By the way, nothing is more fun than driving with the sun shining right in your face. The best part is when you can't even see the traffic lights. You should try it sometime.
Wow, I never thought I would be employing sarcasm toward the sun on what might be the coldest day so far this year.
I first saw this Salon article comparing Oz and Narnia a few years ago, and I thought I might have blogged about it, but apparently not. (I tried using the "search this blog" function to find out, but it gave me results from a bunch of other people's blogs. Using the search engine from my own Blogger account worked, though.) I can sort of see a few of the points, like how the lack of death in Oz makes for a less profound sense of danger. I don't think the Oz books are quite as antiseptic as Ms. Miller does (and Baum himself suggests in the introduction to Wizard), though. There are a few other things in the article that bother me as well, not so much for their conclusions (which are, after all, simply a matter of opinion), but for the rationale. For instance:
"There is wickedness in Oz, but no evil; badness is simply a disagreeable temperament certain people have, not a terrible force at work in the world, certainly never a temptation to any of the heroes."
What is Miller saying here? That Evil as a force makes for better stories than people simply choosing to do evil things? I think the opposite point of view could easily be argued as well, in that people doing bad things just because they're evil doesn't show much depth of character. If Miller had simply said that Narnia has stronger villains, that would have been one thing, but this is quite another. I think it's also interesting that she mentioned Harry Potter in the preceding paragraph, when Voldemort is hardly a personification of an evil force. He's much worse than any villain we meet in Oz, and in some ways even those in Narnia, but his origins reveal him to be a human who chose to be evil in order to gain power. He's not just evil because he's evil. Besides, I think the different views of evil might be down the differences in the world views of Baum and Lewis. One was known to have said that he didn't believe in the Devil, while the other clearly did.
There's also Miller's rant on the Ozites' "universal narcissism." She begins with, "Social conversation in Oz consists almost entirely of creatures explaining themselves to each other." Fair enough. We DO see a few too many such conversations in the Oz books. But then she goes on to write, "It weirdly resembles the brandishing of identity credentials seen in certain graduate seminars, with 'as a working-class lesbian ..." replaced by "as a scarecrow ...'" She continues with, "Whatever makes Americans want to go on national television to natter on about the joys and trials of being a transvestite or a born-again Christian stripper obviously predates the mass media." I'm not even sure what Miller is going on about here, but it seems to be at most tangentially related to the Oz books. It kind of seems like she wanted to go off on this incomprehensible rant, but couldn't think of any way to get an actual article out of it, so she stuck it into an unrelated article.
Miller also says, "A little girl becomes a princess or a tin woodman is suddenly made Emperor of the Winkies simply because 'the people' -- an indistinguishable mass of plump, contented burghers -- are 'so fond' of them." Later, she writes of the Pevensie children, "though they too wind up as kings and queens of a magical land after saving it from an evil witch, they have to fight, hard, for their crowns." So what's the point? That a military leader is superior to one chosen for their charisma? I might argue that neither one necessarily makes a good leader. Certainly, there are several occasions in the Oz books when a ruler is chosen by "the people," with no real indication as to who "the people" are. We all know that real people rarely agree on anything. There might be something in Miller's mention of "contended burghers," although I have to wonder where she gets that they're "plump," and how this would be relevant even if it were true. I think it's quite possible that some of the Winkies didn't want the Tin Woodman to rule them. I mean, at this point, he was a poor foreigner, with no real qualifications. We're never specifically told whether this is majority rule, election by the elite, or something else. About the closest to actual democracy that I can recall in the books is in The Scarecrow of Oz, where the people of Jinxland are asked who they want to rule them. Their initial choice is the Scarecrow himself, who has on his side both charisma and the fact that he was responsible for leading the rebellion against King Krewl. He refuses, though, and the people choose Gloria, who would have been the heir to the throne by the normal rules of succession anyway. Not EVERYONE chooses her, though, so there's some indication that people can disagree on such matters. As for Narnia, I think it could be argued that the Pevensies gain the thrones of Narnia not so much because of their military strength as through Divine Right (i.e., being chosen by Aslan), but that isn't what Miller emphasizes.
A more even-handed and less soapbox-y comparison of the two series can be found here. (Thanks to Eric Gjovaag for the links to both of these comparisons, by the way.) I'm not sure whether I agree with all of it. The point on animals, for instance, is bascially true, but I think it's a little more complicated than that. We're told on multiple occasions that all animals in Oz can talk, yet animals (including people) still eat each other. It's not something that comes up all that often, but we do see it occasionally. Doesn't it seem like it would be a little difficult to eat someone when they speak your language? There's also the problem of animals in Oz never dying, which means that, say, a beheaded chicken would probably still be alive. Nowhere are we told that there's a Narnia-style separation being talking and non-talking animals. Incidentally, Gregory Maguire's Wicked does make this distinction; a significant part of the plot consists of the attempts by the Hitler-esque Wizard of Oz to take away the talking animals' civil rights. But this isn't the case in the works by Baum and his successors. This issue has been addressed several times on various Oz forums, and I think the best explanation is probably that most of the meat eaten in the civilized parts of Oz is grown on trees, while the wild areas are often subject to the law of the jungle (so to speak). I don't think a Kalidah (which is, for the benefit of any layman who might have wandered into this part of the post, a ferocious animal with the body of a bear and the head of a tiger), for instance, would much care whether its prey could speak its language. But that doesn't explain, say, Realbad's shooting some birds for dinner (in Ojo in Oz) or Snip's lack of surprise that the goose his King bought for dinner could talk (in The Lost King of Oz). I get the feeling that Baum just thought it would be interesting to have a land where animals talk, and didn't really think through all the ramifications of this. And Ruth Plumly Thompson (who wrote both Ojo and Lost King) probably thought about it even less.
You know, I really should re-read the Chronicles of Narnia. Maybe the movie will provide the impetus for my doing so.
Finally, I should mention that bethje and I heard "Don't Let's Start" on the radio this morning. That was pleasant and unexpected.
EDIT: Oh, I forgot to point out that my friends page has been pretty slow as of late. I haven't had to hit the "previous" link in days. I haven't checked it yet today, though, so maybe things have changed. (Yeah, I know this comment wasn't worth an edit, but it was something I had wanted to put in an entry since yesterday, so I figured I might as well do so.)