This post is part of an ongoing series.
Part I: The Valley
Book One: Out from Boneville
Chapter II: Thorn
You are warned, here be spoilers.
I have a sneaking suspicion that my Platonic ideal of a heroic fantasy narrative is based on this story, incorporated back when I was encountering the form for the first time. It would have staked large claims in my subconscious, alongside the Star Wars films (the real ones), and Terry Brooks’s Shannara books. Among other aspects, I developed this idea that one of the first challenges the hero has to face is settling into a new home – this new home forms the base from which he or she sets out on adventures proper. Buttercup became Prince Humperdink’s betrothed and then was kidnapped, and Cimorene settled in with Kazul and then ran afoul of an evil wizard. There was this sense that the hero and his/her new friends fought the evil, to protect his/her new home; the old home was part of the mundane world, to which adventure simply didn’t apply. In stories about children, that old world was where their parents lived.
I’m not describing anything deep or profound; it’s a very broad and common trope. Making a home away from one’s home is a universal rite of passage, and the outward change in friends reflects an inner change as the hero grows up. But when I picture this trope, the particular implementation of it that comes to mind is that of Bone.
Case in point: this chapter opens with images of Fone Bone that show him as essentially settled into the wooded valley. He’s tramping about in the snow, wearing a fur cap and cape, breaking some branches for wood. His tongue is stuck out at the side of his mouth to show concentration, but his demeanour is cheerful.
A possum – Miz Possum – greets Fone like an old friend, even though she can’t have met him before the start of this winter. She leaves her cubs with him while she goes off to visit a neighbour, and it’s these cubs – the children of his new friend – whom he accidentally leads into an encounter with the Rat Creatures.
Oh how I love the Rat Creatures. They bicker – especially over food – and their bickering causes Fone to slip through their fingers almost without fail. This particular encounter produces one of the most oft-quoted lines from Bone – “STUPID, STUPID RAT CREATURES!” – as Fone leads the things away from his wee charges.
As in the previous chapter, Fone is rescued by the mysterious red dragon. Miz Possum doesn’t believe him, maintaining that dragons are purely imaginary.
I remember being struck by a touch of narrative dissonance at this point, when first I read this far. I found it slightly jarring, the realization that I didn’t know exactly where Smith had drawn the line between real and imaginary. Characters in this story include talking animals, giant talking bugs, abstract anthropomorphic bone-something-thingies, and the bug-eyed Rat Creatures, but dragons are imaginary. I don’t know; this revelation left me feeling a touch lacking in a place to stand.
Anyway, the Possums don’t believe Fone about the dragon, and he storms off in a huff. He pushes through the forests until he comes upon a hot spring – and Thorn.
Thorn was mentioned in Chapter I, but I didn’t mention her. During Fone’s run-in with the insects, he’s told that “Thorn” might be able to help him find his way back to Boneville, as she’s purported to know everything.
Thorn, as it turns out, is a young teenaged girl. Fone spots her from a distance, just as she’s hiking up her winter cloak to drape her legs in the hot springs, and he’s very obviously immediately besotted. When she invites him to share the springs with her, he stared dumbly, and he answers “Um… are you new around here?” with “FONE BONE! What’s yours?!”
When she gives her name, Fone is elated, as this vision of loveliness is also apparently his ticket home. He recounts his adventures, sounding like a kid retelling the BESTEST DAY EVER, and Thorn reacts as such, tolerating it with a bemused smile. She doesn’t believe him about the dragon any more than the Possums do, but when he mentions the Rat Creatures, she calls him on it. Apparently the sighting of Rat Creatures is a Big Deal, and calls for consultation with Grandma. And so Thorn leads Fone home by the hand, while he babbles dreamily, hearts dancing about his head.
I wish I had the vocabulary to talk more intelligently about Smith’s art, but I don’t have the background for it. It’s wonderful – cute, without being cutesy. I’m reminded quite heavily of Terry Moore‘s work. He has very, very deft control of the rhythm of a page, maintaining or varying the size and layout of panels as appropriate. Very well done.
I’m enjoying the pacing of this story immensely at this point. I recall it grinds a bit when we get to Book Two – which I’ve never finished – but at this point, it feels just right.