“Is this Canon?”
This sentence has fallen out of my mouth more times than I can count over the last few years, and it has been a staple in the Star Wars community since the Disney acquisition of 2012. Since then, Legends characters have been worked into Canon continuity with relative regularity, and new novels, comics, films, and tv shows have all worked together toward a common goal of a singular, united timeline.
However noble that pursuit may be, this has caused some confusion with fans when it comes to properties intended for younger audiences. Are these fun tales meant to be part of the larger Canon? Are they new Legends material? Do they fall somewhere in the middle?
And so the debate rages on.
Thankfully, all of these questions and concerns vaporated instantaneously when I read the introduction to Star Wars: Myths & Fables. What I assumed would be a light, easy, and frankly inconsequential read surprised me by presenting one of the most heartfelt, fascinating, and well written Star Wars books I’ve read in quite a while. And as for the aformentioned question about Canon and Legends? George Mann had me covered in the final lines of his intro.
“Whether they [the stories] are true or simply echoes of things that once came to pass, no one can be quite certain. Trust, instead, that before you lies more than a mere collection of words and pictures. And you may be emboldened by the power held within these pages…”
Rarely have I been more thankful to take such sound advice.
At its core, Star Wars: Myths & Fables is a collection of short stories from all the eras of Star Wars written in the style of old school fairy tales and folk stories. You can easily recognize the flavor of The Brothers Grimm and other masters of the craft as Mann weaves tales teaching us about the dangers of greed, selfishness, and other classic sins on Tatooine, Glee Anselm, and more.
Whether you’re a youngling, a Padawan, or a Master with the years of fairies and folklore long behind you, Myths & Fables is a collection that will fill you with warmth, hope, and wonder unlike anything to be found in Canon and Legends, alike.
Composed of ten unique short stories, Myths & Fables forgoes a traditional, overarching plotline in favor of concise, complete tales. Each story contains a familiar location to Star Wars fans of all ages, and sometimes, other familiar characters and easter eggs are sprinkled in to add just a bit more spice to the story.
But honestly, if you were to take out the references to our favorite galaxy and make all of the stories completely devoid of reference, each of them would still hold up completely as well written, enjoyable fantasy stories. That, I believe, is where this book shows its biggest strength. Star Wars has long been known as a sci-fi/fantasy epic, and every story in Myths & Fables takes the fantasy element to 100. Witches, knights, spirits, and thieves populate the pages, and there wasn’t a single moment during my read that I wasn’t harkening back to the bedtime stories I heard as a child; my imagination swirling in the exact same way with every word.
Now don’t get me wrong; Myths & Fables is a perfect additive for any parent who wishes to put their child to sleep with thoughts of Star Wars, but the plots never oversimplify themselves to talk down to the reader. The stakes are real, the characters exemplify the truest states of light and dark, and while each story holds a lesson in morality, who says that children are the only ones who need those?
As written above, Myths & Fables has a decent amount of familiar characters smattered across its pages, but rarely does it actually confirm their existence by name. New characters are occasionally given more specific identities, but Mann does an excellent job describing the protagonists of each tale so older readers will clearly understand the reference while younger ears may not twitch at the name of a fictional friend they’ve never known.
Regardless of familiarity, every character is written with deference to the archetypes of fantastical storytelling (the knight, the witch, the monster, etc.) and fantastic attention to detail regarding their motivations, objectives, and obstacles.
In the simplest terms, you feel as though you understand these characters as instantaneously as you would a Little Red Riding Hood or Cinderella. Their worlds are complete, their lives are complete, and we’re simply along for the ride as they learn (or fail to learn) the most important lessons of their lives.
We have seen short stories in Star Wars.
We have seen children’s books in Star Wars.
And yet...I don’t think we’ve ever seen something like this.
Myths & Fables effortlessly combines the strengths of so many different genres of storytelling into one complete package, and while it cannot be considered wholly original considering the obvious influences of so many other mediums, I have difficulty imagining its companion. On one hand, it’s a children’s book with lessons that can be adapted by adults. On the other hand, it deals with adult level complexity through the eyes of children.
George Mann’s writing crosses the self-imposed boundary of age and maturity to create stories with immortal lessons for anyone willing to hear them, and in that way, this book’s importance and originality floats directly to the surface.
Finding a writing style that can appeal to readers of all ages in a universe that is already full of hundreds of stories seems downright impossible to me, but somehow, George Mann did exactly that with the stories of Myths & Fables. As I flipped through the pages, I theoretically knew that these stories were written with children in mind, but the writing style was undoubtedly captivating.
Perhaps the success of Mann’s writing speaks more to my assumptions that books written for younger audiences have to be juvenile in nature for them to be successful. And if I have been unknowingly harboring that prejudice, I apologize a thousand times over, because that almost caused me to miss out on some of the purest storytelling that I’ve ever seen in Star Wars.
George Mann didn’t write for kids. He didn’t write for adults. He wrote for the stories.
Because of the somewhat nostalgic nature of these stories, I often found myself reading them right before drifting off to sleep; fairy tales and bedtime have always mixed so perfectly, after all. Consider my surprise then when I often had difficulty stopping after reading just one tale, because I was having so much fun! Every story in this collection is a consummate page turner, and if I had attempted to wipe the smile off my face as I was reading, I would have found it a near impossible task.
The way that Mann constructs his sentences paints wonderfully vivid images within the imagination as each story plays out, and you couldn’t ask for a better jumping off point than the breathtaking illustrations by Grant Griffin that begin each chapter. His art pieces convey the exact emotional state that you need to load into your mind at the start of each short story, and Mann’s words catapult you directly into the world - how could you not be entertained?
If you’re even a casual fan of Broadway musicals, the name James Monroe Iglehart may ring a special bell in your heart. In addition to taking over the roles of Lafayette and Jefferson in the smash hit Hamilton on Broadway in 2017, Iglehart won a Tony award for his performance as the Genie in Aladdin in 2014.
Thankfully, his musical talents transfer effortlessly to audio storytelling, because he provides beautiful narration for the audiobook of Myths & Fables. Throughout this review, I have likened this book to storybooks from my childhood, and given that most of those books were read to me in my younger years, hearing Iglehart tell me the stories of the Star Wars universe was absolutely delightful.
His narration features a blend of serenity, mystery, excitement, and foreboding danger as he tells the stories of the various fables. If you close your eyes, you could swear that he was sitting in an oversized armchair holding a giant leather tome in front of the fireplace, and you’re sitting on the rug with eyes full of wonder.
While many Star Wars novels are praised for their astonishing production, Myths & Fables chooses a slightly more hands off approach; allowing Iglehart’s voice to paint the landscapes rather than an abundance of sound effects and underscoring, and the result is a pure storytelling experience that I’m sure I’ll return to over and over again.
Star Wars: Myths & Fables is unlike anything I’ve experienced before, and it sure isn’t anything that I expected. Before writing this review, I eagerly devoured each story, and within the span of a few days, my first read was concluded. For now, it sits beautifully on my shelf, waiting for the next time that I’m crawling into bed and need a story to push my imagination across the line to deep, fulfilling sleep.
And whenever that may happen next, I know I’ll be in good hands within the worlds of Myths & Fables.