Bookshelf: Out of Oz

I read Wicked before I ever watched the musical. It haunted me. Imaginative, dark, beautiful, achingly tragic, and haunting—I loved the book. Son of a Witch came out around that time, so I quickly devoured the next book in the saga. And while waiting for Maguire to write A Lion Among Men, I read Lost and Mirror Mirror, his other fanciful books. Of course, before reading A Lion Among Men, I felt the need to reread Wicked and Son of a Witch. So while Out of Oz was winging its way to me from Amazon, I refreshed my memory by rereading the first three books yet again.

I never understood why my mother reread her favorite books. It made absolutely no sense to me to read something you already knew the ending to. But I am learning a whole new way of experiencing a story. The world draws you in deeper, the characters are more real. The overarching narrative is grander, the stakes higher. That's probably a fair amount of hyperbole, but it's been my recent experience.

After reading through the first three books in the last two weeks, I felt thoroughly immersed in Maguire's Oz. One almost needs that amount of engagement to get through Out of Oz, his most dense and complicated novel thus far. More than any of the others, it draws on the original L. Frank Baum books. Part of me wishes I'd re-read those—a childhood favorite of mine and my dad's. But the primary twist at the end of the book would not have been as unexpected or as painful had I remembered some of those Baum characters and their stories. So maybe the surprise was better.

This book was the most like Wicked for me in that I felt so emotionally invested in some of the characters, broken and wounded as they were, that their losses struck me. From the Lion and Nor to Liir and Candle, from Rain to Tip, I hurt for so many of them. There is enough plot summary out there, so I will spare you, reader. But the strongest story of this book, to me, was not the tale of Oz, the restoration of order and justice. It was the story of lost childhood and young love. Both are themes that pervade the novels, filled with characters from broken families, broken lives, and uncertain beginnings. Most relationships end tragically in Maguire's world. And in real life, first love rarely works out. Yet there is a part of the heart that still wants those first passions, the feeling of giving oneself wholly, to last.

I was a little less satisfied than most reviewers at the end of the book. The scene with Glinda is unnecessarily vague and created more questions than it answered. I also wanted more resolution with Rain, Elphaba's granddaughter. Although Maguire says this is his last Oz novel, I find myself hoping that he writes another tome. If not, I'll have to be content with the way I continued the story in my mind, with young lovers magically reunited, birthrights restored, and Elphaba and Fiyero alive, somewhere in the hills of Oz.


Human Nature

I am rarely one to write about politics and controversy, and much has been said about Penn State. The atrocities those boys experienced are unimaginable. All should be able to agree that what happened to them was undeniably wrong, horrific and tragic. What most cannot seem to agree on was the responsibility and guilt of Joe Paterno—and the rest of the staff with knowledge of Sandusky's actions.

Most of that discussion I leave to lawyers, victims and sportscasters. But this week, I found David Brooks' op-ed both thought-provoking and challenging. His basic arguments are far more eloquent than my summary, but essentially most people have higher moral expectations of themselves than their actual behaviors. In this case, most of us believe that we would have told police, turned in Sandusky and saved the day. We say we would theoretically take one high-minded action, yet when faced with the reality of the decision, often take a neutral or contrary action. We do not step in. We do not save the day. Obviously there are exceptions to this, people we usually deem "heroes." But basic human nature is far darker than our society is willing to acknowledge. Brooks argues that the first step in actually preventing tragedies like this is admitting our own weakness. It's the first voice I've read with a solution that goes beyond justice. 

Commentators ruthlessly vilify all involved from the island of their own innocence. Everyone gets to proudly ask: "How could they have let this happen?" 

The proper question is: How can we ourselves overcome our natural tendency to evade and self-deceive? That was the proper question after Abu Ghraib, Madoff, the Wall Street follies and a thousand other scandals. But it's a question this society has a hard time asking because the most seductive evasion is the one that leads us to deny the underside of our own nature.

This had nothing to do with design or travel or any of the other things that bring me happiness. It just made me think.