The line between artistic genius and madness is razor fine and artists often madly dance along, and across, that line while they are working to manifest their vision. Jack’s father, Bob Corman, was no exception. Bob put everything he had into The Shadow Glass, an epic fantasy film done entirely with puppets. When the film was released in the mid-80s, it was a financial failure and Bob never quite recovered. He spent the rest of his life pursuing and promoting his masterpiece, often ignoring any/everything that wasn’t related to The Shadow Glass. This included Jack, who used to love The Shadow Glass almost as much as his father. Over the years, however, Jack’s love turned to resentment and, when he was old enough, he left home, leaving Bob and The Shadow Glass behind and never looked back.
Decades later, Jack and his father have spoken only a handful of times and Jack still feels that he was never as important to his father as The Shadow Glass. When Bob dies suddenly, Jack is forced to return to his childhood home. It is a shrine to The Shadow Glass, filled with props, artwork, and memorabilia related to the film, none of which interest Jack in the slightest. He wants nothing more than to get past the formalities, deal with the service and his father’s estate, and put all of this behind him. That is, until The Shadow Glass puppets start talking to him. . .
In his debut novel, The Shadow Glass, Josh Winning excels at several very different things. Primarily, The Shadow Glass is an homage to Jim Henson, his creature shop, and the groundbreaking work they did in the mid-80s. Winning doesn’t just use Henson’s previous works to round out his narrative, instead he uses them as inspiration to create his own fantasy world, named Iri, populated with creatures, characters, and quests of his own devising that are simultaneously new and familiar. In fact, it seems inevitable that some readers will wish, after reading his novel, that they could watch Bob Corman’s masterpiece themselves.
Wisely, Winning structures The Shadow Glass as a fantasy quest, using many of the familiar tropes to tell his story while populating it with characters who, like the elements of Iri, seem both new and familiar. It can’t be a coincidence that one of the main characters is named Toby, which seems clearly to be a nod to Henson’s Labyrinth.
Winning develops these characters nicely, and uses the story to explore grief, regret, obsession, honor, and loyalty. He also explores both the light and dark sides of being a committed fan to almost anything. Winning illustrates how fandom can expand one’s world, providing opportunities for exposure to differing interpretations of the source material, lively debates, and allow fans to meet others who share their interests possibly providing provide a sense of community. There is also the chance that such intense interest can result in a sort of myopic tunnel vision that can manifest in an unreasonable sense of ownership or protectiveness that can progress to an almost xenophobia of anything new or different (regardless of who is creating the new content. This can sometimes rob aficionados of the reasons they originally became a fan.
The result is a layered novel that is exciting, touching, a bit scary, and a lot of FUN!
Read an interview with the author here.