07 November 2008

Maguire Talks Lions

CNN interviewed Gregory Maguire on the publication of his latest latter-day Oz book, A Lion Among Men.

I would describe [my books] as being, not quite allegories, but commentaries on contemporary society--and indeed politics to some extent--enshrouded in, and disguised by, the guise of children's stories.

In other words, I use children's stories as kind of a snare and temptation and illusion to draw in readers who say this is going to be easy...and it's going to be fun. And indeed I hope it is fun. But once I get people involved in the plot, I hope to also communicate some of the questions I have about the way we live our lives in the 21st century.
Gregory's take on Oz has always been colored by the MGM movie (literally so, in the case of Elphaba the green-skinned Witch of the West). And the Cowardly Lion is no exception:
His character arises in the hollow space in our perceptions between that giant roaring lion at the MGM logo...the ideal lion, and the kind of sad, sacked, out of work, vaudeville performer in lion pajamas that we see when Dorothy actually runs into the lion on the Yellow Brick Road.

In other words, there's a huge disconnect between the image we project of ourselves--the best we might ever hope to possibly be--and the way we feel about ourselves at our absolute worst--when we're the most down in the dumps. There's a huge space in between there. So the novel's really in some ways about character and taking control of the destiny of your own character.
And on the challenge of writing for children, as opposed to adults:
Well, for one thing children are intensely more impatient than adults. So you have to start out active, you have to start out strong and you cannot be, for a moment, self-indulgent.

Everything has to be a sound bite or something that the children can visualize as if they're running a little Super 8 projector in their mind. Now I date myself with ancient technology, but you know what I mean...write the scene that you want Steven Spielberg to film, which means every sentence has to give us something to see. Make it intensely visual and this is, I think, the main rule for writing for children.

But in no way do I make it less thoughtful. I just actually have to work harder.
Thanks to Dr. Amberyl Malkovich for the link.


David Lee Ingersoll said...

Maguire's Oz is intended for kids? Really? All the bookstores I've been in had his work shelved in Adult Lit.

Of course it's been a while since I looked for one of his books. Maybe things have changed.

J. L. Bell said...

No, Gregory's quite clear that Wicked and its sequels are not meant for kids. I've seen him get very nervous at signing copies for preteens, trying to signal to their mothers that the books contain "adult content."

But Gregory has also written and continues to write children's books. And this interview got into that world in two ways. Straightforwardly, in the comments at the bottom. And laterally, in the comments quoted at the top, when he describes using the form of a beloved children's story as a way to lure adult readers into thinking about something deeper.

rathacat said...

Hi J. I.,
I've always loved the Cowardly Lion,
both in the book and as portrayed by Bert Lahr in the movie. Maybe I'll try this one.

BTW, you and I share the same last name, and the same template on Blogger. I also write about big cats.

Clare Bell,
author of the Ratha series