de Goya were the major source of inspiration for Del Toro. One could notice that a pale creature biting the fairies in half has much in common with Cronus on the Goya’s painting Saturn, 1636 (figure 1).

Figure 1. Saturn Devouring his Son by Goya (1636) and pale creature
In Greek mythology, Cronus symbolizes fear and madness, he is devouring his children out of fear to lose his power. Although Cronus may be a direct visual prototype for the pale creature, his symbolical meaning is more connected to the major idea of the story. Cronus was a Titan, one of the children of Uranus (father-heaven) and Gaia (mother-earth). Titan feared his children because of their great size and strength, so he hid them in the Gaia’s body. Outraged, Gaia released them and asked for revenge. Only Cronus, the youngest, responded to her cry; he castrated Titan and married his sister Rhea. A prophecy said that one of the children born in this marriage will overthrow Cronus, so he swallowed all his children as soon as they were born. Rhea hid the youngest son Zeus who subsequently defeated his father.

Carl Jung understood Cronus’ actions like a pure violent impulse. He emphasized Cronus’ will to extend his own existence – he wanted to make his children a part of himself again. ‘Cronus’ Complex’ revealed by Jung and Labyrinth’ narrative have much in common. In the movie, Franco’s fascist republic and Capitan Vidal, in particular, is an embodiment of Cronus. He is Ofelia’s stepfather, and he married her mother just because he wanted a son – an extension of himself. Vidal has no father’s feelings for Ofelia, neither does he love his new wife. For him, she is merely a woman that must carry his child. Vidal wants to have a son (a successor) who will bear his and his father’s name. Therefore, an inheritor must serve as an extension of a permanent order. Vidal does not want to destroy his son like Cronus, but he wants him to be a part of himself, a guarantee that the order will remain intact. The most horrible thing for a dictator is to be defeated and destroyed.

A rural military post where Vidal was directed represents a dictatorial state in miniature. A dictator aims to be the only source of all resources in a society. Vidal introduced rationing cards for village citizens, so they stand in line every morning to get some food. A dictator extends his control by providing his ‘children’ with the items of first necessity. To ‘keep his children within,’ he must be both generous and cruel. He cannot afford the slightest sign of disobedience. It turns Vidal into a monster immediately, just like Cronus.

Therefore, the true mythical reference of Guillermo del Toro’s movie was reflected not in a fantasy world where Ofelia escapes, but in the ‘real’ part of the story. Being inspired by Goya’s painting, he managed to incorporate masterfully a myth about Cronus into the real world.

  • DePaoli, Maria Teresa. “Fantasy and Myth in Pan’s Labyrinth: Analysis of Guillermo del Toro’s Symbolic Imagery.” Magic and the Supernatural, Inter-Disciplinary Press, 2012, pp. 49-57.
  • Pan’s Labyrinth. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, performances by Sergi Lopez, Maribel Verdu, Ivana Baquero, Dough Jones, and Ariadna Gil, Telecino Cinema, 2006./li>