Thoughts . . . by Mark Rich

. . . scribbled . . . scrawled . . . trimmed . . . typewritten . . . grubbed up . . . squeezed from circumstance . . .

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Finding Oz

I have read through Evan I. Schwartz's Finding Oz, a second biography of L. Frank Baum -- and since I commented briefly here on Loncraine's biography, I should note that I find this one more satisfying in terms of its documentation of sources ... although still frustrating in some areas. I wanted to know the page number for a citation of a particular newspaper publication of Baum's, for instance: but Schwartz's documentation tends to be of the general pointing-toward sort, and fails to extend to the level of page numbers -- at least in this one case where that was the very thing I wanted to know.

The informality of language of the book also puts the researcher in me on guard. I jotted down a sentence, at one point, as an example of his frequent imposition of interpretation upon factual narrative. It also displays questionable language-use. "When a good person like Frank Baum performs a deed this bad, he is often overtaken by shadow forces, personal demons mixed with archetypal emotions, the set of primal impulses and instincts that one inherits as a part of being human" (p. 184). Can emotions be archetypal? Reading a phrase such as "performs a deed this bad" stirs up an internal red-penciling editor who jots in: "When people misstep so severely, second thoughts often bedevil them." Or somesuch. As in the case of the other biography, some words seem to appear in this biography because they sound right, not because they are. Is there something about Baum as a subject that provokes people to sprinkle flowers in their language, or to render his story into mythic terms? Baum himself, in my reading experiences and reading memory, wrote in a relatively straightforward manner. What was remarkable was the power of his symbolic imagination -- over which he did seem to have a certain amount of intellectual control.

Schwartz did extremely well in tracing and underlining many sources for Oz symbolism ... although he engages in the rhetorical device of drawing on the MGM Wizard of Oz movie for references -- inappropriately, to my mind -- in speaking of Baum's life and circumstances. (Any such references to the movie could have been reserved for his catch-all afterword.) Where Schwartz is at his best is in his depiction of mother-in-law Matilda Gage, a suffragist and Theosophist. His efforts in this area are laudable in the extreme.

With a little reining-in and reordering of the text, this might have been quite notable. It is certainly a worthy work that ably illuminates a variety of historical crosscurrents.

Shortly after putting down the Schwartz I picked up a recent popular-audience biography of Henry Ford and his motor company ... and rejoiced to find actual footnote numbers sprinkled into the text. How lovely.

Cheers ...

No comments:

Post a Comment