In August, I read the first three volumes of Bill Willingham’s Fables series of graphic novels. I enjoyed them, and planned to read more, but my time at school became so busy that I haven’t had a chance to pick any up from the library until now. I won’t go through the premise or the story arc, because Teresa has read these before me and has done a very nice job of handling that, butI thought I would just jot down a few impressions here.
The biggest pleasure of the first few volumes, I think, was simply recognizing Fables. Oh, look, there’s Toad of Toad Hall; there are the Three Bears; there’s a flying monkey; there are Beauty and the Beast. As the series has gone on, however, Willingham has taken that rather one-trick pony and given us real characters, who can change and develop. The surly, tough Snow White of the first volume has become vulnerable and cunning and wise, and has a long past with Fabletown. The daft, greedy King Cole turns out to be an administrative genius, with hidden generosity. Some people are loyal; some people are surprisingly divided; others change because of traumatic circumstances. Some Fables have a real moral center, and others simply don’t. Watching the stories as they continue to unwind has been very enjoyable, mostly in the way that watching a good television show is enjoyable. The art is great, and often very different one volume to another — a feast. I kind of can’t wait to see what happens next.
1001 Nights of Snowfall, however, a special volume that functions as a “prequel” to the regular series, troubled me, however. It is a particularly gorgeous volume in terms of art and lettering, and it tells the story of how Snow White goes as ambassador to the Arabian Fables’ lands, to warn them of the approaching Adversary and to ask them to align with her group of Fables to ward him off. The Caliph does not take a woman seriously as an ambassador, and brings Snow White to his rooms, intending to bed her and — you guessed it — kill her in the morning, because all women are faithless. Snow White saves herself by telling a series of stories which comprise the volume, at the end of which the Caliph is so grateful that he gives Snow her freedom. The next woman to be his wife is, of course, Scheherezade, and Snow White passes on the message of how to keep her head: “He likes stories.”
Doesn’t this seem like a particularly odd act of appropriation? Instead of letting the Arabian Fables (the 1001 Nights, Sinbad, the many, many other and older stories that have come to us from other parts of the East) be their astonishing, many-layered selves, this volume suggests that Scheherezade’s wisdom, cunning, and especially her storytelling were inspired by the West — that the stories came the other direction. I don’t want to push this interpretation too far, mostly because I don’t think I have to, but how much of a coincidence is it that “Snow White” is the ambassador? (I could write quite a bit about the racial characteristics of the Arabian Fables in Arabian Nights (And Days), volume 7, but it doesn’t seem necessary.) The main point of the Fables is storytelling. Whoever has the most stories has the most power. And here, Snow White is stealing the stories, with the help of Bill Willingham. I’m interested to see how this turns out.