Category Archives: Fantasy

Glinda: Good Witch of the North, or Machiavellian Mastermind?

For various reasons, my mom and my little sister were involved in a community theater production of The Wizard of Oz over past few weeks, and last night Jennifer and I went down to see the show.  The production was so-so.  Production values were high, with good costumes and a reasonably tolerable orchestra, and most of the actors were pretty talented.  There were some choices made in the directing that I think were rather… Well, let’s say interesting.  There a few aspects that will stand out in my mind for a long time now ("Zombie Winkies!"), and overall it was a good time.

Enough about that, though.  What I really wanted to talk about was Glinda’s plan for world domination, and the real lesson that Dorothy learned by the end of the story.  So bear with me.

You know the story: Dorothy Gale’s house gets sucked up into a tornado, and gets tossed "over the rainbow" into a strange land.  Her house lands on the Wicked Witch of the East, killing her.  Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, informs Dorothy that she is now targeted by the Wicked Witch of the West, and must go to the Wizard in the Emerald City for help.  Stuff happens; something about a scarecrow and a tin woodsman and a lion.  Oh, and some flying monkeys, which are my favorite.  At the very end, Glinda informs Dorothy that she had the power to go home all along, and that all she needed to do was, apparently, just want it badly enough.  Or something.

What I’ve never understood, though, is why Dorothy didn’t just slap Glinda upside the head at that point.  "What do you mean, all I had to do was want it bad enough?  What, did you think that the whole trip with that fucked up green witch wasn’t enough to convince me?  Bitch!"

I may be misinterpreting what it means to want to go home badly enough.  Based on the plot, I suppose that Dorothy must not just want to go home.  She must be willing to kill to do so.

Makes you think about Dorothy Gale’s future life in Kansas, doesn’t it?

This brings me to the role that Glinda had to play in all this.  I can’t help but think that Glinda must have been overjoyed to see the Kansas farmhouse land on top of the Wicked Witch of the East; she may, in fact, have orchestrated the tornado in the first place.  The house, after all, conveniently rid Oz of one of Glinda’s most powerful rivals.  Then she sneakily slips the ruby slippers, an obviously powerful magic item, on to Dorothy’s feet (without Dorothy’s consent, you may have observed long ago).  Thus begins a game of chess between Glinda and the Wicked Witch of the West, where Glinda sends Dorothy on a trip to the Emerald City.  She knew that Dorothy couldn’t be convinced to kill the Wicket Witch of the West willingly; but Glinda probably knew the price that the Wizard would exact for his help: he’d want that broom, and Glinda knew as well as anyone that the only way to get that broom would be to kill her.

Did Glinda know of the Wizard’s true origins?  I don’t know.  But let’s assume she did know that the Wizard was really nothing more than a charlatan from Kansas.  It’s very possible, then, that she also knew that the only way the Wizard would help Dorothy get home would be in his own balloon, and leave with her.

And there you go!  Glinda has thus, through Dorothy, orchestrated the removal from Oz of two out of three of her rivals for control over the magic of Oz.  She wouldn’t care that the Wizard left the Scarecrow in charge when he left; she isn’t interested in political power, just magical control.

Of course, that leaves us with the presumed Good Witch of the South, never seen in the musical but whose existence is implied nonetheless.  Ridding Oz of her would be another major task for Glinda, who probably knows better than to count on the fortuitous arrival of another skybound Kansas farm girl.

So this is my conclusion, and it certainly makes for an interesting viewing of the musical.  It makes sense to me.  I learned long ago not to trust people who drift in and out of the scenery in giant soap bubbles.

I don’t know how Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon plays into all this.  Further research is obviously required.

Anansi Boys

Anansi BoysAnansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

You’d think that the premise of Anansi Boys — that the old gods are still alive and interacting with humanity in unusual ways — would be tired, and that several of the plot elements in this novel (I won’t give them away) would be clichéd. However, Gaiman, in his usual way, manages to breathe fresh life into these elements and the premise and create a mythology which is relevant and entertaining, while telling a story which is essentially about identity, brotherhood, and about finding one’s father. The pace of the novel is quick, but I didn’t feel cheated at the end in any way. Gaiman’s use of humor — some of the passages I laughed out loud at and shared with my wife — is, in some ways, very typically British and reminiscent of Terry Pratchett. Bill Bryson, and Douglas Adams (I was, at times, reminded of The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul).

Strongly recommended.

Iron Council

Iron CouncilIron Council by China Miéville

It’s not often that I simply give up on a book, but I gave up on this one about halfway through. It’s a shame, too, because I thoroughly enjoyed Miéville’s other fantasies that I’ve read, Perdido Street Station and The Scar. In previous novels, he’s shown himself to be a brilliant fantasist with a unique vision of a unique fantasy setting, far different from the conventional Tolkien knock-offs that I’ve read (most modern fantasy, I believe, is just a footnote to Tolkien).

Continue reading Iron Council

Appropriately Attired

The last time I ever saw protesters at a movie was when my parents took me to see Dragonslayer way back when that film was released in the early 80’s, and that was a gag protest; members of the Society for Creative Anachronisms had dressed up as dragons and were carrying around signs that said things like, "This Movie Unfair to Dragons". But I’ve never seen a serious protest at a film. Even when I went and saw The Last Temptation of Christ, there were no protesters there, and that was easily one of the most controversial films I’ve ever actually seen in a theater.

So when Jennifer and I went to see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, we were both amused to see people protesting. There was a little tiny group of people standing at the entrance to the move theater parking lot holding signs that said, "God Loves You But Hates Witchcraft!". As in all such things, the number of protesters was far outweighed by the number of people there for the event. There were perhaps four, maybe five people concerned for the souls of the movie goers, and probably hundreds of people there to see the movie, which Jennifer and I had bought advance tickets for a week ago.

Ah, well. We all have to do something, I suppose. And I guess I’m glad that there are people so concerned for the salvation of my soul that they’re willing to tell me not to see a movie.

And it’s a weird world, where sometimes the morally-self-righteous-but-bizarre win a depressing victory or two. In Fargo, North Dakota, according to this article at CNN, a group of students had their field trip to see the movie canceled because some people don’t like the portrayal of witches in the film. You know, this sort of thing makes me sad. These are relatively intelligent people, who think that preventing their children from seeing a film will make those children better people. Imagine how much better the world would be if people like this chose to focus that energy on showing their children that tolerance is good, that there are hungry and sick and needy people in the world who need attention, and that it’s possible to retain your integrity and faith even in the face of things that you disagree with; but perhaps that takes more moral fiber than some people have. I don’t know. On the other hand, I have to give some credit to the folks in Fargo; their argument that because some people consider witchcraft a religion (never mind that the witchcraft portrayed in the film is about as far away from Wicca as Fargo is from Hogwarts School of Wizardry), taking public school kids to see the film would be a violation of the separation of church and state is sort of clever in a really twisted, hypocritical sense. But that would be ascribing intelligence and forethought to these people, which I’m not quite willing to do.

But that’s all beside the point, of course. Last night Jennifer and I went and saw THE movie. I’m told that there were lines of people decked out in robes and hats and t-shirts and what-not, but since we went to the very late showing in the hopes of avoiding the hordes of children, we didn’t see any of that. But I like dressing up for that sort of thing anyway; so I donned the only bit of Potter paraphernalia that I own (a pair of boxer shorts — which no one saw, of course, because they were under my jeans) and a T-shirt with a picture of a dragon on it, and off we went.

I loved the movie. It was well worth the wait; the acting was great, all of the characters were just as I had imagined them (not that hard, really, given how much artwork the books have generated and how careful the producers were to stick closely to popular images), and it was a great story. There were a few scenes in the book that were left out of the movie, of course; but the film was already 2.5 hours long, and none of the missing scenes detracted from the overall story. It was magical, spirited, and fun. I really recommend that you see this movie, if you haven’t already.

You know, here’s what puzzles me about the protesters at the movie, and about those who would ban Harry Potter. The books and the movie make it quite clear that the values that are most important are courage, friendship, teamwork, and love; and that these things are much more important than wizardry and magic. Doesn’t it sound like these people who would ban Potter are trying to tell us that holding tightly onto a specific religious doctrine is more important than those human values? Isn’t there a war going on because some people feel that there own religion overrides everything else, even the teachings of their own religion?

Ah, well. Go see this movie. Enjoy it. Be like Harry Potter and the kids in Hogwarts, and let your loyalty, courage, intelligence and love make you a better person.

Muggling Through

It seems that every time something good comes along, something else comes along (usually in the form of a money-hungry lout or a misinformed idiot) to try to spoil it. The great comic book Spawn, for example, might be forced to cease publication because some football player took offense at the name used as one of the villains, and is suing for more money than Todd McFarlane can pay out without shutting down the title. That’s the sort of thing that I’m talking about.

Now, Jennifer has recently converted me to being a Harry Potter fan. I had gotten the first book from my dad as a Christmas present just this past year, and started reading it — but sometimes when I’m reading a book, I get easily distracted by other things, and I just sort of put Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone aside for awhile, intending to pick it up again later, and just never did. However, when news about the fourth book came out, Jennifer decided that she wanted to read the first three, and she thoroughly enjoyed them. And I couldn’t help but notice the Potter-mania that was going around, especially as the release date for the fourth book, Goblet of Fire, came closer. Then my sister informed me that my niece really wanted the fourth book for her birthday; and so on the Friday night before the release, I found myself standing with Jennifer at Borders, waiting for one of the coveted unreserved copies, while kids dressed up like wizards cavorted and adults — some looking exhausted, some looking enthralled — gazed eagerly at the counter and employees made periodic announcements about special giveaways that would be given out with the first fifty copies. It was actually fun, in a way. I had stood in line for six hours to be one of the first people to see Star Wars Episode I, and this was kind of similar. But this hype was for a book, not a movie, and I’d never seen this kind of hype for a book before.

So last week I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone again and started re-reading from the beginning, not bothering to try to find where I had left off before; and over the next two or three days I read all three of the Harry Potter books, then borrowed Jennifer’s copy of Goblet of Fire and read that (that one took me four days, partly because of the length and partly because I found that I had very little time to devote to reading even while Jennifer was gone in Ohio for her family reunion).

The hype was worth it. The Potter books are certainly not brilliantly-constructed fantasy the way that The Lord of the Rings (or my personal favorite, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn by Tad Williams) is, but they are a lot of fun, and well written. And anything which encourages kids to use their imaginations, to explore the world around them with wonder, and simply read more books deserves high praise, in my opinion.

So, of course, some people have to try to ruin it. One author from the east coast is suing J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, over an alleged trademark violation (you can read more about this at The Unofficial Harry Potter Fan Club); and the Harry Potter books are actually banned in some schools in at least thirteen U.S. states (more about that at Muggles for Harry Potter). The lawsuit kind of makes sense, if you squint in an intellectual sort of way (though I think it’s tantamount to A. A. Milne being sued over the use of the word "Piglet" as the name of a character); but I’ve never understood the reasoning process behind the desire to ban books. Okay, some books (such as The Turner Diaries) are deservedly jeered and most bookshop owners with an ounce of decency wouldn’t carry them; but what is the logic behind banning books like Harry Potter? The perpetrators claim that the books undermine traditional Christian values and that they promote Wicca and paganism (though I can also see how Wiccans and pagans could find elements of the Potter books that are offensive), but, again, you have to stretch to see it.

Part of the reasoning that I’ve seen for banning the Harry Potter books claims that these books teach children that the world around them is worthless, that people who can’t use magic are losers and not worth paying attention to; I have to disagree. Of course, all novels are escapist, to a point; but children don’t lose themselves in a novel and then despair that their world isn’t like that in the novel. On the contrary, children read novels about heroic deeds and create their own worlds to match. The characters in Harry Potter — especially Harry Potter himself and his friends — are brave and heroic and courageous, and I believe that these are values that we ought celebrate children learning. And the lessons that children learn while acting out their own stories as heroes are carried over into their own lives — at least, that was my own experience as a child, and that’s what I see in children around me today.

So my thought is this. Everyone knows that somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we lose the power to see or make magic in our world; some of us retain some of that ability, though it’s usually just a ghost of what we possessed in childhood. And some of us become so bitter at the loss that we can’t imagine that children still do have that power; so we deny that children have that power, and we try to bring them into our own world, just as bitter and jaded as we are, long before they are ready. "This is the real world," such people say, "and there is no place for magic or wizards or other fairy-tale nonsense."

But in reality, the world is a magical place, and full of wonder. Those of us who have had the misfortune to grow up can’t see most of the magic or wonder anymore, and so we have to Muggle our way through a world of taxes, difficult job transitions, broken cars, insurance, noisy neighbors, and so on. I’m glad that there are books like the Harry Potter books to remind me, at least, of what else could be out there.

It’s a shame that there are other people out there who feel like they have to spoil it.