Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Landscape with Misplaced Commas



Sooner or later, I am going to start a series critiquing Michael D. O'Brien's narrow-minded, anti-fiction A Landscape With Dragons (no really), but I haven't quite finished amassing source material in the middle of my living room floor, and then there's taxes and Josephus and...well, you know how it is.

Anyway, when I finally start in, I'm going to be sore tempted to criticize something that really has no place in my criticism. I decided I should get it out of the way now so I won't desire to do it later when I shouldn't. Here goes:

I don't know if this is O'Brien's fault or the fault of an editor at Ignatius Press, but for the love of St. William of Strunk, the punctuation goes inside the quotation marks! Take a look at this dialogue from O'Brien's first chapter (all of it sic except my comments in brackets):

"What kind of a monster is it?" [my mother] asked.

My little brother wasn't exactly sure, but I was.

"A dragon", I said.

[A terrible monster who sneakily moves commas where they don't belong!]

"Why don't you draw the dragon."

[Why don't you use question marks?]

"No, No, we would be too askaired!"

[So askaired that we capitalize no twice in a single sentence!]

"It's okay, I'll be right here", she said calmly.

[But it's not okay, Momma! The dragon's moving your commas, too!"]


Whew. Thanks for bearing with me; I know I'm not the world's greatest grammarian, but some things I still have to skewer. Incidentally, did anyone really use the word askaired when he was a little kid? Didn't think so.

In case you're wondering what's going on in this charming scene, I'll tell you: O'Brien is here explaining the basis of his belief that dragons are inherently evil and must always be depicted as evil in works of fantasy lest O'Brien brand the fantasist as an evil tempter who wants to lure children into Satanism. The basis of O'Brien's idea is twofold: first, O'Brien's children have had bad dreams about dragons, and second (as he depicts here), O'Brien had a scary dragon in his closet when he was little; therefore, dragons are evil.

I admit, logic like that is hard to beat.

What is particularly sad about all of this is that O'Brien, who condemns the fictional magic of Harry Potter, can't recognize real magic when it's right in front of his face. His own mother, as he proudly describes in this scene, dispelled the dragon in his closet through a ritual of sympathetic magic: she had young O'Brien draw the dragon, and then she burned the image to kill the monster in the closet. Somehow, O'Brien doesn't recognize this as a magic ritual. This isn't hypocrisy, but inexcusable ignorance.
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