A rather simple definition of myth is either an explanation of being (how and why the world and its inhabitants came to be) or the celebration or story of a hero. It’s a broad definition, but inclusive. In the graphic novel, A Flight of Angels, Rebecca Guay has posed a scenario, the mysterious fall of an angel, to a group of talented artists, Holly Black, Bill Willingham, Alisa Kwitney, Louise Hawes, and Todd Mitchell, who respond with their own unique mini-myths that explain its fall. The results are essentially short stories with, at times, broader implications for reading myth, theology, and fantasy.
Set in the modern day in the “dark forests behind every strip mall […at] the edge of every highway,” we find a collection of faeries, fauns, talking animals, and a hag who come across an unconscious and dying angel that has fallen out of the sky. Before dispatching him, as some of the gathered party wants to do, the wolf decides that each of them should come up with a story that explains how the angel got there…a mini-myth if you will. Popular opinion will rule on the story and whether it is a fair enough explanation to let him live. Though the group never decides which story is “correct” or “best,” the conclusion of the graphic novel seems to suggest that, with minor revisions, the angel is one that has fallen from “heaven” after a cosmic battle. It should sound familiar to many Christian audiences.
The first mini-myth, told by a troll, borrows from but changes the Adam and Eve myth and suggests that, as traditionally told, it leaves out crucial bits of information about the “fall of humankind.” Somebody might have sampled the apple before Eve. Next, a faerie prince tells a story of a death-dealing angel gone awry who is met with punishment from a fellow angel. The mean old hag then tells the story of witchcraft, immortality, and the connectedness of life, which is somewhat reminiscent of a Hellboy story by Mike Mignola. A young female faerie tells a story of self-sacrificial human love that has angelic implications (hints of Cinderella and her prince). Can unequally-yoked lovers (immortal and mortal) truly spend a lifetime together? The final story features the aforementioned heavenly battle; however, rather than pride as its central theme, it hints at the threat of nihilism…nothingness…and their ability to corrupt even angelic beings.
There are a couple of things to pick up on upon first reading Guay et al’s work. One of the first is the importance and necessity of and, perhaps, the futility of diverse and competing interpretations and constructions of myths. Each character has their own explanation for how the fallen angel came to be, but in the end, these diverse interpretations have no concrete effect on how to proceed with treating that angel. In fact, they lead to its destruction. In a sense, just as with the final story, the overall exchange between these characters opens up the door for a discussion of nihilism and recalls Thomas S. Hibbs’ discussion of its prevalence in our pop culture in Shows About Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture. In the end, Lucifer’s recognition that he rules over nothing corrupts his heart: “Nothing spreads. It seeps into everything it touches. It dulls laughter. And spoils songs.” This is simultaneously the prideful and nihilistic threat. Lucifer would like to reign over something…would like for his existence to have a larger meaning. This alternative mini-myth suggests that it was a quest for meaning and significance that led to this angelic fall.
Finally, Guay and her contributors’ stories have implications for the ways we read other myths and fairy tales. That they place their narratives on the margins, in those dark spaces that we fear to tread, should encourage us to value the marginalized in our own communities and to seek the (re)enchantment of those places that we often avoid, be they forests on the edge of town or an alternate interpretation of a familiar or much-loved text.