It's nice to know that after reading crime novel after crime novel that violence can still shock me. While reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to my son Duncan, I came to realize what kind of a sick puppy L. Frank Baum truly was. The Cowardly Lion runs off into the forest to rip apart small animals for dinner and the Tin Woodman goes postal with that ax of his - a real no-nonsense motherfucker. I counted over forty beheadings. Did I stop reading, like a responsible dad should? Well...no. Actually, I laughed through the whole battle scene while I read it. And this is after Baum's introduction where he complains about old fairy tales "with all the horrible and blood-curdling incidents..." and states that readers would "gladly dispense with all disagreeable incident" Ironic, isn't?
This is the passage that killed me:
"This is my fight," said the Woodman, "so get behind me and I will meet them as they come."
He seized his axe, which he had made very sharp, and as the leader of the wolves came on the Tin Woodman swung his arm and chopped the wolf's head from its body, so that it immediately died. As soon as he could raise his axe another wolf came up, and he also fell under the sharp edge of the Tin Woodman's weapon. There were forty wolves, and forty times a wolf was killed, so that at last they all lay dead in a heap before the Woodman.
Then he put down his axe and sat beside the Scarecrow, who said, "It was a good fight, friend."
Can you imagine what kind of a bloodbath that was? The Tin Woodman trying to clean his metal suit asking Dorothy if she has a napkin. No heart, I'd say so.
And this is the Scarecrow fending off the Witch's crows:
"It is only a stuffed man. I will peck his eyes out."
The King Crow flew at the Scarecrow, who caught it by the head and twisted its neck until it died. And then another crow flew at him, and the Scarecrow twisted its neck also. There were forty crows, and forty times the Scarecrow twisted a neck, until at last all were lying dead beside him. Then he called to his companions to rise, and again they went upon their journey.
Who needs brains when you have the ability to cause death with a single twist?
But the violent passages of Oz makes me wonder about desensitizing readers of crime novels. Do genre readers expect violence and therefor it doesn't bother them when they read it? And if you need to spark a reaction out of your readers, how do you accomplish it? A beheading in a thriller or a horror novel wouldn't bother me too much; I seriously doubt my reaction would be disbelief and laughter.
I've struggled with the degree of gruesomeness in one of my chapters. I don't want to go overboard, but at the same time the reader needs to have a reaction to the violence to understand the motives of my main character; there needs to be some empathy to connect with the character. Now, I don't have the luxury of putting blood and guts in the middle of a children's story; instead I'm dealing with readers who've probably seen it all. Well, here's hoping people can just appreciate my own brand of violence.