As preparation for the new television season (in particular, Once Upon A Time), I recently read the first two story arc of Bill Willingham’s Fables, “Legends in Exile” and “Animal Farm.” Willingham’s story of fairy-tale characters living their eternal lives in the modern world an interesting example of at least somewhat conservative storytelling, but it’s not as compelling a thought experiment as it could be, mostly because of what feel like weaknesses in the world-building.
The initial stories give us a sense of how at least two Fables interact with the modern world, Prince Charming by conning the women he lives off of, Rose Red by living the life of an indolent, spoiled party girl. The assumption seems to be that the rest of the world would be considerably hostile to the Fables, and that mainstreaming might be difficult, but we don’t actually see a lot of evidence of this. I don’t know if it would be more conservative to argue that society wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) be accepting of differences, especially when they’re miraculous, or if it would be rebuttal to liberalism to argue that the Fables could successfully be assimilated, but Willingham and his collaborators don’t really seem to be making that case in either direction. Either that, or the Fables are in some way going Galt from the Mundane world, but if that’s Willingham’s argument, it’s nigh-invisible.
And that’s a problem for some later stories. In “Animal Farm,” if the Mundanes had been established as an active threat to Fabletown as a whole, Snow White and her allies in Fabletown administration would have a much stronger case for cracking down not just on the residents of the Farm, and keeping tight control over the denizens of Fabletown in New York City. And as a result, the satire of wannabe revolutionaries, like Goldilocks, who is sleeping with Little Bear essentially to prove that she’s a rebel, would be a lot funnier if their cause was proved ridiculous and self-destructive in advance. Instead, the book sort of seems like it’s condescending to and about characters with legitimate grievances, and setting the supposed heroes up to be a bit brittle, which is a bit odd given how flexible they must have to had to be to survive for so long. “We haven’t yet been corrupted by the Mundys’ modern social philosophy concerning such things,” as Snow White declares after the executions that end the rebellion at the Farm. “The responsibility lies entirely with the perpetrators and not their victims.” But if you’re going to survive for millenia, and after a devastating war, the things you carry forward and the things you leave behind matter.