Friday, 20 June 2014

What I've been reading: The Count of Monte Cristo and Fables: March of the Wooden Soldiers


They killed...

Okay, I'm not writing this just now. Let's do the other book I've been reading, because that makes me happy.I'm together. I promise.

So. The Count of Monte Cristo, or as it should be known, "Stop cutting lumps out of my novels!" I get it, I do, I really do. They are intimidating tomes. My copy of Monte Cristo could probably be used as an offensive weapon but really? Seriously? The trouble I went to trying to get a copy of this that was complete and unabridged was ridiculous. Many translations don't even bother telling you that they've whacked great chunks off the word-count, just, "here, have a shorter novel. No need to thanks us for it."


Is it because they thing Dumas wrote children's novels? Is it because we still think of his work as 'trash', despite its enduring popularity? Are we just missing the entire point of the genre in which he was writing?

Look, I'm on chapter 37 of 116 and I love this book. It's got everything I want in a novel - fighting, fencing, torture, poison, true love... Well, sort of. The first thing that always astonishes me about Dumas is that, the second you forget that you are holding a veritable doorstop, you are swept up in the pace, the character, the wit, the dialogue. The second thing that surprises me about Dumas is his realism. Yes, okay, not realism-realism, but psychological realism, political realism. This is probably because our understanding of him is filtered through abridgements, through film and television adaptations that take at face value Dumas' claim as a moral authority, that give us clean jawed, morally upright heroes and excise all those nasty, dirty bits. Abridgements and adaptations that pay into the conception of the Historical Romance as trash inhabited by stock characters.

Look, we know Dumas was a hack. We know he wrote at a terrifying speed but has it occurred to you that his perennial popularity has less to do with the swash and the buckle, and more to do with the fact that he was damned good at this? We are told, again and again, that this is a novel of providence, a novel where Dantès is transformed into its agent. It seems to me that it is more a novel written against naïveté, against the idea of an impassive, providential force. The characters who believe their virtue will protect them, will justify them, are doomed to fail. It is only those who take fate into their own hand who will succeed. God offers no justice, it is left to mankind to take vengence, to reward virtue and to punish wickedness. That the near-blameless Abbé Faria is twice foiled in his attempts to escape on the very eve of their accomplishment should convey this. That, after foresight, intelligence and labour fail, Dantès then escapes through mere opportunism and base cunning should suggest that fate does not favour those who work hard, that providence does not support virtuous. In a cold and Godless universe, The Count of Monte Cristo tells us that mankind is the highest authority, and that it is a race of crocodiles.

Truly, excellent stuff. What's more, that Edmond Dantès is a bit of a dish, isn't he? (here we go again)

Lovely covers.
Alright, alright, I can do this now. Fables: March of the Wooden Soldiers is the fourth trade paperback in Bill Willingham's Fables and has art from Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, P. Craig Russel and Craig Hamilton. The premise of the series is that the characters of all stories have been driven out of their homelands by the forces of a creature called The Adversary, and that the survivors have sought refuge in our 'mundane' world, and have settled in an area of New York known as 'Fabletown'. 

The main thrust of the series focuses on the modern day, political situation in Fabletown, especially the characters of Snow White and Bigby Wolf and the title story takes up shortly after where volume three (Storybook Love) leaves off. After it's slightly fragmentary predecessor, March of the Wooden Soldiers is a comic that has very much found its feet. It has developed into a strong, sardonic and powerful mix of detective story and fantasy adventure. The main characters are really hitting their pace as engaging, interesting figures with story arc that is separate from their fairytale origins. Good stuff.

The real power, though, is in the conception. The very basis of Fables is that your imaginative landscape has been laid to waste, that all the varied and magical lands of narrative have been torn up, pillaged and destroyed, leaving a few impoverished survivors to make a desperate living in a mundane, hostile world. To a reader, a storyteller, this will always be painful, and this is where Fables finds its real wings. They take the investment, the magic, the hope that you as a reader have placed in these characters, they take everything they represent to you and they...


They killed Tam Lin.

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