Saturday, December 07, 2013
Oz versus Narnia
By OFW editor:
Published: August 22, 2012
The film version of the Wizard of Oz gives me nightmares. Okay, I admit the book scares me too, but I can’t even hear the sound of the film or I dream horribly messed up dreams about the witch, her monkeys and the Straw Man who I believe is a close pedophile. Also, the lion creeps me out. On the other hand, the characters of Narnia enchanted me from our first introduction many years ago. What is so different about these two fictional worlds? Is the building of Oz shoddy in comparison to Narnia? Or perhaps it is so well done that it’s too real? This week’s Fiction Collision will determine which fictional place is better: Oz or Narnia?
The Land of Oz was created by L. Frank Baum and full of witches, wizards, talking animals and munchkins. From the book we learn that Oz is rectangular in shape, and divided into four parts with the Emerald City, capital of Oz and home to Princess Ozma, in the center. Oz is surrounded by desert, so its residents are safe as it is highly unlikely to be discovered. It’s only dangerous to tourists who get caught up in tornadoes and plunked into the midst of the Emerald City.
Narnia was created by C. S. Lewis. Narnia is located behind the wardrobe, and is ruled by the lion Aslan. It is a flat world with a dome sky that mortals cannot penetrate. While safe from humans, the residents of Narnia are engaged in a battle for their lives.
Narnia is certainly more romantic than Oz. Its purpose is to enchant the reader initially, while the purpose behind the introduction to Oz is to instill tension and unease. Both achieved their goal, so I suppose we’re tied at this point.
Both tales contain stories of adventure and excitement, but Narnia is far better in design because it is so well defined. The story behind Oz is more ambling and disjointed. The characters of Oz tend to avoid violence, choosing instead to find creative solutions to conflicts, but Narnia has more grit, more intensity in terms of heroic battles. The depictions of the battles have different effects as well. Reading about Oz, you always feel like a reader, standing just outside the action, but Narnia’s battles are so vividly rendered that the reader feels she’s fighting alongside the characters, and part of the action. Point to Narnia.
In terms of how the worlds relate to their respective eras, Oz has the advantage of writing in a simpler time after the war. The outlook is happy and frivolous. The characters learn social and moral lessons, but these lessons are an extra part of traveling through Oz, rather than the point of it. Narnia, on the other hand, was written in the fifties, in a time where folks were criticizing modern self-indulgence and searching for a noble past where your place and the codes for behavior were clear. Lewis argued vehemently against moral doctrine, dismissing anything not grounded in "traditional" English values, and his depiction of Narnia conveys his view of the depths of evil. This brands Narnia with the mark of being a post-war novel, even as it reaches toward timelessness. Point to Oz. Its simplicity makes it easier to slip into and remain in this imaginary world.
Of course, I can’t compare the two worlds without examining a common factor: the lions. In Oz, the lion is a coward. Actually, he’s a bit of a pain in the ass for everyone. While Narnia’s Aslan and the Cowardly Lion share some traits superficially, such as bravery and empathy, the essence of Oz’s lion is ironic reversal, and Aslan is an icon of genuine courage and honesty. Aslan has awesome power and wisdom, and he makes his people feel safe and loved. The Cowardly Lion is dependent and needy, requiring others to make him feel safe and loved. Point to Narnia.
Oz takes a step into the lead however, when it comes to gender roles. Narnia is awash in gender stereotypes. The male hero (Aslan) defeats the evil female (Queen) to restore the patriarchal order to Narnia. While there are girl heroes in Narnia, they’re essentially sidekicks to the boys. In Oz, the roles are ruthlessly unrestricted. The greatest and most powerful being is female (Glinda), and so is the greatest ruler and hero (Ozma and Dorothy). I’ll have to give a point to Oz for that one. Male roles are just as significant as the females, and they are never domineering or aggressive. The sidekicks in this one are all male, but there is never a feeling of any battle of the sexes at play. Point to Oz.
But Narnia’s not out of the running just yet. One of the most important features of any fiction world is its characters. And let’s face it; the characters in Oz are pretty interchangeable and not that exciting. The characters of Narnia live and breathe on the pages. Each has distinct personalities and appearances, and you can pick a character out often by how he speaks or thinks. Major points to Narnia.
Finally, in terms of theme, Narnia’s story has a message, and a focused goal. I’ve read many times that the Narnia books do a better job of encapsulating Christianity than the Bible itself. And while I’m not a fan of Christianity, I have to agree the message is powerful in Narnia. In Oz, the theme isn’t really intended to convey any message. Perhaps the theme might be the effects of mechanization on human consciousness, as most of the characters have been "built" in one way or another. The Tin Man is probably the most obvious example of this. In him we have a human man whose body parts have been slowly replaced by tin, and yet he still hangs onto his soul. Whether or not this is meant as a deliberate comment on industrialization, I can’t say, but it’s creates a poetic and powerful image. In the end, Oz has interesting and wide-ranging themes, but Narnia wins because it contains a more direct, compelling theme that is almost seamlessly woven into an intricate and fantastic world.
While Narnia wins this fiction collision in my books for being a world that stays in your imagination long after The End, props have to be given for Baum keeping religion out of his good versus evil battle, making Oz simplistic and easily enjoyed by all ages. I still won’t watch the movie or read the book ever again, but I recommend everyone read both stories at least once.
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