The Critics’ Corner
Is DJ a Superhero?
with Oonah V. Joslin and Don Webb
[Don] Like all superheroes, DJ is a day laborer. The wishes are his clients’, not his. He doesn’t tell his clients what’s good for them or make the wishes for them, for good or ill...
[Oonah] Yet so far DJ is a pretty ineffectual superhero is he not? In “Raspberry” he doesn’t grant any wishes at all; he totally flunks the first job.
[Don] How could anyone deal successfully with the likes of Cindy in the aptly-titled episode “Raspberry Rude”?! But I give DJ credit for effort; his first job is an unfair test for a complete greenhorn.
And he doesn’t totally flunk: he goes back to check on the obstreperous family and gets a belated wish to grant.
[Oonah] In “Blueberry,” well, we all know whose wish gets granted there.
[Don] Heh... to quote one of the bystanders: “I’m licked.”
[Oonah] In “Strawberry” he fails to deliver ‘woralld peace’.
[Don] What superhero could “deliver” it? “Spongy Strawberry” is an early, character-defining episode; it shows that DJ and his clients are subject to reasonable limits. And I consider it crucial: at this point the story could have become a run of the mill fantasy, where “magic” subjects the hero entirely to the author’s control, and the author can make him do anything at all. In trite fantasies, “magic” is a lazy substitute for coherent plot and character development.
Instead, the “Strawberry” episode shows DJ as functioning within a logical, coherent set of rules. His ability to grant wishes is not a wild card; it’s a shortcut that allows DJ’s client to resolve a crisis.
[Oonah] And in “Gooseberry,” instead of creating wealth and happiness, he breaks up a marriage.
[Don] What ever inspired that title? Anyway, the “Gooseberry” episode shows that DJ’s function is to grant wishes; creating wealth and happiness is his clients’ job.
The “Gooseberry” episode is a critical step forward in DJ’s character development: he knows unhappiness when he sees it and has no compunction about granting Georgia’s petulant wish that she had never married the “vile pig” Neville Pratt. Another inspired choice of name, come to think of it.
[Oonah] In the “Plum Job” he doesn’t appear where he’s supposed to either: he gets pulled by other magic into the world of the little people. That doesn’t say a lot for DJ’s grasp of his powers. To this extent, it really doesn’t seem to matter to the story which jam the client picks, because he’s not going to get his wish anyway...
[Don] Ha! Genies have their powers and leprechauns have theirs. Rather, “Plum Job” illustrates DJ’s generous side:
‘No jam!’ wailed the disappointed giant, who cared for neither whiskey nor gold. He sat heavily on a large rock, ‘They tricked me. They said I could eat as much jam as I liked’...
He looked so miserable as he said this, that DJ took pity on him. ‘Before I do,’ said DJ, ‘a little gift.’
DJ can grant reasonable wishes, and a giant jar of jam for the jam-loving giant fits the bill. Superpowers are as superpowers do.
If there’s anything that will throw readers for a loop, it’s the “paradox” referred to in “Coming Unstuck.” The incident plays a crucial role in DJ’s ultimate destiny, but it occurs so early on that at the end readers need their memories refreshed about what the “paradox” is, exactly.
[Oonah] DJ is incompetent and a bit selfish, to be honest. Thus far he has fulfilled nobody’s wishes but his own ill-informed conception: to be a genie and interact with humans. Strange that he manages to be loveable at the same time.
[Don] The tongue-in-cheek irony is appreciated, Oonah! Of course DJ is competent: interacting with humans is hard enough for humans, let alone genies. DJ skates on the edge of disaster in each episode; but with reason, good will, and a certain amount of luck he pulls through every time.
Is DJ selfish? Not that I can see. At the outset he is mightily insecure in his new job as the jam-genie, and patience is not his long suit. But he’s all the more charmingly realistic for it. We see DJ growing in competence, confidence, and generosity as the story progresses.
A Genie in a Jam is a Bildungsroman in the best sense of the word; it has to compare favorably with the finest young adult literature Bewildering Stories has ever published — or is likely to. And the reason is simple: the story does not preach, it allows readers to learn. Its conception reveals the personality of a good-hearted, compassionate teacher — with quite a sense of humour!
Copyright © 2010 by Oonah V. Joslin
and Bewildering Stories