JIM HENSON'S THE STORYTELLER; FAIRIES #1 by Matt Smith
Art
Story
Characterization
Summary
THE STORYTELLER: FAIRIES #1, a heartwarming continuation of Henson's legacy, is possibly the most perfect comic to curl up with this winter. Matt Smith uses "The Fairy Queen and the Shepherd" to turn a couple fairy tale tropes on their heads.
82 %
Magically Subversive

Most fairy tales center around a magical being tampering with the common human world, for better or worse. THE STORYTELLER: FAIRIES #1 flips this trope on its head. In this first issue, the ordinary intervenes on the magical.

THE STORYTELLER: FAIRIES #1 is written and illustrated by Matt Smith. It is the latest entry in Archaia’s ongoing THE STORYTELLER series. For the unfamiliar, THE STORYTELLER was a television show created by Jim Henson. Unfortunately, it had an all too short run in the 1980’s. Every episode, the titular character sits by the fire and tells a moral-laden fairy tale to his canine comrade. BOOM! Studios’ imprint Archaia has been sustaining this legacy through four-part miniseries. Each series has revolved around a specific theme — DRAGONS, WITCHES, GIANTS, and now, FAIRIES.

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“One Man’s Spriggan is Another Man’s Sprite”

Right from the start, THE STORYTELLER: FAIRIES #1 subverts our assumptions. The issue opens with the Storyteller explaining to his dog that fairies go by many names. For example, they go by elves, sprites, and spriggans, to name a few. Speaking from a Western perspective, our 21st-century notion of a “fairy” is fairly specific. To us, a fairy looks like a tiny winged humanoid creature. Think of something akin to Peter Pan’s Tinkerbell.

THE STORYTELLER: FAIRIES #1
Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

However, fairies weren’t always so concrete. This opening scene paves the way for an inclusive series. Not all cultures believe in tiny winged people. However, many cultures believe in creatures that could be interpreted as fairies. By establishing this in the first issue, readers may be more open to tales in future issues that deviate from their idea of what a fairy is.

Halló from Iceland

The folklore tackled in THE STORYTELLER #1 is The Fairy Queen and the Shepherd. This Icelandic tale follows a burly, bearded shepherd named Grettir the Strong. Grettir seeks work on a farmstead. Unfortunately, this farmstead is infamous for the mysterious deaths of its shepherds during Yuletide. Despite the farmstead owner’s warnings, Grettir makes up his mind that he will take the job. Our narrator quickly introduces us to Hild. He is the farm’s housekeeper who has a penchant for animals.

THE STORYTELLER: FAIRIES #1
Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

When Yuletide comes, Hild casts a spell on Grettir. She then puts a bridle on him and rides him like a trusty steed into an unforgiving Icelandic landscape. She leaves him in the wilderness once she reaches the entrance to the elf-world. Two talking ravens (possibly crows –they’re big black birds, okay) give Grettir a magical stone. This stone allows him to follow after Hild into this magical realm, unseen. There, he discovers Hild’s mother-in-law has cursed her to live in the human world. He also overhears that only a human can break this curse by speaking of Hild’s situation.

Screw Deus Ex Machina

Despite Grettir’s reputation as “Grettir the Strong,” he doesn’t save Hild by slaying a monster or performing a godlike feat. Instead, he uses his words to bear witness to her situation. The narrative subverts our expectations of a character with this type of honorific. Grettir’s final act is returning Hild’s crown to her. However, the real curse-breaking was the verse he spoke revealing she was an elf.

Ultimately, Grettir, a human, saves Hild from her magical problem. Although this could come across as an iteration of the typical damsel in distress trope, it’s actually pretty empowering. Usually those with magic subject humans to their will. Instead, in this case, humans use their humanity to save those more powerful than them. Hild leaves Grettir to die and later accuses Grettir of being a liar and a drunk. Still, he frees her from the curse. Even after Hild has used him for her own gain, Gretter is still compassionate towards her. Furthermore, he gains nothing from his good deed. Grettir isn’t a princess kissing frogs or a suitor rescuing a damsel from a tower. He’s just a tough dude doing the right thing. And that’s rad.

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A Glitter-Free Take on Fairies

Although enjoyable, THE STORYTELLER: FAIRIES #1 wasn’t without its underwhelming moments. I also reviewed the first entry of a previous STORYTELLER run, GIANTS. In contrast, I found that FAIRIES #1 lacked that classic Jim Henson flair. Henson’s work got bleak sometimes. However, there was always a touch of humor to it. I didn’t really see any outright Henson-esque influence in the retelling of this tale. The only connection is the banter between the ravens. However, I still feel FAIRIES #1 managed to tap into the heartwarming nature of the overall series.

THE STORYTELLER: FAIRIES #1
Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

Additionally, I couldn’t help but be a bit let down by the art. The art is not by any means bad. In fact, it’s quite charming.  The art is approachable and earthy. It utilizes contrasting warm and cool tones masterfully. Smith draws Grettir in a way that makes him instantly loveable. He is both soft and incredibly tough. But this is fairies. I think I was just expecting something a little more magical. Even in the elf-world, the colors remain muted and the art stays relatively realistic. There’s no bursting reveal of the fantastic. However, maybe this a continued play on the overarching theme of subversion. This is not a Lisa Frank fantasy. Instead, THE STORYTELLER: FAIRIES #1 returns to the folkloric roots of fairies.

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Final Thoughts on THE STORYTELLER: FAIRIES #1

THE STORYTELLER: FAIRIES #1 is a solid start to what promises to be a magical series. The comic successfully challenges our perception of “fairies.” This appropriate since that is the theme. Furthermore, it challenges the traditional tropes of fairy tales. THE STORYTELLER: FAIRIES #1 will appeal to fans of the series. It will also appeal to readers who are fed up with the familiar fairy tales. If you’re looking for something a little more substantial than a Disney movie, this could be for you.

THE STORYTELLER: FAIRIES #1 is like coming in from the cold and having a bowl of warm soup. Maybe the soup in question wasn’t my favorite flavor. Maybe it was a little simplistic. But, it’s cold outside and the soup was undeniably satisfying. It’s a wholesome reminder that people are capable of doing good. I honestly cannot think of a more perfect comic to read as winter approaches.

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