Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Brief Reflection on Michael D. O'Brien's Landscape with Dragons

A Landscape With Dragons: The Battle for Your Child's Mind

I've been posting a lot about Michael D. O'Brien lately, enough that sooner or later a reader is going to say, "Get off it, already!"  Fair enough, reader, but please indulge me this one more time.  I want to share a single paragraph from O'Brien's book on fantasy literature, A Landscape with Dragons.  The paragraph is a little gem, and, I think, it reflects some of issues with the book as a whole.

Here is the paragraph, in which O'Brien is discussing kid lit horror writer R. L. Stine.  Pay close attention to the words he chooses:

Stine does not descend to the level of dragging sexual activity into the picture, as do so many of his contemporaries. He doesn't have to; he has already won the field. He leaves some room for authors who wish to exploit the market with other strategies. Most new fiction for young adults glamorizes sexual sin and psychic powers and offers them as antidotes to evil. In the classical fairy tale, good wins out in the end and evil is punished. Not so in many a modern tale, where the nature of good and evil is redefined: it is now common for heroes to employ evil to defeat evil, despite the fact that in the created and sub-created order this actually means defeat. [pp. 67-68]

Wait a minute, did he say "psychic powers"?  He starts out talking about sexual content in YA literature, which is indeed a problem whether or not "most" YA fiction actually contains it, but where did the psychic powers come from?  I can certainly understand parents being concerned about their children indulging in sexual sin, but are parents really worried about their children developing psychic powers?  I halfway wonder if he threw that in there just to check if we're paying attention:  "Dude, did you just say psychic powers?"  "Yeah, didn't think I'd say that in a conversation about sex, didja?"

Regarding sex in YA fiction, probably the best opinion on the matter that I've seen comes from the great Orson Scott Card, who once at SF Signal told a room full of horny sf author/libertines that the YA label is a promise to librarians and parents that the book is restrained in content, so if they want to write sex scenes, they should write adult books without the YA label.  He was immediately attacked, and viciously, for saying things other than what he said.

But regarding this paragraph from O'Brien, it demonstrates, I believe, one of A Landscape with Dragon's biggest flaws, aside from baffling non sequitur:  dishonest argument.  The subject is sex in YA fiction, and the author given as an example is R. L. Stine, who, O'Brien tells us, does not put sex in YA fiction, but O'Brien accuses him of it anyway.  He would put sex in there, mind you.  He just "doesn't have to."  He "leaves some room" for other authors to write about sex, as a favor to them.  And I don't even know what that means; can one YA book with sex crowd the others out?

Blech.  The only one with psychic powers around here is Michael O'Brien himself, who is apparently clairvoyant enough to discover why R. L. Stine doesn't write what he doesn't.*  Even when an author is restrained in the content he puts in a book, O'Brien can still invent a reason to attack him.

*D.G.D.:  But it hasn't given him clairvoyance enough to find the Rebels' hidden fort--*choke*
O'BRIEN:  I find your lack of faith disturbing...
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