Reading List 2011 (17/149)

Almost-recent reading:

  • Scar Night, Alan Campbell
  • Iron Angel, Alan Campbell
  • God of Clocks, Alan Campbell
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
  • The Marvelous Land of Oz, L. Frank Baum
  • Ozma of Oz, L. Frank Baum
  • Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, L. Frank Baum
  • The Road to Oz, L. Frank Baum
  • The Emerald City of Oz, L. Frank Baum
  • The Patchwork Girl of Oz, L. Frank Baum
  • Tik-Tok of Oz, L. Frank Baum
  • The Scarecrow of Oz, L. Frank Baum
  • Rinkitink in Oz, L. Frank Baum
  • The Lost Princess of Oz, L. Frank Baum
  • The Tin Woodman of Oz, L. Frank Baum
  • The Magic of Oz, L. Frank Baum
  • Glinda of Oz, L. Frank Baum

A friend recommended the Campbell series as follows: “The world is fantastic, but don’t expect much from the characters.” I’ll pass the recommendation along with the same caveat. Campbell builds a haunting, dangerous, baroque environment – and even if the characters are a bit on the cardboard side, he does a lovely job of letting them affect and change the world in dramatic and memorable ways.

Scar Night is the best of the three; angels and assassins and mad scientists play a crazy game of cat-and-mouse through a city built on a network of chains over a howling void. The city of Deepgate is at least as alive than any of the characters in it! Unfortunately, the latter two books have some gorgeous imagery (a character hauling an ancient ship that floats through the air, carrying mist and the smell of the sea with him) but don’t have the same emotional center. Plus, I could do without the casual racism that kept making me twitch.

As for Oz – I’ve got a history with these books, namely never getting quite enough of them! When I was little, the girl who lived around the corner had all the Oz books. I would go to her house just so I could get the chance to read them. Unfortunately, our parents caught on and I was made to play with dolls instead of read. This gave me a deep-seated hatred of Raggedy Ann and a longing to read every single Oz book someday. One e-reader and twenty-five years later, my dream finally came true!

Unfortunately, it was one of those “careful what you wish for” dreams. Oh, the books are absolutely charming – one at a time. They don’t benefit from being read all at once. In each book, the focal characters will be given the chance to do their characteristic thing (be clever! be practical! lose their temper!) in a slightly different fantastical situation. The situations themselves are always amusing, but there’s very little tension or drama for an adult reader.

In Lazarro’s parlance, I’d call these books “easy fun.” I enjoyed my growing familiarity with how the different characters would be used, and I appreciated the slow fleshing-out of the strange environment of Oz (and points nearby). I read to find out what would happen next, not with any tension or suspense, but with a sense of wandering down a road and waiting for a new vista to open as I turn each corner. My real complaint is that after five or six books, I was ready for a different kind of fun – and that’s really my own fault for having to read them all!

Once the final book in the Gregory Maguire counter-text is out, I’ll be reading those with great interest. I can see there are some obvious things to critique, like the unquestioned hegemony of the Witches, Wizard and later the Princess. At the same time, Baum’s message is humanist and loving. People (and animals, and talking objects) are accepted for who they are, and encouraged to be brave and kind and generous and loyal. It may not make for much tension in the tale, but I can get behind a message like that.

2 comments

  1. Adam says:

    I haven’t read any of the Oz books, but from your description they sound a bit like Piers Anthony’s Xanth series; a large set of books in the same world where each book focuses on a different character from that world, and while they’re interesting, they’re really quite formulaic and would get really old if you read too many of them too quickly.

    I also have to agree with your thoughts on Campbell’s series, the worldbuilding in the books was absolutely incredible, even though he wasn’t doing anything too extreme with most of it. Instead of having the God of Storms, he has the God of Brine and Fog, it’s just a small change, but it makes it seem so new and so much more interesting. Also, the entire idea behind John Anchor was absolutely brilliant, and I enjoyed his character. Sadly, the setting can’t be the most interesting part of the book, and in this case it was. I haven’t really looked to see if Campbell has written anything after those books, but if his skill in characterization and plotting comes up to match his skill in worldbuilding, he could write some absolutely amazing and truly unique books.

  2. I have to say I was disappointed by Wicked, but I think that’s in part because I thought I was reading a fantasy novel, and I feel like Maguire was writing something else — satire or allegory or something.

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