Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Prequel or Sequel??

When does a “prequel” become a “sequel”? 

If the second book written in a series takes place before the first book, then obviously it’s a “prequel,” right? 

But what if the story, though complete in itself and not dependent on the first book, tells the reader a lot more about the situations in the first book, the characters, the events?  What if neither book is dependent on each other, but after reading the second story a reader gets a clearer understanding of things in the first story?  So isn’t that the classic definition of a “sequel”?—that it adds to and clarifies (through an indirect way) what happened in the first book? 

I’m pondering this question because, all during the writing of In a Suspect Universe, the second book after The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes (the beginning of the “Mykol Ranglen” series) I’ve been telling people that it’s a prequel.  And, true, the story does take place before the events of the first novel, and the story is complete in itself, and the events of The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes are not dependent on its events. 

But it does take situations and concepts from the first book and, by showing another side to them, brings new light to aspects of the first story.

Especially, the second book explains the reactions and feelings of the main character Mykol Ranglen. Knowing Ranglen’s “backstory” helps the reader to see why he’s as secretive, quiet, and paranoid as he is in the first book—suspicious, careful, and very much a loner, not wanting to show much of himself to anyone, not even to his old “friends” Hatch Banner and Anne Montgomery (who we see briefly in the second work). I intentionally did not get too deeply into his character when writing the first book (and by “first” I refer to the order of how I wrote the books and how they were published) because the backstory that makes up In a Suspect Universe I already knew and had well in mind as I was writing the first book.

The plot of the second novel is actually older (in terms of being imagined) than the plot of the first novel.  It’s a story idea I’ve had for a long time, whereas the plot for the first book I put together as I was writing it.  I didn’t have the details worked out for the older story, but the basic plot and its consequences I knew long before I wrote the first book. 

So the “prequel,” though it didn’t exist yet, was very present in my mind, and it influenced the writing of the first book since it clarifies the reasons for how the protagonist thinks and behaves: why he keeps to himself, why he’s sensitive about relationships, why he longs to be away from people and yet at the same time wants to be with them, why he distrusts authority, why he feels guilty, why he’s so certain about some things and yet so uncertain about others, why he always feels a profound longing, and why deep down he knows he can never have what he wants. 

When you learn that much from the second book, then it sounds like a “sequel.” 

And the Clips, the great objects of information and power that everyone is looking for in the first book, we learn more about them too.  And it’s a different kind of knowledge:  it’s not just “more,” it’s also “other”—it takes a different direction from the assumptions of the first book.  In the second book we’re not so sure about them, and in many ways we have more questions about them at the end of the “prequel” than we did in the first book. This second book opens up our wonder—and fear—about the Clips, the Airafane, the Moyocks, more than did the later-in-time events of the first book. 

So, doesn’t that sound then a bit like a sequel?

And all this gets more complicated because what the reader learns and keeps from the earlier events are not the same things that the protagonist gets to keep. Mykol Ranglen will not be privileged with what readers of his story take away from the second book—what he gets he’ll most likely lose, keeping only hints of it while the reader keeps all the secrets he has to abandon.  (Why and how these things happens are major plot points of the story.)

Several mysteries will haunt Ranglen in vaguely unconscious and sinister ways for the rest of his life. But only the reader will know why.

So the question remains:  prequel or sequel?

In the end, I guess it has to be called a prequel simply because of the label’s basic definition—the second book’s story does occur before the first one. 

But since these two books will be part of a “series” (two more books are certain, and one other is possible), then we can just say “Book 2” in the “Mykol Ranglen Series” and leave it at that. 

But I’m still debating.  And I think anyone who reads the book will see exactly what I mean. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Obsession of Writing, or: Returning to a Blog

Okay, confession time: I’ve been uninvolved with this blog for a while. 

But why?

Let’s go back to the reasons I started it.  The “inciting incident” was to  share my excitement behind the publication of my novel, The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes, but I also wanted to express many long-held thoughts on writing, science fiction, popular culture, film, graphic novels, photography, travel—all topics I’m fascinated by.  

So what took me away?

Simple! I was writing a second novel.

And when my focus on it, my drive and my interest, all became intense, I sacrificed the time on the blog to stick with just the creation of the book.  

I had little power over the choice. I was hooked on writing that novel, very much “in the groove”—rushing forward like a speedway—in deep point-of-view, deep story, Deep Creation.   

Because of my teaching schedule at Seton Hill University, I usually restrict my writing to the summer months.  I’m not good at writing just two hours a day and then “shutting it off,” going on to other things.  I get possessed by it and then can’t let it go:  I’ll write in the morning, write in the afternoon, write in the evening, then get up in the middle of the night and write some more. I’ll stop only to eat or go to the bathroom or if my muscles start cramping—and when I get up to move around, I think about the book.  

I remember a story about Picasso who, once he really got into working on a painting, would sleep in front of it so it would be the first thing he’d see in the morning, and he then could attack it immediately. I used to think that was a conscious choice based on strong dedication and duty.  But no. You have no choice. You get so obsessed, the work’s always on your mind. Even when you’re not actively thinking about it, it’s still cooking inside you, as if the novel takes over and starts using you—you’re just a laborer, a servile lackey, pure working class, and it writes you

You sneak away from conversations, wander off during television commercials, write notes on ragged scraps of paper, napkins, paper towels (Stendhal wrote on his fingernails).  It sucks you in, like Poe’s maelstrom. 

And you love it! 

Or, you’re beyond love. You’ve been deconstructed and rebuilt into a writing demon. 

And when all that occurred last summer, for it certainly did, I simply had no mental room for a blog.  Nor for taking trips, cutting the grass, doing home repairs, or maintaining connections with family and friends. 

Well, okay . . . maybe it didn’t go that far, and I still performed my school duties (I needed the money).  But otherwise, I was possessed. 

And the great reward was that the novel kept getting better, deeper, fuller. I was completely caught up in its world, traveling along inside its story, viewing another planet through my characters’ eyes, struggling with weird alien threats, haunted by mysteries, driven by longings. 

Remembering to sleep was like breaking off a love affair.  And a blog? Sorry! Not now, not yet. 

But I’m finally back, because—cheers and flag-waving!—the book, In a Suspect Universe, is done!
And accepted! At the publisher’s! With advance copies to be available at Seton Hill on June 22.  

More on that later. A lot more.  

But for now, know, till the next creativity-wave knocks me over (and it’s already starting), and for now, the blog is back!  

Friday, September 15, 2017

An Upcoming Presentation on the Sublime in Science Fiction

I’m giving a presentation on “Science Fiction Writing,and the Sublime” in the Uniontown Public Library Author Series on Saturday, September 16. So I want to give a quick preview here—a taste, a titillation, and an obvious come-on invitation. (The talk is open to the public.) I’ll be discussing what the sublime is, showing some classic examples of it in both art and interplanetary photography, then making links to science fiction, showing more visual art and reading from my own writing. I’ll include selections from The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes, and possibly something from my upcoming In a Suspect Universe

I’m still putting the lecture together, the slides, artwork, photographs, and readings, so all of this is tentative and might change.  But I thought I’d include a few possible examples with just a line or two to indicate what I’ll be dealing with.  Beware that the labels at the end might sound a bit odd and over-the-top . . . but that’s the nature of The Sublime!  Hope you enjoy.  

The sublime in photography:

The sublime in art: 

The sublime in outer space: 

The sublime in science fiction: 

And a few choice topics and quotes to think about: 
  • The overwhelming
  • The unexplainable 
  • The inexpressible 
  • The terrifying
  • The "shock of imaginative expansion"
  • The ego made "to feel small in the world"
  • The "defeat" of apprehension, knowledge, and expression.  
(Hey, they didn't call it Astounding Science Fiction for nothing.) 

Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Deep Places: the Fascination of Caves

I recently was asked to moderate a panel at Confluence (Pittsburgh’s SF/fantasy convention) dealing with “Deep Places: Caves, Dungeons, Holes in the Ground.” It was a good discussion, with fellow panelists Gail Z. Martin, Christopher Pisano, Ken Chiacchia, and Tamora Pierce. We all had a fine time presenting our takes on the subject, from actual real-world spelunking to subterranean tunnels under modern cities.

My own fascination with the subject of caves started long ago with a reading of Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Center of the Earth, which I read soon after seeing the film version made back in the 60s. There were radical differences between book and movie, but they both awoke a fascination with crystalline chambers inside the Earth, mushroom forests and living dinosaurs underground, a subterranean ocean that had to be crossed on a raft, and—in one of the most rousing climaxes you’ll find to a story—returning to the surface by riding up a volcano eruption.

And being on the panel made me wonder exactly what characteristics of caves we find so captivating (since, too bad, I don’t think we’ll find any living dinosaurs).

Here’s my list:

Absolute Darkness: On the surface of the Earth, darkness is never completely dark. We’ve all experienced dark nights and dark interiors, but the blackness in a cave is absolute. It’s so overwhelming (where you truly can’t see the hand in front of your face) it can give you vertigo, a sense of choking, and a commanding fear of moving in any direction. Nevada Barr, in Blind Descent (an excellent novel detailing the experience of being in a cave) gives a frightening description of it: “the darkness began to harden around her. It was not a mere absence of light, it was a substance, an element, a suffocating miasma that filled her ears, clogged her nostrils, bore down on her shoulders and chest. . . . she could feel the black leaking like raw concrete into her brain . . .”

Disorienting Perception. On the surface, you have a big sky naturally above you, a wide horizon encircling you, and a foundational ground beneath. Up and down are well defined, and clearly distinct. But not so in a cave. There the ceiling is often no different from the floor. They extend into each other through stalactites and stalagmites that often merge into towers and curtains. Both up and down are made of stone, and much of the cavity in between. And thus no defined reference points allow you to gauge distance. Objects are fractal: a ten-inch-wide nearby formation can look the same as a ten-foot structure further away. And the lack of distance-indicators can give you agoraphobia as strong as claustrophobia. Even lamps create as many shadows as illumination.

Imaginations Go Wild. Caves are not usually experienced through devices like telescopes, deep-sea immersibles, or hovering remote cameras (though they can be). More often you go there, get up-close-and-personal to bare rock, uncharted and labyrinthine acid-carved non-linear chambers. And thus you get a greater sense of your self. The only sounds you hear are your own, the only light is what you bring, and the undefined nature of what you encounter makes your imagination quickly overactive. The imagery we use to describe caves— “yawning pits,” “gaping mouths”—can make you feel you’re being swallowed, that the Earth is hungry, seductive, and beckoning. The darkness gets filled with your own projections and irrational fears. What lurks in those shadows ahead? What lurks behind? What lurks beneath, above, alongside? You meet, in darkness and undefined space, some of your own hidden terrors.

The Uncanny. Solid rock seems to behave in peculiar ways, creating unexpected formations. What appears to be lace is made of stone, snowflakes are composed of hard crystal, finely tinted translucent curtains are as solid as marble. The ceilings/walls/floors look melted, polished, decorated, poured, flowered, overgrown—and yet they are lifeless and motionless, unchanging in time. For example, Tolkien in Lord of the Rings has Gimli describing the abundant—yet beautiful—strangeness of the formations in the caves behind Helm’s Deep: “folded marbles, shell-like, translucent . . . fluted and twisted into dreamlike forms; they spring up from many-coloured floors to meet the glistening pendants of the roof: wings, ropes, curtains fine as frozen clouds; spears, banners, pinnacles of suspended palaces!” It’s all just rock, but the intricate surprises that the rock can manifest through age-long dissolving-and-deposits suggest plants, forests, cities, clouds, castles, animals, bones, and stars.

Deep Time. To go down into the Earth is to go back into the past. No wonder the earth is where we place time capsules and buried treasure—they’ll be preserved. And it’s no surprise that Verne placed his mastodons and dinosaurs into deep caves. Caves feel incredibly old, like some ancient attic. They change imperceptively, but only over long-stretching periods of time—centuries and eons. Ursula LeGuin described the underground sense of time in her marvelous The Tombs of Atuan (where a good part of the book occurs in the total darkness of a subterranean labyrinth): “The dust was thick, thick, and every grain of it might be a day that had passed here where there was no time or light: days, months, years, ages all gone to dust. . . . No light; no life; no least stir of spider in the dust or worm in the cold earth. Rock, and dark, and time not passing.”

I’m sure more characteristics can be added, but this list is a good start on just what makes caves fascinating. They’ve certainly held an attraction for me, especially in how they turn up so often in SF and fantasy stories. One of my favorite writers who developed my interest in science fiction was Andre Norton, and the middle section of many of her books took place “underground,” whether in caves, artificial tunnels, or labyrinthine ruins. And even now, in my own The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes, there’s a chapter called “The Underground,” where the protagonist awakes in the bottom of a forest which is so tall and thick that he thinks he’s under the earth, and he encounters all the disorientation, active imagination, sense of age, and uncanny beauty that go along with the experience of a cave.

So maybe another characteristic of caverns should be “inspiration”—to write a story.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Myth of Mastery, in Writing

At the Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fictionat Seton Hill University, we have at each of our on-campus Residencies a central theme, something to provide focus for the workshops and discussions. In the past, these topics have been issues like, “Why do you write?” (see blog #36 for that one), “On being an apprentice,” “What writers should read,” and “The emotional connection between genre fiction and its readers.”

For this summer’s residency, the topic decided was “The Myth of Mastery.” We wanted to show that there is no such thing as a mastery of writing, that standards, skills, and genres change too much and too quickly. And that writers change too. Interests, and even preferred genres and forms, can modify and adapt. So, to all beginning writers we wanted to say: You’re never done developing your craft; even after publishing many fine books, you’ll still be working for something better; and if you’ve written only one chapter, or a thousand of them, the next chapter should still be a challenge.

Being the Director of the program at that time (I stepped down recently), I introduced this theme on the first night. And then, at graduation on the last day, I reminded the students of it in the introduction to Commencement. (Which is another role the theme provides; it forms a set of book-ends for the Residency, used at the start and then coming again at the end.) And thus, at that last graduation, here’s what I said about this theme (and I hope it provides some inspiration and thought):

      If luck is with you, and if the Faculty and the Registrar agree, you graduates should receive soon your Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction. However, before you get too comfortable with that achievement, let me remind you that any so-called mastery is never complete, that your writing skills are never final, and that your learning curve never plateaus. You’ve worked hard to reach this point, writing, completing, and defending your book, and you deserve the reward of the degree. You are at a summit and you should enjoy it. But by the end of the day, and certainly by tomorrow morning, you should be asking: What now? What’s my next step? The last few years have allowed you to find much skill in yourself. But it also showed you what still can be developed and enhanced.
      Mastery is not an achievement, it’s a process. It never stops. What you’ve done today looks very good—it looks great—but, for your own sake, it should not look as good tomorrow. Soon you should ask yourself: How can the next novel be better? How can I reach, entertain, enlighten, and move my audience even more?
      So keep looking for goals. Keep tuning up and empowering those sentences. Stay hungry. You’re not done yet. You never will be. There’s a writing assignment next week; it’s just not us who’s requiring it.
      A writer is not someone who is. A writer is someone who does. A piece of writing might be completed, but a writer is never complete. So keep going, folks. We know about this novel. But now let us know about the next. And the next and the next and the next.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

More on Fables: Closer to the End.

When I wrote my last blog on Fables I had yet to reread Cubs In Toyland and Snow White (volumes 18 and 19) and I had not read Camelot or Happily Ever After at all (20 and 21). Having now completed those, and still reeling from the experience, I’m compelled to write more, prior to the 150-page finale in July. ALERT: major doubleplus-ungood spoilers ahead. If you haven’t read the volumes mentioned don’t dare read further.

The comments in the previous blog now seem pale in gauging the impact of the series, since it’s reached a higher level of seriousness and intricacy. Cubs In Toyland was disturbing and almost painful to read, with Theresa’s fall into near bestiality, and then Darion’s suicide in order to replay the Fisher King scenario, the blood sacrifice to cleanse and restore the land. (The death of a child is bad enough, but to be self-impaled with a cue stick is a drastic way to satisfy a myth.) The volume ends with Theresa’s return home—she’s aged now, having lost both innocence and her childhood—to ask that ominous question, “Where’s Dad?” (A question vividly answered in Snow White.) So the emotion in this volume was strong, the cost of sacrifice unbearably large, and the two-sidedness of “toys,” that can cause either fun—or death—will haunt any memories of play.

The theme of redemption mentioned in the previous blog is even more strongly portrayed here, especially in Camelot, but it’s also more complex and ambiguous. The toys in Toyland (a place also called “Madland”) are redeemed, providing a host of second chances, but one has to wonder whether the price was too extreme (the lives of two children, one physically, one experientially). Theresa, so far, never seems to smile and always wears a cloak, as if draped in sorrow, or shame.

Rose Red, the designated agent of Hope, states openly the theme of salvation—“I am the paladin of second chances”—and she rebuilds the Round Table and gathers knights for it, many of whom need a second chance (like Brump and Lancelot), and who supposedly will provide such chances to others. Also, the apparent death of Bigby seems, when it happens, to have an “out,” since Ozma and the 13th floor witches say immediately that a spell powerful enough can put him back together. But the restoration gets complicated when he’s then used as a tool of destruction—possibly even the death of his family. And Rose’s idealism creates a big disagreement with her sister Snow, when Rose decides to give Brandish, Bigby’s murderer, a choice of redemption. Snow utterly disagrees, and the bond between the sisters is broken.

Every writer knows that “only trouble is interesting” and that the soul of any story is conflict. But a good story-teller has to be careful that the heroes and villains are not clichés, not overly good or overly “bad.” The point of a conflict is to make it realistic, where no one does anything out of simplistic “villainy,” where everyone has reasons, which even the villain feels are worthwhile, or “good.” The conflict that arises in Camelot between the sisters is near perfect: they both believe they’re doing the best thing. Rose insists this is her big chance to save herself, that for once she really is being responsible and that, finally, she can be trusted—that controlling and saving Brandish is almost her duty. But Snow White is protecting her children, and she’s heard Brandish swear to kill them—and the reader has seen that he has no heart, literally. With her family endangered, Snow can allow no chance for Rose to do wrong. “I’m Snow goddamned White,” and if Rose chooses Brandish over Snow, then the relationship is sundered forever.

So, whither this moral conundrum? Do the good thing according to Rose, or the right thing according to Snow? Or should those adjectives be reversed? Willingham has raised this moral razor-blade before (when the goblin Brump ate the talking squirrel in the volume Witches, with the argument that it’s “just his nature”), but this one, being laced with such high stakes and filial bitterness, makes the conflict realistically—and humanistically—complex.

And then there’s the theme of fate, or the fated stories of fairy tales taking over the living characters of Fabletown. The story of Camelot comes predetermined with betrayal and murder, to the point where the characters start seeing themselves in the various roles: Rose Red as King Arthur, the restored Sir Lancelot as Guenever, Morgana as Merlin (interesting twists there, since both Lancelot and Morgana were part of the original story), and Snow White as Mordred. Also, the old tale of the daughters competing against each other for the tontine inheritance is shown to rule the lives of the two sisters—as said in Happily Ever After, they are cursed to fight each other, doomed to have one be both survivor and murderer of the other.

For all my admiration of the series (and I think it’s been profoundly interesting) I’m concerned at how these old stories and fates seem to be taking over the ending. Before, the characters were made fascinating because they were seen as roles that also became human, fairy-tale figures portrayed with the complexity of humanity. The ongoing conflicts between Snow White and Rose Red had all the believability of sibling rivalry, culminating in the hopeless stand-off of the Brandish question, with both of them fighting for what they believe in most. But now the conflict seems artificially heightened by the spell-cast curse that’s on them. Instead of the roles becoming real people, the people seem to be taken over by the roles.

So I hope that the humanity of the series doesn’t get lost beneath the Ragnorak-like apocalyptic scenario that’s hinted as upcoming. (Or is this just a big red herring?) I want human personalities walking away at the end, not fairy tale clichés. For example, I hope someone has a few words to say about the death of Beast (and even, for that matter, of Ozma). Boy Blue’s passing was made poignant by how everyone reacted, but no one’s said a word so far about the death of a character who had a large part in the story, which makes the death feel a bit insubstantial, unreal. And I hope Rose Red will respond to the classic tragedy she’s brought about—the man she allowed to go free has just killed Lancelot, her recent lover.

But I believe in this series. I have faith—or big golden Hope—that Willingham will pull all this off and leave us satisfied. It might not be your fairy-tale ending (after all, that’s the whole point of the series, fables made real—and the volume entitled Happily Ever After has certainly been dark and ominous). But I’m sure that everything said here will be rendered short-sighted by that upcoming final volume.

Indeed, I look forward to it.


Saturday, May 16, 2015

The End of Fables

Woe and alas! The long-running graphic-novel series, Fables, is coming to an end.

Why was it so good?

Its art was clean, direct, umembellished, simple yet elegant, with just the right touch of quirky unreality. Mark Buckingham at the helm (inked by Steve Leiloha and Andrew Pepoy) was great at depicting basic realism with a twist of fantasy. And a number of guest artists were equally impressive (like P. Craig Russell, Inaki Miranda, Michael Allred, Gene Ha).

Its covers were fabulous, each an accomplished individual painting by James Jean or Joao Ruas. Jeans had such an impressive run that his covers were collected into a hardbound text. And Ruas replaced him with a similar evocative and haunting style. They both had a tragic, humorous, and aesthetic vision that was unique.

But its writing . . . oh, the writing. Bill Willingham carried the project through 150 issues since 2002 (issue #150 comes out in June, and that will be the last). He did not rely on the often strained, over-the-top, gaudy dialogue of many graphic stories, or high-powered fist-fests amid skyscrapers or invasion fleets in the stratosphere. His dialogue was snappy, original, eloquent, his plot-twists came with elaborate plays on reader expectations, and instead of dealing with larger-than-realism superbeings, he presented simple identifiable human personalities—even when those characters were fairy tales. Their longings, problems, contradictions, heart-aches, loves and losses, pulled in the reader so effectively that once you got familiar with them, you never wanted to leave. Like watching a great ensemble cast on a long-running realistic TV show, you lived their lives right along with them. Their fairy-tale nature hardly mattered—you knew them as people, and you knew them quite well.

(Warning: spoilers ahead if you haven’t read the books. But I’ll refer to events in only the first three-fourths of the series, nothing that’s recent. I started re-reading all the collected volumes two months ago but that’s only how far I’ve reached. And I won’t be too revealing even in what I do say.)

The fundamental idea for the series was charming. Fairy-tale figures, all well-known from storybooks and legends and calling themselves “Fables,” live in hiding in a corner of Greenwich Village in N.Y.C. They disguise themselves as the “Mundies,” the natural human beings who surround them, because they had to leave their own Homelands (a place very similar to the background setting of most fairy-tales, rustic and Medieval) in a parallel world which was taken over by the Adversary, who’s determined to track them down and destroy them.

So, though they do fight back, they are in constant danger, and King Cole, the mayor of “Fabletown,” even says at one point that their only real strategy is retreat, or running and hiding, and they have to do a lot of that in the series, though they do make courageous and very well-planned stands and attacks (indeed, they take the battle to the Adversary before he brings it to them). The practical ingenuity of how they survive is one of the attractions of the series. They use every means they have: Sleeping Beauty causing people to fall into coma, the “high ground” surveillance from Cloud Kingdoms reached only by towering Beanstalks, the Beast’s transformation into a powerful fighter (even though he’s become a bit cowed from Beauty’s nagging), Bluebeard’s greed, Prince Charming’s physical prowess, even Cinderella’s eye for fashion. And they’re very thoughtful in how they face their constant dangers—rational, calm, methodical, and creative. Even Hope herself says that “hope is not a strategy” and must be backed up with real plans. Though Pinocchio at one point tries to put together a team of superheroes, it’s more a joke than serious (the witch Ozma finds her super-costume childish, but she does like the short skirt and boots). They do what they can, and that’s always the point: when the situation requires it, they manage to find the necessary strength inside themselves to face their troubles.

This brought a realism to the story that contrasted delightfully with the fairy-tale ambience (Snow White is a no-nonsense deputy mayor, and the Big Bad Wolf—or “Bigby”—chain smokes to take away the smell of too-near edible flesh). Two of my favorite issues are parts 2 and 4 of the collected volume, Sons of Empire, where, first, the Adversary gives gruesome detail about how he’ll invade Earth with four devastating legendary plagues: pestilence, fire, winter, and famine. Based on the detailed scenario, you feel that humanity has no chance against such powerful magic. But then his advisors, more realistic, describe the likely response: that the Fables would form an alliance with the Mundies and attack right back with modern weapons. This scenario shows wizards killed by long-range sniper fire, fire-breathing dragons destroyed by fighter jets, and spell-protected imperial fortresses exploding beneath aerial bombardment. The ironic contrast is quite impressive. The Adversary decides more planning is needed.

A recurring notion that Willingham favored was showing how anybody can become heroic—from the simple janitor Flycatcher who becomes a king, to the servant monkey Bufkin who defeats the vicious Baba Yaga (even when too naturally weak to lift the killing sword). The theme of redemption is strong throughout the series, the belief that people who are broken, fragile, or compromised can still find the strength to save themselves and others. Rose Red rises from her self-indulgent depression to resume her duties as leader of the Animal Farm (and more). Even Prince Charming, the womanizing cad, becomes a capable and respected military commander. None of these start out as heroes but, when they’re needed, they become heroic.            

And the poignancy! Some of the Fables do die, and not like they do in Game of Thrones, to shock the audience and keep viewers on edge, but to demonstrate the need of self-sacrifice. You remember their loss with dignified respect (I won’t give the names of those who go, but each one leaves a pall of sorrow). Yet then these tragedies are countered by other upbeat and pleasant moments. I confess the event that hooked me completely was the reluctant romance between Snow White and Bigby (reformed from being a “bad” wolf). When volume 3 of the collected issues (Storybook Love) brought them together, I was doomed to read everything from there on.

And now it’s all ending! Like Prospero burying his book of magic—or Neil Gaiman’s Sandman burying his.

We do get close to these long-lasting graphic novels, don’t we?

Ah well, I guess I can always reread the entire 22 collected volumes. I’m doing it now. Like I did for Powers, Hellboy, Sandman, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and especially Planetary.

But, gee, for it all to end. Nuts and darn.