I'm unlikely to nail a discussion of Over the Garden Wall—almost no one has. Often, when I'm reviewing something, I read over others' opinions to make sure that I'm adding something to the conversation, that I'm not stupidly wrong about or oblivious to something germane. When I decided I wanted to talk about Over the Garden Wall, I looked to see what others had said before me, and I was surprised by how poorly the bulk of the extant criticism dealt with the program. Something about the series apparently makes it difficult to analyse. The best articles on the show largely deflect attention from it. Sonia Saraiya at Salon, for example, gives us an interesting perspective on Cartoon Network and Adult Swim in terms of viral television, rather than an in-depth treatment of the series per se. Without essentially releasing a diss track (. . . though that would be an amazing contribution to SFF reviewing/reviewing generally, let's be real), I'd like to excavate Over the Garden Wall by reviewing the reviews: examining how and why they glance off the work, and what this can tell us about the program.
Over the Garden Wall is an animated musical mini-series produced by Cartoon Network (original run November 3-7, 2014), consisting of ten 11-minute episodes. It was created by Patrick McHale (formerly of The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack and Adventure Time), and features the voice talents of Elijah Wood, Christopher Lloyd, John Cleese, Tim Curry, and some people who are more important in this story but less famous overall.
One of the major problems previous reviewers faced en masse was logistical. Most coverage of the series came out after just two of the show’s episodes had aired. I assume the critics in question didn’t have access to the rest of the series (if they did, then I have to lay graver charges of careless reading against them), and that if they were given preview discs (or whatever, re: format) beforehand, these discs just contained the initial two episodes. (Even if they did have access to the whole show, our tedious, adolescent mass-fixation with Spoilers!! might have prevented them from discussing the show more broadly ahead of time.) While two episodes might, for a longer-running, traditional American television program, suffice to give you a good flavor of the project (you would, after all, have watched about 90 minutes of programming), the shape of Over the Garden Wall's plot (not to mention the length of its episodes) makes this span totally inadequate. After two episodes, the only comments the reviewers could make were blurry and phatic. Over the Garden Wall was some cutesy-wootsy fairy tale program about two brothers and a bird wandering through a wood called the Unknown.
The more astute reviewers were sensitive to the keen creepiness of the series' second episode, in which brothers Wirt and Gregory and the bluebird, Beatrice, accidentally stumble into the harvest festival of a village of the dead. Some dimly recognized the first, slow stirrings of an arc plot that doesn't wholly unfold itself until the penultimate episode of the series, a plot that swallows the narrative's premise like a wolf swallowing Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother, so that they can be cut free and released when the time comes. But you could be forgiven for missing both. Not until several episodes in did the series (which I first distractedly watched while trying to do tricky baking) catch and demand my more sustained attention.
With some rearrangement, OtGW could have had a more traditional narrative structure. This would have immediately grounded audiences in the Real World plot and its risks. It would have alerted critics that they were dealing with something recognizable as Prestige Television. McHale could have more ostentatiously signaled his participation in that category by dropping less subtle hints about the work's direction. But such a restructuring would have changed the way viewers interacted with the Unknown, making a primary world into a secondary world off the bat, and privileging over-determinative, teleological, or utilitarian readings of what the Unknown is and means. It would have been a different story—one we know too well how to read, not as fresh or as good a story. If McHale knew, going in, the risks he was running regarding critical engagement (which I think fairly likely), and decided to prioritize his project and the experience of viewers who gave him the benefit of the doubt over hot-take reviewing, good on him.
The lesson we can take from this is that not all projects can be effectively subjected to the same reviewing schedules and blueprints. Given that OtGW was released on iTunes at the same time as it aired on Cartoon Network, that the show aired in its entirety during a single week, and that, in our current era of digital-television consumption, a show like this is arguably structured more for an internet viewership than a television public, I don't think this precipitous "should you tune in?" reviewing makes a lick of sense. This rush to opine wasted critics' time, and that of viewers. The reviewers made criticisms that the rest of the plot flatly invalidated, they misunderstood the type of story they were handling, and they did the project itself a disservice.
The New York Times, for example, complained that McHale’s "writing isn’t always up to the task (nerdisms like 'I found this homestead and repurposed its mill' and 'A bird’s brain isn’t big enough for cognizant speech' can break the mood), and even in the short episodes, the stories are perilously thin."
I challenge the reader to try and think of a better way to convey the necessary plot information that a) a home-farm complex with a mill, out on the edge of nowhere, was abandoned, and b) the speaker has happened upon it, and he’s transformed its mill for his own purposes. It no longer grinds wheat—it now grinds something else (think Krabat). Remember, be very economical—you only have 11 minutes for this whole episode. And make sure not to overly stress that this mill or what it does is important—you’ll screw up the whole plot arc if you do. Go on, I’ll wait.
Back? Yeah, me neither. Petty to moan about it, right? Shows a weird anxiety about "nerdisms," doesn’t it?
Moving on. The line "[a] bird’s brain isn’t big enough for cognizant speech" does three things. 1) It tells something is "wrong" with Beatrice. 2) It tells us that something is "wrong" with Wirt—the line sounds modern by design, to clue you into the fact that Wirt’s not from the Unknown, not supposed to be here. 3) It’s fussy and precise because Wirt is, and McHale is telling you that up front.
The stories aren’t perilously thin. They function as episodic narratives and slide into a tight, interconnecting arc. You can dislike this series, but this criticism is simply incorrect.
We've got to make savvy choices about who and what reviews are for, and what format best suits them. The New York Times didn’t screw up worst in its review of these two episodes, but I feel least bad calling them out on it because they’re perhaps the most established of the papers (sites, etc.) to have screwed up, and they certainly have the institutional wherewithal to know better. Because the New York Times didn’t make a savvy choice and jumped the gun, the American paper of record’s coverage of this show is about as useful as tits on a boar hog, and doesn’t even represent a valid dissenting opinion.
This doesn't mean that I think content should be allowed to entirely dictate its own reception. I’m not GamerGate or anything. But we have to develop an accommodating, receptive criticism that forges meaningful connections between works and publics, rather than spitting out the same shape of response for every piece, as though it’s 1956 and you're churning out yet another lukewarm take on this week's I Love Lucy (Lukewarm? How dare you, Lucille Ball is a goddess). Those ready-to-wear reviews are over-commercial, except they fail even at that. They cater to a way television distribution and viewing publics are no longer organized. No one's been asking "whether to tune in" for years now.
Sensing that Over the Garden Wall is richly referential, some reviewers chose to collate long lists of the works it interacts with. These responses impress me with their erudition, and simultaneously leave me cold. At their best, they fail to be more than good examples of boyfan list-making. They don't have much to say about this project, why it might make those choices, or the uses to which it puts its musical and visual callbacks.
When we articulate arguments, we often simultaneously establish the logic by which they can succeed or fail. These reviews tended to fail by leaving gaping lacunae in their attempts to outline OtGW's connections to other texts. Everyone said "fairy tales"; no one wanted to go into which, or even which traditions. Everyone said "earlier animation"; no one mentioned that the protagonist Wirt's costume is blatantly also that of David the gnome.
"Over The Garden Wall is not only the first animated miniseries for Cartoon Network, but it might be the first kids animated TV miniseries ever," croons The A.V. Club, forgetting both what possessive apostrophes do, and all about several previous programs. I have no time at all for discussions of tradition and heritage in animation that forget the existence of anime. Seriously? Really? In the year of our lord 2014, when lo, these many years, the stuff's been airing on that very same Cartoon Network? Maybe you don’t want to include anime in there (er, why, though?), and maybe you don’t want to meaningfully define what you mean by "miniseries" or a child audience, but the "claim to uniqueness" that serves as the article’s lede, and the contextualization project that forms the basis of the piece, both lack rigour, and thus lack authority.
The "kids" point is hella debatable. For a start, I’d argue that OTGW is "general" or "family" programming: interesting and accessible for children and adults. This brings me to the next problem shared by many of these reviews: a blithering incomprehension of what children (any age) are, and what they might want or like. Kidlit scholars would have no truck with the lazy definitions and expectations these pieces rely on. With less academic authority (because kidlit’s not quite my bailiwick), I simply wonder whether the writers involved know any children and/or remember being children. The composite child that emerges from these reviews craves bright bouncy images and raunchy jokes, and wants to watch the Saw series and
Variety, in a review that misses the point in so many ways I feel like it’s trying to hit a piñata blindfolded but all its friends hate it so they actually led it into an empty field and left it there, says:
Over the Garden Wall aspires to, and in part achieves, true whimsy, which doesn’t make the outlook for this animated, not-so-grim fairy tale for adults any less cloudy. . . . Yet while the notion of two brothers seeking a way home is simple enough, the resulting production might be a bit too mature for kids, and not edgy enough for young adults. Who that leaves is anybody’s guess, but credit the network for taking a leap of faith over this "Wall."
The Guardian, wearing the Extra-Patronizing Hat it sometimes adopts to suit its own whimsies (more on this later), puts its finger on the pulse of taste:
Yeah, but will kids like it? They going [sic] to love Greg, who is constantly pulling candy out of his pants and trying to find a name for his new pet frog (who, in grand WB tradition, can sing). They’re not going to understand the moodiness, but there is plenty of mystery and whimsy to keep them engaged.
Which characters will you love? Greg, duh. The boys also enlist the help of a bird, Beatrice (Melanie Lynskey), who is just bitchy enough to appeal to adults.
Which characters will you hate? You’re not going to hate Wirt, but he’s a bit of a pill in the Woody Allen sense. At one point he actually lies down on a couch like he's about to have another session of analysis. [. . .]
What’s the worst thing about it? I mentioned original songs that seem like they could be played by one of the buskers from Once, right? If they’re not 'Under the Sea', original songs are always a little hard to take.
Children, it is well known, agree with this reviewer and hate original songs. Oh, how they hate them. When will they LET IT GO? LET IT GOOOOOOO—. They also notably don’t understand or like creepy moodiness, which is why they despise fairy tales, and they don’t dig snippy characters, which is why Disney notoriously never uses or merchandises wise-cracking sidekicks, and why Jhonen Vasquez’s caustic Invader Zim series (with its own Gregoryesque "random" supporting character) never found a multi-ages audience. It’s just The Grim Adventures of Billy. No boychild has ever been a Velveteen Hamlet, prone to epic sighing over his crush, his frustrations with his sibling, etc., and thus I agree that Wirt is totally unrelatable and unfunny.
Tonally, I think the Guardian wanted to be The Toast that week (funny, but ultimately as lacking in weight or substance as a nesting doll you’ve lost the inner bits to), but then it was the Guardian, so no.
The New York Times tells us that "The scares are fairly benign. Young children shouldn’t be alarmed by the show, though they might not be that engaged by it either."
On the contrary, I’d argue that the "scares" in question are about as horrifying as those in any fairy tale or indeed, any life. The people you love will fail you, and you will fail them. You will give up on life. You will change in horrifying, unexpected ways, and you will have to rely on the person you’ve been, and the people who love you because or in spite of your having been that person, to pull you back. Even by the second episode (which is, I assume, the last episode this critic can have seen) we know that we’re often unable to tell who’s trying to help us and who wants to use us for their own gain, to understand what’s going on around us, to find our way home. We’re reminded that death is waiting, inevitably, and that it’s both a threat and a kind of comfort—a harvest-home. If there aren’t still children whom these ideas will frighten and compel, then burn the books; we haven’t any use for them. I think children are people and that they want what they’ve always wanted and what all of us still want: stories, to make us feel and to help us make sense of feeling.
The subtext of all these slapdash reviews is, I suppose, that Kids These Days are unfathomable, contradictory aliens: stupid and hungry for EDGINESS. Nah, brah. Kids are like, some people. And also sort of like they were in any other time period. A well-produced piece like OtGW will speak to adults and children because it’s well made, and because there’s a big Venn-diagram overlap in what both groups are interested in. Don’t we know this? I kind of thought we all knew this.
Speaking of things we apparently don’t all know, omg these pieces are littered with dumb thoughts about fairy tales. I can’t even really understand Variety’s fairy-tale gripe as a sentence: "Over the Garden Wall aspires to, and in part achieves, true whimsy, which doesn’t make the outlook for this animated, not-so-grim fairy tale for adults any less cloudy." That is a lot of clauses. Also, what is going on? Neither was the context illuminating.
Quoth the LA Times:
There are times early on when "Over the Wall" does feel a little worked or precious, a little too intent on its own folksiness, like that guy with the waxed mustache who served you coffee this morning. But it becomes more satisfying as it goes on—I have seen eight of the 10 episodes—and various misdirections and motivations are revealed. The episodes knit into a narrative, and the miniseries' sassy modern side mitigates its fairy-tale wistfulness.
The New York Times claims OtGW "has the look of a dark fable but the mood of a fairy tale, more Wes Anderson than Tod Browning."
Look, guys, how long ago did Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber come out? Marina Warner’s From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers? I know you know that Freud had some words to say on fairy tales, and that Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment had some follow-up thoughts. There is zero excuse to be working as a critic, and talking about fairy tales, and not to know about their adaptability, their sensuality and terror, the way they convey and contain cultural and personal fears, their potency, their scratchy humor. A mature and nuanced perception of fairy tales is a cliché at this point: it’s been academically accepted for damn decades. You’re seriously contrasting fairy tales with "dark fables"? You want to talk about how fairy tales’ "wistfulness" (which I find a rich and interesting mode, by the by: nostalgic and sad, and not something we should rush to temper and excuse) needs to be shaken up by sassy modernity? Are you an immortal who’s lived for centuries? Did you go to uni in the 1860s and thus miss this 101 material? Have you not read much since? Do you straight up know nothing about fairy tales and give zero fucks? If so, why are you writing about them?
(To be fair to these people, I also ask this whenever someone who doesn’t like or get the mode gets pushed into doing a "sexy grimdark fairy tale revamp" by their publisher. No one involved remembers that this material is always-already fairly sexy and dark. Just stop.)
The reviews reveal that we are, all of us, very anxious to disclaim OtGW’s hipsterness, its preciousness. The LA Times wants to give you the barista bon mot. The NY Times is so anxious about those nerdisms. The Guardian comes into its truly obnoxious own on this point:
But this is different from Adventure Time, which is what a post-apocalyptic future would look like if Pedro Almodóvar imagined it while on magic mushrooms. Over the Garden Wall looks like a million Arcade Fire album covers come to life. It has a certain darkness to it that is both mellow and twee at the same time, with a fair amount of anxiety creeping around the edges. Between its aesthetic and the Americana invoked by the original songs, it’s like this cartoon was made for those who buy artisanal pickles at the Brooklyn flea market. It has that same sort of fetishisation of the past that many who know the meaning of the word hipster do as well. [. . .]
Should you watch this show? Yes, especially if you enjoy certain recreational pastimes that are currently only legal in Colorado and Washington. And invite the kids, if you have them. They might not know what to think of the show, but you’re not going to be able to get your teapot off their heads for weeks.
Sweet Christ, I can actually hear an obnoxious plummy titter as I copy-paste this. References! Artisanal Pickles Across the Pond! Drugs, my good fellow! Stupid children! Those who know the meaning of the word "hipster"! What Dowager Duchess of Dipshit wrote this? In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I hate these articles.
Why do these writers, in their appreciation of this program or lack thereof, need to distance themselves from it?
Over the Garden Wall is charming, and the Anglosphere is having an awkward historical moment with "charm." It’s fallen out of favor. We think it’s twee. We have to misunderstand it, misrepresent it as flat and Disneyfied, and neglect its dark underbelly (as with fairy tales) in order to speak about it. Hipster-hate touches this raw nerve, and also blends valid concerns about class, gentrification, the mass underemployment of educated people and authenticity with a kind of pointless grit-snobbery, a fish-paste socialism that longs for a revolution without dancing. Hipster-hate in part relies on the energy of pre-existing, creepier discourses of shaming pleasure, effeminacy and childishness (see also the vandalization, of all things, of the Brick Lane cereal café, as though that is a key synecdoche for gentrification in London, when it’s not even 999th against the wall come the revolution). Such discourses rely on some subterranean conviction that it is inherently shameful to be female or a child, to be vulnerable in these ways, to exist in these categories and to enjoy it—to take pleasure. Only through layers of irony (itself the pose of hipster detachment) can the Guardian article approach Over the Garden Wall.
Why bother? No one cares whether you’re a hipster but you. I just see the masthead. I’ve not even read the names of the people who wrote the reviews I hate so much, and you’ve probably not read mine (don’t scroll up, it isn’t particularly important). A reviewer is here to talk about work, not brand-build. And anyway, Not-A-Hipster!Jim is a shitty brand.
The final major problem with coverage of OtGW is how fannish criticism, actually dependably written after the fans have seen the whole of the story, seems to feel a need to NAIL DOWN the plot. The irritatingly-named "The Secrets of Over The Garden Wall Revealed!" review, by Virtual Jordan, tells us a lot of fun stuff, but also wants to "solve" the story for us. Did we learn nothing from Life on Mars? Several things could be going on in Over the Garden Wall (Mad? In a coma? Back in time? The lot?) and deciding which is true, solving the story like a puzzle, deciding when it "must" be set and what it "must" be doing on, is not my jam. No solution fits perfectly (the one in the video is sporked, if you accept its logic, by details both in the Unknown and in the boys’ regular lives), and I’m not that bothered about this. I prefer to accept the Secondary World narrative on its own terms, to have the Secondary World (and even that term doesn’t sit comfortably with me) "be" multiple things at once. There are cases where this would frustrate me, where I’d demand the text to support An Answer—but here that definitiveness seems totally beside the point.
When everyone on a course fails a test, the problem is not that they were all underprepared. We have to start looking at the knowledge the students came in with, at the instruction they received, at the exam situation, at the test questions themselves. What is it about this series that confounds people? What is it about Over the Garden Wall that makes it a triple Lutz no one can land? Analysis curdles around the piece, and (not to be catty, but) in several cases people’s spelling and the copy-editing of good publications went to shit in these reviews. It’s like the written equivalent of watching people be unable to speak normally when talking about something traumatic. I’m willing to say there’s something "baffling" about the object itself, but I can’t determine what.
The reviews I’ve talked about are quick to dismiss the uncanny content of Over the Garden Wall, but they are also writ(h)ing with discomfort, with anxiety, as though they’re actually reviewing The Babadook. Perhaps the reason for this vast discomfort is connected to the writers’ hipster-phobia and their strange attitudes about the child-viewer. OtGW presents an uncomfortable nexus point where child and adult viewership overlaps, where the pleasure of watching the charming object grates against the conviction that the work of the critic is work, where the critic (often a casualized laborer) has to deal with the tension between themselves as cultural producer and as a mere amorphously categorized hipster or amateur, where reviewing rubs up against the not-quite-synonymous work of criticism.
It’s dangerous to offer my own opinion after I’ve been mean about others’, but anything less would be cowardly. If Over the Garden Wall is the stone in the path we all trip over, then I’m content to trip with the rest in my turn.
It’d be easy to dismiss Over the Garden Wall as yet another ’80s/’90s-set "boys growing up in white American suburbia heterotopia Bildungsroman." But it's harder to dismiss good examples of this genre, because to be good, they almost have to allow for the reality of other characters. Beatrice, her personality, her problems, and her subjectivity, are vital to this story. The plot and the emotional impact alike would be shot without her. Over the Garden Wall is almost as much her story as it is Wirt’s. Similarly Wirt’s romantic interest is strongly characterized and likable. The women the brothers encounter on their journeys are as likely as the men to be serious foes and valuable friends—sometimes both.
Yes, it’s another White Boyldungsroman, but it’s a good instantiation of the widely varying trope. It has a project and obtains its ends. Lots of stuff that wants you to put up with its absence of chromatic characters isn’t even decent. (And don’t give me "but it’s sort of a fairy tale, so it’s the Past, so it’s okay that there are no people of color." You know that’s a weird argument in this not-too-distant-past Americana setting, and to quote writer Saladin Ahmed, "[y]es, people of color were a relatively rare sight in medieval Europe. So were kings. Hasn't stopped people from writing fantasy about THEM.")
I enjoyed Over the Garden Wall’s well-illustrated settings, its awareness of the animation traditions it builds on, its music, and perhaps above all its quirky characters. It’s the people of the Unknown (and the "real") that linger in my mind. Over the Garden Wall is in some ways a story about approaches to the world and consequences. In Dickens’ Bleak House, Esther Summerson, our heroine, rides in a carriage with a gruff and frightening man, who will turn out to be a kind friend to her, and one of the best men in the Dickens canon—a body of work not short on wonderful people. There’s a eucatastrophe in such changes: when we misjudged someone, when someone we were afraid of turns out to be lovely. There is, of course, another, equally traditional arc: someone we trusted, an adult perhaps, betrays us, or simply uses us for their own gain. Over the Garden Wall plays with expectations and trust, sometimes subverting expectations (Adelaide and Nanny Whispers), sometimes muddling them (the Woodsman, Beatrice).
The "rules" of the world aren’t necessarily what they appear to be, or what we’re told they are. This is an unsettling move, given that so much world-building in fantasy as a modern genre establishes itself by conveying transparent exposition.
The Unknown itself refuses to settle into any fixed relation with the world the brothers come from. It is emphatically not just death, not a condition of already having lost, for you can “lose” and die within it. The borders are permeable—objects and people can pass both ways, which would seem to rule out a “shared hallucination” theory. Its people are as real as the people of the real world, and we see them living their lives there after the brother-protagonists have left. And yet the Unknown isn’t a straightforward secondary world--it’s too tied up in the events of the “real,” too much a subconscious echo of what we see of the boys’ “real” lives.
So how do we trust this narrative, at a foundational level? If we can suspend that question, who can we trust within it? Epistemologically, how do we make that determination? How do we encounter the Unknown and the "Known"? What’s the appropriate way of doing so? Beatrice brings a cynical "genre-savvy" insider knowledge—she’s from the Unknown. Yet she’s nonetheless sometimes ignorant. She’s capable of making poor decisions, and of being surprised by people. Beatrice can let herself be misled about others’ intentions, and about her own willingness to do “whatever it takes” to fix her mistakes. She initially misunderstands the nature of her crime, and thus the nature of the penance that will correct her error. Wirt, on the other hand, is cautious and pragmatic, and yet he too makes several mistakes.
Wirt’s younger brother Greg is innocent and trusting (sometimes violent, but only in an impulsive, childish way), willing to throw himself into situations without thought. The narrative lets you get a bit annoyed with him, in the way his older brother Wirt often does, for derailing the plot and making thoughtless, impractical decisions. But Greg is young and difficult rather than selfish. In The Jane Austen Book Club, there’s an amazing turn where the author makes you complicit in Austen’s original decision to "tame" her independent, somewhat brash heroine Emma. In the re-telling, the incident is viscerally uncomfortable. In restaging Emma’s "curbing" as a sexual assault by an older family friend, the author forces the reader to confront the brutal mechanism of a plot that relies on a bright, caring, over-confident young woman being shown up, put in her place, and then given to an older man who knows best—however good Austen makes Mr. Knightley. I felt a trace of that discomfort when Over the Garden Wall subtly turned, pivoted on the point of my annoyance with Greg. Greg is irritating. But Greg is young and doesn’t understand, Greg is trying, Greg can’t help being who he is. What did I want in wanting to see him tamed? Did I want him to be more like his brother, or less of a child, less of an idiosyncratic person?
In some ways Over the Garden Wall is about relationships between adults and children—slippery, liminal things made of love and frustration and anxiety about our choices. Wirt and Greg care about and for each other, and Wirt is both an adult and a child. The Woodsman is a good father and a failure, and Beatrice is a good daughter and an awful one. Aunty Whispers is a horrible abuser, and then a woman trying to care for a child with an affliction that endangers herself and others, a woman quietly worried that child won’t love her when she no longer needs her. You, the viewer, are invited to feel with and to be frustrated by both brothers, and your gaze slides between them. This is a production that believes that being a child is fundamentally scarier than being an adult, and that we forget that in hindsight, and due to the warping influence of idyllic narratives of childhood. We do. It also knows that adults aren’t safe, aren’t sure in their decisions, can be wrong—practically and emotionally.
Over the Garden Wall wants to dramatize various approaches to a difficult world, seemingly ungoverned by logical, knowable paradigms, and to explore them—but it can’t really decide on the merits of any single approach. Greg might be a bit more right than the other children and adults, but then Greg also causes problems and make mistakes, and Wirt, Beatrice, and the Woodsman all contribute to the plot resolution that Greg’s generosity of spirit enables.
I don’t think Over the Garden Wall has answers to its questions about being a child or an adult care-giver, morality, consequences, and ways of being in the world. I think it refuses the possibility of such answers, actually. Even as the Unknown occupies no fixed position in relation to the world, and no one approach does "best" in the Unknown, Over the Garden Wall posits that set answers are themselves poor things to pin your hopes on and let guide your actions: the Woodsman’s false lanterns.
This refusal to commit to some statement may frustrate you. It’s the kind of thing that would normally have me clawing my eyes out. But here I feel that refusal is itself a commitment. The story is good enough that, even if it wasn’t, I’d still forgive it.
Erin Horáková is a southern American writer who lives in London. She's working towards her literature PhD, which focuses on how charm evolves over time.