Fairy Tales 2010

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"Fables: Legends in Exile" and the Morphological Fairy Tale

Is Fables a fairy tale? In the vein of many of the literary fairy tales that we have read in the last couple of weeks, I think Fables, considered as a whole, is both un-fairy-tale-like as well as fairy-tale-like.

In an un-fairy-tale-like manner, Fables is splashy (and not just because of all of the blood staining Rose Red’s apartment). At the same time, there is something particularly punchy, raunchy, and contemporary in its vernacular. Granted, the text with which we are dealing is a graphic novel, which often permits extra room for creative license, but the story itself often leans more toward a routine case for Gotham City Police Department than for a band of fairy tale myths in New York.

On the other hand, Fables – like many of the kunstmarchen – foregrounds self-conscious storytelling and allusions to the fairy tale canon. Flashbacks sequences are framed with fluid, opulent borders and function as “mirrors” to the past. They are like petite tales unto themselves. One of the more memorable self-conscious tales is Bigby’s “parlor room scene” in chapter five. Repetitively, Bigby prefaces his tale with: “Anyone who’s ever fancied himself a detective, openly or secretly, longs for the day he can do the famous parlor room scene. It’s the moment when I get to reveal who did what, how they did it – and most important – how I figured it all out.” In a way, all of the flashback sequences up until this point have been reflections (mirrors) of the past, whereas this one concerns Bigby writing history in the same self-conscious fairy tale way. Bigby is a fairy tale author; granted, his tale is sordid, but it reveals the nature of the entire Fables tale itself. It (unwittingly?) morphologically studies the Fables tale as a whole.

Regarding Fables’ explicit allusions to the fairy tale canon, are the characters themselves not the most notable quotations? Snow White, [Bigby] Wolf, Rose Red, Bluebeard, and Prince Charming (among others) all bring with them expectations that readers remember their tales. In other words, the presence of famous fairy tale characters demands that readers know the canon. Also, Fables is bookended by fairy tale conventions: The beginning commences with “Once upon a time […] in a fictional land called New York City,” and the ending closes with “The end” (and “for now,” at that). Even the tale’s haunting message, “No more happily ever afters,” invites further recollections of particularly indelible rhetoric from the fairy tale, notably: “And they lived happily ever after.” In fact, I would say “No more happily ever afters” functions as a tiny symbol that essentially and consequentially sums up the entire tale in a nutshell. That is, although the exiled fairy tale characters live dolorous lives, their sordid existence continues to be “unhappily ever after,” or so it seems, especially after the graphic novel’s punitive conclusion.

More simply, the most I can say about Fables is that it is as much of a fairy tale as the literary fairy tales are. As my fellow classmates, I am pretty certain you can vouch for the particular je-ne-sais-quoi with which my conclusion is inflected.

1 comment:

  1. I would certainly agree with you that many fairy tale motifs are evoked in "Fables," but I would disagree that it's a fairy tale. (Although I would also contend that some of the literary stories we have read in Zipes' book have also not been fairy tales.) In the original fairy tale tradition, there was no writing or self-conscious story telling; the literary canon sort of expanded on all of that later.

    The "parlor scene" was great, but it was more of a self-reflexive detective story than one we would see in a fairy tale, I think. The underlying commentary criticizing fairy tales is something we've seen a bit in the literary tales, but I don't think it's an inherent fairy tale quality. "Fables" is debatable - it throws a lot at the reader that, like you said, is both fairy tale-like and un-fairy tale-like.