1001 Nights of Snowfall is a side-volume of Fables that comes chronologically between the seventh volume, Arabian Nights (And Days) and the eight, Wolves. In it, Snow White takes the place of Scheherazade and tells 1001 nights of stories to a sultan—which creates a frame that allows Willingham to tell several unconnected stories about various Fables’ pasts. It’s a volume that contains both prose and comics, and is illustrated/painted by a variety of artists, some of whom don’t generally do comics.
The volume is written by Bill Willingham, with illustrations by Esao Andrews, Brian Bolland, John Bolton, Mark Buckingham, James Jean, Michael WM Kaluta, Derek Kirk Kim, Tara McPherson, Jill Thompson, Charles Vess, and Mark Wheatley. The lettering is, as always, done by Todd Klein.
The prose opening introduces us to Snow White at the beginning of the Fables’ exile in the Mundane world, making a diplomatic trip to warn the Arabian Fables about the Adversary. Instead of listening, they imprison her and then give her to the sultan to be wedded, bedded, and beheaded the next morning, because his first wife betrayed him. (You know this story already.) She bargains him the tale of her own betrayal to stall him.
“The Fencing Lessons” (art by John Bolton) takes place in the early years of Prince Charming and Snow’s marriage. She asks for fencing lessons as her wedding gift, and as he trains her, dwarves start showing up dead. (It’s acknowledged that from time to time the dwarves kidnap peasant girls to rape and murder, but no one does a thing about it.) The king of the dwarves asks Charming for the murderers’ heads on pikes. Rumblings of possible war between the kingdoms above and below ground start. Once the seventh dwarf dies, Charming knows it’s over—he figured out it was his wife already—and he frames the worst highwayman they had in the dungeons for the crime. He confronts her obliquely, and she never admits it, but says that she’ll keep some secrets to her grave. He agrees, and asks her if she’d like to find her sister.
“The Christmas Pies” is a story from Reynard’s homeworld, which was occupied by goblin troops arresting any folk who tried to pass through its gate to the Mundane world. He proposes a scheme to the goblins to bring out the malcontents still celebrating Christmas by insisting they bake up pies and leave them in the woods. The animals who come eat the miracle Christmas pies will be the malcontents, and they can be captured. The third night, he suggests putting stones in the pies so they’ll be weighed down and can’t escape and waiting for them. So, while the gobs wait for the animals in the woods, Reynard leads the animals through the gate to the Mundy world and saves them.
“A Frog’s Eye View” tells of how Ambrose’s kingdom was sacked and his wife and children raped and killed before his eyes because he’d turned into a frog at the shock of his castle being invaded. He loses his memory and wanders from land to land searching for his wife and kids, eventually ending up in Fabletown, where they try to keep the terrible truth from him—though, he remembers when he’s drinking.
“The Runt” tells of how the North Wind got Bigby’s mother pregnant and left her with cubs—Bigby being the runt. His mother dies, the brothers run off to live with the North Wind, and he slowly grows bigger and bigger, more and more fearsome. He eventually goes to kill his father, and is defeated by the North seven times in a row.
“A Mother’s Love” explains how Thunderfoot was cursed to be a human until a female rabbit falls in love with him.
“Diaspora (Part One)” tells the story of how Snow and Rose, fleeing the Homelands, find Totenkinder’s burnt-down cottage and rescue her. Totenkinder tells them her story in return, “A Witch’s Tale.” Totenkinder’s original life began right after the ice age—so, she’s very very old—as a shaman. She has sex with the chief’s son, planning to marry him, but he marries another woman instead and casts her out, pregnant with his child. She sacrifices the child when it’s born for power, and continues to sacrifice children to increase her magic. She appears in several stories in her version—the Pied Piper tale, the Billy Goats Gruff, she’s the one who cursed Beast, et cetera—until finally the Hansel and Gretel bit happens. In “Diaspora (Part 2),” Rose insists that they take Totenkinder with them to Fabletown. They get separated, but we know how Rose and Snow make it to Fabletown after that, with Bigby’s help.
“What You Wish For” is about a girl turned into a mermaid by her wish, and then stuck on the Farm after the Adversary comes.
“Fair Division” is about King Cole’s escape—and how he fed his subjects at the expense of himself. He’s the first to pass out when the food runs out, so the subjects decide to forage for him, since he’s been so kind. The three blind mice go with the party, and they steal the food from a farmhouse, where the lady cuts off their tails with her carving knife. They make it to Fabletown, where he’s elected mayor.
The volume ties off with the sultan releasing Snow with many gifts, and Snow telling his new bride Scheherazade the secret of how to stay alive: tell stories.
1001 Nights of Snowfall is a strange hybrid of a book. The framing-tale is prose while the actually stories are still comics—it creates an interesting juxtaposition of styles, only enhanced by the variety of subjects for the stories themselves. Yet, it manages to be totally coherent and readable. The framing-tale device is what makes it coherent, as opposed to just throwing in a bunch of unrelated backstory-shorts, but it’s still nice to be able to read this book in one sitting, exploring all the disparate stories of woe and wonder.
Perhaps the saddest is Ambrose’s backstory, which we already knew some of from the events in the Fables main storyline. It’s put to the reader in much more graphic detail, here. It’s no huge wonder Ambrose went off the deep end for a while after watching the horrific fate of his wife and oldest daughters and being unable to save them. The fact that Snow and others like the Mirror knew and tried to keep it from him Ouch. It was for his own good, yes, but what a harsh thing to have to do for a friend: pretend his wife and kids are still alive, instead of murdered before his very eyes, when you know the truth. Pretend that it’s all okay somewhere, when you know that it’s never going to be okay. That’s tough.
“The Fencing Lessons” is my favorite story of the bunch, especially reconsidered with the new bits of information from “Rose Red” about Rose’s time with Snow and Charming. This is the Snow that I love: she’s not going to ask her husband to kill her rapists for her, or even tell him what happened. It’s her business. She asks for lessons in swordplay instead, and uses those lessons to hunt down the seven dwarves one by one to take her revenge. Prince Charming does his bit by covering up for her, but as she says—their marriage might have ended that day, before Rose ever even came to stay, because she didn’t trust him enough to tell him the truth, and because she had used him to get her vengeance. It’s a dense, emotionally complex little story of politics, romance and revenge. I love the insights it gives the reader into Charming and Snow’s relationship, and that there may have been faultlines there that we didn’t originally know about—after all, at first it’s just given that he cheats on her with her sister and that’s that. Then, we find out he had already lost his trust in her thanks to this, and that Rose had seduced him on purpose. It makes a simply-seeming story more complex, definitely.
The Totenkinder stories, too, are good reading. For one thing, we know how old she is, now—she’s from the time immediately after the damned ice age. It’d be good to just let that sink in for a minute, and wonder if she might not be the oldest living witch in existence. Her story is at once sympathetic and horrifying; she does evil and she does good, and she does them for different reasons. She’s got a temper and she isn’t afraid to let it loose on the deserving, or those whom she thinks are deserving. I also find it fascinating that it was Rose who rescued her, not Snow. Snow was going to leave her behind after she got enough of her strength back to survive on her own. Rose was the one who wanted to care for her and take her with them to the Mundane world.
Just goes to show, Rose has always had a kernel of good in her, even during her darker and more destructive years.
The short-shorts are interesting, too, like the cursed Thunderfoot and the wish-regretting mermaid.
Overall, 1001 Nights of Snowfall has a lot of interesting stories that are good to know about the characters. It can honestly be read at any point in the series, since it’s backstory, but I like the added depth it gives now to several characters and plot points. (Though, there’s a bit of tension with the fact that the only female Arabian fable we see is Scheherazade, and in this version of the tale she’s no longer her own power—Snow is the one who gives her the story-telling secret to save her life. It’s not done out of her own courage or ingenuity. By itself this wouldn’t bother me, but combined with other issues I’ve had with the Arabian Fables, it’s a little troublesome.)
This volume is the best of all of Fables, when it comes to art—renowned painters and illustrators try their hand at the Fables world here, from Esao Andrews to John Bolton, as well as talented comic artists like Jill Thompson. The result is a collection full to bursting with gorgeous, striking art that far exceeds the usual sorts of illustration one sees in monthly single-issues.
The John Bolton story, “The Fencing Lessons,” is one of my favorites—it’s simply beautiful, containing exquisite detail and swaths of rich color to enhance it. The faces and eyes in particular are well done.
1001 Nights of Snowfall is beautiful through and through, with plenty of variety between the artists at work.
1001 Nights of Snowfall is a gorgeously illustrated volume of sidestories, designed to flesh out the Fables universe and characters a bit more. It’s rather entertaining.
Next week: Cinderella, From Fabletown with Love.