1001 Nights of Snowfall by Bill Willingham

#52 in my 2007 book challenge was 1001 Nights of Snowfall, written by Bill Willingham and illustrated by many. It’s a graphic novel original collection of linked short stories, set in Willingham’s mythical Fables world. Fables, for the uninitiated, is a monthly comic from the Vertigo line of DC Comics, very much in the tradition of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. It takes mythic elements–here, characters from fairy tales–and transforms with new, and very modern, twists on the ancient tales. In the series, a group of fables, e.g. Snow White, escaped a rampaging other-worldly Adversary and established a “safe” community within New York City.

1001 Nights of Snowfall has been sitting on my metaphorical shelf for some time. It is a series of short stories set within a larger frame. Snow White, as ambassador for Fabletown, visits a sultan in the East. He says he is going to marry her, then kill her. Instead, she beguiles him with stories, all of which provide details into the past of many of the Fables characters. As in all good fiction, the stories answer many questions, but beget even more.

As in the Sandman series, there are different artists for different stories. The amazing Charles Vess illustrates the framing story. The other stories are done by some of the brightest talents in the arts and comics world, all of whose work is beautifully suited to the fantastic world of the Fables.

My one concern, and it’s a big one, is Willingham’s disturbing sexism, which I’ve noticed occasionally in Fables, but was more prevalent in his previous fantasy works. He’s done a decent job of overcoming, or perhaps hiding, this in the ongoing series by making both male and female characters by turns nasty, loving, loyal, and depraved. In 1001 Nights, though, there is a troubling rape scene in the Frog Prince short story, which is unnecessarily depicted in the art. The story would have been more powerful, IMO, if the story and the illustration showed this in a more sophisticated, allusive and less graphic manner, as was done in the first Snow White short story in the book. As written and illustrated, it places itself squarely in the realm of the torture porn so prevalent in recent movies like Saw and Hostel. It’s a short part (two or three panels) within a longer, very moving story. But for me, it marred the entire work.

I enjoy Fables the series, and I thought this book was quite good. But my reservations about some of the depictions of women in both the series and 1001 Nights result in a qualified recommendation of both.

4 Responses to “1001 Nights of Snowfall by Bill Willingham”

  1. Ford MF Says:

    It’s been a couple months, but I remember the scene as harrowing instead of tacky, and a good job of being unsettling without overdoing it.

  2. Laura Fox Says:

    I’m also concerned about how the middle-easter *villain* is preserved (Shahriar, I believe it was, the sultan from The Arabian Nights who killed all his wives the next morning) while the heroic Scheherezade is co-opted by a westerner. Not to mention that originally IIRC, Scheherezade was not shanghaied; she *chose* to marry the murderous sultan and attempt her plan to end his killing spree with stories, risking herself to save other women.

    (Mind I haven’t read Fables, this is just things that stick out to me from what I’ve heard about it.)

  3. Fishballs Says:

    I’ve never really thought of Bill Willingham’s work on Fables to be sexist. I agree with Ford MF in that the scene really was quite harrowing and in turn leads to Fly’s current heroics in the realm of the Fables.

    Add that to the fact that a lot of the female characters come across as strong women (Snow being the showrunner at Fabletown and afterwards becoming a mother, plus her back story as a woman action against people who have wronger her, Rose Red running the Farm, Dame Totenkinder with her weaving in the background are a few examples) I’m having a hard time seeing the sexism in his work. I’d be interested in seeing the occasions of sexism that you mentioned.

    It must be said that it’s been a good few months since I’ve read the earlier books, so my memory could be a little blurry.

  4. Fishballs Says:

    sorry, replace ‘action’ with ‘acting’

    blargh.and ‘wronger’ with ‘wronged’ I’m a terrible typist. also it’s six am and it’s been a looong night.