Myths and fables (and a call for suggestions)

I thought I’d share here my thoughts on three graphic novels I’ve read recently. Why together, you ask? Well, because there is a common theme to them: myths.

So first off was Fables 9 – Sons of Empire by Bill Willingham and his team of artists. After the niceties and happy endings of vol. 8, this one is bleak and apocalyptic. In the last few volumes the story has moved from society-focused small episodes to a wider and bigger scheme of things, and the Fables are heading towards war. I think I already mentioned that I don’t really enjoy this shift too much, and never did it make me as sad as in this volume. But there’s good: vol. 9 also includes 15 short stories (which were a great concept, but I didn’t like the style of many of the guest artists who drew them), Santa Claus (and Willingham’s own take on how it is possible for him to visit all the children in the world during one night), and Mr. North again (whom I like, despite every bad thing other characters think of him).

Bill Willingham with his crew is also the author of Fables 10 – The Good Prince, about which I’ll say almost the opposite of what I said about vol. 9. This one is extremely sweet (even while talking about war) and really goes against the general concept of the series, by taking (for most of the time, at least), fables and myths at their face value, without meddling too much with the way people perceive them. A march of the ghosts (Aragorn-style), an appearance by Excalibur, and the most beautiful frame art of the series possibly make this the best volume so far. For me, at least.

The third graphic novel I read was Matt Dembicki’s (ed.) Trickster, which I bought based exclusively on Shanra’s raving review. It’s a collection of 21 Native American trickster stories, as told by 21 Native American storytellers with the help of as many different artists (some of them Native American, too). And for me it’s the first time I truly appreciate an anthology of short stories through and through. (OK, if you don’t count the 15 stories in Fables 9, that is.) As you can expect from such a wide range of authors, the collection is very diverse, both in terms of art (with techniques ranging from cartoon-like to extremely realistic to surrealist) and in terms of content: you have sweet stories, sad stories, funny stories, touching stories, and some don’t-get-down-too-well-with-our-way-of-thinking stories. Because of the latter, I was glad I read the after word before the stories, and in the after word Dembicki states:

The point wasn’t to westernize the stories for general consumption, but rather to provide an opportunity to experience authentic Native American stories, even if it sometimes meant clashing with Western vernacular.

Somebody stated the art turned a bit too childish at times, but for me, I liked all of the different styles, if some more than others (and I am not easy to please in terms of art in graphic novels, I need it to be all spelled out for me, so maybe that’s why I liked the more childish art as well).  The story I liked best was the first one, sweet and touching “Coyote and the Pebbles”, which I noticed is a general favorite. One last thing: check out an interview with Dembicki and one of the storytellers here.


… and a call for suggestions

So do you like fairy-tale retellings? I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and among my reading plans for next year I want to take a closer look at myths and fables. For example, after reading The Drawing of the Dark (as after American Gods) I realized I need to know more about Norse mythology and Arthuriana. And I want to put fairy-tale retellings in the same lot too.

I’ve been looking around, and here’s a potential list I’ve come up with (feel free to comment, whether you think these titles good or bad):

  1. Prose Edda, by Snorri Sturluson
  2. Bulfinch’s Mythology, by Thomas Bulfinch
  3. Beauty, by Robin McKinley
  4. Sun & Moon, Ice & Snow, by Jessica Day George
  5. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, by Gregory Maguire
  6. Mirror, Mirror, by Gregory Maguire
  7. Beastly, by Alex Flinn

In my view, what’s missing here are mainly two things: a non-fiction fairy-tale-related read (I’m looking for an anthropological take, but every title I came up with seemed to be psychologically oriented), and something about Arthuriana (both fiction and non-fiction. Oh, by the way, what’s the best from the original, Middle Age sources?). If you have any good titles to suggest, please chime in.

(Also, I think I know my classic mythology — Greek and Roman — but if you have any good suggestion in that sense, or regarding myths from any other culture, I’d like to hear that too!)


10 comments on “Myths and fables (and a call for suggestions)

  1. Yaaaay! I”m glad you enjoyed “Trickster”! I’ve been meaning to reread that all year (but held back because it’ll mess up my yearly stats. Bah.)

    The prose Edda is a really nice source, imo. I’d suggest pairing it with the poetic Edda, actually, just because they seem to go hand in hand. (You might also benefit from adding the Saga of the Volsungs since that gets referenced more than most other Nordic tales I know of.)

    I wouldn’t recommend “Beastly”, but that’s largely because I didn’t get on with it personally, ymmv. I’d recommend “Ash” by Malinda Lo, though it changes the original Cinderella story quite a bit. I’d also recommend “Heart’s Blood” by Juliet Marillier if you’re looking for a retelling of “beauty and the beast”, though it adds a lot of elements that are truly its own. It depends a bit on which fairytales you’re hoping to read retellings of and what kind of retelling you want, actually. “Breadcrumbs” is a new book that I’m pretty sure tackles “Hansel & Gretel” and I forgot who wrote it. “The Goose Girl” by Shannon Hale retells, well, “the goose girl” and she has a graphic novel adaptation of Rapunzel too. There’s “Toads and Diamonds” by Heather Tomlinson, which I haven’t read yet and I don’t know the English title for the fairytale it retells… *thinks* “Redemption in Indigo” is based on/inspired by a Senegalese folktale, but I haven’t read it myself. There’s “The Swan Maiden” and “The Raven Queen” by Jules Watson which are based on Irish myth. (The former stays especially close to its source materials.)

    For Arthuriana… Get a copy of “Le Morte d’Arthur” by Thomas Malory if you don’t already have it? That’s the most basic starting point, I think.

    Hope that helps some!

  2. Wow, that’s a lot of suggestions, thanks! I’ll get myself a copy of Malory’s work, and I’ll look into the rest of the titles for sure.
    Wait a minute: you mean you never do rereads because they would mess up your stats?! Surely there are books that stand free of this rule and deserve rereading? (I’m a sucker for rereading myself… Now isn’t it strange I have no rereads in my 2011 list yet?) Mmmm, anyway, you could have something like a Trickster-themed advent calendar, and read one story a day in December — it would be a good Christmas gift for yourself, don’t you think?

  3. I have CS Lewis’s “Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold” in the TBR for ages. if you’re interested we could read it together at some point next year.

  4. you mean you never do rereads because they would mess up your stats?!

    No. I never claimed I never reread books. Just that I don’t want to reread them in the same year because that messes up my yearly stats on GR and I’m mildly obsessive about having them match. I’m actually planning to reread Catherynne Valente’s “Yume no Hon” within a fairly short space of time because I have two different copies and want to see if they differ or whether it’s just a cosmetic cover difference. I’ll probably be finishing this year and starting next year with them.)

    I hope you’ll enjoy the suggestions! There’s a lot of Arthuriana out there, but much of the later work goes back to Malory. (Who draws on older French works, if memory serves, but it’s not quite my field, so…) Oh! And there’s Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories” too, of course, if you’re looking for something later (and an essay). Be sure it get a book copy that also comes with “Leaf by Niggle”, though, as, if I recall, he wrote that to exemplify what he was talking about in the essay. They’re related anyway.

  5. Oh, I see now, although I am not familiar with GR stats.
    Still more suggestions? Wow! You’re my walking reference book! 🙂 Now Tolkien! That I like verrry much. Although I think I’ve read Leaf by Niggle and wasn’t impressed (as with anything else than LOTR, The Hobbit and a few parts of the Silmarillion), but it’s been a long time and I may be mixing it up with something else. Now, On Fairy Stories was on my wishlist in the past, then I lost track. Thank you for mentioning it!

  6. Aah… It’s just the amount of books that are on my GoodReads ‘read in 2011’ pile. It’s already off because you can’t mark books as read twice unless you add a different edition. *annoyed*

    D’aaaw. *blush* There’s loads I don’t know. C.S. Lewis is supposed to have some good thoughts on storywriting too, but I don’t know if he has anything specific on fairy stories. George MacDonald does, though, I think, but I don’t know where, so that’s not very helpful. You might want to ask Nymeth for non-fiction sources on fairytales. She’s read more of them.

    If I’m honest, I wasn’t very impressed by “Leaf by Niggle” either, though I might want to reread the whole book I have sometime to see if a reread helps. I’d definitely recommend rereading it after “On Fairy Stories”, though. ^-^

    And there’s the Ramayana and the Mahabharata if you’re interested in (the) Indian epics as well. *ramble* And I’m really going to hush now…

  7. Some time or other I will enter the world of GR myself and then everything will be clear I guess (just joking).
    I know I’m tackling something so wide that it would take a couple of lives to get to the bottom of it, so we’ll see how it goes — I guess Indian epics will have to wait for now 🙂 As for the non-fiction part, I think I found something else too, have you ever heard of Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale?

  8. I have! It may be a bit outdated now (I’m not sure), but it’s definitely a good place to start. It’s one of the first academic looks at fairytales, I think, so it’ll make for a good basis. Be sure to check out Aarne-Thompson classifications as well if you haven’t yet (and balance out the Propp). Those are definitely still in use today.

    Jack Zipes and Maria Tatar (Tartar? I can never remember.) should be good too. (And if you want to look at more Celtic fairy stories, Katherine Briggs is probably a must.)

  9. This list is growing out of control, I’ll never get to the end 🙂
    It all started with Propp, actually. I must have read some parts of his books during my studies (although I can’t recall when or what for), and I guess I had those in the back of my mind when I said I was looking for some anthropological take on fairytales. I’ll check the rest too.
    Thanks! (*hearts*)

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