Tommy Taylor: The Unwritten

Written by Mike Carey and illustrated by Peter Gross, “The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity” is the first episode in a graphic novel series first released in 2010.

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The novel tells three interweaving stories. The first tells of three kids Tommy, Peter and Sue, facing the wicked wizard Count Ambrosio. Tommy Taylor has dark hair and round glasses and has a wheel tattoo which aches when his nemesis is near. [Harry Potter much ?]


Tommy speaks the words of a spell defeating Ambrosio but injuring himself in the process. Bruised and dying, Tommy cannot survive the encounter but his friends know the prophecy and taking Ambrosio’s trumpet, they sound the final note.


The second tale is set in the present day, Tom Taylor is a celebrity doing the rounds of comic conventions. His father, Wilson Taylor authored the wildly successful comic book series about boy wonder “Tommy Taylor”.  His father’s sudden disappearance at the height of his fame, meant Tom unaccomplished in his own right, has been the face of his father’s work.

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During a comic convention Q&A, Tom is accused by journalist Lizzie Hexam to be an impostor. Evidence emerges that Tom’s childhood records have been fabricated.


Fans begin to agitate for the truth about Tom’s identity. One fan, steeped in Tommy Taylor lore, claims that Tom is the “word made flesh” and is the incarnate form of the boy written into the comic books. This fan theory is dismissed as the bogus ramblings of a crazy man but Tom is shaken by it. Framed as an impostor, pursued by crazed fans thinking him to be the real Tommy Taylor made flesh, Tom flees to Europe to track down information about his deceased father.

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Here Tom is framed for murder by Pullman, a mysterious hitman.


The third tale is a behind the scenes account of sinister characters seeking to rewrite public opinion and conceal the truth of Tom’s identity.  In an epilogue famous authors such as Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde and finally Wilson Taylor interact with mysterious suited gentlemen who offer literary fame in exchange for adherence to their agenda. The ascendency or decline of these authors is determined entirely by the whims and caprices of these mysterious men.


The three stories begin to strangely intertwine as the narrative continues. The mysterious suited gentlemen  frame Tom as a murderer but while Tom is being arrested, the winged cat Mingus, his childhood companion from the comic series appears to him.

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Once in jail, Tom encounters Lizzie Hexam and another inmate Savoy, both reporters who have planted themselves in jail to shadow Tom. Together they plot an escape. Lizzie reveals she is still in touch with Wilson Taylor the author of Tommy Taylor and uses an magic door knob from the comic books to break out from jail. Tom, Lizzie and Savoy, now mirror the three young characters, Tommy, Peter and Sue, from the Tommy Taylor stories. The door knob carries the three into a series of parallel stories.

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It seems we are a party three layers of authorship. While it seems that Tom lives in the real world while Tommy Taylor exists in the scripted world of comic books. However, increasingly it is revealed there exists a higher world vying for control of Tom’s life indicating he is perhaps the one and the same Tommy Taylor written into different scenes, but one with moral agency and self-consciousness.


The stories explore the interesting nexus between fiction and the human consciousness. Is Tom in fact also Tommy, and is he still the subject of Wilson Taylor’s fiction?

Who are the mysterious suited gentlemen and is Wilson Taylor writing Tom into “real life” in order to subvert their controls?

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Like Sophie’s World – the text explores the interaction of author with characters of their literary worlds. The characters are granted life by the author; at what point do they have moral agency or free will of their own?

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At what point do we question whether it is in fact us that are the characters within someone else’s story? Who controls the forces within our world, wars, revolutions, famous ideas, cultural change. To what extent are we truly free?

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Count Ambrosio the arch villain of the Tommy Taylor comics, who breaks into Tom’s world and seeks to execute him, articulates the main point best:

Stories are the only thing worth dying for.

Stories shape our world, powerful story tellers influence generations to think and feel in history shaping ways. Stories shape political and religious ideas and shape cultural identities. It is for stories and ideals that people go to war, begin revolutions, sacrifice wealth and change laws and social systems.



Who would seek to control our stories? And as agents within a story, how can we use the devices of stories to escape the powers that would control us?

Tom and Lizzie

JRR Tolkien, philologist, linguist and lover of ancient narratives and myths, argued that:

Myths are not lies.


Tolkien detested heaved handed moralism of fables such as Pilgrims Progress, opting instead to created internally consistent worlds with characters each with their own place within history and mythology. So serious was he about story, that he argued with CS Lewis, then a staunch atheist, that life was in fact a grand narrative into which the great mythical archetypes had intersected.

As a Catholic, to him the Christ narrative was the event in which myth…

…has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation.

For Tolkien and later Lewis who later wrote much on the matter, the ground and truth of the Christ narrative was that in it the Word became flesh.  The intervention of voice and hand of the author into history transformed history from a random collocation of events into a grand narrative imbued with profound meaning.

Wilson Taylor

To them both, this miraculous juncture gave ground to the struggle for meaning in their lives. In it, the author meets them and exonerates their quest for agency.


The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde’s 1890 philosophical novel, tells of a young man, Dorian, whose stunning beauty captures the attention of artist Basil Hallward.

Dorian sits for a portrait with the artist and there he encounters Lord Henry Wotton.

Wotton introduces Dorian to his hedonistic philosophy in which beauty is the only aspect of life worth pursuing.  Dorian influenced by Wotton and wishing his beauty would never fade, agrees to sell his soul to preserve it.

His wager entails him wishing the painting, not himself, to bear the ravages of age.


This achieved, Dorian lives a libertine and amoral lifestyle, remaining beautiful and young.

His first crime is to break the heart of actress Sibyl; after this Dorian notes a cold sneer appear in the portrait’s face.

18 years pass, and Dorian’s debauchery gains him renown. Basil the artist seeks out Dorian to ask him whether the rumours are true.

Dorian does not deny it but shows Basil the painting in the locked room. Both men are astonished by the hideous visage of the portrait and in anger Dorian stabs the artist, considering him responsible for the whole endeavour.

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Dorian encounters James, the brother of Sibyl, intent on revenging her death due to heartbreak.

Fleeing James he seeks to reform his ways but find even while seeking to do good, his pride makes the picture uglier and uglier.

At last in desperation, Dorian seeks to destroy the painting and all evidence of his ugliness. He takes a knife and stabs the painting.

Servants awake to hear a cry in the locked room and upon entry, find an ugly old man stabbed in the heart on the floor and the picture of youthful Dorian, beside him.


Literary critics and philosophers have noted the story’s moral question:

If we do evil and not suffer the consequences of our actions, then who or what does?

Is it our society that suffers the hidden insults and slights of our pleasure seeking and pride?

Or the planet?

dying earth

This story cuts to the core of the current consciousness of karma, in which our selfishness and greed store up consequences for us and affect our society and planet. The solution lies in selfless living and good deeds.

But what the story of Dorian Gray points out, is that even in moral reform and good deeds, Dorian gained ugliness through pride.

The solution lies unresolved by the tragic novel.

There is another story of one who bore our likeness, who took on the evil that we create in our daily self-seeking and pride. This one, when we realised our guilt, we struck down to die.

In doing so we cut our selves to the core.

The Christ story does not stop here, with our own death, caused by our own vice. The story tells us, that Christ took the death for us that we might retain youth and innocence.

dying christ

What is the exchange for such a price you might ask?

Simply the acknowledgement that the one who lay dying, died for us. To deny it, simply means we are keeping the painting in a locked room.





The Importance of not being Earnest

“The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.” ― Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

Oscar Wilde was famous for his wit, and satire.  One of the most famous playwrights of the 19th C he specialised in pointing out duplicitous behaviour, vanity and vice. While on the surface he produced witty comedies,  underneath he critiqued society forcing the audience to soften harsh social codes.

“Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people we personally dislike.” ― Oscar Wilde, An Ideal Husband

picture of dorian grey


Wilde managed to change the behaviour and attitudes of his and subsequent generations by pointing out harsh moral codes such as gender roles, attitudes to illegitimacy, and sexual and religious mores. Wilde also presented his own flamboyant passion aestheticism in the face of Victorian asceticism. How can one man’s literary endavours be so powerful upon society?

“Paradoxically though it may seem, it is none the less true that life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” ― Oscar Wilde

How can this be so ? How can art and narrative be so instructive ? This power of story is what I would like to explore. In this case the genre of satire. The following definition begins to analyse the power of satire:

Satire is a genre , in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government or society itself, into improvement. Although satire is usually meant to be humorous, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism using wit as a weapon and as a tool to draw attention to both particular and wider issues in society. Satire ranges in “degrees of biting” from the hot end to kidding and lesser evils. Teasing however is  limited to a  shallow parody of appearance or nature, drawing empathy towards the individual it is directed towards. Satire instead goes against the power and its oppressors, it is subversive in nature with moral dimension drawing judgement against its targets.

importance of being earnest

Narrative shows, as though through dream, the words and actions of another. The protagonist invariably represents the self – their foibles, our human faults, their vices, our human ills.  Such imagery allows the audience to see and to judge with objectivity. The audience can address the “log in one’s own eye”, with the same clarity with which we “remove the speck from our neighbours eye.” The protagonist can bear the weight of judgement, like a scape-goat, effectively allowing behaviour change without deep self-mortification.

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” ― Oscar Wilde

The power of satire is what it implies – “the satiric norm”. This is the ideal against which the faults and failings of society, characters and scenes are held. The Satiric norm is the ideal behaviour from which the character has fallen and to which the audience must aspire.  The satiric norm allows the narrative to be instructive, pushing the audience to both hope for a better world and aspire to change themselves.

talawa waiting godot

Satire differs greatly from the literary genre of absurdism, characteristic of some literature in the 20th century, particularly around or post-world wars. Absurdism is characterised by nihilism, or a disbelief in any over arching meaning to life despite the earnest search on behalf of humanity. Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” is a perfect example of absurdism. While sharing characteristics of satire, absurdism has no “norm” against which characters are held and so consequently no hope for a better world or change. The very search for meaning is absurd and thus vice and folly swim adrift alongside love and loyalty.

“Humanity takes itself too seriously. It is the world’s original sin. If the cave-man had known how to laugh, History would have been different.” ― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

To me the advent of absurdism signals the end of satire, the end of the ability to laugh at oneself, the end of our ability to hope for a better world or to challenge ourselves to change. The melancholy of absurdism, advented by existentialism, places meaning within the self, and not defined from any external realm of justice or truth.  The significance of “not” being too earnest, of retaining the ability to poke fun and to criticise ourselves and society, means we retain a belief in a better world, one where humans have a standard of behaviour and being conducive to human flourishing.

Art must keep us laughing.

“Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about.” ― Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan