Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
I wonder whether the Harry Potter formula has supplanted the Tolkien formula as the most relatable template for Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey.”
Consider this: At the time of The Lord of the Rings, most of the world’s population lived in rural areas. That’s not the case today. Who’s going to be a more relatable character for young readers? The hayseed pig farmer, or the school kid trying to find his place in the world? Tolkien’s stories are defined, in part, by long-distance journeys over remote landscapes. While still thrilling, perhaps much of its mystery has been stripped when the same countrysides in real life can be crossed easily by highway. The real thrills are poking at the small spaces in the world you know. Perhaps there are centaurs in the nearby woods or a three-headed dog living in the basement.
Being at a fixed setting is also a solid storytelling device. It builds relationships and puts the focus on community, something that would be a little difficult if your story relied on finding new campgrounds and disposable friendships at every step of the journey.
Hence, the appeal of schools for witchcraft and wizardry, already a popular theme among webcomic creators. Tom Siddell’s Gunnerkrigg Court remains a favorite, weaving a world of technology and magic in a sprawling, Gormenghast-style castle. Even newer is Kadi Fedoruk’s Blindsprings, the story about a princess who has become unstuck in time.
Let’s get this out of the way, first: The princess’s full name is Tamaura Bernice Rhodizia Adelaide Llyn, Princess of Aberwelle. Is this meant to be an ironic commentary on princess names that little girls sometimes give themselves? I have no idea. Given the nature of some of Tamara’s friends, however, I’d have to say that there’s a distinct possibility.
The princess lives in a Blindspring, an area populated by spirits and hidden from the eyes of humanity. Is she happy here? It’s unclear. On one hand, she doesn’t seem to be harmed; she appears immune to the elements. On the other hand, it feels like a prison, with Fedoruk filling the imagery of Tamara’s magical world with tall, dark trees that resemble the bars of a cell.
Fatefully, she encounters an Academic named Harris, who manages to find her world. While they hit it off nicely, Tamara insists she can never leave. Harris swears he will find a way to break their curse. Their relationship attracts the attention of the Blindspring’s spirits — beings of dark cloaks and bone-white masks inspired by designs from Hayao Miyazaki — who take Tamara away, hinting at some unspecified contract.
Shortly after, Harris returns … 10 years older and now a powerful magician. Keeping the spirits at bay, he whisks away a reluctant Tamara and brings her to the real world. Her first glimpse, and ours, is a bit of a stunner. The deep, primordial woods make way for the lampposts and skyscrapers of Kirkhall. It turns out that Tamara’s been away for 300 years.
Soon Tamara finds herself on the run, unable to distinguish friends from foes. A secret organization seems to have grand designs for her. If she’d been dissatisfied in her forest prison, it’s been replaced by total alienation in a world where she’s unsure what people want from her. The only people she trusts are her own peers. Are they strangers who might have hidden agendas? Perhaps. But at least they’re not manipulative adults, who once may have been cl0se acquaintances but now are only to be eyed with suspicion.
Kind of a nifty allegory for growing up, isn’t it?