Maps and Legends review

Regrettably this book will not join Chabon’s extensive list of best sellers and award winners, but what is the point of garnering all of those accolades except to be able to publish a book like this? Maps and Legends is ostensibly a collection of essays on the dual (and sometimes dueling) arts of reading and writing literature, but the overall effect is greater than the sum of its parts. The whimsical cover (I’ll elaborate no further; find a copy and discover the secret on your own) and quirky acknowledgments page are perfectly suited for this marvelous and marveling book.

Unlike Gentlemen of the Road (reviewed here on 3/17/08), this is not a book that can be read twice in one week; time must be spent savoring each essay before moving on to the next. I must confess that I skipped ahead to “Ragnarok Boy,” but that is in keeping with the spirit of the book: maps present more than just a singular, undeviating linear route to all destinations. Imagine my delight to find that, like C.S. Lewis, Chabon became devoted to Loki at a young age! That was not my own experience, as my introduction to Thor and Loki came in the pages of Marvel Comics rather than the genuine Norse mythology. As I mentioned in my essay “Satellite, Part II,” I read Myths of the Norsemen by H.A. Guerber while recuperating from the surgical repair of my Achilles tendon. As such, when it came to Ragnarok I identified most not with the predictable Thor or the devious Loki but with Vidar, the silent giant who plants his enormous reinforced boot on the lower jaw of the wolf Fenris and tears asunder the horrible beast that felled Odin. Loki the Trickster is a fitting choice for the admiration of an aspiring author, and all too appropriate for the theme of this book. The gods put their trust in him at their own peril, yet they could not resist the company of one so entertaining. I’ve just now recognized the parallels between Thor and Loki and the title characters in my own book, Orlando and Geoffrey. As Chabon states, “All novels are sequels; influence is bliss.”

I cannot claim Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or M.R. James, authors discussed by Chabon, among my own influences, but I have added Philip Pullman and Cormac McCarthy to my reading list as a result of his thorough examination of their work. I can also relate to Chabon’s treatment of the genre and sub-genre issue. I’ve dealt with this as an author who never intended to write fantasy adventure and science fiction stories. I’ve also dealt with it as a book buyer; there have been books I have bypassed altogether for the sole reason that I could not fit them tidily into the store’s system of classification. That is a shame we are trying to redress. Even the term “Fiction and Literature” seems double-edged and derogatory. Books ought not to be constrained by classifications, and Maps and Legends will challenge any and all classification systems.


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