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[Monday Reading] Graphic Intertextuality and Parallel Literary Worlds in Mike Carey and Peter Gross’ “Unwritten” Books 3 and 4


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.

I reviewed the first two books in this 12-part comic book series a week ago. Since we only have the first four volumes in our libraries, I am afraid this would be my final post on this brilliantly-conceived graphic novels… well, until I finally get my hands on the rest of the books in the series. That goes without saying, naturally.

The Unwritten Book 3: Dead Man’s Knock

Created By: Mike Carey and Peter Gross
Published by: Vertigo, 2011
ISBN: 1401230466 (ISBN13: 9781401230463)
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

So I have a confession to make. I loved the first two books more than these last two. That out of the way, I still have to say that I am awestruck by the brilliance of Mike Carey and Peter Gross. Just when you think you know where this story is heading, it takes you someplace strange yet familiar, surreal yet comforting in its being recognizable with parallels to known stories, its affinity to Harry Potter (of which this must have been inspired, truly), and allusions to beloved tales, conspiracies, and the paranormal. Yes, it’s a head trip.

So there are still stories within a bigger narrative here, except that it’s more difficult to figure out which is which. I am grateful for the fact that Lizzie Hexam’s background is discussed in great depth here – with a choose-your-own-adventure twist built into it, that I totally ignored. I prefer reading my story in a somewhat linear format, thank you very much. The entire volume revolves around the much-awaited publication of the fourteenth Tommy Taylor novel with pre-publication orders of three million in the UK alone.

To say that Tommy Taylor has taken over the entire English-speaking world’s sensibility may be an understatement. The creators of this graphic novel drove home the point that there is huge power in this kind of following – the capacity to mould and manipulate people’s minds, their way of thinking, and eventually their behaviours. Imagine the author of such a highly popular series controlled by a cabal of unwritten, powerful creatures who have lived throughout the centuries, shaping history and the course of the universe as they see fit. Evidently, words have more than currency in this graphic novel – they breathe life. Yet, Tom Taylor remains at a loss as to how to harness this power within him, and what “walking the path” means. He grows impatient with Lizzie and Savoy (think Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley) as he tries to figure out exactly what he needs to do. Then he finally sees his father whose cryptic explanations confounded him even further:

Then naturally he dies. Or not. This graphic novel is strange that way. There are also flashbacks to a much younger Tom being told stories by his father who seemed to have experimented on both Tom and young Lizzie – infusing them with classic stories that they need to prepare themselves for a war that is yet to come. While Tom remains clueless, it does seem that he will rise to the occasion, with a little help from his friends.

The Unwritten Book 4: Leviathan

Created By: Mike Carey and Peter Gross
Published by: Vertigo, 2011
ISBN: 1401232922 (ISBN13: 9781401232924)
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

Now the fourth novel takes the existential aspect of the narrative even further, this time bringing in even more classic tales into the mix. Think of it as a kind of literary halfway home in a parallel universe where all stories converge and characters from different tales meet and converse with each other. Think Leviathan meets Captain Ahab meets Pinocchio meets Sindbad meets Baron Munchhausen.

So our intrepid hero literally gets sucked into a story. When left befuddled as to how he will get back to the “real” world, whatever that means – a ubiquitous literary character, Frankenstein, shows up to provide him guidance. This lifeline, by the way, has been there sporadically in previous volumes. He comes in at pivotal points in the story, having been “awakened” by Tom Taylor. He appears with Tommy’s familiar, Mingus, the winged cat.

Apparently, they have a tenuous connection, and Frankenstein dispenses sage advice – not “profound revelations” but enough for Tom to somehow put the pieces together and find his way out of whatever literary wormhole he got sucked into. This “porous” boundary between make-believe and reality has been drummed into Tom’s mind by his father at a very young age as can be seen in the image below:

Imagine being raised by a father like that. And being tucked in with this lovely thought about “happy ever afters”:

I know that there is much much more to this story. I shall wait until the rest of the books find me. All in its good time. Or maybe they will travel into my consciousness through other stories that I read. Who knows?

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

3 comments on “[Monday Reading] Graphic Intertextuality and Parallel Literary Worlds in Mike Carey and Peter Gross’ “Unwritten” Books 3 and 4

  1. Pussreboots

    Interesting series of books. I’ll have to look them up. Come see what I’m reading


  2. I just finished looking these up to see if they are in my local library. The first isn’t available here, but I can order it. The problem is that I am already overwhelmed with books to read!


  3. I must have missed early reviews, Myra. I don’t remember these at all. I know a few people who will love them. Thanks!


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