The Dream Weaver Wins Battle of Literary Wise (Wo)men
30 seed The Dream Weaver by Jack Bowen completed its Cinderella run by knocking off 3 seed Brave New World by Aldous Huxley to claim the Philosophical March Madness title. The improbable tournament victory shocked even Bowen. “Right out of the gates, matched up against one of my all-time favorite authors, I didn’t think I would get past Steppenwolf [by Hermann Hesse],” he said of his first-round upset. “My wife suggested I enjoy just being a part of it and sharing the whole competition with like-minded friends because the concept is just so cool and, frankly, I was excited to be mentioned in the same breath as many of these books.”
As the tournament went on, Bowen took a philosophical approach to his matchups against the other authors. “It’s funny, my class and I even enjoyed the philosophical conundrum I was often placed in,” he said. “The ‘ballot’ asked voters to select, ‘Which book is better?’ So there I was, author of The Dream Weaver, having to say, ‘My book is better than Fahrenheit 451 [by Ray Bradbury]—a book that I remember rocking me the first time I read it the year after graduating from college.’ This led to a fruitful discussion of aesthetics, ethical egoism, democracy—we had a really good time with it. Even my school’s librarians started following the tournament.”
The Dream Weaver wasn’t the only underdog to make waves. Three was company in the first round, with 3 seeds The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand also overturned by 30 seeds (The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and Towing Jehovah by James K. Morrow, respectively) in their opening matchups. Morrow’s Towing Jehovah looked primed to join The Dream Weaver as a Final Four dark horse before getting run over by Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig in the Sweet Sixteen.
“The upset over Atlas Shrugged was especially satisfying,” Morrow said of his first-round victory. “Except for her atheism, Ayn Rand’s worldview is pretty much the opposite of my own.” But his third-round triumph over Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut surprised even him, though in Morrow’s words, “Towing Jehovah is arguably a more philosophical novel.”
Elsewhere in Towing Jehovah‘s Nepal Bracket, top seed Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse failed to make the Sweet Sixteen after finding Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace no laughing matter. Infinite Jest was then outlasted by 1984 by George Orwell. Orwell’s masterpiece subsequently sped past Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to reach the Final Four. It was the second Final Four appearance in as many years for 1984, following last year’s Dystopian March Madness run.
Runner-up Brave New World also repeated its second-place finish in the dystopian tournament. After erasing Essays in Love by Alain de Botton and blanking A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick, Huxley’s classic outlasted The Trial by Franz Kafka and The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. In the bracket final, it rudely introduced itself to The Stranger by Albert Camus—the 1 seed in the Algiers Bracket and overall top seed in the tournament. The rest of the bracket held pretty much true to form. 5 seed The Republic by Plato joined Brave New World, The Stranger and The Brothers Karamazov in the Sweet Sixteen after 29 seed Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein rocked 4 seed Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder in the opening round.
9 seed Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift made a surprise Final Four run out of the Westphalia Bracket. Swift’s novel got the last laugh against 1 seed Candide by Voltaire in a third-round contest and won a close battle against War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy in the Sweet Sixteen. In the bracket final, it outshone fellow upstart Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad before coming up short against Brave New World. 14 seed Heart of Darkness outpaced The Kite Runner in the second round and stole a victory from Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky in the Sweet Sixteen.
On any given day… a 30 seed can win it all!
But it was Bowen’s The Dream Weaver that proved to be the star of the tournament. In addition to the first-round shocker against Hesse, Bowen dispatched such luminaries as Herman Melville (Moby-Dick), Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451) and George Orwell twice (Animal Farm to win the Persia Bracket and 1984 in the Final Four). 13 seed Animal Farm made its own Cinderella run before a rude awakening against The Dream Weaver. Animal Farm bested 4 seed The Plague by Albert Camus, 5 seed The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka and 1 seed Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche before faltering in the bracket final.
On his takedown of literary titans, Bowen said, “I… recognized my advantage over a majority of these amazing works: the author of my book was living and had living friends and relatives. I have to admit this must have played a huge role in taking down such icons as Orwell, Melville, and Bradbury.” Whether it was this advantage, a few fortunate breaks, or some combination of both that led to his triumph, Bowen accepted his title graciously. “I’m honored to be on this list,” he said, adding that his victory proved “that old saying, ‘On any given day…’ a 30 seed can win it all!”