Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Fables 149, originally released February 18th, 2015.
Patrick: We tend to look at foreshadowing as somewhat virtuosic — especially in serialized stories. The foreshadowing itself is kind of like a promise to the readers, and the payoff is the storyteller keeping that promise. That’s immensely rewarding, because it sorta proves that the creators were as invested in the ending of the story as the readers. But why does that really matter so much to us? In fact, isn’t it more impressive if ideas are creatively recalled from earlier in the story? Like, what’s the real virtue in planting a seed you’re only going to pay off later when anything could be a seed? Fables 149, takes this “everything is a seed” approach, asking questions about what is planned, why it was planned, and whether it matters.
We pick back up with Rose and the Cricket in witnessing the end of Lauda’s story. Lauda, after having demonstrated that she wasn’t really out for her sisters’ blood, lives her lonely life to the fullest alone in the woods. Until, one day, her sister Geirvé shows up, decked out with magic spells and abilities to beat the band. It looks like there’s going to be an epic showdown, until Lauda casts a single spell and transforms her sister into a thorny rosebush. Artist Mark Buckingham draws the escalation to this moment and the twist all on one page, almost deflating the drama in the process. Still, he plays it straight — check out how each successive panel brings the camera in closer and closer to Geirvé, until she and her fully-formed magical armor envelop the entire panel. And then one word shatters the threat.
You could argue that this encounter is foreshadowed in the previous issue, when we see Tobba succumb to the same fate. Of course, at the time, we didn’t know how that happened to her or who was responsible. And, to be fair, we still don’t conclusively know that Lauda killed Tobba either — maybe that incident just gave her the idea to attack Giervé in the same way. I’m interested in what the difference between those scenarios means, and it seems like I’m not alone.
Rose Red asks the key question of the issue:
Look how the Cricket isn’t willing to totally commit to the idea that Lauda was planning to turn on her sisters all along, but is ready to praise this as a “fine strategy” if she had. The Cricket reinforces the value in seeing a plan through to fruition but in just a few pages, he’ll reverse on this stance, albeit inadvertently. When the Cricket tells the rest of the story about Lauda eventually meeting the man of her dreams, having twins, losing the man of her dreams, he theorizes that the Father was killed by his wicked sister. Rose infers “the wicked step-mother that Snow got shipped off to?” and the Cricket confirms. In that moment, there’s another one of those twinges of recognition, like some foreshadowing just paid off. The thing is, you know it hasn’t. The story of Snow White dates back to the early 19th century, (1812 if Wikipedia is to be believed), and so there’s obviously no way the Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were planting seeds to pay off in a comic book in 2015.
No, this isn’t foreshadowing paying off, it’s reappropriation of characters and concepts from existing stories. Y’know: Fables’ bread and butter. It’s sort of an inversion of foreshadowing, and I wish we had a name for it. Whatever we want to call it, using this narrative trick inextricably link the story of Fables with basically any and all stories, past, present and future. That’s a tremendously exciting idea, and places this sisterly quarrel in an infinitely larger context. Drew, we’ve talked before about Fables incorporating tropes from more modern narratives — line when we dipped into Cop Drama a few issues back — and I’d argue that this issue’s title page is a sly reference to the Nexus sequence Star Trek: Generations (“Generations” being the title of this issue). Ultimately, its most meaningful connections are going to be to itself, as evidenced by the issue-ending cavalcade of splash-pages checking in on the multitude of unresolved stories in the Fables universe.
So, Drew, that leads me to ask what you make of some of the foreshadowing we do get here. With her use of roses, Lauda seems like a pretty easy analogue for Rose, and Greivé’s cool gray appearance recalls Snow pretty clearly. Should we trust that as a sign that history will repeat itself and Snow’s going down? Also, what do you make of the issue’s repeated assurances that the magical force will be satisfied no matter what the cost? That’s the magic of narrative, right?
Drew: Oh, totally. Whatever ancestor of Lauda’s first suffered this curse might as well have been named Checkhov, am I right? Actually, the notion of Checkhov’s gun kind of negates the notion of foreshadowing, or at least guarantees that everything has (or will eventually have) some kind of importance in the narrative. You could hardly say the presence of a gun foreshadows someone getting shot so much as it necessitates it. Of course, Checkhov was giving advice on tight writing, not prescribing how stories play out, so it might be more proper to think that the gun is only there in the first place because someone needs to get shot. Which I guess is my way of saying that the roses here might be foreshadowing, or they might represent the need for someone to get pricked next issue.
Or — and I won’t count this option out — they might just be part of the fairytale set-dressing. Roses are a loaded enough symbol even before we factor in the prevalence of enchanted roses in folklore. Heck, the backup of this issue features Briar Rose, a character who famously suffered another unlucky finger-prick. Taken together, these touchstones make for a strange echo chamber of symbolism, sending our mind swimming through a potent mix of meaning and recognition. That’s a familiar feeling for this series, but I hesitate to rely on any conclusions I may draw from that echo chamber, mostly because I haven’t quite settled what writer Bill Willingham’s final word on Fables will be.
If I had to guess, I would suspect that the greater narrative of this series is more indebted to the idea of fairytales than to any specific details Willingham has planted along the way. Now, “the idea of fairytales” might end up playing out in how Willingham handles those details, but for me, the real question comes down to who wins: good or evil?
For those of us still uncomfortable identifying Rose as the “evil” of this final act, Willingham helpfully reminds us of exactly how monstrous she can be.
Don’t worry if the text is too small to read — Buckingham walks us right through her plan, keeping us focused on Rose’s ring as she details using Bigby to kill Snow before Rose seduces him for herself. That last bit is particularly icky, and feels kind of inexplicable in light of Rose’s murder-or-be-murdered motivation, making Rose unequivocally evil. Which means she’s got to lose, right?
Not so fast.
First, that weird seduction angle also reminds us of Bigby’s own predatory past, perhaps even hakening all the way back to the earliest versions of Red Riding Hood, where the Wolf (disguised as the grandmother) instructs the Riding Hood to disrobe and join him in bed before devouring her. That reminder that Bigby is THE villain of fairytales suggests that he might be on the chopping block — perhaps opening the door for Rose’s victory?
The other confounding factor is that “the greater narrative of fairytales” doesn’t actually dictate that good always wins. Indeed, there are countless fairytales (including a few featuring Bigby) where the hero dies a horrible death. Willingham has regularly opted for more family-friendly versions of those stories — and it would be an odd choice to end a 150-chapter story on such a down note — but there’s enough doubt for me to say I honestly don’t know what will happen.
Of course, I still have my suspicions. This series began with Snow and Bigby, and I have a hard time imagining it doesn’t end with them, too. We haven’t focused very much on Bigby’s narrative arc over the past several issues, but I’m now struck at how closely it tracks the “death and rebirth” portions of the Hero’s Journey. Could he end up returning to his happy life with Snow and the kids? I hope so, but again, with so many symbols foreshadowing so many possible outcomes, we’re going to have to wait and see.
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