Down to the Bone

One of these days one of my reviews is going to be about something well-known and sensible, I promise.  But it’s just so much fun to write about great obscure works and confuse everybody that I really can’t help myself.  Well, I could, but it sounds more excusable if I say I can’t.  So for today, we’re going to review Jeff Smith’s Bone, but before we get there we have a few notes on the week.

Still going through the Discworld series.  It seems most like a cross between Douglass Adams and D&D (Most people compare him to Tolkien, but that’s just blasphemy).  Pure, hilarious ridiculousness.  I think I have Terry Pratchett’s worldview more or less pegged, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the works themselves.  This one particularly juicy book has a moment where a giant lady is climbing up a tower, carrying an ape, and two wizards flying on a broomstick are shooting arrows at it.  How is that not awesome?

By the way, the series is called “Discworld” because all the events take place on a flat disc-like world on the backs of four elephants, who themselves are on the back of a turtle flying through space.

Makes sense, right?  I’ll bet you’re jealous you didn’t think of it first.  It explains everything.  

I’m also still on a Tolkien drawing kick, which I imagine you’ll see more of later, but not now, since I don’t actually have anything completed yet.  But it’s loads of fun.  Keeps me from wasting too much time on the internet , which is always a concern.

Anyway.  Jeff Smith’s Bone.

This… gives you a fair idea of the mini-series.  Essentially, it follows Fone Bone, a featureless cartoonish character, and his two cousins Smiley Bone and Phoney Bone, and their adventures in a mysterious valley they stumble across.  A valley populated by a variety of ludicrous and realistic creatures.  Thorn (seen here) and Gran’ma Ben  are thoroughly realistic figures, milking cows and killing chickens, but they share the valley with talking possums and insects.  And, of course, giant hairy rat creatures that are ravaging the valley.

The odd thing about it is that it works.  The setting is incredibly bizarre, but the characters and their routines are so incredibly realistic that you buy it.  There’s a wonderful sequence where Thorn and Bone are in a dark forest during a thunder storm, and the artist plays beautifully off the lightning flashes.  It’s not overblown, like having a thunder roll everytime something dramatic happens, but it really makes you believe they’re in a thunderstorm, and at the same time makes the darkness seem very threatening.  Wonderful artistry.  And of course, there’s this bit:

See, THIS is what I’m talking about, when I say that a fantasy series NEEDS to pay attention to the realism of its characters in order to make people believe in the world.  Here we have two horned, man-sized hairy rat-bear hybrids arguing about a cow race. But because the reactions and expressions are so relatable, we believe it.  These two figures crop up throughout the series, and it never states the gender of either (in fact, in the black-and-white original they looked exactly the same), but their interaction is so perfectly that of an old married couple that it doesn’t matter.  You believe in them nonetheless.

However, it’s the later improbabilities that I have the issue with.  Bone has one of the most original fantasy setups you’ll ever find, involving “ghost circles” and rat creatures and a petrified dragon, to say nothing of an utterly bone-chilling “Lord of the Locust” spirit, but it drops all the mythology on you kind of at once, and toward the end of the series it becomes less funny and interesting, and more dull and… bizarre.  The bits of real life that it had early in the series disappear, and you finally realize how WEIRD everything is.  This is an issue Studio Ghibli has too, it starts forgetting to ground the weirdness in something relatable, and it becomes just otherworldly.

In my opinion, by the way, that’s because the worldviews that come out often DON’T have much reality to them, so when they try to make them real for the fantasy world, it doesn’t work and the audience can’t relate.  Bone, in the later books, gets pretty New Age-y, and unsurprisingly, the suspension of disbelief doesn’t hold up.

I would definitely recommend the first six books of Bone for their artistry and humor.  The last three, you might want to read once just to see how it ends, but after that I’d forget about them.  The real beauty in these books is their connection to reality, and after book six that just kinda disappears.

You know, I heard they’re trying to make a movie out of this series.  THAT’S gotta be an interesting project.


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