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.
Okay, using those rules, and laborously going through the comics, I have identified the following areas/milieus from which the Fables originated
English legend and literature: Robin Hood (under the name Loxley, and that's probably a big clue), Sir Pellinore (Arthurian), Britomart and the Red Cross Knight (Spenser's The Faerie Queen). All of the characters named here were (probably) killed in the graphic novel "The Last Castle".
English nursery rhymes: the three blind mice; the three men in a tub; the cow that jumped over the moon; the dish and the spoon; (Little) Boy Blue; the old woman who lived in a shoe and her children; Cock Robin; (Little) Jack Horner; Old King Cole; Little Bo Peep; (Little) Miss Muffet and her spider, now Mr. and Mrs. Web; Mrs. Jack Sprat (and maybe the Mr.); Peter Pumpkin-Eater.
Scottish ballads and tales: Red Cap (or Iron Shoes), a goblin that haunts the Scottish border, and Tam Lin.
France: the characters from the Reynard fables (Reynard and King Noble, and maybe Ysengrim the Wolf, if he's the Big Bad Wolf); Beauty and the Beast; Cinderella (the glass slipper one); Count Aucassin de Beaucaire; Bluebeard, Puss in Boots; the Count of Monte Cristo (maybe).
Spain: Don Quixote and Sancho Panza were seen in one panel describing the conquest of the Homelands.
Denmark: the works of Hans Christian Andersen: Thumbelina and the good witch; Kay from "The Snow Queen".
Norway: Weyland Smith; at least one of the Billy Goats Gruff.
Germany: the whole crew from Grimm: Snow White and her sister Rose Red; the witch from "Hansel and Gretel" (Frau Totenkinder); three of the seven (or 12) Crow / Raven brothers, Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty); Goldilocks and the three Bears; Rapunzel; the Three Little Pigs; King Thrushbeard; Trusty John; the Brave Little Tailor; Rapunzel; Chicken Little; Dr. Swineheart; (Little) Red Riding Hood and her huntsman (who may also be Snow White's huntsman); Tom Thumb; Bearskin. In addition, Germany is the home of Sir Herman von Starkenfaust from Washington Irving's "The Spectral Bridegroom."
Russia: Baba Yaga.
Greece: the boy who cried wolf from Aesop's Fables lives on the 7th floor of the Woodlands apartment building. And of course, a wolf figures in many of the the fables, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.
Italy: Pinocchio is a character in Fables, and his father Geppetto is one of the prime suspects to be the Adversary. It has recently been revealed outside the comic that Shylock, the Merchant of Venice, is a Fable.
Colonial America: Ichabod Crane; Feathertop (eponymous hero from Nathaniel Hawthorne).
In addition to these, characters from these literary milieus appear occasionally:
Wonderland and Looking-Glass Land: the White Rabbit; lots of playing cards; the Cheshire Cat; and maybe Alice herself. There is also a walrus who might be from "the Walrus and the Carpenter", but that hasn't been determined. The "vorpal sword" ("Jabberwocky") is also a prop used in several stories.
Oz: winged monkeys, including Bufkin, Fabletown's librarian. In addition, the Tin Woodsman and Jack Pumpkinhead were seen in one panel fleeing from the Adversary. In a speech King Cole spoke of "the Emerald Kingdom". The Fables have comic books called "Tin Man" and "The Oz Men". And it is possible that the young, blond-haired witch is Ozma, but again, this has not been specifically stated.
Narnia: obviously, since the Narnia series is still in copyright, its characters cannot appear. However, in the same speech King Cole talked about "the kingdom of the Great Lion" who was "holier than thou." This seems like a reference to Narnia. It also isn't very nice.
Joel Chandler Harris' Uncle Remus stories: Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear.
Lilliput: a contingent of soldiers from Jonathan Swift's miniature island nation (Gulliver's Travels) came to the mainland of the Homelands to fight the Adversary, but were forced to flee. They have a town of their own called Smalltown. (The name Smallville was suggested and rejected!) Thumbelina also lives there, but Tom Thumb has a house in the main part of the Farm. Among other things, they have formed the Mounted Police (or Mouse Police), which does espionage work.
Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book: Mowgli (not seen yet, but spoken of by Bill); Bagheera; Shere Khan; Kaa; Louie, king of the Bandarlog. There are several interesting considerations here. The Jungle Book takes place in India, but its dating is not specific. And another character refers to them as the "Kipling group of Fables." He may be referring to them in that way because of familiarity with Kipling's works; they may not have gone by that name in the homelands. (One of the cross streets in Fabletown is Kipling Street.) Louie was named in the Disney movie, but not in Kipling's work.
Bornegascar and Madagao: the kings of these countries (from a story by Ambrose Bierce) fell at "the Last Castle".
The Wind in the Willows: on the Farm live two characters who have not been identified, but who might be from this book by Kenneth Grahame: a toad and a mole. The mole, as drawn by Mark Buckingham, looks more like Molester Mole from the Pogo comic strip.
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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