When Fantasy Feels Most True – Looking At Ether’s First Arc

by Staff

I’ve been reviewing Ether, written by Matt Kindt and gorgeously illustrated by David Rubin, as the issues have been released and at times I’ve felt like I had a clear picture in my mind of what the story meant and where it was headed, but it’s usually taken some hairpin turns that surprised me right afterwards. This is largely due to the nature of the story which can easily move around in time and space between two worlds, and through the timelines of the two main human characters, Boone Dias and his life-partner (arguably) Hazel.

Ether is a kind of composite of fantasy tradition glued together in all new ways that add to the narrative. It’s the throughline that’s most impressive since organizing the mad chaos of a beautiful fantasy land built on chaos is no easy task. In it we’ve met dimension-hopper Boone Dias, his role as a kind of scientific Sherlock Holmes in this magic-driven land, and we’ve learned of a kind of sadness in his life, only occasionally alluded to. That is, I find, when fantasy feels most true to readers, when it’s both wildly beautiful and strangely sad.
Fans of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, for instance, might agree. Ether is not as heavy as that work, and its art and world are even wilder in many ways, throwing in constant punning nomenclature for objects, places, and events. Visiting the fairies a few issues back was particularly hilarious, since they all wanted to kill Boone for his past misdeeds. Bitchy fairies are very entertaining, though I’m sure Boone wouldn’t feel that way.

Why does it feel most true when things are both beautiful and sad? Well, that’s a question for the ages, but in this case, with Ether, we might say that it’s because Ether’s strange byways suggest the extremes we know the imagination is capable of–and remind us that there really aren’t boundaries in possibility when it comes to art and mind. And as for things being sad? We know we can’t live in our imaginations all the time. And if we do, that can lead to serious consequences.
Boone’s a dreamer. We get to follow him on his semi-maniacal quest to understand the Ether. But if we were to be consumed by it–like him–we suspect what would happen, and Kindt and Rubin make sure to spell that out. And that feels very true. They set the mechanism in place, as it appears in many fantasy stories, in this final issue of the first arc–a mechanism whereby time moves slower in the Ether and faster on Earth, meaning time you spend away leeches time from your human life in alarming ways. Well, Hazel is alarmed, and Boone not so much.

That principle has been at work in fairy stories since the earliest written versions, by the way, so it’s not as if Kindt and Rubin are inventing something to make us feel reflective in this story, but they are choosing to use it to remind us of some truths and that takes this series from pure imaginative entertainment (which it could be) to something that resonates and stays with us.
Take it how you will–is is a metaphor for the creative life? Is it a diagram for making selfish choices? Is it a commentary on the necessary relationship between art and life? You can experience that underlying truth in any way that is most true for you. But as a reader, you see Boone having missed out on the lives of his two kids in a big way, forcing his partner into an isolated and tough role as a single parent, and most of all, you see him as isolated. But he’s seen beautiful things, and perhaps he’s even done good things with that time he’s traded away. Maybe. And yet. Truth.

Ether is a fabulously beautiful story with plenty of hilarity, nuance, and, as we see here–shades of meaning. I strong recommend you read it if you haven’t yet, and if you have, probably read it again at some point.

I’m looking forward to a second arc–maybe we’ll see some redemptive trajectory for poor old Boone and his overly scientific method of living.

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