Things Written About “The Unwritten”

Posted by Tobias Carroll

Over at Techland, a quartet of smart writers takes a look at Inside Man, the second collection of Mike Carey and Peter Gross’s comic book The Unwritten. The first collection, Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity, suggested that the series would be something resembling a metafictional take on the Harry Potter phenomenon. This volume suggests that Carey and Gross’s concerns are far more ambitious — and, as Techland’s roundtable suggests, this has benefits and drawbacks. (One could spend years dealing with the political, cultural, and literary symbolism that Carey and Gross touch on — but doesn’t fully explore — in one two-issue arc here.)

But when Carey and Gross are on, the results are impressive. Lev Grossman calls the last story, “Eliza Mae Hertford’s Willowbank Tales,” “sweet and nasty.” No argument here, but it’s also creepy as hell — a very particular, and very literary,  horror story. Images from it keep popping up when I’m not looking, and I’ll consider myself lucky if it doesn’t end up inspiring a few nightmares.

One thing that, surprisingly, doesn’t come up in the roundtable is the relationship between The Unwritten and Alan Moore’s work. One recurring motif in The Unwritten in which characters are overtaken by a fictional persona recalls a similar device used in Promethea. And there’s one scene in Inside Man with imagery echoing the climax of Moore’s A Small Killing. All of which isn’t to say that The Unwritten plays out at all like a response to Moore — but like Moore, Carey and Gross do seem to using one way of telling stories to explore many others.