20 March 2008

Revisiting Baum and Pullman

Back in my first month of blogging, I posted an entry called "Pullman and Baum tackle the same scene". It noted some parallels between Philip Pullman's The Scarecrow and His Servant and L. Frank Baum's The Marvelous Land of Oz, particularly a scene in which a clever child pretends to translate between two characters who are actually speaking the same language.

This morning I heard from Laurie Frost, author of The Elements of His Dark Materials, that another guide to Pullman's trilogy, The Rough Guide to His Dark Materials by Paul Simpson, cited that posting to support this statement:

The story of Oz--in celluloid and literary form--has had a significant impact on Pullman's imagination. As the fantasy writer J. L. Bell has shown, Pullman's The Scarecrow And The [sic] Servant is directly influenced by Oz, paying homage to specific scenes and character names.
Actually, I didn't show that at all. I simply pointed out some similarities, but I didn't feel they were close enough to prove influence, nor did I have any evidence about Pullman's reading. The Wizard of Oz is not such a presence in British culture as it is in America, and Baum's sequels are even less known over there.

Both Baum and Pullman wrote about live scarecrows and characters named Jack. Other authors have explored the idea of a live scarecrow as well, and Jack is not simply a common name--it's generic.

As for the translation scenes, I found it interesting to consider how the two fine authors handled the same notion. My only implication about influence was that if Pullman had been inspired by Baum, he made more of the idea: his character's "strategem actually plays a role in the plot" while "Baum's scene is characteristic vaudeville [with] no consequences." But a fake-translation joke is basic enough that it could well have occurred to each of these authors (and others) independently.

Simpson's book appears to be a very "rough guide" indeed. I'm flattered at being cited in it as an expert, but surely there are better ways of gathering information about Pullman's influences than trawling for remarks on the internet and reading too much into them.

Frost tells me she had actually asked Pullman about the possibility of inspiration from Oz in connection to the interaction between Dorothy and Toto, which reminded her of the tighter bond between Lyra and her daemon, Pan. (The Rough Guide makes the same point with a picture from the MGM movie.) Frost writes:
I was flabbergasted when he wrote back that he has never seen the movie, or read the book. He knows a few of the songs, and he has seen Wicked! which he found very confusing, but that's the extent of his Oz knowledge.
Frost's Elements seems to be self-published; it's the only title from The Fell Press. It doesn't have the benefit of the Rough Guides' branding or market reach. But it has an endorsement from Pullman himself, and it's clearly a more reliable guide to what actually inspired him.


magnuswagnus_1999 said...

Thanks for the endorsement!

Two small clarifications: Simpson's claim that Pullman is influenced by Oz doesn't mention Toto as daemon; the "evidence" he cites includes Dorothy's [Lyra's] departure from her home, befriending of odd characters who accompany her on her journey, and discovery of the Wizard as fraud, and, perhaps, the Witch's guards as inspirations for the golden monkey.

And Elements isn't self-published. Fell is an imprint of Way Cool Stuff, as is Wizarding World Press, the publishers of the Harry Potter Ultimate Guides.

Scholastic Ltd (UK) has licensed a revised version of my book: Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials: The Definitive Guide for all but the US and Canada, where Elements remains available.


J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for the additional information.

Here's the Amazon.co.uk link to Laurie's book from Scholastic; it will be available this June.