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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 533

Walter Karig’s varied career gave him the experiences and skills necessary to write and illustrate this entertaining, bitingly satirical novel. He studied at the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts, served in the Foreign Legion and the Polish Free Army, and then worked at the Newark Evening News ...

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Walter Karig’s varied career gave him the experiences and skills necessary to write and illustrate this entertaining, bitingly satirical novel. He studied at the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts, served in the Foreign Legion and the Polish Free Army, and then worked at the Newark Evening News as manager of its Washington bureau. During his time there (1921-1942), he wrote Nancy Drew and X-Bar-X juvenile mysteries; furthermore, he was a successful ghostwriter for politicians. When the United States entered World War II, Karig joined the Navy and worked in its public relations department. He remained in the Navy after the war as special chief deputy of information.

Zotz! is Karig’s only fantasy novel; his other books are primarily Americana or detailed military accounts of World War II. Although it is not typical of Karig’s work, Zotz! provides examples of his political attitudes and changing views on war. Karig writes fantasy not for its own sake or in response to a need in the genre; he uses it as a medium for political satire and a warning of the effects of paranoia. Jones suspects everyone of spying on him, and the other characters are equally suspicious of one another.

Although the book appeared some time before the Cold War, Karig hints at a future conflict with Russia, and his characters clearly show fear of Communism. Virginia is automatically suspected of being a Communist simply because of her strange interests. Karig writes himself into the tale as a sympathetic naval officer who becomes convinced of Jones’s potential as a weapon. Zotz! was made into a film in 1962. The time of plot was brought up to the 1960’s, and what were anti-Communist hints in the novel became the film’s major plot. It portrays the professor being chased by Russians who want the medallion for themselves.

It is difficult to place Zotz! in a specific category. The tale uses a theme common in almost every genre: a hero whose power is a mixed blessing, separating him from others. The hero may have allies, but ultimately he is left alone. A good example of this theme in a fantasy setting is J. R. R. Tolkien’s classic The Hobbit (1937). It features the discovery of a ring that renders the wearer invisible. Later, this ring becomes the focal point of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (1954-1955). After the ring is destroyed, the hero leaves his home forever to rest in an unknown country. Zotz! has Jones reject Virginia as a lover even after he learns that she has nothing to do with his problems; the narrator never reveals Jones’s whereabouts after his resignation.

Despite the novel’s outward similarities to many fantasy or science-fiction tales, Zotz! cannot be counted as fully within either of those genres. The supernatural elements and the theme of a lonely protagonist are secondary to the overall message, the effect of suspicion. Although the subplot of the jealous woman setting the FBI after Virginia is lighthearted and adds charm to the characters, the central conflict of the book—suspicion of foreign governments as well as Jones’s native government—ultimately gives Zotz! a somber tone.

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