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Jake the Dreaming… “A New Kind of Kids’ Story”

Review by Shathley Q

I remember (and you do, too) it hitting me like a physical blow.

I was going to be sore for the rest of my life, but there was nothing to be done about it. This was just a weight I was going to have to carry. It was perfectly flawless. It had the simplicity of a chemical equation. Balanced, logical. And you just knew it would be true, forever.

There are no second acts in American lives. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s words still ring out like a bell in the night. And at the beginning, there’s almost no other way to read it. No other way to get a hold of it, to get that access. Other than to admit it into your thoughts as a kind of limitation.

Nobody gets a do-over, Fitzgerald seems to warn. Or nothing lasts forever, as Axl Rose might put it, then, throwing in that eternal optimism that was Rock ‘n’ Roll, not even cold November rain.

Is F. Scott Fitzgerald at his very best when he appears as the chronicler of our transition from childhood into adulthood? Perhaps. But Fitzgerald certainly is one of the finest chroniclers of that moment. We slide out of childhood, not so much in an act of desperation, but more out of the sense of realizing that something must be built. And at the same time coming to terms with the fearsome voice of reason in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Javert, when he assures the students that “no one is coming to help you to fight.”

Somewhere between those two ideas, that the world is incomplete, and that it can only be built by individuals, our childhoods escape us.

Jake the Dreaming, Radical Studios’ illustrated novel for the iPad (and iPhone), is the opposite of that moment. It’s the story about when you were young, about when the world was far greater than it is now, and more dangerous. It’s about having the courage to tilt at the world, and standing in the presence of something far, far greater than yourself.

Slated for a holiday season release later this year, Jake the Dreaming is Radical’s first foray into the illustrated novel genre. But on many fronts, Jake the Dreaming is much more than that—it is a statement.

Much like the iPad itself, Jake the Dreaming is the revival of an old-timey idea, long ago relegated to the trash-heap of pop culture. This idea, the illustrated novel, seems particularly robust for the tablet format.

The artwork is just gorgeous. But even more beautiful is the clear logic between the psychological grammar of the illustrations. Not to give away too much of the story, the novel opens with Jake experiencing troubling sleep, particularly (when he can remember them), bad dreams. But like any young adult in the grips of nightmares, he quickly learns to manage these. His solution? Fight, not flight, he begins to reassert control over his dreaming environment. And slowly (slowly) he begins to express intention in the dreamscape. After that, it’s only a matter of time.

Jake quickly begins dreaming of rescues. Particularly of how he is able to effect the rescues of others. And much to his surprise, after a particularly harrowing sea-bound rescue, Jake is thanked the next morning by his schoolyard friend and erstwhile subject of that rescue. But how could this be? For another to know his own dreams?

This is just the beginning of a road of discovery. One that eventually leads Jake to realizing that he is the Dreaming, a human protector of his species while they sleep. And Jake is walking a tightrope of fortune and fame. On the one hand is an abyss of immense power. The internal struggle of every great hero. What if Jake begins using his powers over others rather than saving them? And on the other hand, the abyss of fear. What if he is not sufficient to the task of defeating the dream demon, Nocturnus? The monster that is quietly working to ensure our species sleeps forever and, in that way, ends in his grasp.

And the art is painstakingly beautiful. Not in the sense that the Sistine Chapel is beautiful. But in the sense that, when you stand in St. Paul’s, you cannot help but trace a line back through history to Christopher Wren, standing on the same spot you did, the day after the Great Fire of London. When Christopher found himself face to face with a phoenix from the old church and a stone tablet with the latin word resurgam. Christopher Wren would go on to layout St. Paul’s and the streets of London themselves to reflect the growing yearning towards a new kind of freedom, a new kind of government. Reading Jake the Dreaming now, months before its Christmastime release, feels like that. Feels like something that will go forward into history, forever.

Much of this feeling is down to the character of Jake himself. It’s that ineffable quality of boyhood. The childhood that will stretch out forever. The world that will always be bigger, and more dangerous and more wonderful. The world that will always be composed of the elements of an everyday life, stylized to produce a garish, vivid reflection of the ordinary.

The art is the secret victory of Jake the Dreaming.

It shuttles between the “sketchbook noir” style of a childhood spent doodling marginalia into the borders or written books, and the computer-generated, fractal-rendered artwork that seemed to generate so much hype during the early 90s. What an incredible metaphor. Childhood is about waiting in the wings, about sketching yourself into an established history. And on the other side of it… childhood is about the amalgamation of everyday forms into a composition of reality that can only exist as the imagination.

Jake’s quest is Radical’s quest, writing itself into the margins of preexisting models of entertainment, using familiar but discarded genre, ushering in bold new forms of literature. And Jake’s quest is your quest, too. Remembering a time when things weren’t safe, but they needn’t have been, you had more than enough faith in your capacity to overcome any obstacle.

Jake the Dreaming is a body blow to a staid entertainment industry. A new kind of story for a brand new breed of day. If there’s hope here, it’s handmade. And it’s the secret core of Fitzgerald. Not that there’s no do-over, but that there’ll never be any need for one. No second acts in American lives? That’s only because the first act will last forever. Houdini proved that, just as easily as Muddy Waters or Andy Warhol. Some things deserve to last forever.

Click here to read the orignal article at PopMatters, where you can also find a downloadable .pdf preview of this book.


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