Normally, I wouldn’t start off one of these assuming you know something, but I’ll try this: I don’t need to explain Harry Potter to you, right? Well, imagine Harry Potter was based on a real kid, and you have Tommy Taylor, the now grown up star of Mike Carey and Peter Gross’ The Unwritten. Tommy has ridden the wave of celebrity brought on by the success of the books for years, never really embracing a life of his own.
However, what Tommy didn’t know is that his father, who wrote the Tommy Taylor novels, was involved in a centuries long struggle with a shadowy group called The Unwritten. These men and women control everything that is committed to the page, knowing that fiction is powerful enough to influence the real world. Tommy is the key to the struggle, as he’s the real world representation of the semi-Christlike fictional Tommy. Now, Tommy is on the run with a few friends, trying to figure out the events that his Father set into motion, while staying alive, and coming into his own as a hero.
The other major characters are:
Tommy’s childhood friend, now lover, and disciple of Wilson Taylor, Tommy’s father. Lizzie, it turns out, may or may not be a refugee from a Dickens type novel. Lizzie can talk to books by bleeding on them, or something. She’s the Hermione of the group, but far less confident.
A red haired, jokey reporter who was tracking Tommy (Ron Weasley, basically), Savoy was pretty much along for the ride. That is, up until he was infected with vampirism. He’s now slowly starting to crave human blood, and lose his humanity.
The fictional arch evil vampire from the Tommy Taylor books (think Voldemort), Ambrosio has broken through to the real world, and infected Savoy. His only goal is to destroy Tommy Taylor.
A mysterious, possibly immortal assassin working for the Unwritten, Pullman has tried time and again to kill Tommy, and failed.
Tommy’s father, who is currently dead… Or maybe not, as he’s currently running around as Ahab in Moby Dick. What does that mean? I’ll explain below.
Currently, Tommy is trying to find out what his father set up, and is following a series of obscure cues that have literally (no pun intended) led him into Moby Dick. There, he’s found out that if he lets himself go, he could be lost in the book. However, if he takes control of the narration, he can manipulate events to his liking. This leads to his current predicament: while trying to move the narrative to its climax, Tommy seems to have broken the book, freezing the action in place.
Meanwhile, back in the real world. An employee of the Unwritten, a puppet master who is currently forcing them to beat each other to death until they divulge Tommy’s whereabouts, has captured Lizzie and Savoy. Only problem with that is, they don’t know where he is at the moment.
What else? The final Tommy Taylor novel was released recently, and though it was presumably manipulated by the bad guys to basically suck, and defuse all of Wilson’s power, instead, Wilson released a messianic tract that amped the cult of Tommy Taylor up into a full blown religion, tipping the scales of power. This won’t come into play in tomorrow’s issue, but it has made the villains far more desperate, and willing to engage in hand-to-hand combat. Hence our current situation.
The Unwritten, as you might expect, is extremely literate reading, playing around with forms and structures, as well as characters and themes from any number of sources. But Mike Carey never forgets that its about the characters, and has made the reader truly want to know more about the fates of Savoy, Lizzie, and Tommy. They all started as self-centered egotists, but over time have come to care for each other – and we’ve come to care for them.
Peter Gross’ art is the perfect match for the story, too. His compositions have a simple storybook feel that emphasizes the timelessness of the material, and his characters are remarkably expressive. He’s as comfortable drawing a scene in a hotel room, as the entirety of Moby Dick.
Big action, smart plot twists, and fascinating mythology built from the library of our collective memories make this one of the more unique books currently hitting stands. With this guide, you should be able to jump right into this Wednesday’s issue #22 – and that’s your five minute recap!
Ahab, Tom, and the Whale. ’The Unwritten’ #21 Review