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From: "Robert Borski" 
Subject: (urth) FLF
Date: Mon, 27 May 2002 23:07:22 -0500

A few random notes from my weekend reread of _Free Live Free_ that may still
be pertinent, the vast majority of what I would have said having already
been duly noted, primarily by Mssrs. Nutria and Ansley back in V.30.

First the characters, Nutria casting them thusly:

"Now, in WWOz the three Oz characters are animal, vegetable, and mineral. I
don't know how Wolfe might be playing with this. But they are also mind,
emotion, and will. Stubb - very smart; mind (Scarecrow; vegetable?) Candy -
very loving; emotion (Tin Woodman; mineral?) Serpentina - very determined;
will (Lion; animal?) Which leaves Barnes as Dorothy, and Little Ozzie as
Toto. And of course Ben Free as the Wizard. Free is not a humbug, but I
think he is trapped in 'Oz', and only escapes through death. Free does move
upwards (compare the wizard's balloon)."

I'd like to propose a somewhat different mapping. (My apologies if this has
been suggested before, but I couldn't find it anywhere in the archives.)
Candy Garth is the very obvious Dorothy; she sings like the Dorothy of
cinematic Oz and Garth seems like one of those nested names Wolfe uses so
frequently (GAil, doRoTHy). Osgood Barnes, a.k.a. "Ozzy," is the wizard
manqué, the seller of cheap tricks and novelties. Madam Serpentina is the
witch. (Duh.) And little Stubbs, who's described as jockey size, is a
munchkin. This leaves only Ben Free, the true wizard--and someone whose
"magic" may also include changing water into wine and raising the dead (see
William Ansley's post).

One, of course, may also impose, as the author himself does, a Popeye
schema. Osgood = Popeye; M. Snake = Olive; Little Ozzy = Sweepea; Stubbs =
Wimpy; and Candy = Brutus???

In addition, several of the characters have M's associated with their names.
Madam Serpentina a.k.a. Marie; Osgood M. Barnes; Catharine M. Garth. But
what does the M stand for? An upside down W? A very oblique tip of the hat
to L. Frank Baum? (M being the next letter after L and this being Wolfe's
topsy-turvy version of  "The Wizard of Oz." Someone, somewhere, does say
something about being in the wrong movie.)

Then there's the "house" of Ben Free--Garth also meaning yard, Stubb (from
the German Stube, as Wolfe tells us) meaning room, and Barnes being where
you put the cows and horses.

Shared optical difficulties also prevent quite a few of the characters from
seeing properly. Osgood has a glass eye, Madam Serpentina wears contacts,
Stubbs has bottle-bottom glasses, and Free is described as poor sighted but
yet is able to detect someone's irises contracting in basement murk. Perhaps
the latter plays off the notion as God-as-clear-sighted and the rest of us
as His myopic underlings stumbling around in the dark.

Considering that FLF was written by Wolfe while on break from _Urth of the
New Sun_, might we describe the High Country shadow government of Ben Free
as a bunch of "High-rodules"?

And lastly, considering that the overall tone of the book is that of a light
Frank Capra movie, does anyone find it strange that this is the only Wolfe
work to contains the words f*ck, sh*t, motherf*cker and bullsh*t?

Robert Borski


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