“Show us a dreaming boy (or girl) at home with a book, and we will show you a potential troublemaker”

Bradbury seems to think that the Oz books are disdained because they are considered “mediocre” by literary snobs (the same people who do not take seriously Science Fiction?). But I think that he is wrong. After all, since most American English teachers, librarians, and literary historians are not intellectuals how would any of them know whether or not a book was well or ill written? More to the point, not many would care. Essentially, our educators are Puritans who want to uphold the Puritan work ethic. This is done by bringing up American children in such a way that they will take their place in society as diligent workers and un-protesting consumers. Any sort of literature that encourages a child to contemplate alternative worlds might incite him, later in life, to make changes in the iron Puritan order that has brought us, along with missiles and atomic submarines, the assembly line at Detroit where workers are systematically dehumanized.

It is significant that one of the most brutal attacks on the Oz books was made in 1957 by the director of the Detroit Library System, a Mr. Ralph Ulveling, who found the Oz books to “have a cowardly approach to life.” They are also guilty of “negativism.” Worst of all, “there is nothing uplifting or elevating about the Baum series.” For the Librarian of Detroit courage and affirmation mean punching the clock and then doing the dull work of a machine while never questioning the system. Our governors not only know what is good for us, they never let up. From monitoring the books that are read in grade school to the brass hand-shake and the pension (whose fund is always in jeopardy) at the end, they are always on the job. They have to be because they know that there is no greater danger to their order than a worker whose daydreams are not of television sets and sex but of differently ordered worlds. Fortunately, the system of government that controls the school system and makes possible the consumer society does not control all of publishing; otherwise, much imaginative writing might exist only in samizdat.

Ray Bradbury makes his case for America’s two influential imaginative writers, Baum and Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator not only of Tarzan but of John Carter in the Mars series. “John Carter grew to maturity” (in pots?) “two generations of astronomers, geologists, biochemists, and astronauts who cut their teeth on his Barsoomian beasts and Martian fighting men and decided to grow up and grow out away from earth.” A decision that would never have been acceptable to our rulers if the Russians had not put Sputnik into orbit, obliging an American president of the time to announce that, all in all, it was probably a good thing for our prestige to go to the moon.

Bradbury then turns to “L. Frank Baum, that faintly old-maidish man who grew boys” (in a greenhouse?) “inward to their most delightful interiors, kept them home, and romanced them with wonders between their ears.” Through Bradbury’s rich style, a point is emerging: Inward to delightful selves. Kept them home. Romanced them. Wonders. Yes, all that is true. And hateful to professional molders of American youth. Boys should be out of the house, competing in games, building model airplanes, beating each other up so that one day they will be obedient soldiers in the endless battle for the free world. Show us a dreaming boy (or girl) at home with a book, and we will show you a potential troublemaker.

Gore Vidal, The Wizard of the ‘Wizard’, 1977

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