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L Frank Baum’s Oz series: worth reading? 
Posted: 01 April 2013 05:24 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Any of you read L Frank Baum’s Oz series?

Would there be anything in it for an adult?

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Posted: 02 April 2013 11:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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when I was about 10 years old my family stayed for several months in the house of another family, who were away in another country at the time. The house was full of books, among them “The Emerald City of Oz” and half a dozen other Oz books. I’d never heard of Oz before --- but after picking up one book, I read all the others I could find in the house, non-stop. It was a marvellous new world. I felt like Keats after looking into Chapman’s Homer......but that was many, many years ago. The best way to find out if there’s anything in it for you (I presume you are the adult you have in mind) is to pick up one of the books and try reading a few pages.  When doing this, I often start at the end of the book, not the beginning. Saved myself reading thousands of unprofitable pages that way.

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Posted: 03 April 2013 03:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I’ve never read any of the series, but I’ve seen in some of the reviews of the latest Oz movie that Baum was known for strong, female characters. The negative criticism of the movie was how Hollywood had turned it into the usual patriarchal, misogyny that they spew out, with all the women relying on the men for resolution of the conflicts. That got me interested too, although I’ve yet to pick up a copy of one of the books.

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Posted: 03 April 2013 06:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Martin Gardner was a devotee of the Oz books, and obviously considered the worthy of adult consideration.  YMMV.  I can’t speak from personal experience on those books, but based on Gardner I would expect they are not without interest for an adult reader who enjoys some “children’s books.” (Of which I am one.)

[ Edited: 03 April 2013 06:57 AM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 03 April 2013 07:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I dare say I could rustle up a free online version somewhere.

Gardner was also a fan of Father Brown.

I am not necessarily a fan of children’s books, but I did read the Narnia series quite recently and certainly don’t regret it. Maybe I should give that JK Rowling a go sometime…

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Posted: 03 April 2013 11:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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The better children’s books are always of interest to adults.

I reread the Narnia books a few years back, and I was appalled at how bad they were. The rampant sexism and Islamophobia left a very bad taste in my mouth. I don’t think I’d ever give them to a child to read nowadays. I think Lewis’s neanderthal views on women and non-whites were pretty backward even for his own day. (Baum may be an example of someone ahead of his time.) Tolkien is an interesting comparison. He expresses similar sexist and racist views in LoTR, but they’re subtextual and subtle. Lewis is didactic in his sexism and hatred of Islam.

J.K. Rowling is forgettable fluff, but quite enjoyable. The Potter books make good light reading. (That’s light in content, not the weight of the tomes.)

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Posted: 03 April 2013 04:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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"The rampant sexism and Islamophobia left a very bad taste in my mouth.”

Well there is that, but one learns to set that aside, I suppose.

I encountered similar issues with Doyle’s work recently, but just shook my head in wonder and moved on.

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Posted: 04 April 2013 01:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Hmm, having gone through a few dozen pages I am going to say that the level is a bit too young for me.

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Posted: 04 April 2013 03:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Well there is that, but one learns to set that aside, I suppose.

I encountered similar issues with Doyle’s work recently, but just shook my head in wonder and moved on.

There are two distinctions between the Narnia books and those of writers like Doyle or Tolkien. The first is that the Narnia books are intended for children who won’t have developed the critical faculties to recognize and ignore the sexism and racism. The second is a question of degree. Lewis isn’t just sexist and racist; he beats you about the head and shoulders with his misogyny and hatred of people with darker skin. It’s so blatant and repeated that I can’t ignore it. The bigotry of most writers of earlier eras is subtle and in the background, an artifact of their time. Lewis actively preaches his bigoted ideas as proper.

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Posted: 04 April 2013 04:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I remember reading that L. Frank Baum was accused of being “mildly anti-Semitic” back when I was a youth, and that the Yellow Winkies were evidence of anti-Oriental (the term back then) racism.  From Lionello’s endorsement I imagine that if the anti-Semitism charge was true, at least it didn’t come out in his books.  I also read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz aloud to my younger son a few years ago, and I was watching for racism and anti-Semitism but I didn’t find any.  Now, during my internet search for anti-Semitic Baum references I came across a lot of articles on Baum’s call for the extermination of Native Americans from the continent.  My quick search did not turn up the primary source but he had apparently penned a newspaper editorial entitled “Why Not Annihilation?” for which his descendants have since apologized.

I agree that the Narnia books are particularly Islamophobic, and that’s another series I read aloud and some of the passages are really cringe-inducing.  It’s no wonder they skipped over The Horse and His Boy in the recent movie series.

The first few books in A Series of Unfortunate Events started out great, with its darkly menacing and incompetent adults and interesting wordplay would make pretty good adult reading in my opinion, but by the middle of the 13-book series it had become crushingly boring and directionless, and randomly anti-Catholic.

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Posted: 04 April 2013 07:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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It’s no wonder they skipped over The Horse and His Boy in the recent movie series.

I don’t think they skipped anything. The series just petered out due to lackluster box office. I don’t think any more films are actually going forward (as opposed to being “in development,” which is Hollywood-speak for “not being made.")

The Horse and His Boy is my favorite of the books. It’s a wonderful story, and you could easily do a film adaptation that avoids the Islamophobia. (Well, maybe not “easily,” but it could be done if one applies appropriate cultural sensitivity.)

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Posted: 04 April 2013 08:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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It is weird that Lewis was clearly targeting Islam ( in that he appears to have a direct stab at attempts to clump the Abrahamic faiths), but a lot of the symbolism and cultural references made the ways of the Calorman more akin to Dharmic religions, particularly the polytheism and castes.

Perhaps Lewis just wanted to make his target a little less specific, or perhaps he was actually ignorant about Islam.
It minds me of the words of Mark Williams, conservative intellectual and Tea Party favourite: “The monument would consist of a Mosque for the worship of the terrorists’ monkey-god”. It gives the listener a clear sense of the speaker’s disdain: “Don’t know, don’t want to know.”

I suppose the other points for comparison are that

a) Lewis was writing half a century after Baum or Doyle. Much had changed.
b) Lewis was clearly writing an allegory for the Christian story. TLTWATW is the crucifixion story, but with the role of the lamb perversely played by a lion.

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Posted: 04 April 2013 10:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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J.K. Rowling is forgettable fluff, but quite enjoyable. The Potter books make good light reading.

De gustibus non disputandum.

I enjoyed the first Harry Potter book, finding it highly imaginative and amusing. I waited eagerly for those that followed, but stopped reading after the first three or four, as they became progressively darker and more apocalyptic. The last HP book I read made Stephen King look like nursery stuff. A society which has a prison service policed by loathsome non-human monsters, guaranteed to drive any human being insane within weeks, is not one I’d want a kid of mine to enjoy reading about.  Quidditch was fun. Azkaban, Voldemort, giant snakes, and all that --- are not. They’re truly horrible—the stuff of nightmare.

If there was anti-Semitism in the Oz books, I didn’t notice it—I didn’t know about anti-Semitism when I was ten (I led a sheltered childhood ;-).  All of Western society is pervaded with “mild anti-Semitism”. One tends to notice it more if one’s a Jew.
As for extermination of American autocthones— I had a glance at a book by Ronald Wright, which appeared to maintain that during the 19th century this was pretty much standard political doctrine in “paleface” society (didn’t have time to read the whole book, and was unable to borrow it. I think it was called This is America or some such). A book of Wright’s which I did read (A Short History of Progress) takes a gloomy view of human civilization in general.

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Posted: 05 April 2013 04:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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The darkening of the Rowling books doesn’t bother me. The series is clearly intended to become more adult as its readers grow. But I didn’t like the last book so much; it consisted mostly of kvetching by Ron and Harry until Hermione saves the day, as usual.

Perhaps Lewis just wanted to make his target a little less specific, or perhaps he was actually ignorant about Islam.

The latter former is more likely. Lewis the medieval scholar would have had an informed, albeit Christian-centric, view of Islam. Another possibility is that he was playing to popular notions of Islam in 50s Britain, or at least how “the Orient” was portrayed in the popular literature of the time.

[Edit: I confused my latters and my formers.]

[ Edited: 05 April 2013 07:34 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 05 April 2013 06:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Perhaps Lewis just wanted to make his target a little less specific, or perhaps he was actually ignorant about Islam.

The latter is more likely. Lewis the medieval scholar would have had an informed, albeit Christian-centric, view of Islam.

There seems to be a non sequitur there.  Because he had an informed view of Islam, it is more likely that his depiction of the Calormen is due to ignorance of Islam?

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Posted: 05 April 2013 09:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I enjoyed the first Harry Potter book, finding it highly imaginative and amusing.

I was lent it by a friend and found it almost unreadable, so I never bothered trying the others (I would not have been bothered by a descent into darkness).  But I am clearly in a small minority.

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