Orwell and DWJ

Nat Case ncase at hedbergmaps.com
Wed Nov 15 15:07:56 EST 2000


This morning, I was reading a review a friend sent me, of a new 
biography of George Orwell. I haven't read all that much of his work, 
but I appreciate his peculiarly ascetic, unflinching view of 
humanity. The piece of the review that stuck with me was at the end, 
where it speculated whether, given the "demise of totalitarianism," 
Orwell was even going to be read much in the future.

The question of whether we could really say that totalitarianism was 
dead struck me... there's a lot of rhetoric thrown about about the 
end of the Cold War, but I guess a good case could be made for 
totalitarianism being relegated to third-rate dictators, that most of 
the world has seen such internationalization as to make the 
nationalistic xenophobia marginal at best.

Which (and I am getting to DWJ here), got me thinking about what has 
replaced it. Again there's a lot of rhetoric thrown hither and yon 
about insidious globalization, the WTO, etc. But I'm thinking in 
particular about the character Mr Chesney in Dark Lord of Derkholm. 
and what he represents, the commercialization of the world of stories 
and imagination, and the allure that commercialized world has.

DWJ writes fiction, and she writes about magic in a way that acts as 
a analogue to creative ability, the ability to create patterns and 
fictions and such. Her stories often involve people using that 
creative power to defeat forces of greed, control, oppression, etc. 
Most of these villainous forces are bad because of extensions of 
selfishness (Aunt Maria, the Reigners in Hexwood, Laurel in Fire and 
Hemlock).

Mr Chesney is unusual in DWJ's books in being a principal villain 
with no particular motivation. Faceless corporations. In his 
facelessness he's like THEM in the Homeward Bounders, playing cruel 
games with people. Even Kankredin we see motivation in, although it's 
similarly a simple grasping urge for power and control.

On finishing Narnia a few weeks ago, one of the things I was struck 
by was how much he was a man of his time. The villainous Snow Queen 
is a totalitarian, a fictional analogue of Hitler and Stalin. Jones's 
villains are much more human, and her heroes much more subversive, 
than Tolkien's or Lewis's.

Did anyone else here read Alison Lurie's DON'T TELL THE GROWNUPS. 
It's theory was that much of children's literature was subversive, 
permitting children their own social order that thought the adult 
order was at best silly. I like that Jones has taken that limited 
subversiveness always a little further into the outer world, 
suggesting it's not a bad idea to hang onto it when you grow up...

Nat
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