01/10/2008. Contributed by Neale Monks
pub: Titan/Vertigo. 142 page graphic novel. Price: £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 1-84576-393-9).
check out website: www.titanbooks.com
The 'Fables' series of graphic novels concern a world where characters from fables and fairy tales inhabit realms known the Homelands. As the stories unfold, the inhabitants of the Homelands are being persecuted by the Adversary and his armies, and ultimately end up fleeing their world for ours. '1001 Nights of Snowfall' is a prequel of sorts, comprising a selection of back-story tales framed by a new story involving the diplomatic visit of Snow White to the Sultan of the Arabian Fables.
After being received by the Sultan's staff, Snow White finds herself in the tricky situation of having to find a way to keep the Sultan from executing her. The Sultan takes a wife each night, has her killed the next morning and Snow is next in line for the matrimonial bed. She elects to tell the Sultan a succession of stories, in the process getting him to postpone her execution as he looks forward to the next night's story.
If any of this sounds familiar, that's because it is of course a re-working of the 'Thousand And One Nights'. The stories themselves serve a purpose beyond simply entertaining the Sultan: they inform him of the situation in the Homelands and how it's inhabitants are being forced out of their realms by the forces of the Adversary. Snow's aim is to persuade the Sultan to lend his considerable strength to their fight, but the stories also inform the reader to the background behind the 'Fables' series.
Each of Snow's stories stands alone, something that is accentuated by the different illustrators used for each one. Artwork range from the sumptuous realism of John Bolton ('The Fencing Lessons') through to the stylised comic book style of Tara McPherson ('Diaspora'). Readers who aren't familiar with the 'Fables' world will find the book just as entertaining as those who are, thanks to the original and witty storytelling as well as the gripping artwork.
Of course, the literary conceit behind the whole 'Fables' story is that while the reader might be familiar with the characters and some of the plot points, by spinning the perspective or slightly altering the details, the motives and outcomes are very different. There's nothing particularly revolutionary about this and comparisons might be made in particular with the series of short stories by Angela Carter that make up 'The Bloody Chamber', some of which have subsequently been made into films and plays, most notably the Neil Jordan film 'The Company Of Wolves' in 1984.
Female characters feature prominently in both 'The Bloody Chamber' and '1001 Nights Of Snowfall', though the degree to which the graphic novel can be considered a feminist interpretation of traditional tales or even a series of stories sympathetic to the female perspective is up for debate. Snow White in particular is shown sympathetically as a strong and independent heroine, but on the flip side, the Witch character gets her power via those venerable tropes of sexual manipulation and denial of motherhood.
Be that as it may, '1001 Nights Of Snowfall' does at least distinguish itself from the predominantly male-oriented and often rather immature world of traditional comicbook heroes and fantasy. The themes are often highly adult, spanning issues as diverse as rape, revenge, adolescence, insanity and persecution. The storytelling is brisk and often visceral but more through suggestion than example. By the end of the anthology, the reader will have experienced many different aspect of the 'Fables' universe and will be well set to decide whether to pick up the other books in the series.
There's always a risk with anthologies of this type that the strong, well-illustrated tales will be marred by those that have less compelling storytelling or inferior artwork. Fortunately, that isn't the case here and the book is an enjoyable read from start to finish. Admittedly there are some bits that are better than others, but it's all well above average. An excellent graphic novel and practically a must-have title for anyone interested in the 'Fables' universe or modern re-tellings of traditional fairy tales.
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