Terence's Reviews > Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands

Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon
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Sep 01, 08

bookshelves: literary-criticism
Read in September, 2008

This is a collection of essays tracing the influences on Chabon's writing and some of the reasons he writes. All of them are interesting to varying degrees. The following notes are about the essays that aroused my particular interest but the entire volume is recommended for Chabon fans (of whom I'm not really one) and anyone interested in that genre of authorial self-examination (of whom I am one).

The first essay, "Trickster in a Suit of Lights" takes up the argument that the short story needs to push or even cross genre boundaries in order to renew itself.

In another essay, "Fan Fictions: On Sherlock Holmes," Chabon indulges in a Freudian analysis of Conan Doyle and the origins of his greatest, if self-avowedly least loved, character, Sherlock Holmes. He also explores the consequences when Doyle blurs the line between fact and fiction by presenting the stories as taken from the notes kept by Dr. Watson. The concluding paragraph is my favorite: "Through parody and pastiche, allusion and homage, retelling and reimagining the stories that were told before us and that we have come of age loving...have left for us, hoping to pass on to our own readers...some of the pleasure that we ourselves have taken in the stuff we love; to get in on the game. All novels are sequels; influence is bliss." (p. 57)

In "Kids' Stuff," Chabon pleads for a return to comic books written for kids (not that he hates the "graphic novel"; other essays heap praises on some of its most noted authors) and suggests four principles to follow to make them competitive with all the other media bombarding children today:

1. We should tell stories that we would have liked to hear or read as kids.

2. Build stories that build up an intricate mythology that is accessible and comprehensible at any point of entry. Every story should be a self-contained thread in a tapestry. The thread can be intricate and beautiful all on its own but is also part of a larger picture that could enrich the understanding of the viewer.

3. Cultivate a readiness to retell the same stories with endless embellishment -- repetition with variation.

4. "Let's blow their little minds" -- and not just with over-the-top action sequences. Let's shake up their world and show how much vaster and marvelous it can be. (pp. 92-94)

In "Dark Adventure: On Cormac McCarthy's The Road," Chabon argues "the audacity and single-mindedness with which The Road extends the metaphor of a father's guilt and heartbreak over abandoning his son to shift for himself in a ruined, friendless world that The Road finds its great power to move and horrify the reader." (p. 120)
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