Book Review: Myths and Fables by George Mann

Published: August 6, 2019 (US) November 14, 2019 (UK)
Author: George Mann
Cover Artist: Grant Griffin
Publisher: Disney-Lucasfilm Press
Formats: Hardback (192 pages), eBook (192 pages), Audiobook (172 minutes)
Timeline: N/A

The synopsis;

Travel to the far reaches of the Star Wars universe–including to the remote outer rim world of Batuu from Galaxy’s Edge–with this unique treasury of in-world space tales. Featuring lush illustrations, this beautiful collection includes nine original fairy tales, myths, and fables. Passed down through generations, spanning millennia, carried from planet to planet, these are the legends that bind the galaxy together.

The review;

Beautifully illustrated, this unique treasury of in-world space tales takes readers to the far reaches of the Star Wars universe…including to the remote outer rim world of Batuu from Galaxy’s Edge.

Audiences in 1977 were used to films about the future. Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey had inspired film goers with the potential for manned exploration of our solar system. Planet of the Apes and Logan’s Run also presented a vision, albeit darkly, of mankind’s future.  So, it can be forgiven if ticket holders for a certain film thought they were seeing a futuristic science fiction movie. After all, the movie poster had spaceships on it (Fox ran a newspaper ad claiming the film was set 3000 years in the future), everyone wanted a toy laser sword, and the name of the film was Star Wars. Yet the first title card audiences saw were the now familiar blue letters on a black field: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away.” Like “once upon a time” in Aesop’s Fables (and near universally in every story since), George Lucas placed the audience in the past—in an ancient time of myth and story.  Drawing on Jung and Campbell, as well as myths of the ancient world, and pulp fiction from his childhood; Lucas set about to create a modern myth for the children of the seventies (indeed, one of Lucas’s biographies is Mythmaking: Behind the Scenes of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones by Jody Duncan.)

Much has been said about the mythic elements of Star Wars, but very little about the myths within the Star Wars galaxy. What does a bedtime story in the galaxy far, far, away look like? Myths serve to educate, to warn, to entertain, and bind a culture together. The Star Wars films do this for our culture, but what about the cultures shown in the Star Wars films?

George Mann answers that question with nine folktales from the galaxy far, far away. In Star Wars: Myths and Fables, a richly illustrated canon young adult book from Disney-Lucasfilm Press, Mann smartly presents them as in-universe tales “sought out from across time and space and carefully transcribed.”

In Star Wars literature, we don’t have a lot of examples of in-universe myths and fables. The wonderfully named Matthew Stover novel, Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor is presented to the reader as another legend of Luke Skywalker. In canon, this idea is picked up again in the Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi novel, The Legend of Luke Skywalker by Kin Liu. In that work the reader is given the events of the Original Trilogy as mythic stories told by everyday denizens of the Star Wars galaxy. Cantina patrons, smugglers, and stable kids give their version of events in an exercise of unreliable narration (and also a demonstration of the oral tradition). Presumably, these are the versions that are told at the end of The Last Jedi.  While I could come up with a few more examples of in-universe myths and fables, like the fiction in the callouts of West End Game’s sourcebooks, they are all pretty obscure. It surprises me that as fertile a ground for story telling as Star Wars is, an in-universe Bullfinch’s Mythology hasn’t been done until now with George Mann’s wonderfully written Myths and Fables.

Grant Griffin provides the illustrations throughout the book, and I think they are stunning. I hope that prints are made available at some point. Griffin’s art echoes Ralph McQuarrie echoing an old master. For example, in his illustration of The Black Spire– I see influences of Andrew Wyeth in the figure of the young girl, and of McQuarrie in domed buildings and in the spire itself. While I primarily buy audiobooks (and the audiobook was narrated by James Monroe Iglehart, who played Genie in the Broadway production of Aladdin— so there is another fairytale reference), I am very happy with the physical book. If you are an audiobook listener, you should treat yourself and get both.

Perhaps my favorite tale was “The Droid With A Heart.” In it, a tactical droid saves the lives of his fellow droids by passive-aggressively countermanding an order from the zealous General Grievous; and in doing so becomes a folk hero to the entire droid army. It is the folk tale the droids tell each other that we read in the pages of the book.  I love the concept of a rebellious droid folk hero, and in the context of Star Wars that is not out of place. Droids in the Star Wars universe do not behave like robots in other franchises—they have feelings, express thoughts, and emote. Naturally; they would also gossip and tell tales. I have heard criticisms of this story, and of droid behavior in Clone Wars (the animated series)—that robots wouldn’t sing in space, or that they would upload data instead of talk; and certainly not tell a story when they can just transmit information. That is the behavior of the Borg, or a Cylon; or a robot from Terminator, or of any number of automata from other franchises. In the American West, laborers would tell each other stories of heroic men like the lumberjack Paul Bunyan or the cowhand Pecos Bill. In that same tradition, the battle droids of the Confederacy of Independent Systems tell of the tactical droid that spared the lives of their comrades. In Star Wars, droids are almost like the chorus in Greek plays.  They convey the story to the audience and help move the plot along. During an oil bath on the Lars homestead, Threepio tells Luke he is not much of a storyteller; and yet, by Return of the Jedi, his storytelling of the Skywalker Saga captivates the Ewoks of Bright Tree Village and wins them to the Rebel cause. The opening panels of the Russ Manning newspaper strips sets up the premise of Artoo-Deetoo and Threepio telling the exploits of the Heroes of Yavin to Mistress Mnemos, herself a mega computer. Those tales then form the events of the strip. If an old Starlog interview (or the DVD commentary of Episode 3) with George Lucas is to be believed, the entire saga is a story told to The Whills by Artoo-Deetoo. So, from a certain point of view, we only know about our favorite space opera because of a tale told by an astromech. The idea of a robot telling a story isn’t anachronistic for Star Wars—it is at the DNA (or, should I say source code) of what the saga is. It certainly is at the heart of what this book is.

The first story in the book, The Knight and the Dragon, sets the fairytale tone early. What could be more storybook then a tale of a dragon and a brave knight? Instead of St. George, we have (presumably) Old Ben. Instead of Edmund Spenser telling us the story, we have (presumably) a Tusken storyteller. A Krayt Dragon serves as our serpent demanding human sacrifices. Those sacrifices stop of course, as the Knight saves the day and teaches the Tusken’s a lesson in civics.

Myths can serve as a warning. The story of Noah’s Ark in Judeo-Christian mythology is one such myth, a warning of the consequences of wickedness. Flood myths are universal on this planet; the Babylonians had the story of Gilgamesh, the plains Indians of North America had the story of Tawa and Spider Grandmother, Gun-yu in China, and the Norse had Bergelmir survive a flood of blood.  Now we can add the natives of Glee Anselm to this list. The story “Vengeful Waves” (and how cool is that title for a flood myth) tells us of the Anselmi and the Nautolans.  The Nautolans were just and good neighbors. The Anselmi were not.  In the end, the ocean spirit sent a flood and balance was restored.

If the Anselmi were warned to live in peace and harmony with their neighbors, the children of Cerosha were warned to obey their parents and avoid the entity from the story “Dark Wraith”. Like young Ircarus or the children of Grim’s fairy tales, disobedience is met with tragedy. Here, the boogeyman dispensing punishment is a corruption of Darth Vader called the Dark Wraith; whose “rasping breath might still be heard, low and menacing.” It’s not just the children who need to be obedient though, as the city destroyed by the Dark Wraith serves as a warning to “the other cities” to stay in line. After all, the Dark Wraith destroyed the city of Solace, which was once under the protection of the knight errant from another story in this work, “The Wanderer”. Perhaps these stories are being told during an occupation by the First Order, a regime that consciously evokes imagery associated with Vader and his Empire. I like to think that if that is the case, and if the darkness is rising, then a story of light, like “The Wanderer” rises to meet it. Like stories of Arthur returning from the Mists of Avalon, the story of the knight errant “is still told besides hearths throughout the land, for the people of Cerosha know that he is out there still..helping those who cannot help themselves.”

Two stories take us to Battu. In case you had forgotten, this book is part of the major literary tie-in campaign to celebrate the new Star Wars addition to Disney parks in Orlando and Anaheim. “Chasing Ghosts” and “The Black Spire” are both set on that back-rocket planet on Galaxy’s Edge. Perhaps these are the stories the denizens of Battu share amongst themselves while quaffing blue milk at Oga’s Cantina? These two tales remind me, in a way, of the Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling as they both explain how the Outpost was tamed and settled. Consider the line “so it was that a child with a wooden dagger came to be a hero, an ecstatic mother was reunited with her children, and everyone on Batuu was able to safely enjoy the beautiful Surabat River Valley once more.” Not quite How Tauntaun Got Its Horns, but the similarity is there. While as of this writing I have not gone to the theme park, I am excited to see if these stories are incorporated into the experience.

I really adored this book by George Mann, although it did leave me wanting more stories set in universe. I’d love to read about Mortis, for example, from an in-universe source– like a holocron found in Maz’s Castle. Luckily, it was announced a few weeks ago at New York Comic Con that George Mann and artist Grant Griffin will again be teaming up for Star Wars: Dark Legends, another in-universe collection of stories.

In the coda to The Last Jedi we see the power the myth of Luke Skywalker has on the young stable workers. The children sit entrapped, with homemade action figures strewn about, and listen to each other tell the tales of the farm boy turned galactic savior. Indeed, the legends of Skywalker may prove to be more powerful than the man himself: as the flames of resistance are fanned across the galaxy. In 1999, Lucas said to New York Times reporter Orville Scheil, “I wanted to make a kids’ film that would strengthen contemporary mythology and introduce [to them] a kind of basic morality.” It’s up to us, then, to pass those stories along to younger generations… Maybe it’s the stories in this book, or the stories of the other myths mentioned in this review, or family stories of a grandparent.  There is a power in myth: both in Luke’s galaxy and in our own.

Availability;

Star Wars Myths and Fables was released on August 6th, 2019 in hardback in the US and November 14th, 2019 in the UK. It is available at all good bookstores and through online retailers including Amazon with a RRP of £14.99. It is available in hardback, eBook and audiobook formats.

Buy from Amazon.co.uk