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Annoyed - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
I got linked to an American Scholar article decrying "wonder" in books (no, nothing to do with HP--this is strictly of the literary and faux-literary variety). The author was scandalized that people were writing books in which wonder was discovered, as clearly, bad stuff happens, and to write about wonder is to be false.

Yeah, whatever.

No, as a matter of fact, not whatever. What kind of idiotic nonsense is that? Bad crap happens, people die, so there's no such thing as wonder?

Further, much of what he complains about is neither escapism (which Lord of the Flies is as much as Lord of the Rings) nor wonder, but saccharine nonsense. As it happens, I agree with his judgment of The Lovely Bones, which I had to force myself to finish--it started decently, but soon devolved into movie-of-the-week faux-catharsis that never produced actual catharsis, because all it did was wander away from the event that started it. Complaining about LB isn't complaining about wonder, because wonder never comes into it, just a kind of vague sugary sweetness.

But what does that have to do with wonder? Eucatastrophe? Escape?

It seems to me that the author of that article would benefit from reading something that will allow him to escape, because escape, as Tolkien pointed out, gives perspective, lets you look at things more clearly for the distance. The last two sentences ("What is, is. The real is the true, and anything that suggests otherwise, no matter how artfully constructed, is a violation of human experience.") give no image more clearly than that of a man wearing blinders, very carefully adjusting the screws on the sides to make sure that absolutely nothing outside of his immediate experience could possibly get inside. This doesn't strike me as a useful trait in a species that means to learn. The ability to learn requires the ability to be awed, and to experience wonder.*

So fine--cut the saccharine; it deserves it. But don't confuse it for wonder.

*Caveat: I wouldn't argue with the premise except that he has spent most of the article defining reality and "is" so narrowly as to exclude most of human experience, which itself creates a lie.
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lady_moriel From: lady_moriel Date: September 26th, 2007 08:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
That, and--I didn't read the entire article, I admit, because it was long and I'm about to be late for something (writing this from a school computer)--he seems to think that anything that has a remotely good ending must by default be false and saccharine. Apparently our characters aren't allowed to triumph over bad things. At least that's what I understood him to be saying.
(Deleted comment)
keestone From: keestone Date: September 27th, 2007 12:06 am (UTC) (Link)
Egads! It's not so much that the article is tl;dr, it's that it's like reading a bad student essay. I might read the whole thing if I was being paid to do it, but it would be painful. (At least, from what I can tell, he actually was grammatical.)
rabidsamfan From: rabidsamfan Date: September 27th, 2007 12:20 am (UTC) (Link)
Young adult pap, hey? Guess he didn't like those problem novels on the summer reading lists.

The rest of it sounds to me like someone hasn't been seeing his therapist regularly...
scionofgrace From: scionofgrace Date: September 27th, 2007 01:16 am (UTC) (Link)
Unfortunately, it’s false to all human experience to find “growth” in tragedy. In fact, the dull truth is that pain is tautological. The only thing suffering teaches us is that we are capable of suffering.

Holy cow. I can hardly believe this is real. Does the author talk to people? Ever? Maybe ask them their life stories? What sort of miserable half-life is he living, and why hasn't he committed suicide yet?

He does, indeed, have a valid argument with the saccharine fluffiness of a lot of literature out there. I agree with him. But that's not wonder. Wonder is like the friends of mine who'd lived all their lives in the Great Plains and then saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time. Wonder is the first time I heard a capella voices in harmony, a song that haunts me to this day. Wonder is the time I was in Wyoming at midnight and saw the Milky Way spread above me like silver silk, embroidered with stars, detailed beyond the reach of my sight. Did it never occur to him that pain and death can actually make that pleasure sharper?

What would this guy say to all the people I know, including my mother, who grew up in poor and broken homes and are now happy and prosperous? Hasn't he ever met people like that? Or are human interest stories also false?

Sounds like this man needs some Tolkien, with a side-order of C.S. Lewis, before he dies of cynicism.
sonetka From: sonetka Date: September 27th, 2007 03:27 am (UTC) (Link)
False to ALL human experience to find growth in tragedy? What is this guy, 19? It's the only excuse I can think of for saying something like that, unless I'm a very exceptional human being indeed :).
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 27th, 2007 04:49 am (UTC) (Link)
Hell, I'm no fan of the "Death makes us so strong and deep" school of thought myself (as evidenced from my R/T bitching, my Padmé bitching, and of course, throwing Little Women across the room at the age of six when Beth died and refusing to finish for several months), but it would be so untrue to the experience of anyone I've ever met--including me--to say that the hard things don't force us to grow that I can't even fathom where the notion comes from. In fact, the reason I tend not to like it that much in fiction is that it's too easy a trigger, not because it's unrealistic, but because it's overkill.
cleindori From: cleindori Date: September 27th, 2007 02:07 am (UTC) (Link)
One has to wonder (hah!) what all this man is reading, to so confuse wonder (literary or otherwise) with over-sweetened "literary" emotional pablum. There is more to the question of "wonder" in literature (or just in books) than stories about orphans overcoming their unfortunate circumstances with happy endings, and few people worth listening to would support the idea that "wonder" is only that, I hope.

On the other hand, there is a lot of execrable "real-world" fiction out there. Perhaps why I read so much science fiction and fantasy -- I don't want to escape into our world, I want to escape into something totally different, or it's not quite so much of an escape. But I guess the author of the article would consider me to be a consistent violator of my human experience.
obsfuscation From: obsfuscation Date: September 27th, 2007 03:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
Man, I slogged my way through Cold Mountain once, and the ending was an egregious example of the "bad things happen so this work will be Serious and Deep" trope (tripe?). I was yelling at the author in the privacy of my own home: "You manufactured a crappy ending so this book would make the Oprah booklist!" It was so random and unneccesary, and all the redeeming parts of the book became flat for me. If bad things (and endings) are earned, I'mm all about it, but to throw it in just to make the book well received is LAME.

Ahem. I haven't actually read the article, but that's where your entry took me. :)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 27th, 2007 04:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's kind of where I was with Revenge of the Sith, honestly (which I guess keeps a tally of projects Natalie Portman has been involved in)--we know Anakin's going to turn. But let's... let's have his wife die in childbirth! After he tries to strangle her! Forget just hunting down Jedi, he will also massacre children just because someone told him to! Yeah, that'll prove that it's all bad-ass and serious!
matril From: matril Date: September 27th, 2007 09:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
I can't imagine anyone feeling this way without being suicidal. Also, if he really believes that only reality should be dealt with in literature, then he'd best get out of the fiction section entirely. It's all fabricated, whether it's about fairies or cars. That's why it's called fiction.

And in my view, there is a enormous distinction between the real and the true. Fiction deals with truth by stepping outside of the confusing details of the real, and, I believe, the farther it steps away, the easier it is to see the truth.
aebhel From: aebhel Date: September 27th, 2007 11:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
I read about three paragraphs in (mostly because I'm trying to come up with reasons not to finish my paper on ethnographic studies of the !Kung), and I couldn't finish it. Being young isn't even an excuse; I'm only 22 and I'm not that...determinedly narrow-minded would be a good way of putting it. I guess I don't really see what his point is.

I mean, yes, there are gritty, ugly, painful, harsh realities - but there is also the Sistine Chapel, the kaleidoscope of colors and sounds on a boardwalk on a summer night; there are good, decent people in the world as well as bad ones. Being able to see the grit and grime of human existence doesn't mean you have to deliberately ignore the awe-inspiring.

...I think someone ought to make him read Stephen King, actually.
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