A View of the Homelands

In the comic book Fables, Bill Willingham has created a society called "Fabletown". Fabletown is a small district in New York City populated by characters from fables, fairy tales, nursery rhymes and other stories. These characters came to our world hundreds of years ago, fleeing from the Homelands via "gates" into our world. The Homelands were being ravished by an unbeatable enemy called the Adversary, whose identity is still unknown to the readers. (Non-human characters live in an area of upstate New York called "the Farm".)

One question that has been intriguing Fables fans is what the Homelands were like. Was it one big planet, with the characters from different stories and milieus mingling, or was it a series of connected worlds, accessed via gates such as the ones that brought them to our world? In this article I am going to examine what we know, although I will not be able to provide a positive answer. Only Bill Willingham can do that, and he is being cannily secretive. "Keep 'em dangling" would seem to be his motto.

There are certain rules that Bill has posited that may help to understand better the makeup of this community.

  1. There is only one of each character, with exceptions. If a character appears in more than one story, such as the Big Bad Wolf, Snow White, Prince Charming, and the multitude of Jacks with no last name, there is only one Fable with that name, and that one did it all. This sometimes requires a lot of tweaking and twisting; for example, Prince Charming was married to and divorced by Snow White, Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty) and Cinderella. (Note, when used with a capital F, Fable means a member of the Fables society, and Fables is the plural or group name.)
  2. No character currently under copyright may appear. This eliminates Peter Pan and his supporting cast.
  3. The date when the story was written (in our world) is irrelevant. A Fable may predate his appearance in literature, and may in fact have inspired his own story. And the way the story was written may not be completely accurate; the author may have changed the story (including the death of the character) for artistic reasons, but that doesn't mean it "really" happened that way.
  4. Fables have a kind of ageless immortality; some children like Boy Blue have reached adolescence, and then stuck. The Big Bad Wolf's death is apparently much exaggerated, and Frau Totenkinder (a frequently appearing witch) has been burnt to ash (in "Hansel and Gretel") and still returned.
  5. Bill Willingham is the only one who really knows.

Okay, using those rules, and laborously going through the comics, I have identified the following areas/milieus from which the Fables originated

In addition to these, characters from these literary milieus appear occasionally:

In addition to those listed above, there are others who could come from anywhere or everywhere (rule # 1). The Big Bad Wolf (or a wolf) appears in Aesop's Fables, Grimm's Fairy Tales, and the French fables. Prince Charming (or a handsome prince) also appears in many stories, although Rapunzel seems to have found a prince of her own (or maybe two; the man she is with at the end of "The Last Castle" is not the one she is with earlier in the story). Mary's little lamb (sans Mary) is gamboling on the farm. Jack Ketch (who is not the primary 'Jack') is a figure from English history, as is Jack Horner (who is the primary 'Jack'). The story of Bluebeard may be based on a real French monster, a lieutenant of Joan of Arc. The Forsworn Knight comes from somewhere, according to teasing little clues left by Bill on his weblog, where he is also hinting about the egg on Snow White's desk. Frankenstein's monster appeared, but as a tool for Nazi scientists; his status as a Fable is unclear. Likewise, Bigby hinted that he was pal-ing around with Count Dracula in the text story of his "origin". Some characters don't really have backgrounds; the Sunflower Kid is apparently a creation of Mark Buckingham, drawn into a crowd scene and somehow achieving a life of his own. And there is a large population of unnamed characters, probably villagers from the stories who were provided merely as spear-carriers (or torch and pitchfork carriers) to provide background.

Now, based on the preceding, I can say that for the most part Fables come from areas approximating places in our world, and from times that could be congruent. The French Fables seem (to me) to be more sophisticated and elegant than the characters hacking around in the Black Forest, but they probably were in "reality", too. According to the literature, Robin Hood was running in Sherwood Forest at the time of the Crusades, which would make him fit into the time line.

The exceptions to this are the characters who are definitely locked into a time period, specifically Alice and the Wind in the Willows characters, who are from Victorian England. Granted, the WitW characters are from a variant England, with talking animals mixing with humans. But both Alice and Mr. Toad ride on trains, and Toad carries a gun when he invades Toad Hall to rout the stoats and weasels. The Count of Monte Cristo was from the time of Napoleon, but the Fable may have merely borrowed that name or identity (it's only seen on the "Chateau d'If Fencing Academy".) Other exceptions are the characters from areas that don't obviously exist in our world, such as Wonderland, Lilliput, Oz and Narnia. But those lands are simply 'hidden', or in the case of Wonderland and Narnia separate worlds reachable through dreams or magic gates.

In conclusion, I believe the Homelands was one big world, similar to our world in layout if not geography. In their one scene, Quixote and Sancho Panza are watching an invasion fleet of the Adversary sailing toward their land. There are three lands that correspond to England, one each for Victoria, John sitting in for Richard (Robin Hood's time), and Arthur. Did Victoria's England conquer the India of Mowgli? I don't know. Nor can I really explain why the technology of Victoria's England didn't spill over to the other lands. A talking head named Arlo has informed us that the Adversary fears the technological might of our world.

Again, rules 3 and 5 may make some of this musing irrelevant. In fact, rule # 3 may be Bill's way of discouraging this kind of literary game-playing altogether. It didn't work.

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