The Written Unwritten

I’m definitely a fan of the Carey/Gross team, so I might be a little biased in saying that this is probably the best graphic novel we’ve read this semester. It’s smartly written and well drawn, with a compelling storyline full of humor, history, pop references, vampires and all sorts of other strange things.

One of the most important elements of The Unwritten is, obviously, the literary references. They are constant throughout the story and there are many hints that Wilson’s training of Tom in “literary geography” will be his salvation, even though the jaded Tom doesn’t believe it (yet). One doesn’t need to be intimately familiar with literary history to appreciate all the references, but it certainly helps.

I especially like the title – the unwritten. It’s mysterious in its own way, and ironic since it’s a graphic novel about written stories and the shadowy cabal that is behind all of them.

The Unwritten is, as we know, an ongoing series and the end of each issue always leaves me waiting impatiently for next month’s release. I just finished reading the latest issue, #24, in which Pauly Bruckner has his triumphant return. Each issue adds significant elements to the plot and there isn’t a single wasted page. I don’t know how many issues will be in the run, but I do know I’ll be disappointed when this one is over.

4 thoughts on “The Written Unwritten”

  1. Michael, you’re going to be in a difficult position this week. We’re going to want to know more about the world of The Unwritten, yet we won’t want you to spoil any surprises for us. But in general, could you say anything about some of the themes we only catch glimpses of in the first volume, and how they become important in later issues?

  2. You ARE biased in choosing your favorite–but isn’t everyone? I’ve found it a little hard to be partial towards The Unwritten, but that’s probably because we’re only at the tip of the iceberg right now in terms of storyline and developing themes and motifs. Also, while I like the many layers of text, genre, and other literary elements, I’ve found the characters difficult to connect to. Tommy seems too predictable to me, and there’s something about him that reminds me of Charlie Sheen (it’s gotta be the bowling shirt).

    But anyway, you mentioned the literary references which have been one of my favorite parts of The Unwritten. I like the idea of a mystery novel where the clues are found in references to great canonical works and their “geographies,” but maybe it’s just because I’m a nerdy English major. And all of the references remind me of another book we’ve read this semester–Fun Home. Alison Bechdel does a similar thing, but for some reason, her constant references annoyed me. Yet, in The Unwritten, I don’t mind them as much and think they are much more cleverly (and creatively) done. As we continue reading the series, I’m excited to explore these “personal biases” of my own.

    Also, the fact that The Unwritten is a serial does seem kind of problematic. Before Professor Sample announced his own personal bias against manga, (ha ha) I was wondering if the reason we weren’t looking at any was because it would be difficult to fit an entire serial into our syllabus, and a lot of good manga takes this format. It would have required us buying more books, and presumably investing more time, and I think that examining manga through only one volume is a little unfair or incomplete (kind of like those annoying Norton readers you used to get for English class in high school–they’d only have half of Beowulf or an excerpt of Paradise Lost–it hardly counts as looking a the whole text!) I’m actually considering exploring this in my final project for this class, but we’ll see.

    1. I think you’re right that the serial nature of The Unwritten makes it harder to get a handle on, but that’s actually one of the reasons I wanted to include it on the syllabus—since this is the way so many people have traditionally consumed comics books.

      As for manga, I’m not totally against it! I was going to have the Uzumaki trilogy on the syllabus, which, at three books, is fairly self-contained for manga, but it just got too expensive.

  3. (In response to Lauren) I actually found Fun Home a much more interesting read than The Unwritten. I get that they are both playing with literary illusions, but the fantastic realm within the world of The Unwritten is hard for me to get into- mostly because it’s so repetitive.

    What else… genre conventions. That quote from the first volume still rings clear for me because it’s one of the reasons I cannot get into most genre books or comics. I am aware there are exceptions, but for the most part they are formulaic. Horror stories have the guests splitting up and going into dark alleys, detective novels have a hero and a sidekick or two (of which one of these sidekicks is usually a girl who’s main job is to know everything about everything), etc, etc.

    The familiarity of the formula makes its audiences more confortable with the plot and thereby more likely to stick to it (and buy more of these titles in the future). In a market that’s constantly in danger, I guess you could say that these books are surviving by giving the people what they want, and The Unwritten tackles this theme head On: through the convention circles, the blogs, especulations about The Next book, kids who KNOW how to defeat the enemy because of the established spells from the Tommy Taylor books… it’s a mirror image of how our society deals with this mania. It’s a fictional retelling of our lives.

    To keep literature alive, to keep stories alive, stories are told and retold to fit a certain generation. Not only that, but there are only so many new stories you can tell, so the same stories are reincarnations of the past.

Comments are closed.