Note that there are spoilers in this post for events which happen in the first collection, Legends in Exile.
After the events of the first Fables collection, wherein Rose Red and her long-time boyfriend, Jack, were found to have faked her death, Animal Farm begins in the city, where Rose and her sister, Snow White, are setting off to the Fables’ farm in upstate New York. Rose is supposed to be doing community service, but Snow wants to use the trip to try to work out some of the issues between the two of them. They’re also returning the pig, Colin, who had escaped from the farm in the previous collection and was staying at Bigby Wolf’s apartment.
When they arrive at the farm, they find a meeting going on in one of the big barns, but Weyland Smith, normally in charge, appears to have disappeared: instead the pig Dun (who along with Posey and Colin are the ‘three little pigs’) is in charge. During the first night, after Snow and Rose talk to the pigs, who explain they want to return to the Homelands, they discover Colin’s bleeding head stuck outside on a stake. The symbolism of this act (referring to Golding’s The Lord of the Flies) is not lost on Rose, who is a good deal more street smart than her sister, and she’s recruited into the revolutionary party headed by the pigs and Goldilocks – here hilariously using Marxist revolutionary rhetoric and in a sexual relationship with Boo, the ‘baby bear’ of the fairy tale.
Reynard the Fox, loyal to Snow White, escapes from the others to warn her, with a huge array of non-human Fables – from Shere Khan the tiger to the three bears, Brer Rabbit and Baba Yaga’s hut – searching for them. Finally, after a long chase, Snow White reaches the cave where Weyland Smith is imprisoned, and is herself taken prisoner. The smith has been under an enchantment to obey the commands of the revolutionaries and not to escape, but reveals to Snow that he has been converting ‘mundy’ weapons to be used by non-human Fables in the planned takeover.
As in the first collection, Animal Farm is amusing and serious by turns, and subverts the expectations the reader has of fairy tale (and other literary) characters nicely: Goldilocks’s relationship with the three bears, for example, or Shere Khan and Bagheera being on the same side. Willingham also plays with Orwell’s Animal Farm by having the pigs as ringleaders, though there is very little in common between the two books.
The artwork is a little different in this, being primarily drawn by Mark Buckingham rather than Lan Medina, as in the first collection, but there are still some good touches, particularly in the part where the animals are chasing Reynard, and in the rendering of Snow’s and Rose’s clothes – showing very clearly that Rose is much more part of the modern world than her sister – and the gleeful abandon with which the children of the ‘Old Woman who lives in a shoe’ arm themselves for the struggle. The tension between the city-dwelling, largely human-shaped population of Fabletown and the farm residents is clearly drawn and it’s not hard to see the justice of the latter’s complaints.
The second collection is an entertaining continuation and made this reader eager for the next part.