Fables is a comics series about a subculture of characters from folklore and fairy tales who have fled to present-day New York — humans to the city, talking animals upstate. Legends in Exile is the first collection, in which detective Bigby Wolf attempts to solve the murder of Rose Red.

I thought the detective story was actually the most compelling element: all the clues are presented in the first chapter and then in the last chapter you boggle at how unobservant you were. But it doesn't really have a ton to do with the premise; for the most part the characters could have been anybody. I suppose it was entertaining enough to see how the fairy-tale characters were reinterpreted in the modern setting, but as critics pointed out about Neil Gaiman's 1602, this isn't much more than a parlor game. And I have more attachment to the Marvel characters Gaiman was playing with than I do to those in Fables.

But this is fixable. I wasn't exactly a huge aficionado of the Oz mythos, either, but Geoff Ryman's Was, which uses it as a springboard, is one of the best books I've ever read. Similarly with Greek mythology and Roberto Calasso's The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony. If Fables were to really explore who these characters are instead of taking audience investment in them (or even in some cases familiarity with them) as a given, I might find it more interesting; the writing's good and the art is very well done, but still, I'm not really feeling the need to race out and buy volume two.

I also recently saw Touching the Void, a documentary (mostly done via dramatic recreation) about a pair of British mountain climbers whose 1985 expedition in the Andes went awry: one of them broke his leg, fell into a crevasse, and was given up for dead, but managed over the course of four days to free himself and drag himself down the mountainside with no food, water or painkillers.

It's involving enough, I guess, but sort of empty. There's not really any suspense because the guy is sitting there hale and hearty in a studio talking about his experiences between clips. (Even if he weren't, he must have survived for us to know what happened.) There's little mystery to how he survived — getting out of the crevasse takes some cleverness, but after that it's just persistence. On the character level it's a failure: this guy is not exactly a deep thinker and doesn't really learn anything from his experience.

Nor is he heroic. Heroes help others, or otherwise make the world a better place. All this fellow did was not die. It is a curious aspect of our culture that we tend to lionize those who survive ordeals, even though the survivors are the ones who had the most to gain in the matter; in this case the guy didn't even have the ordeal unexpectedly thrust upon him, but specifically set out to place himself in a life-endangering situation. Trapped in the crevasse, he screams, "STUPID! STUPID! STUPID!" and it's hard not to agree.

Two threads to follow here. One: how connected is our tendency to make heroes of people for mere self-preservation to the fact that in our culture the rich are not merely envied but actually admired? Especially if they're "self-made men" who've climbed out of poverty by their own efforts? Not that there's anything ennobling about poverty — there's nothing wrong with the pursuit of wealth so long as it's by ethical means. But there's also nothing intrinsically meritorious about it. I guess for capitalism to perpetuate itself it needs to make self-interest not just a drive but a virtue.

Two: the movie starts by asking the climbers why they do what they do, and they talk about the thrill of danger, the rush of knowing that one wrong step could mean doom. But this seems to me to be one of those things where if they don't know, you can't tell 'em; risk-seeking and risk-aversion, as I understand it, are to a large degree hard-wired. I'm firmly in the risk-averse camp. The idea of jumping out of an airplane or poking around in a war zone or something just for the adrenaline spike strikes me as lunacy. Even putting money at risk, through gambling — be it the casino kind or the stock market variety — is anathema to me. But judging by how gambling seems to be taking over the country — Nevada's the fastest-growing state, seemingly every state and city is opening itself up to casinos, poker of all things garners huge TV ratings, and more traditional sports have become all about odds and lines — I seem to be outvoted.

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