- 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
In One Earth, One People, Marek Oziewicz attempts to synthesize a century of fantasy criticism into new definitions of fantasy and mythopoeic fantasy and then presents four case studies of authors whose work he considers mythopoeic. He approaches the fiction from the outside in; rather than providing insightful readings of fantasy literature as a way to derive interesting theories about the genre, Oziewicz engages in lengthy analyses of theory in an attempt to derive interesting readings. The result will mainly be useful to scholars interested in definitional issues; it is not, primarily, a book about Le Guin, Alexander, L’Engle, and Card but about the genre of mythopoeic fantasy: its history, its development, its present, and its future. [End Page 137]
About three quarters of the book is given over to reviews of the secondary literature on fantasy, myth, and Oziewicz’s chosen authors. In Chapter 1 Oziewicz gives overviews of fantasy criticism, attempting to show that fantasy criticism suffers from confusion. In Chapter 2 Oziewicz reviews fantasy criticism itself, arguing that such confusion stems from two incompatible approaches, the reductionist and holistic approaches, and, further, that holistic criticism is more useful for understanding fantasy. This gives way to Chapter 3, in which Oziewicz presents a review of holistic criticism, including the critical writings of both C. S. Lewis, who created the term mythopoeic fantasy, and J. R. R. Tolkien, whose fictional works are held up as the most representative texts of mythopoeic fantasy. Oziewicz reviews twentieth-century approaches to myth in Chapter 4; this chapter seems outside the scope of the book, with little bearing on either the theories discussed earlier or the approaches of the authors discussed later. Each of the four case studies consists of ten pages covering the scholarship on the author (including the author’s published discussions of his or her own work), followed by fifteen pages of analysis of the author’s work.
The literature review attempts to synthesize and distill the works discussed into a coherent and comprehensible new approach. Oziewicz demonstrates that holistic approaches have been better than reductionist approaches to fantasy, but he locates too much of the reason in the supposed uniqueness of fantasy among other genres; it is likely that holistic approaches are superior overall for examining works of art, which are generally thought to be greater than the sum of their parts. Similarly, Oziewicz is convincing that fantasy is a cognitive strategy and (perhaps) a worldview, but he compromises this insight by making confusing claims about whether fantasy is a genre. He says that it is not but often treats it as though it were, without ever defining “genre” or clearly identifying the tradition of genre analysis from which he proceeds. Moreover, Oziewicz repeatedly defines fantasy as “a worldview and a cognitive strategy which assumes the existence of the supernatural,” thus seeming to define worldviews (such as religions) and cognitive strategies (such as meditative prayer) as fantasy. This may present a problem for some readers.
Oziewicz defines mythopoeic fantasy as a genre that “addresses our vital psychological, cultural and aesthetic needs” through “the use of a secondary world in which everything is suffused with a moral sense” and the use of “the regenerative powers of myth and mythmaking” (66). He later defines mythopoeic fantasy at greater length (84–90). After seemingly completing the definition, he adds important ideas to it, for example, stating that mythopoeic fantasy involves “a search for a new mythology of unified humanity” (92). These ideas are worthy of consideration. Oziewicz fails, however, to differentiate clearly between mythopoeic fantasy and related genres. Given how often [End Page 138] he modifies his description of the genre and how little he discusses other genres, it would be helpful if he gathered all the elements vital to mythopoeic fantasy into a single, concise definition. Sadly, he never does...