Our Underwear 14: On Words – and Up Words! (or, Engelbert Humperdink: Year One.)

by John Velousis

Parsing Carey and Gross’s [amazon_link id=”1401225659″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Unwritten[/amazon_link], mostly [amazon_link id=”B006UST3CC” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]issue 33[/amazon_link].

He's shoving a spear through a hole.
The Unwritten #33, cover by Yuko Shimizu

Part 1 – Slight return…

Hi! Sorry I’ve not posted anything in a month and a half, but I have an entirely valid excuse. I was bitten by a radioactive lazy, and consequently became super-lazy. I promise that it will most certainly happen again.

So, yeah, the (main) title of this piece tells you the subject. While I was cooking up this theme-setting paragraph in my head, I was veering towards talking about the delight that I take in words and wordplay; I was going to quote fucking “Stairway to Heaven” again (’Cause you know, sometimes words have two meanings,) and so forth, by way of introduction. BUT! As I was putting pen to paper,* I realized that doing the broad-intro thing was a way of shoe-horning myself into the dorky “upside-down triangle” style of essay-writing I was taught in elementary school. This simply will not do – I am not interested in the comfort of old paradigms. And that, folks, is the perfectly legit artistic reason why the endings of all of my posts seem abrupt and poorly planned.

Ah, fuck, I forgot that I’m supposed to write about comic books here.

*(Yep, my process involves holding an ink-device in my hand! and marking up a lined sheet of paper. God, I’m old.)

Part 2 – Take a breath, for example.

Who is the man who would hale himself for brother man?
Writer: Mike Carey  /   Pencil-Man: Peter Gross   /  “Finishes” – that’s inker, right?: M.K. Perker  /  Letters: Todd Klein  / Colors: Chris Chuckry

The panel above is the one that finally, really made The Unwritten click for me and, what’s more, sparked the impetus for this column. The fuse was the word “hales.”

Thought is memory. Memory is association. The Association was a vocal group that had pop music hits with the songs “Windy” and “Never, My Love” in the 60’s. The first vocal melody line from “Never, My Love” was swiped and repurposed for the song “Here Comes Your Man” by The Pixies. The Pixies were a band whose name referred, among other things, to the fact that all four members were five feet and two inches tall or shorter. I myself named my last band “The Huge Pontoons” in a nod to The Pixies, “Huge” because all three original members were six feet and one inch tall or taller. Okay now, breathe.

To “hail” is to summon, salute, greet. Hail a taxi. Hail to the Chief. But the Founding-Father-looking jamoke in the panel above says “hale,” spelled like the word meaning healthy (as in “hale and hearty”) or, more relevantly, like the word “inhale,” which means “to draw breath.” Our olde-timey spellynge fellowe above pushed my head to a deeper meaning.  To “in hale” = to summon air within, to invite it in. This interpretation of the word “inhale” anthropomorphizes the air – we’re asking it to please come in. This connection of words is certainly not purposeless. I ask myself, what is air that is a living thing? Would one call such a thing a soul? In the context of The Unwritten as a whole, such a canonization of the inanimate is entirely appropriate, since the book’s central figure, Tom Taylor, may literally be The Word Made Flesh.

They can't all be Jesuses, ya know?
I wish I could remember where I got this from. Somewhere on the internet, I think.

Language is a miracle. It creates a being above mere being, for it holds the mechanism whereby we may ascribe meaning. The written word, in turn, is a miracle on top of a miracle – language given immortality. And words added to pictures, as in comics… they’re just outta sight, baby.  More from Unwritten #33:

I have no alt text for this image.

The world changes when the story does. This is, of course, absolutely correct.

Part 3 – What’s in a name? No really, what?

In the previous piece I posted here, I talked about the comics series [amazon_link id=”1592911366″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island[/amazon_link] and [amazon_link id=”1607064790″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Red Wing[/amazon_link]. One thing I did there is I analyzed the names of some of the characters, figuring out if the writers had given those names some meaning, and maybe even what the meaning was.  Well, now I’m gonna do the very same thing here for [amazon_link id=”1401228739″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Unwritten[/amazon_link]. I try not to repeat myself when I can, including my methodology, but this particular series demands that treatment, as the characters’ names fairly explode with hints at their symbolic functions.

The primary protagonist of [amazon_link id=”1401230466″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Unwritten[/amazon_link] is Tom Taylor – named Tommy Taylor in his father’s fictional, tres Harry-Potteresque fantasy books, and Thomas Taylor on his birth certificate. The whole series’ opening arc centers on the question of whether Tom is truly Wilson Taylor’s son or some other person, or if he is actually the fictional Tommy brought to life, plus various and sundry other twists on the theme of his identity. Reporters on the scene should have just looked at the names! Tommy = “Tom me.” Thomas = “Tom is.”

Consider, too, his author father’s self-chosen pseudonym, Wilson Taylor. “Will son.” As it just so happens, his will IS imposed upon the world via his son. Ah, and the last name, Taylor? A tailor is a clothes-maker, one who creates that which others garb themselves; or, more typically, a tailor is thought of as one who alters people’s external decorations. It’s much better than “Potter,” as the utility of pottery is less than universal nowadays (although if we throw cannabis into the mix that broadens the meaning, I suppose). Okay, that’s the obvious “Taylor” meaning. Then there’s the BIG one:

“Tale-er.” A maker of tales.

Bear in mind that before he changed his name and began writing his tales, Wilson was one of the group that Ovetts up there belongs to, the group that manipulates reality with stories. His nom de plume is certainly no accident. He’s a creator whose will on Earth is carried out through his son. That storyline seems somehow familiar, and the reader is made quite aware that Wilson Taylor is a man with messianic ambitions (and an ego to match.) Oh, and his real name might be Will Tallis. “Will tell us.” Will he, then?

I don't even LIKE pot.
The word made flesh, stolen from the internet somewhere. My apologies to the original creator. Oh, uh, I put this here because I don’t want you to have to look at TOO many words without pictures. I’m like super-nice, aren’t I?

Most of the rest of the characters’ names don’t have quite the same significance, as far as I can tell. “Lizzie Hexam”? Dunno. “Hex ‘em,” obviously, but big deal. “Richie Savoy”? Uh… Savoy is a region in France between the state of Dauphiné and Lake Geneva; it’s also the name of a very long-lasting ruling dynasty of some sort. I have no idea what meaning, if any, to apply there. Sorry! What about the “Ovetts” guy above? Is it a reference to Michael Ovitz, the Hollywood super-agent? Do we read it backwards and conclude that it’s a salute to “Steve-O,” the recently deceased “Jackass” costar? Uh, probably not.

One can really go hog-wild with this name stuff. I actually started looking at the names of the creative personnel involved with The Unwritten. Writer Mike Carey? “My carry.” That makes sense, he’s the boss. Co-credit Peter Gross all you want, but in a series as literary as THIS one, the writer is inevitably going to be the auteur. Editor Karen Berger? She’s a caring Burgher. One needs a benevolent ruler on a project such as this, jawohl? Peter Gross’s name is problematic, though. I find it unlikely that his role in all of this is to be a disgusting dick. If we assume that “Peter = penis” is inescapable, we can still find a somewhat kinder interpretation. A gross is also a dozen dozens – twelve times twelve. That’s 144. 144 millimeters equals 5.67 inches, which is fairly average for the size of an erect penis. There’s no shame in that. Okay, yeah, I know I’m being silly, these people didn’t actually CHOOSE their names – and even if they did, they didn’t do so on the basis of that name’s relevance to the series The Unwritten. Hell, they’re not Frank Quitely or something. Some artists DO change their names on the basis of what would benefit their work. Consider David Kotkin becoming David Copperfield (A Charles Dickens character – just like Lizzie Hexam!) to lend his lame act a veneer of erudition and class, or Thomas Woodward doing the same with the Henry Fielding character Tom Jones. I gotta say, the motivation eludes me as to why Arnold George Dorsey appropriated the name of real-life composer Engelbert Humperdink (composer of the opera Hansel und Gretel.) Wow, I’ve really wandered off, haven’t I?

Back to [amazon_link id=”1401232922″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Unwritten[/amazon_link]. There were only a couple more characters whose names struck me as particularly meaningful. One is Calliope Madigan, Tom’s reclusive putative mother. Calliope, in Greek mythology, was the Muse of epic poetry. That would make her the Muse of Homer and, hence, the inspiration for [amazon_link id=”B0002Z0EYK” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Iliad[/amazon_link] and what I think may be history’s first sequel, The Odyssey. She was also the mother of Orpheus, whose tale was of EXTREME relevance to Tom’s half-brother (by a different mother) Milton (the name of the author of Paradise Lost, not that that means anything, right?) A/K/A the Tinker. Calliope was also the mother of Linus, the inventor of melody and rhythm and thus the muse for The Association and The Pixies, and the patron saint of kids with security blankets. Moving on…

The other character whose name has a clear and deliberate deeper meaning is the story’s deadliest antagonist, Pullman. When first introduced, the narrative engages in a bit of misdirection to make it appear that Pullman is merely a hired thug of the villainous evil cabal in the story, albeit a very powerful henchman. The opening storylines guide our expectations in the direction of Count Ambrosio, the Voldemort-analogue from Wilson Taylor’s books, as the tale’s Big Bad. We’re led to believe that Pullman is but an aide, as the suitcase carriers of the Pullman porter company are. But, as we have gone along, we have increasingly found that Pullman is much more than the cabal’s hireling. In fact, his name is his role: “Pull man.” He guides humanity itself toward the darkness of his choosing.

Do you dig? From Unwritten #27.

In fact, the recent “.5” issues have hinted that Pullman is, like, Biblically old. He’s probably either Cain or the serpent from the Garden of Eden, or maybe both. He must have an awesome health plan or something.

Part 4 – A man without love.

The caption box reads, “1965.” The man sits, brooding. He wears a smoking jacket and absently pulls his fingers along the curves of a brandy snifter.

Arnie Dorsey has had another album of music released to indifference. The reviews have been dismissive, even ignorant – “A crooner,” they called him! With his range, his flair!

How to change his destiny? “Audiences in Las Vegas are an inane and ridiculous lot,” he says to himself, though speaking aloud. “How can I succeed at capturing their fickle attentions?”

At that moment, the rain begins to tinkle, tinkle, tinkle against the picture window of his study. Captured, he stares out at his immaculately kept selection of dozens of lawn gnomes as the rain washes the scum right off of the streets. He has his answer. He knows. He speaks aloud the words that will transform him into something beyond himself.

“I shall become a dink.”


Matthew Sardo
Matthew Sardo
As the founder of Monkeys Fighting Robots, I'm currently training for my next job as an astronaut cowboy. Reformed hockey goon, comic book store owner, video store clerk, an extra in 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon,' 'Welcome Back Freshman,' and for one special day, I was a Ghostbuster.