The Power of Story

For those unfamiliar with the book, The Unwritten is a monthly ongoing comic book series by Mike Carey and Peter Gross that focuses on the character Tommy Taylor. Taylor’s father was a famous novelist who wrote stories exceedingly similar to Harry Potter, but the author’s “son” and the main character shared the same name. As the comic book series progresses, mysterious events and mythical characters indicate that Taylor is, in fact, the storybook character made real. He refuses to believe at first, but by the end of the second volume of trade paperbacks, he begins to accept that he was created with pen and paper. I am a huge fan of The Unwritten, even though I was never interested in Harry Potter. I think that Potter is a finely written series of book; I’ve just never been fascinated with them. Rather than measuring Harry Potter and Tommy Taylor against one another, I would like to look at the philosophical and theological implications behind The Unwritten.

Writer Mike Carey draws strong comparisons between the main character of his series and Jesus Christ, stating on a few occasions that Tommy Taylor is the “Word made Flesh.” Readers will see that there are many more differences than similarities, but the comparison is not without merit. Neither Taylor nor Christ have a conventional birth story. Both men were imbued with power to help the unfortunate by taking others’ pain upon themselves (i.e. Christ upon the cross). Both have worshippers, Tommy’s consisting of diehard fans that see him as a godlike figure due to events in the story.

Despite their similarities, Taylor is not the altruistic hero that Jesus is in the Bible. In fact, Taylor’s vulgar behavior and excessive swearing reveal his desperate selfishness. Tommy is a man frustrated with his many efforts to discover any sort o purpose to his life, and his continual searching makes him more like the rest of humanity than Christ.

In the second volume of the book, Taylor comes face to face with the monster of Frankenstein. Taylor believes himself to be dreaming, but this is the actual man made from the scraps of criminals’ corpses. As the two men talk together in a prison chapel, Taylor remains steadfast in his skepticism, emphasizing that if Frankenstein were real then all story characters would be real. Taylor specifically cites Br’er Rabbit, Dracula, and the Tooth Fairy as incredulous examples. Frankenstein’s creature looks at the statue of Jesus hanging on the cross and says that maybe even Jesus is real.

I am sure that many religious people would be offended at the implication of Christ being grouped with make-believe characters, but the idea is interesting and should be considered. In a time when spirituality is considered en vogue in fantasy stories, the viewpoint of equating religious figures and literary figures reveal the difficulty of belief. How can anyone be certain of their beliefs? Why believe in just a portion of these mythical figures and not all of them? In a strictly literary view of the world, myth has influenced the world throughout history. Whether it’s Christ or Dracula conveying the moral or entertainment of the story, people’s lives have changed as a result. Why be picky?

My intention here is not to answer these questions but to point out the value of thinking through possible answers. Story is vastly important to humanity. In The Unwritten, the villains to be a secret society bent on controlling the tales of man, thereby manipulating the belief systems of the world.

For now, I heartily recommend The Unwritten by Mike Carey. His depiction of pop culture diehard fans is as fascinating as learning about a member of a religious cult. Perhaps the line between the two is thinner than we thought.

StoriesMichael Roberts