The Power of the Unwritten Word

The Unwritten brings to life the idea that storytelling deeply impacts our real, everyday lives—whether through the immersive qualities of a particular work of fiction or the shifts that our culture experiences when obsessive fandoms emerge. The all-encompassing storytelling methods that we discuss in class take a heightened physical form within Mike Carey and Peter Gross’s own work of fiction. The result is an intriguing, fantastical mirror held up to our increasingly obsessive culture.

Fittingly, The Unwritten revolves around the life of a real person, Tom Taylor, and his fictional counterpart, Tommy, created by Tom’s missing father. As mentioned in class, the story and appearance of Tommy Taylor closely resemble J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, but more significantly so does the character’s fan base—an enormous collection of infatuated young adults. As you may imagine, this incidental celebrity status has had an interesting effect on Tom, who deliberately rebels against his father’s work while simultaneously reaping its benefits. I found this to be a fascinating concept, especially when I was made aware of the real-life parallels with Christopher Milne. Even before reading the various twists that Tom endures as he is pulled into a world that quite literally blends fiction with reality, I found the graphic novel to be instantly involving due to vivid, fully-conceived universe that the authors have crafted. Like Lyndsey, I found myself confused a couple of times as to which story-within-a-story I was now reading about. Overall, however, this confusion fits with the themes of the writing and strengthened my empathy for Tom, who endures similar struggles throughout the graphic novel.

My interest in the story is probably due, in part, to my obsession with Harry Potter and the fact that I grew up witnessing (and sometimes joining) the legions of fans gathered for Potter-related events. While I haven’t thoroughly explored the lengths that Potter fans go to exhibit their passion, I instantly recognized the truth behind the Unwritten authors’ depiction of fandoms and transmedia storytelling. Their story especially emphasizes internet-based outlets for fandom, as the authors casually refer to fans discussing (and fawning over) the Taylor story (both its real and fictional aspects). This directly mirrors our culture, in which fan sites for almost anything can be found online. For me, the most striking aspects of these sites, in real life and as portrayed in Unwritten, is the blind devotion that fans commit to celebrities that play their favorite characters. Emma Watson could be a truly awful person, but (YOUR NUMBER 1 SOURCE FOR EMMA WATSON) worships her nonetheless—just as Unwritten’s fictional fans agonize over the real-life Tom Taylor (who, incidentally, is a not-so-great person).

Expanding Tommy's universe: a fictional fan forum.

A large subsection of online fandom is, of course, fan fiction. The “screenshots” included throughout the graphic novels uncannily resemble the many forums on sites like, complete with misspellings and outlandish theories. Henry Jenkins addresses this phenomenon in “Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars…;” he explains that fans “explore underdeveloped subtexts, offer original interpretations, and suggest plotlines that go beyond the work itself.” Compare that description with a quote one of the forums in Unwritten: “there’s lots of prophesies about Tommy. he’s the creator, and the destroyer, etcetera, and he’s going to be like adam all over again….” Carey and Gross are addressing the ability of storytelling to instill within consumers the desire to expand a fictional universe and incorporate it into their real lives—furthering the blend of fiction and reality.

What is this crowd capable of??

This desire for an immersive story to continually expand (to never end) will sound familiar to readers of Jane McGonigal’s “’This Is Not a Game’: Immersive Aesthetics and Collective Play.” Just as “not once… did [The Beast] ever admit that it was a game” for the sake of the immersive experience, fans of the Tommy Taylor franchise find ways to continue the series and theorize about the fictional universe as if it were real. The collaboration that fans of Tommy Taylor exhibit also connects to McGonigal’s discussion of collective intelligence—her description of a potential “mob mentality” among gamers is especially reflected within Unwritten (many panels feature huge groups of Tommy Taylor fans gathered). Clearly, fiction has the power to ensnare the masses—a potentially risky fact.

Above all, The Unwritten seems to be a tribute to–and possibly a warning about–the evolving nature of fiction and transmedia stories. The authors have succeeded in their task of creating an immersive story about immersive storytelling. Clearly there are themes at work in The Unwritten that go far beyond what is analyzed here, but these aspects of the graphic novel alone make it an extremely successful piece of fiction.

Our TLearn Readings Come to Life: Here’s a snazzy little YouTube video from Henry Jenkins.

Update (11/11): Check out the new trailer for Winnie the Pooh, coming out next summer. It’s refreshing earnest (and 2-D!). 

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