Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Merits of Bad Reviews

My agent, Steven Malk, pointed out this atrocious review for Wildwood by a reviewer on Amazon. The reviewer attacked the book as anti-everything, giving it the "worst title (she) could give - anti-Christian, anti-God." I haven't read Wildwood, but if even half the stuff the reviewer attributes to author, Colin Meloy, and illustrator, Carson Ellis, is true, then they are absolute geniuses, and the book should be read for that reason alone. This is taken from the review:

"Her (Alexandra--the antagonist) symbolism is disturbing - she adorns herself with the feathers of eagles...and before you think that is okay, look up what the eagle means in heraldry. Eagle generally equals God. Her official crest is a twist of bramble over a trillium. For Roman Catholics, reflect on that. Twist of bramble = crown of thorns, trillium = trinity. (Again, look into heraldic symbolism.) Alexandra is also credited with creating the `life' of Prue, our protagonist. Prue's parents, desperate to conceive a child, followed the advice of a carnie fair woman, and met Alexandra on a ghost bridge after they rang a bell. (Soooo Jadis in Carn!) Alexandra touched Prue's mother's belly and created life. It's either a metaphor to Elizabeth or Mary in the Bible... but in both cases, it smacks of anti-Catholicism. In return for a child, Prue's parents promise their second child, if they ever have one, to Alexandra. (Hence, the Rumpelstiltskin reference above.) Why does she want the child; to replace her dead son? No - she wants to sacrifice the innocent life and let an ivy vine feed on Mac's flesh and blood (anti-Catholic in it's symbolism); she will then control the ivy (vague reference to controlling the Church and Her people) and direct it to destroy South Wood and all the other Woods and creatures."

I mean wow. If the author inserted this symbolism on purpose, he's brilliant. If he did it on accident, he's secretly brilliant. Either way, even if it was all true, and the author and illustrator were secretly attacking the Roman Catholic Church, the chance that a child might be familiar enough with heraldic symbolism to interpret its meaning, and thereby decipher the encoded effrontery, is staggering. This doesn't sound like a blatant attack on anything. Philip Pullman killed God in his series--that's blatant. The devices used in Wildwood sound more like those you'd find in a classic fairytale.

But, once again, even if it was all true, I find the review far more disturbing than I could possibly find the book. Christ's message was always one of love and tolerance, but this review from a self-declared Christian is full of hate and vitriol. She attacks and labels every person that could possibly disagree with her viewpoint and, in the process, she generates sympathy for the author.

In other words, she undermines the very thing she's trying to accomplish

In children's lit especially, one of the keys for gaining reader engagement is to generate as much sympathy as possible for your protagonist. And when I say sympathy, I'm talking about an emotional connection--that you care about what happens. The reviewer of Wildwood has effectively generated sympathy for the author and the book, which has led to increased sales. If you look at the comments on the review, you will see that many people decided to buy the book based on the review.

Not all bad reviews do this--particularly when the reviewer at least makes an attempt to sound reasonable--but crazy bad reviews... why, those are pure gold.

3 comments:

Dagga said...

Oh, how I love to read reviews like that.

Rob said...

If you want, I'll write a crazy bad review for you for only a few hundred bucks. I'll just need a few months to brush up on my research of obscure, belligerent facts. So, yeah, let me know.

E. J. Patten said...

Hmm...that is tempting. But a few hundred bucks? I'm sure I'll get plenty of belligerent reviews for FREE.