Jack of Fables: A Very Short Review

Evaluating avante-garde art, Lord Peter Wimsey once said, “There’s a difference between a man who can draw but won’t draw, and a man who can’t draw at all.”  This holds true in a number of fields, including writing.  If you write well, it takes a specific effort to write badly, and it’s surprisingly hard to do.  (Ask any contributor to Atlanta Nights by Travis Tea.

JofFWhich brings us to Jack of Fables.  Creator and writer Bill Willingham is universally acknowledged to be a really good writer.  His Fables is a massive hit, winning awards, a top seller, optioned for TV.  When it came time to spin off a second Fables title, he obviously felt the need to do something different. 

We all know Jack from many fairy tales (Jack Horner, Jack in the Beanstalk, and so on) and the Jack of Fables is all these and more.  An amoral rogue. he is well suited for experimentation.  Willingham seems to have deliberately ditched many of the conventions of story. He clearly signals that he knows he’s doing this by bringing to life all the aspects of story and embodying them as characters.  Thus Jack combats Revise, and (in the pictured compendium out this week, subtitled The Big Book of War) we hear about his wife Prose Page.  The most fun has been when Revise’s father the Writer calls on his allies, the Genres: Noir, Romance, Science Fiction, Comedy, Fantasy, and so on.

All very meta, you say?  Indeed.   A great creator can flout the established standards, but not with impunity.  It is said that Aristotle didn’t invent the rules of story construction.  He discovered them, by observation — specifically, by attending lots of plays in ancient Athens and noting what the good ones had in common.

In other words, when a writer steps outside the conventions, he may just be stepping outside of an outmoded and confining framework.  Or he could be defying the law of gravity, and stepping off a cliff.  And interestingly, Jack is just not as enthralling as the main title, where plot and character run on more conventional lines.  It isn’t a calamity — there is a lot of fun stuff here — but if you must read only one Fables title, this isn’t it.

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About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires. Her novel A Most Dangerous Woman is being serialized by Serial Box. Her novel The River Twice is newly available from BVC.

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