Rather than wrapping up my thesis, today I snuggled into the loveseat and read a mystery cozy.  I devoured it; that is to say, I read it very fast.  And you know what, it made me feel productive and rather relaxed.  So, to that nagging voice that wails, “Bad writing!  Not literary!”  I say, “Actually, it’s not bad writing, according to any number of grammar books.  And as for it not being literary, I don’t think anyone picks up a cozy thinking, Boy, am I in for a deep dive into the human condition!”  Nay, today I picked up a cozy to feel warm and secure, to follow the slightly emotionally-challenged detective in solving a murder (not gory, rather more like a complicated algebra equation).  I picked up a cozy for its world.

This got me thinking, cozies are supposedly “realistic,” but only in so much as they are set in a world in which the laws of physics are similar to our own.  That is, no “magic.”  No “aliens.”  No “loose threads” (generally speaking).  All right, I could accept these rules.  Because I had agreed to in picking up the book.  But what really gets me is that this “cozy world” is really no different than Hogwarts, or Narnia, or Middle Earth, or the Related Worlds.  Fascinating!  Cozies are fantasies–cause I wish you luck in arguing that any of those charming events could come to pass without added meaning in our reality.

So what makes cozies so addictive?

Okay, as I’ve said, 1) a fantasy world into which we could escape with no worry of danger (none of our favorite characters would die)

2) a series?  Or, a fantasy world (and so on) into which we can return time and time again.  Remember, I’m just talking about mystery cozies here, a rather specific type of mysteries.

3) a likable, unchanging protagonist so that the he/she becomes familiar.  It’s like re-encountering an old buddy.

All this talk about worlds reminds me of something Orson Scott Card wrote about in his craft book, Characters and Point of Views.  He says that there are different types of stories, the MICE quotient:

  • Milieu
  • Idea
  • Character
  • Event

Stories that get a kick off of the world is a milieu story.  Card gives Lord of the Rings as an example.  He writes, “Most characters need only be stereotypes within the culture of the milieu, acting out exactly the role their society expects of them, with perhaps a few eccentricities that help move the story along.  It is no accident that when Tolkien assembled the Fellowship of the Ring in his The Lord of the Rings trilogy, there was only one dwarf and one elf–had there been more, it would have been nearly impossible to tel them apart, just as few readers can remember the difference between the two generic hobbits Merry and Pippin” (65).  Card goes on to write that “besides science fiction and fantasy, milieu stories often crop up in academic/literary fiction…” (65).  He’s talking about literary fiction in which the setting is a character.  Winesburg, Ohio comes to mind.

Of course, Card’s MICE quotient is not mutually exclusive within itself.  Still, cozies are interesting because they are supposedly event stories.

Maybe that’s why the world of a cozy, although expectantly familiar, is not as extravagantly attention-grabbing as Mordor.  Or is it just that I haven’t yet encountered any?

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