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Re: The Wizard of Oz as great Fantasy, not-so-great Literature

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  • David Lenander
    I can certainly understand why Mike says that _Wizard_ is not great literature--it s badly written in a number of places and senses. On the other hand, somehow
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 22, 2005
      I can certainly understand why Mike says that _Wizard_ is not great
      literature--it's badly written in a number of places and senses. On the
      other hand, somehow it transcends its limitations, and in places it's
      well-written. Some of the later Oz books (among Baum's, I won't
      discuss the later writers') are better-written, but many are not. Few
      are as powerful in several respects, however--Land, Ozma, Road and
      Glinda all stand out in my mind for various reasons, but none of the
      books is as well-written as _The Hobbit_, or _Charlotte's Web_ or _A
      Hat Full of Sky_. The Freddy books are also truly worthwhile reading,
      and constitute a sort of children's "human comedy" that is a marvelous
      achievement in fantasy, but they contain long, dull passages, and lots
      of examples of sloppy writing, even though I think they're overall
      better-written than the Oz books. (Thurber's books are heralded
      everywhere as "good writing" and I think one could make a number of
      arguments for Edward Eager's style as well, so I think they're beside
      the point. They certainly share with Oz and not with Neverland a
      certain comic approach, and I think that may account for them being
      overlooked, if they are).

      The more I look at criticism of good books, though, the more I think
      it's possible to criticize almost any writing as "bad" and justify the
      argument with specific explication that seems pretty convincing. It's
      not hard to argue that The Lord of the Rings is badly written--and I
      would agree that in many places it could have been better-written (and
      probably so would Tolkien, if he were here to agree or disagree), but I
      would argue for its excellence as writing, nevertheless. But I am
      interested in how such texts as _Wizard_ or perhaps non-fantasies like
      _Gone With the Wind_, may transcend what seems bad writing. (I mention
      the latter text, which I think is generally considered rather beneath
      discussion in English departments, because I attended a paper reading
      on the subject which almost convinced me of its artistic coherence).
      J.M. Barrie is an interesting writer who writes much more smoothly than
      Baum, but whose works do have a number of problems, nevertheless. I'm
      pretty sure that you could argue that Dickens is a bad writer on a
      whole host of grounds, some of which are the same grounds on which he's
      often held up to be one of the two best novelists in English. I haven't
      tried to do so, and I haven't tried to look at Austen to see how much
      she might be criticized as a "bad writer," but I do have an odd feeling
      that she might be a little more immune to such critique.

      A few years ago, in reading _The Seed and the Vision_ by Eleanor
      Cameron, I was struck by her insistence on attention to every word in a
      sentence in writing and reading. She insisted on originality in
      metaphor and in avoiding slang and jargon and tired figures of speech.
      She was able to illuminate how some truly fine works are fine partly as
      a result of fine writing on this level. I'm sure that some of her own
      finely-written books are similarly careful on the level of diction and
      sentence: books like _The Court of the Stone Children_. But this
      argument led her to conclude that _The Owl Service_ was badly-written.
      Perhaps the book would have been more accessible to a wider audience,
      but I don't think I can accept this conclusion about a book which I
      think is one of the best-written and finest fantasies I've ever read.
      But, on the other hand, despite its smoother style and "better
      writing," I suspect that _Peter and Wendy_ is a lesser book than _The
      Wizard of Oz_. Fortunately, there's no reason that we can't read both.
      The Harry Potter books are badly-written on a number of levels, but
      they do have a power that some more smoothly written books lack.
      Compare, for instance, the first one to the somewhat similar _Wizards'
      Hall_ by Jane Yolen. That's a finely written book, but I don't think
      its as powerful or compelling to readers as the Harry Potter books.
      And while many people have suggested that "Diana Wynne Jones had been
      doing this for years, and better" in fact, as much as I love _Witch
      Week_ or _Charmed Life_ or _The Spellcoats_, I can't explain the
      powerful attraction of the Rowlings books away with mere recourse to
      "unsophisticated readers" or "wish-fulfillment fantasy" or other such
      dismissive language. Marion Zimmer Bradley is a writer who commits all
      sorts of writing "errors," which your Freshman Comp instructor would've
      blue-pencilled until her/his arm tired after page after page. But she
      had some things to say, not all of which are easily said outside of her
      fiction. I think that's why her works have reached a wide popularity,
      perhaps in some ways wider than some much "better" writers--because her
      message or her art is more easily comprehended or apprehended than that
      in these other writers.

      I wonder if this issue is complicated by some dimension involved in
      writing fantasy that isn't as clear in "realistic" fiction. We also
      accept truly "bad" writing in Grimm's fairy tales in a way that we
      wouldn't in more conventional narratives.




      On Feb 21, 2005, David B. wrote:

      > I would not like to see what you'd look like after you took your
      > assertion
      > that The Wizard of Oz is not great literature into an Oz convention.
      > Oz is
      > the first great American fantasy. Baum, followed by Thurber and
      > Eager, his
      > great successors in his type of fantasy, were the masters of their
      > kind,
      > and nobody better dismiss any of them as trivial around here.
      >
      David Lenander, Library Manager
      University of Minnesota Bio-Medical Library Access Services
      Diehl Hall / 505 Essex SE, / Mpls., MN 55455

      Phone: work: (612) 626-3375 fax: (612) 626-2454 home: (651) 292-8887;
      (651) 697-1807
      e-mail: d-lena@... web-page:
      http://umn.edu/~d-lena/OnceUponATime.html
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