Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Review of "One Earth, One People: The Mythopoeic Fantasy Series of Ursula K. Le Guin, Lloyd Alexander, Madeleine L'Engle and Orson Scott Card" by Marek Oziewicz

Winner of the Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Myth and Fantasy Studies in 2010, Marek Oziewicz’s One Earth, One People: The Mythopoeic Fantasy Series of Ursula K. Le Guin, Lloyd Alexander, Madeleine L'Engle and Orson Scott Card is a critical exploration of the titular fantasy series in the context of mythopoeia's value, holism, and universal understanding.  Packed to the brim with scholarship on the historical and contemporary meaning of myth, Oziewicz never lets the reader get bogged down, the writing lucid and crisp.  As a result, the book is a valuable resource for anyone involved with literary studies on myth, the fantastic, or holistic criticism.

Roughly divided in two, the first half of One Earth, One People presents theoretical material.  From Vico to the present, Oziewicz unpacks relevant books, essays, papers, and studies in the area of mythopoesis.  The works of Jung, Freud, Frye, Eliade, Campbell, and others, including the non-fictional output of the Inklings Tolkien and Lewis, are discussed with an eye toward underpinning the value of fantasy in literature as a whole. Informative yet absorbing, at no time does Oziewicz lose focus of the point at hand, guiding his narrative through these scholars and writers’ works with quality and quantity.  Though some readers may feel the quotes excessive (Oziewicz really packs the text full), fluency is never lost, a great deal of care placed in the writing of the book from a readability viewpoint.

Having established the theoretical context of mythopoesis' relevancy to literature, the second half of One Earth, One People examines and analyzes four fantasy series.  Not homogenous, each series is presented through one of the many lenses of holistic mythopoeia. Le Guin’s Earthsea is examined as a “quest for balance and harmony between sexes, races, religions, and species”.  Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles are presented as “an example of how a particular mythic tradition… may be reworked and adapted into a future-oriented vision for peace and well-being in the real world”.  L’Engle’s Time Quartet envisions “spirituality as a way of life akin to the spirit of genuine scientific inquiry”.  And lastly, Orson Scott Card’s Tales of Alvin Maker are dealt with in such a fashion as to establish a “map of ecological relationships” and “the ideological resurrection of nature’s sacredness” (9-10).  

Each series chosen specifically for its individual qualities, the scope of analysis is complementary to the nature of holism.  Two of the authors selected are male, while two are female, not to mention that each is a decade-by-decade representative of fantasy in the latter half of the 20th century: Prydain made his mark in the 50s, Le Guin started Earthsea in the 60s, L’Engle published her series predominantly in the 70s, and Card wrote the majority of his in the 80s.  Moreover, the lenses—environmentalism, social harmony, epistemology, and visioning the future through the past—provide Oziewicz four platforms on which to build pertinent argumentation in support of his claims toward mythopoeic holism in fantasy, the analysis bearing fruit for it.

In the end, One Earth, One People is deserving of the award it won.  Oziewicz has done his homework and the text proves it.  Analysis occasionally overly-affective, the interpretations are astute, opening viewpoints into texts unavailable in other scholars’ studies.  Le Guin, for example, despite having numerous studies and books published regarding Earthsea, has never had her fantasy cycle examined from the viewpoint of balance and harmony as Oziewicz has.  Overall an excellent resource, fantasists involved with or seeking material in relation to myth studies or holistic criticism should find the book worthwhile, if not interesting reading in general.

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