Too Good to Be True: The Life and Work of Leslie Fiedler

By Mark Royden Winchell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE
The Sorcerer's Apprentice

EVEN AS HE experienced physical setbacks in the 1990s, Leslie remained intellectually active. In 1999, for example, he published A New Fiedler Reader. The earlier version of this anthology had appeared in 1977, when Leslie was still riding high as a celebrity nut. Perhaps for that reason, the jacket photograph made him look like a longshoreman. On the cover of the later book, he seems a patriarchal—almost rabbinical—figure, holding his glasses and a manuscript, while sitting in a straightback chair. (Leslie himself calls the picture “Whistler's Father.”) In addition to the entire contents of the first reader, Leslie has included a narrative poem (“Momotaro, or the Peachboy: A Japanese Fairy Tale”), a short story (“What Used to Be Called Dead”), and recent essays on the gun in American culture and Jack London's much-neglected science fiction novel, The Star Rover. He has also preserved chapters from two earlier books—Fiedler on the Roof and a remarkable collection of essays called Tyranny of the Normal.

In the years after Freaks came out, Leslie was frequently invited to speak before professional medical groups “about gerontology, child abuse, euthanasia, cosmetic surgery, and organ transplants, as well as the images of doctors and nurses in literature and the popular arts” (TON, xv). Like the genetic curiosities who appeared in the sideshows and carnivals of a bygone era, recent advances in medical technology were raising questions about the definition of humanity, which physicians alone were not capable of answering. In one of the signal ironies of his career, the inquiries that had once made Leslie seem like a crass popularizer were now earning him a distinguished reputation in an entirely unfamiliar field. Subtitled “Essays on Bioethics, Theology and Myth, ” Tyranny of the Normal was published in 1996.

The first predominantly “medical” essay in this book deals with images of the disabled in literature and the popular arts. By calling his ruminations “Pity and Fear, ” Fiedler suggests that our response to the handicapped is not that far removed from what Aristotle postulated as the normal human response to

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