Archive for February 14th, 2009

A Lion Among Men

Saturday, February 14th, 2009


By Gregory Maguire

The Short Take:

This entry in Maguire’s continuing spin on the Baum Wizard of Oz books is a brilliant character study of the Lion that accompanied Dorothy on her mission to get that broomstick. If you haven’t read Wicked and Son of a Witch, don’t start here. So get ’em and read ’em so you can enjoy this one, too. Dark, tender, dangerous, magical — that’s Maguire’s take on Oz. Tormented, prideful, self-loathing, touching — that’s his cowardly Lion.

Why?

If you’re anticipating a continuation of Liir’s story from the second novel in this series, think again. Liir is barely mentioned and does not appear at all. This one is all about the Lion. And what a tale lies in store.

Brrr is his name, and from the very beginning this talking Lion has found outside circumstances shaping his life and destiny rather than his own will. His story is revealed as he attempts to interrogate the mysterious Yackle about Elphaba, the deceased so-called Witch of the East. Theirs is a battle of wits that offers new insights into mysteries presented by the two previous books while it creates some new ones for future (I bet) novels.

But what makes this novel so very good is the emotional conflict within our Lion. Forever lost, forever trying to belong, forever making just the wrong move at the wrong time — he is a fascinating character. No fairy tale kitty, he’s as complex and conflicted as any modern hero/anti-hero. You can’t help but empathize with him. But this is no downer book. Maguire use of language, humor, and minor characters leaven the book nicely.

I’ve always felt Maguire’s books were as much about things good vs. evil, free will vs. fate, and other such dichotomies as they were about taking a fresh look at Oz. I am now more convinced of that than ever.

A Little Plot:

Brrr’s life history is revealed little by little as he attmpts to interrogate the ancient maun, Yackle, in the Cloister of Saint Glinda. Meanwhile civil war rages between Oz and Munchkinland and the battle is headed their way. All the action is described through their conversations. With only a few exceptions, the entire novel takes place within the cloister walls.

Self-reared in solitude, Brrr doesn’t know how to act among Animals (the speaking variety), animals (the non-speaking types), or humans. His ineptness leads to tragic mistakes that gain him fame and shame.

As he travels the land looking for a anyplace to fit in, Brrr builds a reputation that threatens to warp his heart and mind. He seeks redemption, but instead becomes a tool for the new Emperor of Oz.

It may sound hopeless. Don’t you believe it. We’re talking about a Lion here.

Here’s a link to Maguire’s website. Worth a visit.

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