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Mythopoeic Society

a non-profit organization devoted to the study of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, the Inklings, and the genres of myth and fantasy


Reviews

One Earth, One People

One Earth, One People: The Mythopoeic Fantasy Series of Ursula K. Le Guin, Lloyd Alexander, Madeleine L’Engle and Orson Scott Card. Marek Oziewicz. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008. Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy 6. Donald E. Palumbo and C. W. Sullivan III, series editors. 271 pp. $35.00. 978-0786431359.

Reviewed by Donna R. White


[This review originally appeared in Mythlore 113/114.]

Now that Marek Oziewicz’s One Earth, One People has won the Mythopoeic Society’s 2010 Scholarship Award, it behooves me to produce the review I promised more than a year ago. The full title of the work describes the contents of the study clearly—One Earth, One People: The Mythopoeic Fantasy Series of Ursula K. Le Guin, Lloyd Alexander, Madeleine L’Engle and Orson Scott Card. Oziewicz’s overriding thesis is that mythopoeic fantasy as he defines it and as it is exemplified by these writers will create a new paradigm for human behavior, “shaping a modern mythology that unifies the human race” (9).

In the first four chapters of the book, the author establishes his definitions and critical assumptions, beginning with the difficulty of defining fantasy. Borrowing from Brian Attebery’s Strategies of Fantasy, he discusses the difference between fantasy as a mode or worldview and fantasy as a genre. He then focuses on a specific subgenre of fantasy that he labels “mythopoeic fantasy,” which he calls “a unique literary expression of a worldview that assumes the existence of the supernatural” (4). Specifically, mythopoeic fantasy is

a holistic, soul-nurturing type of narrative capable of addressing vital psychological, cultural and aesthetic needs which are disregarded by most other forms of contemporary literature. […] [T]he secondary worlds that mythopoeic fantasy employs are morally charged universes in which human actions are meaningful and may suggest a paradigm for a creative and fulfilling life in the real world. […] [T]he core structural marker of the genre is mythopoesis — a deliberate embedding of the story in the conventions of myth and mythmaking — which allows it to suggest a poetic and intuitive perception of reality. (8)

Thus, two of the author’s primary assumptions are that fantasy can unify humanity and that studying one subgenre of fantasy is more fruitful than discussing the broader category. Oziewicz’s other primary assumption is that reductionist approaches to literature (i.e. Marxism, Freudianism, structuralism, and other –isms that break literature down into elementary components) are hostile to fantasy whereas fantasy blossoms under holistic approaches (the whole is greater than the sum of its parts). All three assumptions are the subject of the first four chapters, after which the author turns to individual chapters on the works of Le Guin, Alexander, L’Engle, and Card. The chapter titles indicate Oziewicz’s approach to each writer: the Le Guin chapter is called “Rediscovering Harmony,” the Alexander chapter is “Bridging the Past with the Future,” L’Engle’s chapter is “Integrating Science and Spirituality,” and the Card discussion is “Reconnecting with Nature.” Each writer contributes to a different aspect of Oziewicz’s new paradigm for humanity.

As a work of scholarship, One Earth, One People has both strengths and weaknesses. The greatest strength is the extensive research underlying the work. I am often critical of scholarly writers who cobble together a few sources and consider their research finished. When it comes to research, however, Oziewicz is a true scholar. He has read every book and article related to his topics and has searched out unpublished dissertations as well. Since he also summarizes most of these sources, his book provides a crash course in fantasy criticism. As useful as the summaries are, they do become repetitive several chapters into the book. Oziewicz includes snippets of quotations from his sources, mixed freely with his own comments, and occasionally the multitude of voices becomes confusing. But I quibble. The bibliography is extensive and thorough—a treasure trove for new scholars in the fantasy field. Chapter 8, on Orson Scott Card, has the weakest scholarly support in that Oziewicz approaches Card’s fantasy from an ecocritical perspective, which is not within his usual purview. A colleague who specializes in ecocriticism tells me that Oziewicz’s sources are outdated. However, this is a minor criticism of what is a masterly job of research.

One aspect of the book that I appreciate is Oziewicz’s attitude towards children’s fantasy and children’s literature criticism. As a specialist in children’s literature, I am accustomed to critics from other fields taking a patronizing stance towards writers and scholars who work in children’s literature and young adult literature. Oziewicz lives up to his holistic claims by considering all literature as One. Not once does he hint that children’s literature is in any way lesser. Since fantasy, like children’s literature, is often considered on the fringes of mainstream literature, one might think that Oziewicz is offering professional courtesy. However, science fiction, also a fringe specialty, is rife with scholarship that looks down on children’s literature.

Oziewicz’s writing style is functional rather than beautiful, but his prose is accessible to scholars and to an educated public. He is particularly adept at translating the jargon of literary theory into terms a general reader can understand. On a more critical note, the entire book and its individual chapters use a rudimentary structure: “First tell them what you’re going to say, then say it, then tell them what you said.” The advantage to such a basic organization is that the reader never gets lost. However, this approach was developed for oral presentations, not writing, and even public speaking has moved on to more complex approaches. Writing instructors look for more subtlety in organization.

One of my main problems with One Earth, One People is that the publisher seems to have foregone copy editing. Many of the typographical errors that pepper the book would have been caught by a good copy editor. Oziewicz often leaves out a word or types in the wrong one. When this occurs in a direct quote, the meaning of the original can be changed. But perhaps I am overreacting to the minor errors because at one point Oziewicz gets the title of one of my books wrong.

My biggest objection is to the main thesis of the book, exemplified in the title: One Earth, One People. Oziewicz argues that mythopoeic fantasy will create a new paradigm that unites the world. I have nothing against idealism and optimism, but this thesis sounds like the platform of a naïve Miss America competitor. The mystic, holistic strain of fantasy has been with us for centuries, its adherents always expecting a change in human nature. But that change has never arrived. Fantasy, both as worldview and genre, appeals to a minority, and no matter how enthusiastic we are, we will never persuade the majority to read fantasy, let alone to adopt a new paradigm of spiritual unity based on mythopoeic fantasy.


One Earth, One People: The Mythopoeic Fantasy Series of Ursula K. Le Guin, Lloyd Alexander, Madeleine L’Engle and Orson Scott Card. Marek Oziewicz. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008. Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy 6. Donald E. Palumbo and C. W. Sullivan III, series editors. 271 pp. $35.00. 978-0786431359.