An Ode to Middle-Earth

(about halfway through “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”)

Debby: I both loved and hated the extensive use of Tolkien-isms in Oscar Wao. I loved it because, well, I’m a geek and understanding the use of Morgoth metaphors was not lost on me. What I found odd, though, was the extent to which the author brought in these nerd-tastic references. Diaz routinely uses references to Dune, Star Wars, and other sci-fi works to complement his history of the Dominican Republic. I’m just not sure I understand the need to use them so extensively, though, especially when Oscar is not the sole narrator.

Tim: Hard to argue it doesn’t add a lot of character and personality to the book, though. Think about how lifeless this story might feel if we didn’t have the sense that an actual living, breathing person was telling it to us. I can’t imagine a disinterested narrator telling this story in a way that felt half as significant. And as another fellow nerd, I have enjoyed the references, felt smart at the ones I got and completely lost but curious with the ones I didn’t .

Debby: I don’t know. The disparity between the historical narrative and the sci-fi don’t exactly go hand in hand, in my opinion. Although, I guess you could use the argument that those who lived under the horrible reign of Trujillo needed to find an escape. In our modern era, fantasy stories are one way of completely exiting reality and experiencing something where good wins over evil and truth prevails. If you’re looking for anti-fuku, it’s in Lord of the Rings.

Tim: Haha yeah. Look at the whole of Tolkien’s middle earth histories and it’s like fighting a giant fuku. But I think you really hit on it with the escape. Fantasy, sci-fi, they’re often power fantasies. They provide ways for people who are disempowered to find capability that they never dreamed of. Look at Trujillo’s reign, particularly: he embodies the archetypical Shadow. There’s no way to cut off the head of the hydra. Even after he dies, the Shadow persists.

Debby: But don’t you think it’s interesting how many stories about Trujillo the author includes in the narrative? We don’t just experience him as a dark force from afar, he is a very present character in this book. I would liken him rather to Saruman, a wizard who makes choices that only serve to deepen his corruption.

Tim: I thought it was actually a lot like reading about Morgoth in The Silmarillion. We get all the details from a biased, but historical perspective and see more about how corrupting his influence was than we ever would have if we’d seen it just from the “good” characters’ point of view.

Debby: Woah. Laying down The SIl. I’ll go with you on that one (it’s been WAY too long since I’ve read that book). I think Tolkien would be pleased with your analysis.

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