The Unwritten #1 Annotated

This site is © copyright Mike Carey and Peter Gross. The text here, except where otherwise credited, is © copyright Matt Peckham, and may not be duplicated, in part or whole, without permission.

The page numbers listed refer to The Unwritten 1, but can be used with the first trade collection (Tommy Taylor and The Bogus Identity) by proceeding from the first page of the story following Yuko Shimizu’s pencil sketch (the cover from the first issue is reproduced just prior to this).

Keeping to series convention, the name “Tom Taylor” refers to the son of Wilson Taylor, while “Tommy Taylor” refers to the fictional hero-figure in Wilson Taylor’s books.

Any errors in the following text are mine alone. Additions or corrections are encouraged by commenting below, or by emailing mattpeckham [at] mac [dot] com. Contributions by the authors are noted in orange.


The cover by Yuko Shimizu depicts the story’s protagonist Tom Taylor writhing in coils of words that form short phrases. These also appear in the issue, e.g. “My name is Lizzie Hexam and I’m studying media,” “The line between fact and fiction,” “You were born to weep Tommy Taylor,” “Tommy tell it his way now.”

Two books from Wilson Taylor’s Tommy Taylor children’s series also appear, Tommy Taylor and the Rain of Salt and Tommy Taylor and the Golden Trumpet.

The strand of red letters curling between Tom’s arm and the book reads, “Stories are the only thing worth dying for,” the same phrase spoken by Count Ambrosio on Page 26, Panel 7.

Mike notes:

This will later be echoed in the cover of The Unwritten #25, where the phrase is amended to “stories are the only thing worth living in.”

In an interview with DC/Vertigo’s Pamela Mullin, Shimizu describes the cover’s inception:

I honestly don’t remember how many sketches I made. Maybe like 15? First set of sketches were done, and I made the cover, but I was not happy. It had too many ideas in one, and too busy. It got killed, and I was rather relieved by it.

The second sets didn’t work either, but we were starting to see the directions.

And in the third set, which was done really quickly and loosely, there was a rough idea of the final cover.

What fascinated me was that [Vertigo editors] Karen [Berger] and Pornsak [Pichetshote] saw the final image in their head (which I wasn’t even seeing) from my rough sketch, and encouraged me to go to the final. Mike and Peter helped me out by sending me the keywords and sentences that should be drawn in. I don’t think anyone tried to read what was written in those crazy swirls of words, but they are actual keywords related to the story. [1]

Note the word “faction” in the mix as well, a reference to the book’s secret reality-bending cabal, and one of Mike Carey and Peter Gross’ original titles for the comic.

The transaction between Tom and the book is reciprocal, both an emerging from and return to a cradle formed of text. Is Tom ensnared in his father’s fictions? Or is he an ineluctable consequence of them? Do his reaching arm and pained expression represent a quest for enlightenment (note the connecting phrase, which proceeds syntactically in the direction of the book)? Or does a quest for knowledge engender a kind of reality-subsuming conceptual reification that irrevocably “rewrites” reality?

Page 1, Panel 1

Gossamok, a portmanteau of gossamer, “fine, filmy” and amok, “behaving uncontrollably.”

Mike notes:

Something simultaneously ethereal and off the leash.

Peter’s full name is Peter Price; Peter, from the Greek word petros, meaning “stone,” and Price, from a Welsh surname, meaning “son of Rhys,” Rhys in turn meaning “enthusiasm” in Welsh.

Mike notes:

Peter does indeed mean “stone”, but is more usually translated as rock, in part because of the famous Biblical passage (in Matthew Ch. 16) where Christ says to Peter “You are the rock on which I will build my church.” It’s a matter of connotation, obviously, with rock (rock of ages, a rock to cling to, steady as a rock) having a more positive set than stone (hard as, cold as, stony-hearted, a stony place).

Page 1, Panel 2

Tommy’s full name is Tommy Taylor.

Tommy, diminutive of Thomas, in turn the ancient Greek form of the Aramaic name Te’oma, meaning “twin.” It was also the name of the apostle who initially doubted the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Other celebrated historical figures that share the name include Thomas Becket (1118-1170), Thomas Aquinas (ca. 1125-1274), and Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679).

Mike notes:

In The Unwritten #34.5, Wilson Taylor meditates on the “English Tommy” in the context of WW1 — the common soldier, mute and uncomplaining, who died in the hundreds of thousands during the years of trench warfare. It’s possible that this informed his choice of a name for his protagonist.

Taylor, an English surname from the Old French taillour, denoting someone who was a tailor, i.e. a maker of clothes or garments. From the Latin taliare, “to cut.”

Cutting, weaving, binding, and stitching as ways of manipulating reality are recurrent themes in Mike Carey’s fiction. Cf. The seventh DC/Vertigo Lucifer collection, Lucifer: Exodus, the two-part “Stitchglass Slide” story about an otherworldly psychic weaver’s inter-dimensional adventures with a human child, [2] as well as DC/Vertigo’s Crossing Midnight, e.g. Aratsu, a Japanese sword-god with the power to kinetically manipulate blades, Nidoru, who “sews” Kaikou Hara’s mother’s soul together, and Hasharito, a “scrape-grace” who uses a pair of sentient magical scissors to extract memories, thoughts, dreams, etc. from others.

Mike notes:

Probably the inspiration for all these cutting and sewing characters is the Fates, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, who in Greek mythology both weave and snip off the thread of each person’s life. When I first encountered them, I was sort of awestruck by how the metaphor had become transcribed directly into myth — a window into a higher reality.

Ambrosio, like ambrosia, from the Greek word meaning “pertaining to the immortals,” or in mythology, “the food of the gods.” Here, an ironically named vampire or vampiric creature, the drinker (as opposed to the fabled drink), pursuing a godlike hero-figure, Tommy Taylor.

Mike notes:

Ambrosio was the name of the evil monk in Matthew Lewis’s The Monk, one of the most outrageous eighteenth century Gothic romances. We wanted him to have the name of a fictional character, just as Lizzie does: there’s a pay-off from this a long way down the line.

Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775-1818), an English novelist and dramatist sometimes referred to as “Monk Lewis” for his gothic novel The Monk (1795). The Monk, full title Ambrosio, or the Monk, concerns the downfall of a Spanish abbot named Ambrosio renowned for his piety. A young noblewoman named Matilda (a demon in disguise) enters the abbey in the guise of a monk and persuades him to be unchaste. Ambrosio’s transgressions quickly scale to violent crimes, culminating in the rape and murder of a woman named Antonia (a woman it’s later revealed was his sister). Ambrosio is eventually caught out, condemned to death by the Inquisition, reprieved by the devil after signing away his soul (though the “reprieve” involves his delivery into a desert waste), and ultimately killed by the devil for at the very last attempting to repent.

Page 1, Panel 3

Trumpet, from trump, a corruption of the Latin triumphare. The trumpet is a musical wind-instrument producing bright, powerful, penetrating tones, often employed to signify special events (in military life, for instance, reveille and “lights out”), to inaugurate ceremonial activities (religious, public games, funerals, sacrifices), or as musical inspiration to signal attacks or accompany military adventures. In the biblical Old Testament, the walls of Jericho were laid low by trumpet blasts, [3] the armies of Rome employed straight trumpets (called tuba, not to be confused with the notably different modern instrument) interposed with periods of silence to demoralize their enemies, and in the New Testament Book of Revelation, the seventh trumpet enacts the final judgment, followed by “lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake.” [4]

Mike notes:

In the Hindu faith, too, trumpets (or wind instruments) play a crucial role. Vishnu is usually depicted as carrying a conch shell, which he blows like a trumpet. The vibrations from the note he sounds are the physical world. And in The Unwritten #22, Madam Rausch refers to “The maanim. The shankha shetra. The trumpet of Vishnu and Gabriel and Ereshkigal.”

Page 1, Panel 4

Sue’s full name is Sue Sparrow.

Sue, diminutive of Susan, English variant of Susanna, from the Hebrew shoshan, “lily.” In the Old Testament Apocrypha, [5] Susanna was the name of a woman falsely accused of adultery. In the New Testament gospel of Luke 8:3, she’s listed as one of many women (including Mary Magdalane) who attended Jesus Christ by ministering “unto him of their substance.” [6]

Sparrow, after the small passerine bird, from the Old English spearwa, “flutterer.”

Mike notes:

The sparrow that falls in the marketplace might have been in the back of our minds here.

The “sparrow that falls in the marketplace” refers to a portion of Matthew 10:24-31, in which Jesus attempts to allay trepidation his followers may have passing along his message.

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. [7]

The implications are that God’s providence extends to even the cheapest life in the marketplace, though in this case it also refers to Sue’s status as a pawn, cheaply used by various forces as a means to an end.

Note the alliterative character names, e.g. Tommy Taylor, Peter Price, Sue Sparrow. The use of alliteration — the repetition of consonant sounds — in both name and surname, is a technique encountered predominantly in the comic book superhero genre, e.g. Clark Kent, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Peter Parker, Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Bruce Banner, Matt Murdock, etc. Stan Lee (b. 1922), co-creator of some of Marvel’s most iconic superheroes, has said he named his characters alliteratively to make the names more memorable.

Mike notes:

And then in modern fiction, especially YA novels, it becomes a marker of unreality: I’m not quite sure why, but I think when Rowling does it, as with the founders of the Hogwarts houses, it removes them from mundane reality with the crowbar of stylization.

The number seven has both mystical and secular connotations, such as the seven days of the week, the seven planets, the seven colors of the rainbow, seven notes of the diatonic musical scale, the Seven Heavens, the seven orders of angels, the ancient Egyptian symbol for eternal life, and so on. In biblical tradition, God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. In Joshua 6, the walls of Jericho are destroyed by seven priests wielding seven trumpets who walked around the city seven times on the seventh day. In the Book of Revelation, there are seven churches, seven stars, seven seals, seven trumpets, etc. In folk tradition, the number can represent the seven stages of awareness: physicality, emotion, intellect, intuition, spirituality, will, and the seventh, life. In this sequence, it probably signifies the completion of a cycle, [8] a passage from known to unknown, an event that has the potential to culminate in Tommy’s rebirth or resurrection.

The “end” referred to is transient, not nihilistic, conveying the notion intended by the Rider-Waite tarot, where death can be a transmutative state as opposed to a terminal one, signifying the end of a cycle, a transition or transformation.

Page 1, Panel 5

“Play you out,” an expression which in addition to its straightforward musical sense, can also mean “to outplay,” as in a game of chess.

Lullaby, from the Latin lallare, “to sing to sleep” and bye-bye or by-by, a sound used to lull a child to sleep. Count Ambrosio employs it ironically, since the sound produced by a trumpet is conventionally bright and strong. Note that in the Count’s employ, the final note (of seven) is probably intended to be soporific, perhaps even annihilative (a destructive end to or violation of the cycle) and not regenerative.

Tommy’s hand at his neck and the blood dispatching down his shirt suggest that the Count, a kind of vampire, has drunk his blood. Vampires in conventional folklore are the reanimated dead who typically require the blood of the living (blood both as life medium and procreative force, i.e. the ability to propagate vampirism) in sustained quantities, symbolizing death’s ineluctable purchase on life. Vampire, from the Slavonic vampir, derived from the root pi, “to drink.” Cf. Page 27, Panel 1, “It’s your strength, Tommy… I sucked your blood in books three, seven, and ten, and I got stronger each time.”

Page 2, Panel 1

Unicorns are mythical creatures symbolizing both power and purity, their signifying feature being a single horn set in the middle of their forehead. Besides the horn’s phallic connotations, [9] interpretations influenced by Eastern philosophy characterize it as a third eye, the attainment of a transcendent state, a return to the center, and the monad or indivisible number one. The horn can purify water, detect poisons, and only be handled by pure maidens, i.e. virgins, who were likewise able to capture unicorns by lulling them to sleep. With its horn only capable of activation by asexual females, the unicorn represents the sublimation of libido for vitality.

Mike notes:

When we actually meet the unicorn, later in the series, he’s a little vain and self-regarding but infallibly gentle and courteous towards the maiden, Sue Sparrow.

“Niath… Turbal… Erohain!”

Niath, an archaic form of the Old Irish nia, meaning “warrior.”

Turbal, possibly from the Irish turbaloid, or treblait, meaning “tribulation, illness, suffering.”

Erohain, probably a neologism combining the Irish er, “noble, great” and amhain, “one.”

Page 2, Panel 4

“Turned to stone,” alternatively “petrified.” Petrifaction was a symbolic form of punishment for hubris, guilt, or greed when enacted in myth, frequently transacted through the eyes (cf. the Greek myth of Perseus and the gorgon Medusa whose gaze was death, petrified by her reflection in his shield; of Orphe and Lyco, turned to stone for spying on their sister Carya with Dionysus; and the biblical tale of Lot’s wife, turned to salt for gazing back at Sodom and Gomorrah). [10]

Page 3, Panel 1

Mingus, a Scottish variant of Menzies (pronounced ‘mingiz’), in turn a variant of Manners, from the Latin manere, “to remain, abide, reside.” Also the surname of celebrated American jazz bassist Charles Mingus (1922-1979).

Mingus is probably a familiar, a spirit-creature attending a figure of power. In reality, winged cats are cryptozoological fictions contrived from reports of cats with wing-like appendages, probably resulting from matted fur, skin conditions, or extra limbs. In fiction, the book Catwings (1988) by American author Ursula K. Le Guin (b. 1929) features winged cats who abandon their urban home for a rural setting, but in the end find it as challenging as city life. In American author, poet, and transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau’s (1817-1862) Walden (1854) the writer makes reference to a winged cat “of a dark brownish-gray color, with a white spot on her throat, and white feet, and had a large bushy tail like a fox…that in the winter the fur grew thick and flatted out along her sides, forming stripes ten or twelve inches long by two and a half wide.” [11]

Mike notes:

Lin [Carey] read Catwings to all three of our kids when they were younger, so I wouldn’t swear there was no influence there. Owls used to be referred to as cat-headed birds, or as cats with wings: that was probably the main thing that was going on here. Mingus is modelled on Peter’s cat, and is named for my mother-in-law’s.

The notion of owls as “cat-headed” probably comes from the Chinese popular name for owls, transliterated māo-tóu-yīng, “cat-headed hawk.” Note the parallel with Harry Potter’s (of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books) owl-familiar, Hedwig, as well as Timothy Hunter’s (from Neil Gaiman’s The Books of Magic) owl-familiar, Yo-Yo.

Page 3, Panel 3

“Beyond the veil,” alternatively “behind the veil,” an expression referring to the next world, an alternate existence, or something hidden from normal sight. It’s also the title of a poem by Anglo-Welsh poet and mystic Henry Vaughan (1622-1695), and appears as the last line of section LVI in English Victorian poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s (1809-1892) poem “In Memoriam A.H.H” (1849), composed over a period of 17 years and taking the form of quatrains in iambic tetrameter with an abba rhyme scheme.

O life as futile, then, as frail!
O for thy voice to soothe and bless!
What hope of answer, or redress?
Behind the veil, behind the veil. [12]

“What would happen if he blew the horn?” If Peter can alter or repurpose the ritual Ambrosio began, each player’s intentionality is the signifying factor that underlies the trumpet’s transformative powers.

That the trumpet is gold (or “golden”) is significant, as gold is the most precious of metals, the perfect metal, light, pure, incorruptible, and something that neither rusts nor corrodes. It can also represent fire, hidden knowledge, and immortality. In China and India, elixirs reputed to convey immortality were prepared with gold as their base. The Greco-Roman “golden bough,” a branch of mistletoe whose pale green leaves turn to gold as the year cycles, symbolizes rebirth and immortality.

The act of breathing is also significant, since breath, which relates to spirit, from the Latin spiritus, “breath, spirit” or spirare, “breathe,” is an underlying principle of life. In English poet and dramatist William Shakespeare’s (c. 1564-1616) Macbeth (c. 1606-7), Macduff says, “Make all our trumpets speak, give them all breath, those clamorous harbingers of blood and death.” [13] And consider music in its Pythagorean sense, i.e. the music of the spheres, cosmic symmetry, a quest for the divine, and Peter playing the final note implies a spiritually harmonizing or realigning act.

Mike notes:

Now that The Unwritten #35 is out in the world, we can say that there was a massive amount of foreshadowing in this opening scene. It continues to have resonances going on through the series.

Page 4, Panel 1

The poem is an acrostic, a syntactic puzzle in cryptographic form where certain letters in each line form new words (cf. Page 19, Panel 4). It was used by early Greek and Roman writers, and the first known acrostics conveyed the prophecies of the Erithraean Sibyl, an Apollonian oracle in classical antiquity. When the initial letters form the word or phrase, as here, the poem is called a true acrostic, where if the final letters do, it’s called a telestich. The first letter of each sentence here, read from top to bottom, forms the phrase “He will come to you.”

Mike notes:

We were paying homage to Lewis Carroll here. There’s an acrostic poem, much more intricate than this, which forms the dedication to “The Hunting of the Snark.” It’s inscribed to Gertrude Chataway, and her name is hidden in the poem both acrostically and syllabically. It starts “Girt with a boyish garb for boyish play…”

“The Hunting of the Snark,” a poem by Lewis Carroll, pseudonym of British writer Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898). It was published in 1876, and is considered by some the longest and best sustained nonsense poem in the English language. Its prefatory dedication reads:

Girt with a boyish garb for boyish task,
Eager she wields her spade: yet loves as well
Rest on a friendly knee, intent to ask
The tale he loves to tell.

Rude spirits of the seething outer strife,
Unmeet to read her pure and simple spright,
Deem, if you list, such hours a waste of life,
Empty of all delight!

Chat on, sweet Maid, and rescue from annoy
Hearts that by wiser talk are unbeguiled.
Ah, happy he who owns that tenderest joy,
The heart-love of a child!

Away, fond thoughts, and vex my soul no more!
Work claims my wakeful nights, my busy days—
Albeit bright memories of that sunlit shore
Yet haunt my dreaming gaze! [14]

Wilson Taylor, Tom Taylor’s absent father. Wilson, from the English surname meaning “son of William.” William, from the Germanic Wilhelm, or wil, “will, desire” plus helm, “helmet, protection.” See annotations to Page 1, Panel 2 for an explanation of the surname Taylor.

Tommy Taylor and the Golden Trumpet is the thirteenth book in Wilson Taylor’s Tommy Taylor series. The number thirteen in often superstitiously branded unlucky (in extreme cases, known as triskaidekaphobia, or “fear of the number thirteen”), perhaps originating in the number’s incremental irregularity, transgressing the “whole” or “complete” number twelve, e.g. twelve months, twelve clock hours, twelve zodiac signs, etc. Christ and his twelve apostles participated in the Last Supper (Judas Iscariot, the thirteenth, arrived last). The Jewish Kabbala denotes thirteen spirits of evil, and Revelation 13 is the chapter that describes both the Anti-Christ and the Beast.

The use of the protagonist’s name in the title followed by an object or entity of significance to the plot is a pulp tradition practiced by authors like Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) in works such as Tarzan and the Ant Men (1924) and Tarzan and the Forbidden City (1938) as well as a number of pulp magazines and mass market paperbacks published throughout the twentieth-century. The practice antedates J.K. Rowling’s recent Harry Potter series and its use by Carey and Gross salutes the tradition while at the same time lightly satirizing it.

Juxtaposed with the events of Page 3, Panel 3, the “Afterword” portrays Wilson Taylor’s final Tommy Taylor story as a kind of mystical bridge, a link between Wilson’s fictive world and the so-called real one. The “mundane” Tom Taylor must “Choose sides, choose weapons, keep the vow / Or else refuse the proffered cup.” Note that a cup can also be a chalice, lending the reference grail-like (i.e. immortality, life, enlightenment, or invincibility conferring) possibilities.

“Heaven is closer than you think.” In the biblical book of Revelation, heaven is a symbolic means of denoting the distinction between the creator and his creation. In the same context, this may be a reference to looming war between heaven and earth, mystical and mundane, creator and created. Heaven also symbolizes awareness through transcendence, in which case it may here signify the hidden truths Tom is as yet unaware of, but “closer than” or more accessible than he realizes. Cf. the New Testament passage outlining one of Christianity’s tenets:

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,
And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. [15]

“Let Tommy tell it his way now / Let Tommy take the burden up,” Wilson Taylor invites his son to join the battle, a battle the latter has been waging through his fiction (his “weapons”), and which Tom can continue, if he chooses, in his own way (“choose sides, choose weapons, keep the vow”).

“Trust him, and with your trust renew / Our faith, our fortune and our day.” Is Wilson Taylor addressing the general reader, i.e. “trust him,” trust Tom, or is he entreating Tom to trust someone else as yet unrevealed (or somehow both)? Is “mass belief” vital in continuing a rebirth cycle (“renew…our day”)? [16]

Note the symbol etched at the base of the page, which is Tommy Taylor’s “wheel tattoo,” a kind of mystical compass. In Page 11, Panel 3, Tommy says it “aches” when Count Ambrosio is near. Cf. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, the lightning-shaped scar on Harry Potter’s forehead, which burns whenever his nemesis Voldemort experiences strong emotions.

Mike notes:

The other wonderful correspondence that we found here, quite by accident, was with the cuneiform symbol dingir, which in Sumerian texts designates a character who is a god or demi-god. It looks like Tommy’s wheel tattoo, but with some of the rim and spokes broken away.

The origin of Tommy’s tattoo is told in the first of Wilson Taylor’s novels, Tommy Taylor and the Ship That Sank Twice. It will eventually be told in The Unwritten, too.

Page 5, Panel 3

Christopher Robin, the name of the boy in English author and humorist A. A. Milne’s (1882-1956) idyllic Pooh books, a child-figure Milne depicted in the stories as a responsible and benevolent adult. The character was based on Milne’s son, Christopher Robin Milne (1920-1996).

In an autobiography, The Enchanted Places (1974) Christopher Robin Milne wrote of the stories’ inspiration:

It is difficult to say which came first. Did I do something and did my father then write a story around it? Or was it the other way about, and did the story come first? Certainly my father was on the look-out for ideas; but so too was I. He wanted ideas for his stories, I wanted them for my games, and each looked towards the other for inspiration. But in the end it was all the same: the stories became a part of our lives; we lived them, thought them, spoke them. [17]

In a later book, The Path Through the Trees (1979) Christopher Milne Robin deals with his adult life and increasingly conflicted relationship with the books, at one point writing:

There were two things that were then overshadowing my life and that I needed to escape from: my father’s fame and “Christopher Robin”. Yet here I was apparently deliberately seeking out his shadow so as to work beneath it, choosing a trade that would put me on public exhibition as Christopher Robin, wrapping up the books he had written. [18]

Page 6, Panel 1

Swope, full name Rupert Swope; Rupert, a version of the name Robert, from hrod, “fame” and beraht, “bright,” and Swope, from the Old English swapan, “to sweep.”

Mike notes:

We took the name from Bayard Swope, the New York newspaper editor who played both poker and croquet with Harpo Marx. Swope is the guy who said trying to please everybody all the time is the perfect recipe for failure. He also said of croquet “It’s a great game — it makes you want to lie and cheat and kill.”

Herbert Bayard Swope (1882-1958) was a U.S. journalist, notable war correspondent, and longtime editor with New York World, a seminal newspaper published in New York from 1860 to 1931. Swope received the first Pulitzer Prize for Reporting in 1917 for articles about Germany collected in the book Inside the German Empire (1917). He is also known for aphorisms like the one Mike refers to, which he reportedly offered in reply to tributes paid him at a testimonial dinner: “I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure — try to please everybody.” [19] He also reportedly said “The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing…if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” [20]

Page 6, Panel 3

The peace symbol on Tom’s hat turned on its side combines the semaphore signals for the letters “N” and “D,” which in the original 1958 British design stood for “nuclear disarmament.” At least one subsequent interpretation views the symbol as an upside-down crucifix, such as the one the Christian apostle Peter was hung and martyred on. Its sideways orientation on Tom’s hat suggests ambiguity, or perhaps a choice not yet made.

Page 6, Panel 4

Note the reference to Sue Sparrow on the paneling behind Tom and Swope, “Sparrow-grams.”

Page 7, Panel 1

Harry Potter, a series of seven bestselling books by British author J.K. Rowling (b. 1965) dealing with the adolescent and supernatural travails of a young wizard in training. Harry Potter, a shunned and lonely orphan, discovers he’s actually a nascent wizard and enrolls in a boarding school “of witchcraft and wizardry” to develop his abilities. Along with schoolmates Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, he does battle with Lord Voldemort (from the French vol, “flight” and de mort, “from death”), an evil undead wizard who killed Harry’s parents and intends to subjugate both the magical and mundane world. The first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published in the UK on June 30, 1997 and the U.S. on September 1, 1998. The series concluded with the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, published worldwide on July 21, 2007. The books, critically acclaimed and multi-award-winning, have been adapted to film, video games, and support a merchandizing empire worth $15 billion. [21] The series has been published in some 200 countries and translated into over 60 languages, selling in excess of 400 million copies to date, exceeded in estimated sales by only the Bible and Qu’ran.

The Books of Magic, originally a 1990-91 DC/Vertigo four-issue mini-series by author Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) about a boy who has the potential to become the world’s greatest magician. The story came about after DC asked Gaiman to craft a tale exploring its magic-related characters and their interlinking histories. The story’s 12-year-old protagonist, Timothy Hunter, is visited by four celebrated DC Universe occult figures (The Phantom Stranger, John Constantine, Doctor Occult, Mister E) and gradually awakens to his own magical potential, a simple narrative theme that allowed Gaiman to foreground the DC Universe’s complex occult mythology. DC followed Gaiman’s mini-series with others, each of which explored the consequences of Tim’s magical and emotional choices. The Books of Magic Vol. 2, written by John Ney-Reiber and drawn by Peter Gross, culminated in a 75-issue run lasting from 1994 to 2000. Gross, also the artist and co-creator of The Unwritten, assumed both writing and drawing duties from issues 51 through 75.

The Books of Magic is sometimes compared with Rowling’s Harry Potter books, and some fans see striking similarities between the two, e.g. a young bespectacled boy learns of his magical potential as he’s coming of age and adopts a pet owl as his companion. Neil Gaiman’s response to suggestions Rowling plagiarized his work has been unequivocal, with Gaiman stating that he

…doubted she’d read [the series] and that it wouldn’t matter if she had: I wasn’t the first writer to create a young magician with potential, nor was Rowling the first to send one to school. It’s not the ideas, it’s what you do with them that matters. [22]

In an interview with January Magazine, Gaiman also said “I thought we were both just stealing from T.H. White: [23] very straightforward.” [24]

The Worst Witch, a popular series of children’s novels written and illustrated by English author Jill Murphy (b. 1949) about a girl named Mildred Hubble who is the “worst” student at an academy for witches. Mildred is in fact a well-meaning but somewhat impulsive witch with a knack for bungling things. Each book in the series completes a single term at the school, with each school year comprising two terms. The first book, The Worst Witch, was published in 1974, while the sixth and most recent, The Worst Witch to the Rescue, was published in 2007.

Like The Books of Magic, The Worst Witch is often compared to the Harry Potter series. Both involve schools situated in an ancient castle located on a remote hill and surrounded by a forest (cf. Hogwarts), similar classes include potions and broomstick flying (cf. potions and Quidditch), Mildred’s headmistress is benevolent and encouraging (cf. Albus Dumbledore) while her potions teacher is cruel and vindictive (cf. Severus Snape), and Mildred’s nemesis, a fellow student, comes from a distinguished witch family (cf. Draco Malfoy). Murphy responded to questions about the two series’ similarities in a 2002 interview with children’s book magazine Books for Keeps.

It’s irritating… Everyone asks the same question and I even get children writing to ask me whether I mind about the Hogwarts school of witchcraft and pointing out similarities. Even worse are reviewers who come across my books, or see the TV series, and, without taking the trouble to find out that it’s now over [a] quarter of a century since I wrote my first book, make pointed remarks about “clever timing” — or say things like “the Worst Witch stories are not a million miles from J K Rowling’s books.” The implications are really quite insulting! [25]

“But Tommy Taylor is so much bigger.” Tom’s rationale for the stories’ similarities to these series hinges purely on Tommy Taylor‘s commercial success, betraying his materialistic bent. Their appeal “justifies” anything derivative about them, in other words (cf. Page 6, Panel 3, “I’m Tom Taylor… The guy who gives you ten percent of everything he earns”).

Page 7, Panel 3

A blind trust is an arrangement in which an executor or third-party fiduciary has been empowered to manage the trust’s holdings without input from the beneficiary. In addition to granting complete managerial discretion, a blind trust also prevents its administrator from sharing information about the daily workings of the trust with the beneficiary. Technically speaking, Tommy probably shouldn’t know whether the trust is “very complicated” or not, or he knows more than he should about the trust for undisclosed reasons.

Page 8, Panel 1

Gorgon, Latin gorgos, “terrible.” There were three gorgons in Greek myth, Stheno, Euryale, and Medusa, the daughters of the sea-god Phorcys and his sister/wife, Ceto (from the Greek kētos, “sea monster”). Their heads were coiled with snakes, their necks protected by dragon scales, and they had enormous tusks, hands of bronze, and golden wings. Their gaze was so penetrating that anyone meeting it was turned to stone. [26] Stheno and Euryale were immortal, but Medusa was mortal, and the name “gorgon” is most often associated with her.

Mike notes:

These Greek threesomes! Seriously, guys, if anyone invites you to a Greek threesome, check the small print.

Tears, dualistically associated with emotional extremes of sadness or joy. Teardrops manifest and then evaporate after bearing witness to the grief, melancholy, fear, anger, humor, happiness, or rapture they symbolize. Their effect on Count Ambrosio in Tommy Taylor and the Last Gorgon suggests that human emotion is as powerful a magical catalyst as holy water (water ceremonially sanctified by a priest or bishop). Put another way, human pathos is as, if not more powerful, than the artifacts of mechanistic ritual, the former extending from immediate experience, the latter merely conscripted as part of a traditional or organizational formality.

“That seems to be something of a strange leap of logic to me.” The irony lies in the assumption that folk legends about vampires and holy water aren’t leaps in themselves. Cf. American author and comparative mythology authority Joseph Campbell (1904-1987), who said

Every religion is true one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble. [27]

Page 8, Panel 2

“…a unicorn and maiden thing…” Probably a reference to French writer and poet Bertrand d’Astorg’s (1913-1988) Le mythe de la dame a la licorne (1963), which connected the myth of the unicorn (symbolizing purity) with medieval concepts of courtly love (a code which dictated the behavior of women and their lovers). d’Astorg’s treatment links women who elect not to physically consummate the love they inspire and/or share with the myth of the unicorn, whereby capturing a unicorn required a maiden who could charm it. [28]

Page 8, Panel 5

“Flight of…” Probably “flights of fancy,” meaning a fantastic tale or an imaginative but impractical idea.  Alternatively “flights of fantasy,” “flights of imagination,” or in French, jeu d’esprit, meaning literally “play of spirit,” a phrase sometimes used to describe the epigrams of Irish poet and dramatist Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), e.g. “Religions die when they are proved to be true / Science is the record of dead religions.” [29]

Page 9, Panel 1

Lizzie Hexam, the name of a major character in English novelist Charles Dickens’ (1812-1870) Our Mutual Friend (1864), Dickens’ last complete novel, about the destructive, intertwining influence of money and class in Victorian London society. The titular “mutual friend” is a man named John Harmon, who in returning to England as heir to a family fortune is mistakenly presumed drowned (a body assumed to be Harmon’s is pulled from the Thames by Lizzie Hexam’s father, Jesse Hexam, a river scavenger with whom Lizzie loots corpses). Harmon spends the remainder of the novel using his circumstances to anonymously evaluate Bella Wilfer, a woman he must marry per the terms of his inheritance in order to secure it.

Lizzie is the subject of a second plot involving two men, Bradley Headstone and Eugene Wrayburn. Headstone, a stern, emotionally repressed schoolmaster (note the ironic surname), pursues Lizzie but is rejected, inciting him to fits of jealousy and eventually violence. He attacks and attempts to murder Wrayburn (a high-class barrister and the object of Lizzie’s affection), throwing him into the Thames, but Wrayburn is rescued by Lizzie and nursed back to health. Lizzie and Wrayburn eventually marry despite their socially prescribed class incompatibilities.

In Dickens and Reality (1978), literary critic John Romano describes Lizzie as

…the most wholly good character in the book, the one who seems indeed almost bereft of ego. Her goodness…is identical with her capacity for self-sacrifice. [30]

As Lizzie later channels Sue Sparrow (cf. Page 27, Panel 5) it’s worth noting that in Our Mutual Friend, water is viewed thematically as regenerative or renewing (Wrayburn, for instance, is “reborn” after being pulled from the river by Hexam). Compare with annotations to Page 8, Panel 1 concerning Ambrosio’s remarks about Sue Sparrow’s tears.

King’s College, a prominent higher education institution in London founded by King George IV and the Duke of Wellington in 1829. Its literary alumni include Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008), C.S. Forester (1899-1966), and Virginia Woolf (1882-1941).

Page 9, Panel 5

Elena Pasquale. Elena, a Macedonian given name meaning “light” and “beautiful.” The last name Pasquale is a masculine Italian given name as well as a common Italian surname that comes from the Latin name Paschalis, derived from pascha, “of Easter.”

Page 10, Panels 1-2

According to the UK government website Directgov, a National Insurance number is a UK citizen’s “own personal account number,” similar to a U.S. social security number for tracking social security benefits (and sometimes used as a form of identification) as well as certain tax-related functions. [31] The number is usually necessary when applying for a job, a student loan or to claim benefits. It’s issued by the DWP or Department of Work and Pensions, formerly the DSS or Department of Social Security (the agency changeover occurred in June 2001, though The Unwritten 1 was published in 2009). The customary age by which to receive a National Insurance number is 16.

National Insurance numbers are indeed unique and never reused. Considered with Lizzie’s note about the photo inaccuracy in The Tommy Taylor Companion (see Page 9, Panel 6), and assuming Tom had an actual childhood in the story’s version of our world, the implication is that Wilson Taylor — after somehow conjuring Tom into the world — fabricated his credentials out of necessity, since there would have been no record of his birth.

Page 10, Panel 3

Bexhill, formally known as Bexhill-on-Sea, a seaside resort town in the county of East Sussex, southern England.

Mike notes:

And you really don’t want to go there. It’s sort of synonymous with the middle of nowhere — a place that’s remote and small and sad. I’m sure it’s a fine place to live, but the name, for a British reader, has that chime of silliness and parochialism. Many towns in the South East of England would have served just as well.

Page 10, Panel 4

Wilson Taylor published thirteen Tommy Taylor books before he disappeared. Tommy Taylor and the Rain of Salt is the seventh book (and separately, film) in the series.

Page 11, Panel 1

The mineral salt, or sodium chloride (NaCL), has corrosive properties when applied to other materials.

The “Snake-Skin Gospel,” an occult spellbook in the Tommy Taylor mythos. “…before it burned,” referring either to its immolation as the spell was cast, or destruction by unknown forces.

“No-Time spell,” probably a way to stop time within a limited physical space.

Page 11, Panel 3

Tommy’s “wheel tattoo” resembles a navigational compass with four points, and note that it’s specifically referred to as tattooed, implying it was received (as opposed to spontaneously created or innate). Tattoos can symbolize communion with a higher power, as well as investment of power in the bearer of the figure or symbol depicted (or, alternately, immunization from it). In this case, the wheel — similar in form to, but in designation not the same as a circle — is probably intended as emblematic of the world, and perhaps with its cosmic Vedic connotations as the nexus of space and time. The wheel’s four “spokes” symbolize the four quarters of space (north, south, east, west), and in this sense the tattoo invests Tommy with locational powers, including the ability to sense his fictive antithesis, Count Ambrosio.

“To sow the earth with salt…” Sprinkling the earth with salt in ancient times may have been a way — whether literally or symbolically — for conquering armies to “curse” the cities or lands they had razed by making them barren.

Page 12, Panel 1

“Israel and Lebanon: ‘No stand-down…’,” in the ticker on the screen refers to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Lebanon involving those countries as well as Syria and other non-state militias operating from within Lebanon.

“Monbiot,” probably a reference to George Monbiot (b. 1963), the British author, environmentalist, and political activist who writes for the British newspaper, The Guardian, known for his books Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain (2000) and Bring on the Apocalypse: Six Arguments for Global Justice (2008). In January 2010, he founded the website, which offers a reward to anyone attempting a peaceful citizen’s arrest of former British prime minister Tony Blair for “crimes against peace.” Monbiot has often commented on “peak oil,” the point at which the maximum rate of petroleum extraction is achieved globally, and after which that rate falls into terminal decline. In April 2009, shortly before the first issue of The Unwritten was published (July 2009), Monbiot wrote an article for The Guardian indicting the British government’s contingency plans for a looming peak oil scenario in which he laments “Anyone who tells you that oil supplies will definitely peak by a certain date or definitely won’t peak ever is a fraud: the information required to make these assessments does not exist.” [32]

“There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” a common saying often attributed to the nineteenth-century American showman and circus owner Phineas T. Barnum (1810-1891), though no evidence exists linking him to the quote. Contrast with the line “…there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about,” [33] from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey (1890).

Page 12, Panel 3

“…to get pissed,” a British slang expression meaning to get drunk, probably related to the increased need to urinate as one consumes alcohol in quantities sufficient to become intoxicated.

“…in a row, like ducks,” a play on the idiom “have your ducks in a row,” meaning to have things organized.

Page 13

The browser depicted is Safari, an application made by Apple for Windows and Macintosh computers (the depicted URL is made-up).

In the lefthand column:

“Cow-mouth,” a reference to “foot-and-mouth,” a sometimes deadly infectious viral disease unique to cloven-hoofed animals accompanied by high fever and blisters in the mouth and on the feet.

The link “Religious Terrorism: Fantasy Book Burnings” is redolent of media stories during the 2000s in which members of fundamentalist religious groups publicly burned or disfigured books in the Harry Potter series (and others) claiming they celebrated the occult.

The link “Very Tall Man Discovers Eigth Chakra” (“Eigth” is a typo for Eighth), referring to the seven Hindu chakras, wheel-like centers of energy correlating with parts of the body, from head (the Sahasrara or “crown chakra”) to the base of the spine (the Muladhara or “root chakra”). There is no eighth chakra, thus the height-related joke.

“John Strange” is a reference to Jonathan Strange, one of the eponymous magicians in Susana Clarke’s novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (2004). “The History and Practice of English Magic” refers to the made-up book The History and Practice of English Magic in the novel, written by Strange and published in 1816.

“…Dancing With the Music of Time,” a playful reference to the TV show Dancing with the Stars, a show that pairs celebrities with professional dancers who compete weekly before a panel of judges and viewers whose combined scores determine which couple is “voted off” the show.

In the righthand column:

“Queensbery,” the publisher of the Tommy Taylor books, probably a play on Bloomsbury Publishing, the London-based publisher that published J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

Mike notes:

And also a subliminal reference to the Marquis of Queensberry, who initiated the sequence of events that led to Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment for sodomy.  Wilde appears as a character in #5.

Page 14, Panel 1

The large circular object in silhouette is the London Eye, a giant Ferris wheel on the banks of the River Thames in London, England. It stands 443 feet tall with a diameter of 394 feet. It was the tallest Ferris wheel in the world when first erected in 1999 and remained so until 2006, when it was surpassed by the Chinese Star of Nanchang (525 feet).

Page 13, Panel 2

“…national hate week.” Probably an ironic reference to George Orwell’s (1903-1950) dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), in which something called “hate week” figures as a regular occurrence designed to foment hatred of the The Party’s — the totalitarian government of Oceania — enemy.

Page 15, Panel 3

“…ten thousand maniacs…” A possible pun on the name of the alternative rock band 10,000 Maniacs, who in turn took their name from the low budget horror film Two Thousand Maniacs (1964).

Page 15, Panel 5

Hanway Street, a short, narrow street near the intersection of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road in London, England.

Page 15, Panel 6

“Better a live idiot than a dead philosopher,” possibly a riff on the Lebanese proverb “A living donkey is better than a dead philosopher,” which emphasizes the value of hard work and diligence.

Page 15, Panel 7

The Ministry of Truth, one of the four ministries in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four that govern Oceania, the novel’s fictional superstate. Like the other ministries (Peace, Plenty, and Love) its function is diametrically opposed to its name’s literal meaning. Thus, instead of promoting the circulation of accurate, reliable information, it instead works to propagandize and obfuscate.

Page 16, Panel 2

The Senate House is the University of London’s administrative building, and the Senate House Library comprises most of its 19 total floors. During World War II, when many of London’s colleges were temporarily transferred to locations outside the city, the Senate House was occupied by the Ministry of Information. The Ministry of Truth was Orwell’s analogue in Nineteen Eighty-Four for the Ministry of Information. He describes the building from a distance of a kilometer, stating that it

…towered vast and white above the grimy landscape … startlingly different from any other object in sight. It was an enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring up, terrace after terrace, three hundred meters into the air. [34]

On the building’s face “in elegant lettering” are the three slogans of the novel’s totalitarian Party: “War Is Peace. Freedom Is Slavery. Ignorance Is Strength.”

Room 101, a kind of torture chamber in which citizens were subjected to their worst nightmares (all known to the ostensibly omniscient Party), was located in Nineteen Eighty-Four‘s Ministry of Love, the ministry charged with ensuring love and loyalty for Big Brother and the Party. At one point the room is described by Inner Party member O’Brien to the novel’s protagonist, Winston Smith:

“You asked me once,” said O’Brien, “what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.” [35]

While Tom tells Swope that Orwell modeled the room after an office in the Senate House, the more widely held view is that the inspiration was a conference room with the number located within the BBC Broadcasting House in Portland Place, London, where Orwell participated in meetings.

Page 16, Panel 3

Coram’s Fields, a seven-acre city park in central London, formerly the site of the Foundling Hospital, a children’s home founded in 1741.

No Thoroughfare (1867), in which the Foundling Hospital appears, is the name of both a stage play and novel by English novelist Charles Dickens about two boys who, given the same name as children, are confused and misplaced, culminating in one’s death and a quest to find the other.

Coram Boy (2000) is young adult novel by British writer Jamila Gavin (b. 1941) set primarily within the Foundling Hospital during the eighteenth-century that deals with historical issues ranging from infanticide to child slavery.

Mike notes:

Tom’s “literary GPS”, explicitly instilled into him by Wilson, points to the later discovery of Wilson’s map, which charts places where fictions have impacted on the real world.

Page 17, Panel 1

DNN, possibly an acronym for “Direct News Network” and analogue for the U.S. news network CNN (“Cable News Network”).

Page 17, Panel 5

Villa Diodati, a house in Switzerland near Lake Geneva best known as the shared summer residence of writers Lord Byron (1788-1824), Mary Shelley (1797-1851), Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) as well as others. It was here that Mary Shelley came up with the idea for Frankenstein (1818).  John Milton also stayed there, as we discovered, when he was planning Paradise Lost.  Milton’s Satan and the Frankenstein monster were born in the same house!

Howard Hughes (1905-1976), an American business mogul, aviator, engineer and film producer, one of the wealthiest and most recognized people of his era, known in his later years for his eccentric and reclusive lifestyle.

Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007), a world famous Swedish film director, writer and producer, known for his films The Seventh Seal (1957), Wild Strawberries (1957), and many others. Director Woody Allen (b. 1935) described him as “probably the greatest film artist, all things considered, since the invention of the motion picture camera.” [36]

Page 18, Panel 1

“Signs And Wonders,” the text above the news ticker, echoes the New Testament Epistle to the Romans, 15:19, in which Paul the Apostle highlights the extraordinary deeds performed by Jesus Christ in evangelizing to the Gentiles:

…by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum I have fully proclaimed the good news of Christ. [37]

It also doubles as a reference to Carey’s Spellbinders, a six-issue miniseries published by Marvel and illustrated by frequent Carey collaborator Mike Perkins, about a group of modern-day high school witches. The miniseries was subtitled “Signs & Wonders.”

Page 18, Panel 7

“The word made flesh,” an often quoted phrase from the New Testament Gospel of John 1:14, in which the writer affirms Jesus Christ’s existence as a fully corporeal being:

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. [38]

Page 19, Panel 2

Pianosa, a tiny four square mile island in Italy’s Tuscan Archipelago, slightly west and south of the island of Elba, with a population of less than a dozen people (it’s actually listed in several sources as “uninhabited”).

Page 19, Panel 6

Joseph Heller’s (1923-1999) satirical novel Catch-22 (1961) takes place largely on a U.S. Army Air Corps base located on Pianosa during World War II, though as Tom rightly notes in Page 20, Panel 1, the island would have been much too small to support a military base as well as a community of Italian inhabitants. Heller himself writes in a preamble to the novel: “This island of Pianosa lies in the Mediterranean Sea eight miles south of Elba. It is very small and obviously could not accommodate all of the actions described. Like the setting of this novel, the characters, too, are fictitious.” [39]

Pianosa is also mentioned in Roman historian Tacitus’ (AD 56-c. 120) Annals, an account of the Roman Empire between (AD 14-68) in which he refers to the island as Planasia — its contemporaneous name — as the place to which the emperor Augustus (63 BCE-14 AD) banished his grandson, Agrippa Postumus (12 BCE-14 AD).

Page 20, Panel 2

In a November 1962 interview with The Realist, Heller responded to a question about the satirical nature of Catch-22:

Oh, I think anything critical is subversive by nature in the sense that it does seek to change or reform something that exists by attacking it. I think the impetus toward progress of any kind has always been a sort of discontent with what existed, and an effort to undermine what is existing, whether it’s barbaric or not barbaric…

…I think another reason I have not heard any objections [to the book] is that most people are treating it as a novel and judging it in those terms, as a work of fiction rather than as an essay or as a propaganda tract. It’s not intended to be a sociological treatise on anything, although it — the substance of the fiction — is almost an encyclopedia of the current mental atmosphere. It is certainly a novel of comment; there are comments about the loyalty oath, about the free enterprise system, about civil rights, about bureaucracy, about patriotism — but these are the ingredients out of which to create a fictional narrative. [40]

Page 20, Panel 4

The lines quoted by Count Ambrosio are probably from one of the Tommy Taylor novels, but the line “born to weep” is best known as a lyric in the song “Black Coffee,” written by Sonny Burke and Paul Francis Webster and published in 1948. It was recorded by several artists, but probably best remembered for the 1960 Verve recording by American singer Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996). The phrase these words are found in is:

Now a man is born to go a lovin’
A woman’s born to weep and fret
To stay at home and tend her oven
And drown her past regrets
In coffee and cigarettes

Note the object the Count is holding in his hands, and which he uses to strike Tom: a Tommy Taylor figurine (see Page 32, Panels 4 and 5).

Page 21, Panel 3

Note the Count’s shifting facial features over the next few pages, from more human-like (nose turned down) to beast-like (heavy brow, nose recessed) and back again, in keeping with creature of myth’s folkloric shapeshifting abilities. The deformation of the face in particular when agitated occurs in recent popular culture vampire interpretations, most notably the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Page 21, Panel 4

“All the world’s a stage,” the opening words in a monologue from Shakespeare’s play As You Like It, comparing life to a play and the world to a stage. The full first line is:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. [41]

Page 22, Panel 1

The Globe Theatre, a famous theater in London in which William Shakespeare’s plays were performed after its construction by Shakespeare’s theatre troupe in 1599. It was destroyed by a fire in 1613, rebuilt on the same site in 1614 and closed in 1642. The theatre depicted here is a modern reconstruction — though not a perfect replica, and located near but not directly on top of the original theatre site — which opened in 1997.

Page 22, Panel 2

“…cut you to pieces.” It’s probably not intentional, but note the similarity to the biblical Old Testament book of Hosea 6:5, in which God admonishes the people of Israel and Judah:

I sent my prophets to cut you to pieces—
to slaughter you with my words,
with judgments as inescapable as light. [42]

Page 22, Panel 4

This particular manifestation of Count Ambrosio is apparently visible on camera. Vampire myth suggests that these creatures cannot be seen in mirrors, via cameras, on film or through the aid of any other mechanical object capable of reproducing an image, the legend being that these objects capture one’s essence or soul. A vampire, having none, would thus — according to this superstition — fail to register at all. We know from sequences later in the series that vampires are indeed invisible in mirrors, but since we also eventually learn that Count Ambrosio is a kind of poly-myth that manifests through susceptible but entirely corporeal human beings, it’s possible this rule doesn’t apply to him (or not in the same way).

Page 23, Panel 1

“Keseki” (though more commonly “kaesaekki”) is a transliterated Korean word (개새끼) equivalent to the English exclamation “son of a bitch.” It literally means “son of a dog.”

Page 24, Panel 2

“Non mais quoi encore” (though more commonly “No mais, et puis quoi encore”) is a French exclamation meaning “Are you kidding?” or “Are you serious?”

Page 24, Panel 6

Judging from the foregrounded piece of pottery, this is probably Sue Morgenstern, Wilson Taylor’s lover, whom we eventually meet in The Unwritten 2.

Page 24, Panel 7

The emergency telephone number in the U.K. is 999. It’s 911 in the United States.

 Page 25, Panel 3

“It means Tommy stopped being a story and started being real!” A reference to a theme explored later in the series, and a possible explanation for Tom’s sudden ability to snap his tethers and assault Count Ambrosio in Page 28, Panel 4. The idea, oversimplified, is that magical ability — the power to reconfigure the world — derives from mass belief. As these people believe Tom is in fact Tommy Taylor come again, he may already be invested with power at this stage.

Page 26, Panel 6

“…the Greeks who fought at Troy,” a reference to the Trojan War, a mythical decade-long conflict described in ninth century BCE Greek epic poet Homer’s Iliad (composed at some point between the ninth and eighth centuries BCE) fought between the early Greeks and the people of Troy in western Anatolia (modern day Asia Minor). After years of stalemate, the Greeks pretended to withdraw, leaving behind a giant wooden horse concealing a raiding party. After the Trojans brought the horse within their city, the raiding party attacked, slaughtering men, carrying of women and ultimately sacking the city.

“…the women burned as witches,” a reference to all the people — primarily women — killed over the centuries for allegedly engaging in witchcraft and/or related practices. Estimates of the number of people executed over the centuries vary, but according to British historian Ronald Hutton (b. 1953), the global number ranges anywhere from 35,000 to over 63,000. The now clearly superstitious and barbaric practice has given us the term “witch-hunt,” referring to moral hysteria and persecution of perceived as opposed to real enemies.

“The Rosenbergs,” a reference to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, American civilians and active members of the Communist Party who were convicted of espionage (the charge involved passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union) and became the first people to be executed for the crime in U.S. history on June 19, 1953.

“Sacco and Vanzetti,” a reference to Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian anarchists who’d immigrated to the U.S. in 1908. They were charged with and eventually convicted of robbing and murdering a shoe factory paymaster and his guard in South Braintree, Massachusetts on April 15, 1920. Their trial was reportedly prejudiced, focusing more on the men’s anarchist beliefs than actual evidence of their wrongdoing, and when another man, Celestino Madeiros, confessed to the crime in 1925, the state Supreme Court refused to overturn the verdict against Sacco and Vanzetti. The two men were sentenced to death on April 9, 1927, and, after the governor refused to grant clemency, executed on August 23, 1927.

Page 26, Panel 7

“Stories are the only thing worth dying for!” The Count’s exclamation is arguably The Unwritten‘s central thesis: That stories aren’t “just stories,” but rather potentially world-changing rhetoric, capable of literally altering reality by influencing mass belief, and everything derived from cultural belief systems.

Page 27, Panel 1

A vampire’s physical strength traditionally derives, in part, from the blood it consumes, and in some instances, correlations are drawn between the innate literal or symbolic power of victims and the power levels transferred to the vampire.

Page 27, Panel 2

“…into the shadowlands,” probably a simple reference to a metaphorical way of referring to death or dying (with echoes of the Sumerian sense of the afterlife), but also the title of a 1985 television movie about the life of British author C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) as well as the death of his wife, Joy Davidman (1915-1960), from cancer. The story was made into a theatrical movie (also called Shadowlands) in 1993 starring Anthony Hopkins (b. 1937) and Debra Winger (b. 1955).

Page 27, Panel 5

Sue Sparrow and Count Ambrosio’s recitation of lines from the Tommy Taylor books indicates further blurring of the tenuous line between “reality” and “story.” In Sue’s case, it’s probably a lure, a way to lull the Count into following a script and thus increase his predictability.

Page 28, Panel 4

“Ready to weigh out hearts against a feather,” a reference to an ancient Egyptian afterlife myth in which the feather of Maat, the Egyptian god of truth, balance, and justice, was weighed against the souls of the recently dead to determine their worthiness to continue on to paradise.

Page 32, Panel 1

“…once upon a time,” an English folk phrase meaning “at one time in the past” and dating back at least as far as 1250, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Its use to open narratives that often end “…happily ever after” appears in printed stories as early as George Peele’s (1556-1596) satirical play The Old Wives’ Tale (1595), which begins “Once upon a time there was a King or a Lord, or a Duke.”

Note the use of a different font to indicate the exceptional nature of the individual speaking — the head of the ancient reality-manipulating cabal.

Page 32, Panel 2

“…twagged,” presumably a British expression meaning “taken out” or “eliminated.”

Mike notes:

I hang my head and admit that I made it up. It sounds a bit like twatted, which would be idiomatic.

“Mr. Pullman,” the cabal’s “muscle.” (Mike notes: And so much more, as we later discover.) His surname is English in origin, alternatively Pellman, Pillman, Poolman, or Pulman, and has topographical connotations, referring to someone who lived or worked by a stream or the mouth of a river. It’s also the surname of writer Philip Pullman (b. 1946), a British writer famous for the His Dark Materials trilogy published between 1995 and 2000, a kind of fantasy inversion of John Milton’s (1608-1674) epic poem Paradise Lost (1667) and, in a more general sense, a reaction to C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.

Mike notes:

There was, definitely, a homage to Philip Pullman here. The His Dark Materials trilogy also provided me, indirectly, with the title for my Hellblazer OGN, All His Engines, even though that quote comes from Paradise Lost.


[1] Pamela Mullin, “Yuko Shimizu Talks About Designing The Cover of The Unwritten,” The Official Blog of Vertigo, January 11, 2010, (accessed April 6, 2012).

[2] Originally issued as Lucifer 46 (part one) and Lucifer 48 (part two).

[3] See Joshua 6:1-27 (King James Version) for the full story.

[4] Revelation 11:15-19 (King James Version).

[5] Specifically Daniel 13, excluded by Protestants, but included by Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.

[6] Luke 8:3 (King James Version).

[7] Matthew 10:29-31 (King James Version).

[8] The number’s mathematical underpinnings may derive in part from the phases of the moon, each of which lasts for seven days, culminating in the cycle’s renewal.

[9] Cf. The Unwritten 2, Page 1, Panel 1.

[10] Genesis 19: 26 (King James Version). The KJV bible passage reads “salt,” but some interpret this as basalt, a dark, fine-grained volcanic rock more in line with the effects of “brimstone and fire,” conjured by God to rain down on Sodom and Gomorrah. Cf. Tommy Taylor and The Rain of Salt, one of the books in Wilson Taylor’s series.

[11] Henry David Thoreau, “Brute Neighbors,” Walden, and On the Duty of Civil Disobedience (Project Gutenberg, 1995), (accessed April 6, 2012).

[12] Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “In Memoriam,” Classical Literature, 2009, (accessed April 6, 2012).

[13] William Shakespeare, Macbeth (Project Gutenberg, 1997), (accessed April 6, 2012).

[14] Lewis Carroll, “The Hunting of the Snark” (Project Gutenberg, 2009), (accessed April 6, 2012).

[15] Matthew 3:1-2 (King James Version).

[16] Cf. Page 19, Panels 1-8.

[17] Christopher Robin Milne, The Enchanted Places (London: Eyre Methuen, 1974), p. 58.

[18] Christopher Robin Milne, The Path Through the Trees (New York: Dutton, 1979), p. 136.

[19] Philip Jenks, 500 of the Most Witty, Acerbic and Erudite Things Ever Said About Money (Harriman House Limited, 2002), p.56.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Susan Thompson, “Business big shot: Harry Potter author JK Rowling,” Times Online, April 2, 2008, article3663197.ece (accessed July 17, 2009).

[22] Neil Gaiman, “Fair Use and other things,”, April 19, 2008, (accessed July 17, 2009).

[23] T.H. White (1906-1964), an English writer celebrated for The Once and Future King (1958), a tetralogy retelling of the Arthurian legend.

[24] Linda Richards, “January Interview Neil Gaiman,” January Magazine, August 2001, (accessed accessed April 6, 2012).

[25] Joanna Carey, “Autograph No. 136 – Jill Murphy,” Books for Keeps No. 136, September 2002, (accessed April 6, 2012).

[26] Cf. annotations to Page 2, Panel 4.

[27] Joseph Campbell, Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth (Random House Digital, Inc., 1991), p. 67.

[28] Cf. annotations to Page 2, Panel 1.

[29] Oscar Wilde, ” Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young,” Shorter Prose Pieces (Project Gutenberg, 2000), (accessed April 6, 2012).

[30] John Romano, Dickens and Reality (Columbia University Press, 1978), p. 58.

[31] Directgov, “National Insurance – the basics,” (accessed April 6, 2012).

[32] George Monbiot, “We spend millions on smallpox, but nothing on this far greater threat,” The Guardian, April 13, 2009, (accessed April 6, 2012).

[33] Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Grey (Leipzig: Bernhard Tauchnitz, 1908), p. 9.

[34] George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1993), p. 3-4.

[35] Ibid, p. 283.

[36] Mervyn Rothstein, “Ingmar Bergman, Master Filmmaker, Dies at 89,” New York Times, July 30, 2007, (accessed on April 6, 2012).

[37] Romans 15:19 (New Revised Standard Version).

[38] John 1:14 (New Revised Standard Version).

[39] Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (Simon and Schuster, 1999), p. 10.

[40] Joseph Heller, “An Impolite Interview with Joseph Heller,” The Realist No. 39, November 1962, p. 18.

[41] William Shakespeare, As You Like It (Project Gutenberg, 1997), (accessed on April 6, 2012).

[42] Hosea 6:5 (New Living Translation).