This post is part of an ongoing series.
Part I: The Valley
Book One: Out from Boneville
Chapter III: Phoney Bone
You are warned, here be spoilers.
Thus far in Bone, the setting and story feels like it’s about midway between a Disney fairy tale and The Lord of the Rings. Chapter 3 introduces a bit of structure borrowed from the brothers Grimm – didactic parallelism.
I’m thinking in particular of the tale of Mother Holle. (That link is part of the Internet Sacred Text Archive, which is an invaluable resource for all sorts of classical and mythological texts.) “Mother Holle” tells the story of two stepsisters, an industrious one and a lazy one. The industrious one falls down a well, finds herself in a magical world, and encounters a series of tests – characters needing help, and chores required by Mother Holle. She responds to these tests diligently and and altruistically, and is rewarded. Her stepsister, meanwhile, encounters the same tests, fails them, and is punished.
This structure appears again and again in fairy tales, and here, with chapter 3, we see it introduced into Bone, as the narrative comes around again to visit Phoney Bone. Phoney Bone is Fone Bone’s greedier and more arrogant cousin; he stalks about in the forest, fuming at his cousins for abandoning him, and at the world for abusing him (“Oh, cruel, cruel, fate! Why have you abandoned your most beloved son?!”) – when, of course, his situation is his own damn fault. He then has something very much like the encounters Fone Bone had in the first chapter.
He runs into the dragon, and comes within a hairsbreadth of being incinerated. He meets Ted, the talking bug, who offers to help him – and walks around insulting Ted. And, worst of all, he insults Gran’ma Ben’s cows.
Gran’ma Ben’s cows is one test Phoney actually runs into before Fone does. At the beginning of this chapter, Thorn explains to Fone that Gran’ma Ben is incredibly proud of her cows, which she takes to the nearby town of Barrelhaven every spring to race them. “If you want to make a good impression,” Thorn warns Fone, “be sure to compliment her on her cows! She’s real proud of her cows!” Fone says, “I’ll try to remember that.”
Phoney lacks both Fone’s general good disposition, and lacks Thorn’s warning. His encounter with Gran’ma Ben runs thusly:
GB: Oh, he looks like such a nice young man. Would he like to ride one of my racing cows?
PB: NO, I don’t wanna ride one of yer stupid cows!
GB: Ted, dear, I think you’d better leave. I’m gonna have to tear this little fella apart from the inside out.
Gran’ma Ben is badass. She rolls up her sleeve and clenches a fist, looking like something between Popeye and Rosie the Riveter.
Phoney, unfortunately, pre-fails the Gran’ma Ben’s cows test for both himself and Fone, and so the Bone cousins are allowed to stay, but only in the barn – and that only after Thorn’s pleading.
This chapter also gives a few intriguing hints of the series’s overplot. Fone shows Thorn his map – one Smiley Bone found back in chapter 1 – and she’s fascinated. She says it reminds her of a dream she used to have, then changes the subject.
This point brings me back to the pacing. I think if I were reading this story in issues, I’d go nuts. The plot is introduced slowly, in unintended hints and in slowly- gathering shadows. With the whole volume in front of me, though, to read at my own pace, it feels suitably epic. My copy has about the same physical dimensions as my one-volume copy of The Lord of the Rings.