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The written and the unwritten

The written and the unwritten
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First Published: Fri, Feb 25 2011. 06 02 PM IST

Shadow fight: The Unwritten books question the boundaries of reality and fiction.
Shadow fight: The Unwritten books question the boundaries of reality and fiction.
Updated: Fri, Feb 25 2011. 06 02 PM IST
Stephen King’s saga-of-seven-books The Dark Tower is interesting for several reasons. The first is the story itself—or at least what it promised to be in the first three books (the third, The Waste Lands, was a mini-masterpiece). The second is the fact that King almost died in an accident halfway through writing the saga.
The third is that he wrote himself into the latter half of the saga—as a writer whose writing of the story in this world affects its outcome in the other world where it is set.
Shadow fight: The Unwritten books question the boundaries of reality and fiction.
The writer and the story are recurring themes in King’s books—The Dark Half, Secret Window—but he is not the only author who has tried to explore the relationship between the author and the authored. Most writers do this through a very simple device: by taking a constant and treating it as a variable. If the essence of fantasy could be distilled into a mathematical formula, I’d suspect it would do something to that effect.
Thus, a wardrobe isn’t a wardrobe but a doorway into a different land (space is the variable in this case, and surely, you know the books I am referring to?)
And a story isn’t always the same and can be influenced (the plot is the variable in this case, and followers of the Thursday Next books will know exactly what I am talking about).
The result of this literary sleight of hand is a sort of virtual reality. Traditional notions of time, space, even creator and the created are no longer valid.
In comics, for instance, Bill Willingham has explored this in some of his books (the Jack of Fables series, itself an offshoot of the more popular Fables franchise).
Mike Carey and Peter Gross’ ongoing series The Unwritten takes this exploration to an entirely different level.
What if a shadowy cabal has a say in which authors achieve success and which don’t?
What if this cabal were to subtly influence the writings of the chosen authors?
This, the central premise of The Unwritten books, is an elegant conspiracy theory (and there’s something strangely alluring about conspiracy theories).
By influencing what books are written, and what is being said in them, the cabal (if it exists) would have the ability to shape opinions, influence people—essentially indulge in the kind of mind-control fantasy that would do an evil media overlord in a James Bond movie or an alien race in a Doctor Who episode proud.
And what if there’s a character, at once both real and fictional, caught up in the middle of it all?
Tom Taylor is that character in The Unwritten. He is trying to both live down and live off the literary legacy of his father who disappeared mysteriously many years ago—the popular stories about a boy wizard Tommy Taylor. And then one day he discovers the boundaries between fact and fiction collapsing.
I won’t get into the plot for two reasons. One, I believe anyone who is interested in books and stories should read The Unwritten. Two, it’s, as I have said before, an ongoing series, and I have no idea what I should say (or shouldn’t). Not that what I would write would change things—or wouldn’t it?
Carey and Gross have previously collaborated on Lucifer, an alternative (and fantastical) take on the devil, but something tells me The Unwritten will end up being one of the best fantasy comic book series ever put out—in the same league as Fables or Neil Gaiman’s Sandman books.
R. Sukumar is editor, Mint.
Write to Sukumar at cultfiction@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Feb 25 2011. 06 02 PM IST