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Road Essays
FFFFFF: The far end of the spectrum: orphans who cross the cornfield to utopia
FFFF66: Orphans going off road to reach utopia
FFFF00: The highway to utopia leads to self discovery for orphans
FFCCFF: Orphans through cornfields and time How I classify the road narrative protagonist

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FFFF66: Orphans going off road to reach utopia: 08/16/18

FFFF66: Orphans going off road to reach utopia

After three years of reading, the most popular way for orphans to find utopia is by going off road. While in British fantasy, it's imperative to stay on the path (with second being don't eat the food), the American road narrative is more forgiving about off road excursions.

The trite explanation would be to drag Frederick Turner's Frontier Thesis out of its moldy grave and hold it up as the reason going off road is so important to the American road narrative. But that explanation is too narrow and too white centric.

As I have mentioned before, the road is always there. It's either the means of travel or it's in opposition to the means of travel. When there isn't a road, there is a narrative need to find some other way. Sometimes, even flights or space travel can qualify as a road narrative, although Ina Rae Hark would disagree with me (see the essay, “Fear of Flying” in The Road Movie Book, p. 206).

Off road is the catch-all state when the path isn't as tangible as a railroad, an interstate, a highway, streets in a town. Nor is off-road as magical or metaphorical as the last three routes: the maze, the labyrinth, and the cornfield. Put another way, off road is the cross roads of the road narrative routes. There comes a point where the traveler can pick the relatively safe roads or the more dangerous, magical ones. When neither is available or the traveler can't decide, off road becomes the default state should they wish to continue. If they don't, then they have reached their destination.

For the narratives I've read so far, off road routes have consisted of: travels through illusion and allusion, various portals into various fairylands, flight, by boat, via alternate dimensions and by magic carpet.

At the most metaphorical, off road can literally be a travel of the mind or a travel of word play. Adele, Big Audrey, and Milo (The Phantom Tollbooth), all travel through visual illusions, mental and literary allusions, and wordplay. All three begin their journeys through conventional means: Adele by going to the park, Big Audrey by taking a bus to Poughkeepsie, and Milo by riding through a toy tollbooth in a miniature car. Adele finds a world of visual puns (which don't translate well from French). Big Audrey finds the truth path through discussions of old movies and the apparent rants of a self-institutionalized mentally ill professor, and Milo rides through literal representations of music, puns, and math logic.

In these examples, there are four different methods to Fairyland that qualify as off road travel. Catherynne Valente provides three off road routes to Fairyland. September first flies to the border of fairyland before being dropped into the ocean just offshore after some trouble with customs. On her third trip to Fairyland, September, drives in a similar fashion to Milo, though, in an actual model A truck. But her path is so off road that it takes her into Fairyland and brings her truck to life in the process. Then there is Hawthorne, who as a changeling shouldn't be able to find his way back to Fairyland but does by making his own magic and his own off road path. The last traveler to Fairyland is Callie who is a half elf member of the Seelie court. After traveling by train to Chicago she learns various ways to the court.

Ina Rae Hark might not want to include airplanes (and probably boats and space ships) but I see them as no different than other forms of group travel, things such as the stage coach, the locomotive, and the bus. Examples of these methods of travel are found in The Long Utopia, Orphan Island, Ozma of Oz, Slaughter-House Five, Speedy in Oz, and Transcendental.

The off road vehicles include: boats, an airship, a flying island, and spaceships. Dorothy and the orphans of Orphan Island all travel to their utopias (Ev and the island) by boat. Dorothy's journey begins on ship bound for Australia and ends up being a ersatz raft made from a chicken coop when she is washed overboard. For The Long Utopia, various people travel between Earths by way of special airships that can "step" between these alternative versions. There are other means of traveling, including step boxes, natural stepping, and soft spots, but the main mode of transportation are these airships.

Transcendental is in many regards nearly identical in structure to Greenglass House except Milo and the other storytellers stay put in his home during a fierce winter storm. Both novels use the exchange of stories to pass the time and to give the sense of travel while the actual travelers are essentially stuck. For Milo Pines, there is snow and the possibility of freezing to death. For the travelers in Gunn's novel, there is space.

Speedy gets to Oz by flying twice. First he's launched into space via a geyser like Old Faithful but more powerful. Then he happens to land on a floating island that is en route to the Emerald City. Essentially he travels to two different utopias via two different methods of flight.

Finally there is Ozma, who also travels to Ev in Ozma of Oz. She as we discussed in The Marvelous Land of Oz is an orphan with similar powers over the cornfield as Dorothy. That power extends (with magical tools) to the Deadly Desert. While Dorothy (and Bill) float to Ev, she and her retinue travel via a magic red carpet that unrolls ahead of them allowing them to safely walk over the border between Oz and Ev.

These eleven examples all have off road routes to utopia that in the strictest eight percent of road narratives don't qualify. The work as road narratives because there is a traveler, a destination, and a route. That the route doesn't include a paved or marked road is immaterial.


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Comment #1: Sunday, August 19, 2018 at 11:05:55

Stephanie Jane (Literary Flits)

The first time I've seen The Phantom Tollbooth crop up on a book blog I think. One of my absolute favourite stories as a child. Must find myself another copy :-)

Comment #2: Friday, August 24, 2018 at 14:20:00


I belive it's still in print. Book Depository has multiple editions. As does Blackwells.

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