odds and ends

I won’t say that school is in full swing yet; students came back yesterday, making this a strange two-day week. Next week, we have to give a standardized benchmark test and you all know how much students love those. Still, it is nice to be back in front of the class. I always feel a bit rusty at teaching after the holidays but I’ll talk a little more about that in comics next week.

I have to give a huge compliment to our administration for this past Wednesday’s in-service day. Instead of sitting in the cafeteria and listening to some paid consultant tell us about what lousy teachers we are, the new admin did something rather cool. We got a half-hour presentation on the demographic make-up of Middletown and after, hopped on a couple of buses and drove around town.

The idea being, we work with these students… let’s see a little bit more of where they’re coming from. I wish this was something I could have done the first year I was teaching here, rather than at the beginning of the fifth year. When I worked in Brooklyn, it was very easy to take in the neighborhood where my students lived and played. I had to walk through it everyday to get to the school, so I knew where they hung out… where they bought groceries… what restaurants they enjoyed, that kind of thing. Here in SW Ohio, I basically drive from my house to the school everyday, with very few stops to take anything else in.

Middletown’s fortunes have waned in the past thirty years; of that there can be no doubt. Once a center for commerce and a hub for the steel industry, a lot of those jobs have gone away and aren’t coming back. Driving around downtown, you can see the specter of a prosperous Middletown everywhere… but nowhere moreso than The Sorg Mansion:

Such a beautiful place. They don’t make houses like this anymore, and it’s just sitting in the middle of downtown Middletown, for sale. It’s going for a (relatively) paltry $300 k, but is in dire need of restoration. To think a beauty like that could be torn down breaks my heart.

————–

I finally finished Out of Oz, the fourth book in Gregory Maguire’s Wicked series. I say “finally” because the book seemed interminable.

Here’s what I think happened: Maguire writes Wicked, a skewed alterna-history of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz told from the perspective of The Wicked Witch of the West. It’s a success as a novel… but moreover, the novel is taken and transformed into a hit Broadway play. The play, truth be told, improves on the novel’s narrative, suppressing Maguire’s rambling and streamlining the characters into a two hour show. The play is a GIGANTIC success, both financially and creatively, motivating Maguire to write a sequel.

Here’s the problem: Everything that happened in The Wizard of Oz already happened in Wicked. There is, however, more source material from the original series books, so Maguire writes Son of a Witch. I actually liked Son of a Witch a bit more than I did Wicked; without the ticking clock narrative (When’s that witch going to get water thrown on her?!?), Maguire was able to go some weird places. I’ve always appreciated his characterization of Liir in that second book- by the story’s end, we realize he’s bi-sexual, but the author doesn’t make a tremendous deal out of it.

The Wicked musical is still going like gangbusters, necessitating a continuation of these Wicked novels. The problem becomes… well, everything. There’s no urgency to the characters anymore. Familiar characters take a back seat to new creations who I didn’t find very interesting. The books constantly allude back to the events in Wicked, so as that no one forgets from whence this cash cow originated… but this doesn’t happen in an interesting or organic way. The next two books in the series (A Lion among Men and Out of Oz) are drippy, overlong, and don’t really pay off any of the questions Maguire sets up.

Obviously, there was enough in these books to keep me reading, so this isn’t an unequivocal thumbs down. Maguire does do a nice job of weaving references to Oz into the fiber of these stories. From winking nods (Bunnytown!) to flat-out appropriation of the Oz sequels, the author clearly knows his Oz-ania. I can’t help but wishing that Maguire had just said “enough” with one sequel, instead of dragging us through several more.

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2 Responses to “odds and ends”

  1. The photo of Sorg Mansion above was downloaded from my Flickr site without my permission. I don’t have a problem with people using my photos if they ask first, give me photo credit, and preferably link back to my photo instead of downloading a copy of it. Please remove the photo unless you are willing to link back to the original and give me credit for the photot.

    • Christopher Pearce Says:

      Apologies- the picture was sent to me from a colleague when I expressed some interest in the Sorg Mansion back in January. I did not even think to ask her if she was the author of the photo, but as a teacher I should know better about making assumptions. I’ve provided a link in this post and will be happy to point out my error later in the week.

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