Skip to main content

Down the Mysterly River

Review

Down the Mysterly River

written by Bill Willingham with illustrations by Mark Buckingham

Max "the Wolf" is the quintessential Boy Scout. He is so prepared that even if he gets lost (which he certainly never does), he can survive for days thanks to the contents of the Lost Kit he carries with him at all times. He is an expert at orienteering and has survived countless harrowing adventures with titles like “The Mystery of the Mad Scoutmaster” and “The Mystery of the Bad Deed.” So why is he so disoriented and confused now, as he wakes up in a world that seems very much like his own, but also is stunningly different?

"DOWN THE MYSTERLY RIVER [goes] beyond a straightforward, old-fashioned adventure story and into the realm of the postmodern."
There are the talking animals, for one thing. He first meets the badger Banderbrock, who is similarly unfamiliar with their surroundings, but quickly comes to the conclusion that they have both died in their respective worlds and have now entered the afterlife. There's the fearsome tomcat McTavish, who prides himself on his (questionable) education, much to the amusement of his new companions. And there's the bear Walden, who views himself as a failure because in his own world he has been unable to control the bad behavior of Rake the Cougar.
 
This motley crew finds themselves pursued, for reasons unknown to them all, by a menacing gang of humans who carry blue swords. At first, when they assume that these skilled hunters and their hounds are out to kill them, they're frightened enough. But when they learn from the talking tree Prince Aspen the true nature of the Blue Cutters' work, they are even more threatened. "They cut out and kill what was true and original in their captives," Prince Aspen tells the traveling band, "leaving a new and alien thing of their own design in its place. The creature they eventually release is no more than a foul distortion of the one they caught, a strange new creature masquerading in a familiar body." They take away everything that makes them interesting --- their character, in short.
 
For these figures --- from Max the Wolf to McTavish --- are, in fact, characters, in a clever twist that pushes DOWN THE MYSTERLY RIVER beyond a straightforward, old-fashioned adventure story and into the realm of the postmodern. Like M.T. Anderson's pulp fiction icons in his Pals in Peril series, Willingham's characters are the stars of countless other (fictional) novels, curiously finding their stories colliding in this world unfamiliar to them all. Willingham's novel, however, offers a sweetness that, in Anderson's case, often takes a backseat to snark, making this book appealing both to lovers of honest-to-goodness adventures and to their more world-weary friends.
 
Detailed chapter opening drawings by Mark Buckingham --- Willingham's frequent collaborator on the acclaimed Fables comics series --- add to the storytelling and the sense of tradition and action. Older readers have known for years about Willingham's creative sense of storytelling. Now younger audiences are lucky enough to be able to set off on their own unexpected, unpredictable journeys with Max the Wolf.
 

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on November 21, 2011

Down the Mysterly River
written by Bill Willingham with illustrations by Mark Buckingham