smith

I saw a review of Bone the other day that said how 1300+ pages of black and white comics would scare most people away from even beginning to read it. Truth be told, it is what attracted my eye to it in the graphic novel section of the bookstore. And brought me to pull it from the shelf and thumb through it and become thoroughly intrigued. Often indie comics like that have a rough and dirty art style and the story is... umm... uncensored, perhaps is the best word. But not having any clue about Bone beforehand, looking through I found the art style to be vastly different than I was expecting, not counting the black and white print. And the content appeared to be clean.


A little research later, I found out the series was considered a kid's story (which fit the art I saw, but I was still a bit cautious of the content prior to hearing this). And then saw Scholastic doing new prints of the book (I think these are the ones in color). I eventually realized that the series was much bigger than I realized and I had just somehow completely been passed by in knowing of it.

Anyways, a few years later, I am given the complete 1300+ page epic as a present... on Mother's Day. Either I am confused or the giver is confused. Either way, I was quite excited to finally read it. Yep, excited: me. It happens. I even had trouble not starting in the midst of the Mother's Day celebrating. Yes I will sometimes read during family get-togethers. I'm just too full of cool, I guess.

So, what is Bone? Bone is a blending of your fairly typical modern fantasy (it has all of your standard fantasy trappings) told with the narrative voice of a funnies comic strip. In fact you could argue that the three Bone cousins may have stumbled straight out of your Sunday newspaper, perhaps a series called Boneville, and found themselves in The Lord of the Rings. It is an interesting juxtaposition. But as with any high epic fantasy, things start coming unraveled and by the end you will have a hard time recognizing the lighthearted comic that this book seemed to start out as. Which is not to say Jeff Smith (writer and artist) abandons all of the humor but... well, yeah. It just wouldn't fit.

This led me to be ponderful about some things that many fantasy series go through in regards to the journey of their characters. Well it happens in most any story with a "journey" (not necessarily physical) or change whether it be in the character our outside of the character. But the typical formula for the epic fantasy series really showcases the process of journey in the telling. Usually it is a descending slope as the world gets darker and the outcome looks bleaker and all joy is lost as everyone comes to the end of all things only to snatch victory from defeat, of course. Eucatastrophe as Tolkien coined it. However the thing that always intrigues me is the desire for the initial status quo.

Usually, if you truly become immersed in a book at the beginning, you fall in love with the characters and the setting and the way things are. However, the very nature of the story means you need to move away from these circumstances, and the characters you love are going to have to be stressed and bent and probably are going to be in a darker and more downcast place than where they began the story. Usually there is an innocence that needs to be lost in the epic fantasy story. What intrigues me is that desire "for the way it was" in the reader. It almost makes progressing onward painful. You want to sit in the past just a little longer. Status quo is another subject I have started a few posts on and never finished.

But I wonder how important it is to create the feeling of loss in the reader. It tells you what the characters are fighting for. Or the innocent ignorance of which they are being forced to break through. It is a sympathetic connection. However you still find people that hate reading through the dark periods. Harry Potter for example: I know people who favor the fifth book of the series and also people who find it the worst of the set. It is perhaps the darkest, barring the last, but it also produces the strongest sympathetic reaction to the hardship that Harry has to endure. It causes frustration, and makes the reader want to step into the book and shake some characters by their collars and tell them what is right and what they should do. Some readers hate this and complain about it. But to me it shows that they care for these characters and they are invested.

And what would a story be if we sit in the comfort of the beginning. The nice green lush forest village with the innocent villagers going about their normal merry little lives. This of course steps beyond just a story. We love our comfort. Tolkien presents this as the Baggins part of Bilbo in The Hobbit. But there is the Took side. The side that hears of the stories of dragons and gold under the mountain, and hears the song in his heart to echo the song of the dwarves. The stories we read would certainly be boring with no Tookishness. And the lives we live would be the same.

Bone just has a very stark contrast between the beginning and the end. More so than your average modern fantasy story, because of the cartoonish humor and even the art style employed. However, this juxtaposition did not feel inappropriate to me. Late in the book you see the main character (who is a goofy looking little rotund character, obviously not human and actually a very strong cartoonish archetype; round and fluid looking) beaten and battered, scratches abundant, one eye swollen shut. But the contrast of innocence against the brutality gives the reader a more jarring feel of the impact of "the end of all things."

Hmm, I am a little off my original direction... I do not necessarily have a point (yet) about our desire for the way things were. This is obviously something that shows up in real life as well. There is also another side to the coin where we desire change in our stories (both personal and those for entertainment). That is just not what my mind focused on as I read Bone. I am just thinking my way through this and how it influences our reading, where it comes from, what it means, the good and bad, etc. It definitely has very strong connections with our desires and thoughts about our own lives.

The other thing I was struck by was the good and bad of a series with a very set conclusion and that of an ongoing series. Both have pros and cons. And Bone was an intriguing example because it was so long that it scares people from reading it, whereas I began to grow a little sad as I came into closing distance of the last two books (the full thing is 9 books) knowing that I would reach an end and there would be no more.

There is a warring part of us that both wants a conclusion, to know how things end, but likewise if we truly loved these characters and their story, we always want to know more. What happens next, or perhaps (less interestingly) what happened before, or maybe fill in this little gap in the story here or here. We want it both ways.

Obviously the desire for more derives from our love for the characters and world. We do not want a good thing to end. We want it to continue on being good. And we want to continue to live out these lives that so intrigue us. So we will ravish any new book or story or movie that adds on to the narrative. It is just as your love for another real person causes you to want to be around them, learn of them, enjoy living life with them. In the case of the narrative, it is the creator(s) successfully making you love their characters.

However the continual output of more and more stories is going to nearly inevitably (though it is not perfectly inevitable) cheapen the story and its characters. (This has an interesting conversation attached if you continue with my simile from above.) And there is a part of us that longs for an End. A conclusion. True and complete. I would say this is very much a part of our eternal desire, not that we wish for our own stories to end, but we desire a certainty and control
in it. Part of what we get out of narrative stories is a full picture understanding of a story that we never get in real life. This desire for completion and satisfaction from a story comes from a sense of our own weakness to see our endings, and so we use stories to satisfy this longing in us. There is more to our longings for stories than just this one thing. And I think I may already be arguing against myself in regards to some of the drawn out conclusions of this theory I just posed. But the wind is already out of my sails and I still have more to write.

An addition to this conversation can come from The Matrix. After the first movie's success, they announced there would be two more movies. I immediately thought this was a bad idea. (I know this is really easy to say now but I honestly did think it was a bad idea back then (and there are other circumstances where I have been proven wrong when I have thought this in the case of other sequels)) Now the ending to the first one did leave room for more story, but it was honestly an untellable story. It was far bigger than a human can tell. All of this is not to say that better sequels could not have been made. They just had a hard road ahead of them and failed. So, we often want sequels (or prequels or whatever), we'll take whatever we can get to keep coming back to the world we loved, but that always harbors the danger of it cheapening the thing you hold so dear. Again, why a true and worthy conclusion can be such a wonderful thing. To add more will only likely cheapen it.

So how do we balance this? (At this point you are more likely asking when is he going to stop typing? Well no, you can see the end. You're almost there. Just a few more words. You can do it.) Well, I am always more for asking questions than answering them... Hah, no actually I just think I need to finish this post now. There is more. Hopefully, I broke some stones loose in your own head which will cause some tumbling. For now, I shall depart.

If you want a quick review of Bone perhaps it could best be summed up by: after 1300+ pages I was both satisfied and wanted more. In a good way.

No comments: