What makes The Unwritten so wholly unique is the way writer Mike Carey weaves so many elements of creative fiction into a single narrative. For one he begins with the impersonal cult of personality revolving Tom Taylor in the light of the highly successful literary character based around him and his attempt to distance himself from that character. Then once you’ve grasped that, Carey throws in the concept that Tom IS Tommy and that he is no more real than the pages of the Tommy Taylor books. Suddenly you have the classic archetype of a character dealing with a recently discovered destiny they didn’t want, only with a character who is so ingrained in the archetypes that he himself knows how to best them. The whole thing explodes in to a cacophony of literary worlds and events from the brutal slayings at Villa Diodati to the ghostly world of Jud Suss, Carey explores the concept that each story has a specific worldly feel that cannot be tampered with or distorted. Add in a brilliant side story about Rudyard Kipling and the true masters of the world and you have something you literally have never seen before.
It is telling to me that Mike Carey used to be a media scholar, because his knowledge of the subject matter is really quite impressive. Not only does Carey understand the importance of stories and the effects they have on the world, he also crafts an excellent landscape in his comic panels. The nice, long elongated panels, coupled with the off-kilter architecture, create a dazzlingly realistic, yet subtly terrifying world. What are most telling of Carey’s imaginative sensibility are the end comics of both volumes (comics #5 and #12) which each take bizarre, yet fascinating side steps into the world of the artist’s mind. The first is the “true” story of Rudyard Kipling, a man whose talents at storytelling make him a target for a sinister group of shadowy puppet masters. This section has a softer, gentler edge, with beautiful depictions of the grandiose narratives of Kipling’s prose melded with his illusive journal. The second is the insanely dark yet bitingly hilarious tale of Mr. Bun, a former man trapped in a world of an A.A. Milne like fairy tale world. The simple watercolor look creates a brilliant dichotomy with the foul mouthed rabbit.
The main article The Unwritten reminded me of was Jason Mittel’s article on narrative complexity, because the plot requires numerous levels of cultural immersion to fully understand. While Mittel’s focus is based around long-term narrative television shows, his views still apply to world of comic books which are, in essence, a collection of short episodes across a long period of real-time. Mittel claims that complex narratives reject the need for plot closure, instead choosing to keep the audience guessing. This is very true in the nature of Tom, because instead of concrete answers of Tom’s origins we are only given brief glimpses as he is shuttled from one insane situation to another. Much like the story arcs present in shows like Buffy and Doctor Who, the comic contains long stories that take several comics to conclude, such as the Warden of Tom’s prison and his ill-fated children. Finally The Unwritten follows Mittel’s examples of “narrative spectacle” where the narrative itself is a spectacle as compared to a special effect or a major celebrity cameo. In The Unwritten, these spectacles come out of melding of narrative anecdotes into the world of Tom Taylor, particularly for me when the world of the Nazi’s and the world of Jud Suss become tangled together.
The other article that reminded me of The Unwritten was actually Jane McGonigal’s article on puppet masters. In that article, McGonigal details the issue she and her colleagues face when trying to make an alternate reality game wherein the gamers both act as puppets and still retain a sense of freedom. In a similar sense, there is an ever looming sense in The Unwritten that Wilson Taylor is a kind of puppet master over the entire story. We know from Kipling’s story that the people whom Pullman works for are powerful indeed, so Wilson decides to fight back through their biggest weakness: the power of story. From the very detailed map Tom is given as well as Tom’s extensive training in literary history, we can assume that Wilson had been prepping Tom for this moment his whole life (and perhaps may be Tom’s own creator). However this causes Tom to react angrily to his father, whom he felt denied him a proper childhood only to disappear without a trace. Again, Taylor may have total control over Tom’s actions, but he can never show that he does or else Tom will react negatively and not achieve Wilson’s goals for him. That is the puppet master problem.
The Unwritten is an incredibly unique tale that refuses to accept any easy answers about the nature of narrative, truth, life, and the power of human thought. In one fascinating addition to the myth, we see that Count Ambrosio has the ability to transform the warden’s body into his own after he loses his children. It is the exact moment that the warden feels the exact bloodlust that Ambrosio holds for Taylor that he transforms into the hideous creature. In one sense, this is just a fun narrative moment that pulls the audience into the world that Carey has so effortlessly crafted. However, in another sense it’s the perfect summation of exactly the power of stories. We have all felt greed, anger, madness, pain, and sorrow simply because we were told something we didn’t like. We live in a world of stories, ones that are so intertwined into our daily lives that we have no concept of an existence without them. The idea of a current of unwritten stories that flow through every action we make is not just a metaphor for Tom’s struggle, but of the very world we all inhabit.
My video for this blog is a music track called Wishery. It’s by a musician called Pogo. He creates music out of samples from random audio tracks from a single movie and makes ambient music out of the sounds. Can’t get more Transmedia and fan-fic than that right?