“Something of a delight” – The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg
We begin with a creation myth: the world, or a version of the world, is created by Kiddo, a young girl, the daughter of a God called Birdman and the sister of a God called Kid. After a short period of harmony, largely as a result of leaving her world to its own devices, Birdman sticks his beak in and has the people of the world start to worship him, which is where all of the trouble starts, but with the trouble comes love (which troubles Birdman in turn, but he leaves it be).
We then turn to the world itself where two bearded gentlemen sit by a fire discussing the inconstancy and untrustworthiness of women – and a wager is arrived at, in which one of the gentlemen will leave on a spurious premise for 100 days during which the tother gent will do his utmost to defile the absent gentleman’s wife, Cherry. If he can dishonour Cherry, he wins a castle; if he fails, he loses his own castle. We then meet Cherry herself, who is honest and decent and bright, and her maid, Hero, who is also her lover – but Early Earth (scene, as eagle-eyed readers will be quick to realise, of Greenberg’s last graphic magnum opus, The Encyclopaedia of Early Earth) is not an altogether welcoming place for any young woman who wishes to be open with her sexuality, or read books, or learn anything. It’s very much a man’s world.
Quickly realising what the two gentlemen have in mind, Cherry and Hero hatch a plan and it’s right from the pages of 1,001 Arabian Nights – Hero will tell a story each night in order to ward off the unwanted advances and hopefully good will prevail. And it is the stories Hero tells that fill the lavishly illustrated pages of The One Hundred Nights of Hero. Now, that doesn’t mean you get 100 stories (or 100 stories set like jewels within the tale of the wager) – Hero’s tales are so in-depth and involved (Greenberg tells us in asides) that people very quickly lose count of how many nights the tales have been running. Thankfully any disappointment you might feel at being short changed on the number of stories is more than compensated for by the quality of the stories themselves.
There is the story of the dancing stones (which feels as familiar as a fairytale you heard in your childhood, a story you’ve always known in some way, and may well be a composite of older, similar tales), there is the story of the honest harp (in which two sisters fall out over the same man, who really isn’t very nice), there is the story of the League of Secret Storytellers (which feels like something out of a Margaret Atwood or a Salman Rushdie novel), there is the story of one of the three moons of Early Earth and how she takes human form and finds love, and there is the story of a King with 12 daughters all of whom like to party in a mystical place that they get to by stepping through their bedroom windows at night (see above). Gradually the tales interweave with the reality of Cherry and Hero, with relations of the two girls emerging from the storytelling miasma, and the tales themselves sometimes spinning one into the other. All of which, we have to say, is something of a delight although in saying this we know that if you read The Encyclopaedia of Early Earth you’ll hardly need us to tell you that Greenberg is an incredible talent.
Any Cop?: Another splendid romp of a graphic novel from Greenberg that manages to say a lot of politically acute things about the relationships between men and women, and religion, whilst remaining light and never becoming overly preachy and finger-waggy. We liked it a lot!
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- September 1, 2016 / 9:00 am