Quote of the Moment

"What's Past Is Prologue." - William Shakespeare

Friday, September 30, 2011

Week Off Take Two

So, this week I've been sick and still swamped, so my compilation of a good reading list has been delayed. I hate being so inconsistent with my blogging, but I fear this might happen a couple more times while I am still working on my M.F.A. My apologies.

Perhaps I'll leave this post with a question. =)

What is the most influential fantasy book that you have read? Do you consider it a classic? Why?

OK, that's three questions. Next week, I will have that 1900-1950 reading list for everyone.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sense of Wonder in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz there are spoilers in this essay.

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a story that is still popular over a century after it was written. This children's fantasy tale has been adapted for the stage as well as the screen, and many writers have explored the novel by creating new retellings (myself included a couple years back). There is a sense of wonder throughout the story that makes me smile every time I read it.

Portal fantasy is a type of fantasy that takes you into another world. And L. Frank Baum does just that in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by using a cyclone to drop Dorothy into the land of Oz. "L. Frank Baum Americanized the other-world fantasy" (Mendlesohn and James 26). Baum's main goal with this portal fantasy was entertainment, to create a piece of popular fiction that children would love without the addition of teaching lessons like most older myths and fairy tales. In the introduction to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Baum writes: "It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out" (2-3).

And in his pursuit to entertain, Baum created a world and story that pulls the reader along with a sense of wonder. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is bursting with description, and the type of description that causes the reader to pay attention, so he or she becomes wrapped up in the world. Color, the contrast of light and dark, and the use of gemstones are especially prevalent. There is hardly a page without some type of description to evoke a sense of wonder.

The biggest device used is color. Dorothy lands in the realm of the Munchkins, where their favorite color is blue. The Winkies favor yellow, the Quadlings red. And near the Emerald City, everyone prefers green. These colors surround Dorothy at every turn, and she even puts on a pair of silver shoes that once belonged to the Wicked Witch of the East. The road she travels on to the Emerald City is yellow. One of the best sections that highlights the array of colors in this novel can be found right before Dorothy and her companions wade into the field of poppies. "They walked along listening to the singing of the brightly colored birds and looking at the lovely flowers which now became so thick that the ground was carpeted with them. There were big yellow and white and blue and purple blossoms, besides great clusters of scarlet poppies, which were so brilliant in color they almost dazzled Dorothy's eyes" (Baum 514).

The use of light and darkness is more subtle. When Dorothy first arrives in Oz, the sun is shining and she walks past many open fields. But she eventually reaches the darkness of the forest, where unknown monsters lurk. "It was almost dark under the trees, for the branches shut out the daylight; but the travelers did not stop, and went on into the forest" (Baum 250). There is a back and forth between the light and the dark throughout the novel.

And there are of course the gems that glitter in the Emerald City. But that isn't the only place we see such wonder. The Good Witch of the North wears a beautiful white dress. "Over it were sprinkled little stars that glistened in the sun like diamonds" (Baum 63). Even the cap Dorothy uses to call the Winged Monkeys is studded with jewels.

This sense of wonder saturates The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and because of it, Baum succeeds in pulling readers into this other-world, young and old alike. It's a story that is sure to live on for many more centuries ahead and to impact future generations.

Works Cited

Baum, L. Frank. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. George M. Hill Company: Chicago, 1900. Public Domain Books, 2009. Kindle Edition.

Mendlesohn, Farah and Edward James. A Short History of Fantasy. Middlesex University Press: London, 2009.

NEXT UP: A reading list of classic fantasy from 1900 through 1949!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Origins of Fantasy

My apologies for the tardy post this week. Other things that needed to get done got in the way due to some personal things, but better late than never.

Last week I promised a list of some classic fantasy "must reads". Now, as I mentioned in a former post, the definition of classic varies. So, this list may not be what you expected. I'm going to stick to some much older titles this time around, and I'll cover newer ones in a future post. All of these texts were published before 1900. And of course, many of these weren't even considered fantasy when they were written.

Have you heard of Project Gutenberg? If so, you know what a great thing it is. If not, it's time you learned! Project Gutenberg has made many texts, ones where the copyright has expired, into free accessible e-books! If you don't have an e-reader, you can also download them to your computer and read them that way. So, when I have books listed below, if they are on Project Gutenberg, I'll have the link.

As a note, I may take a closer look at these fantasy texts in the future, for a Classic Fantasy Series: Part II.

The Odyssey by Homer
The Iliad by Homer
Aesop's Fables
The Aeneid by Virgil
The Metamorphoses of Ovid
The Divine Comedy by Dante
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
The Mabinogion
The Arabian Nights Vol.1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3, Vol. 4
Le Mort d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory Vol. 1, Vol. 2
The Faerie Queen by Edmund Spenser Book 1
A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
Paradise Lost by John Milton
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
Grimm's Fairy Tales
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Goblin Market by Christina Georgina Rossetti
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Hagard
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain
The Wood Beyond the World by William Morris
The Well at the World's End by William Morris
She by H. Rider Haggard

This is by no means an extensive list. What other texts that were published before 1900 do you think should be included? I'd love to hear what everyone else thinks.

Most of the list was taken from Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination by Richard Mathews.

NEXT UP: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz!

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Baiting the Reader in The Wood Beyond the World

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read The Wood Beyond the World there are spoilers in this essay.

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The Wood Beyond the World contains a lot of classic markers of modern fantasy, including adventure, an otherworld, foes to overcome, and a happy ending. That happy ending, though, isn't a surety throughout the novel. William Morris baits the reader and implies that things could turn out much differently, much darker.

Richard Mathews states, "William Morris and George MacDonald are the pioneers of fantasy as a modern literary genre" (16). And in Morris's The Wood Beyond the World we can see some of the themes that have become popular today. Our protagonist, Golden Walter, yearns to see more of the world and thirsts for adventure. So, instead of doing what is expected of him, he sets out on a journey, seeking people he saw in visions, and not knowing where his next step will lead him. He enters a strange land, where he isn't sure what the inhabitants actually are, and subtle magic surrounds him. To be with the woman he falls in love with, he must contend with a queen and a dwarf, as well as later a primitive people that would sacrifice him to their god.

However, the journey must always come to an end, and so much classic fantasy contains the happy ending, including The Wood Beyond the World. Walter gets to be with his love, the Maid, and both become King and Queen of a land which they rule well.

That happy ending may not have come to pass if Morris had taken a different turn. Throughout the novel there are hints and indications that mislead the reader, that suggest things might not be as happy and perfect as they seem, that good intentions could in fact hide manipulation.

Walter sees the images of three people--they appear and disappear before his eyes like apparitions. So, wanting to know who they are, he starts his journey. And the first of the three he comes across is a dwarf. In this meeting, Morris plants the first seeds of doubt in the reader. The dwarf speaks of the Maid as if she were some monster, calling her a Wretch and Thing. "'But thou, fool, wilt repent it thereafter, as I did. Oh, the mocking and gibes of It, and the tears and shrieks of It; and the knife!'" (Morris 429). This makes the reader wonder if the Maid is truly a monster, and when Walter finally crosses her path and falls in love with her, the reader then wonders when she'll reveal herself, when we'll finally see what she truly is, instead of the innocent Maid she appears to be.

But Morris draws us deeper in, adding touches to confirm those doubts, to make the reader consider even more that the Maid may be manipulating Walter all along. She tells him one thing, but he overhears the opposite when she's speaking to the King's Son. And then, when the Maid finally makes her escape with Walter, after a scream pierces the night, she keeps putting off the telling of her tale to Walter, making excuses about why she cannot speak of it. The delays in the telling lead the reader to believe she has something to hide, that the love she professes to Walter might not be true.

And finally, when we near the end of the tale, Walter loses track of the Maid in the mountains. Walter thinks she may have lost him on purpose. "And now once more the thought came on him, that the Maid was of the fays, or of some race even mightier; and it came on him now not as erst, with half fear and whole desire, but with a bitter oppression of dread, or loss and misery; so that he began to fear that she had won his love to leave him and forget him for a new-comer, after the wont of fay-women, as old tales tell" (Morris 1645). This begins to confirm the doubts and fears that Morris had planted for the reader to follow.

But of course the Maid eventually finds Walter and allays his fears. They both come across a city, and Walter is chosen to be their new king. He takes the Maid as his queen, and she finally gives her innocence to him. She doesn't turn out to be a monster after all.

I must admit, the dark fantasist in me kind of wished for the hidden reveal, that the Maid was truly the Wretch and Thing the dwarf had claimed her to be and had played Walter as a fool all along. But Morris laid things out wonderfully, misleading the reader into thinking that this evil was a possibility, which made The Wood Beyond the World a great read. And yea, I verily look forward to reading more of his novels at a future time.

Works Cited

Mathews, Richard. Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination. Routledge: New York, 2002.
Morris, William. The Wood Beyond the World. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1913. Project Gutenberg, 2007. Kindle Edition.

NEXT UP: A list of some Classic Fantasy must reads!