Wednesday, April 15, 2015

"Take Me Back to Oz" and "And Justice for Oz"


I finally got some new books from Chris Dulabone's Tails of the Cowardly Lion and Friends. I have the credit for illustrating the second one, And Justice For Oz, but that actually came about by accident. I'm no artist, but I did sketch several non-human Oz characters around an Oz logo on some mail I sent to Chris, and he wound up asking if he could use it in a book. I gave the go-ahead, and it appears as a chapter heading on each chapter.

These two books are supposed to follow up Dulabone's The Marvelous Monkeys of Oz, which I haven't read, but it turns out these two form a story well enough on their own, although it seems the first one might have helped if I wanted a better introduction to the characters. As it is, these two actually tell a pretty interlocked story and really should have been published together as a single book.

The books are by Lisa McFauh-Queppe and Lark Vandergrace respectively, but if it wasn't for the names on the covers, I would've thought this was Dulabone's work.

Take Me Back to Oz features the disappearance of Queen Diamond Ann of Anapeland, the elected ruler of the Flying Monkeys. Her mischeivous sons take the throne as two flying monkeys are joined by the Scarecrow and Scraps to find Diamond Ann. Along the way, they are joined by an enchanted princess.

Diamond Ann is actually trapped on another in the distant future, and is given a number of slave jobs she fails at for being too considerate. She finally escapes and gets a lift back to Oz. Except, Oz is not around anymore in the future... (At least, not where or how it is in the present.)

Take Me Back tends to overindulge in the goofiness and spends little time in Oz and doesn't really feel like an Oz book. ...And Justice for Oz spends little time with Diamond Ann and does spend more time in Oz as the Scarecrow, Scraps, the monkeys and the princess search odd little Ozian kingdoms for the missing Monkey queen before returning there to confront her sons. It's still a goofy book (and has a nifty tribute to the Wizard of Oz Returns record), but is nicely toned down from the last one. Justice made for a nicer read than Take Me Back.

While the story ended well, I couldn't recommend putting these high up on your list of Oz books to pick up. If you're a fan of Dulabone's humor, then you know what to expect and should enjoy them. As with most of Dulabone's publications, this is one for those who don't mind their Oz getting a little wacky.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Disney's Journey to Oz, part 6

In my first entry of this series, I mentioned that one of Disney's first ideas for possible Oz projects was a cartoon in which Mickey Mouse would be blown to Oz. Well, an awfully similar concept was behind the September 20, 2013 episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: "The Wizard of Dizz."

Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is a preschool-oriented TV series focusing on problem solving, starring faithfully rendered 3D versions of the classic Disney cartoon characters.

This particular episode found Minnie Mouse and Pluto being blown away to the Land of Dizz in a shed during a tornado that interrupted a party at the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. After getting magic green shoes from Good Witch Clarabelle (Clarabelle Cow) and getting some advice from the Chipmunchkins (Chip and Dale), Minnie and Pluto head down the polka dot road to see the Wizard of Dizz in the City of Handy Helpers. Along the way, they meet Scarecrow Goofy who wants a brain, Tin Man Mickey who wants a heart to keep him running (he's a clockwork mouse, so he's part Tik-Tok), and Donald the Lion, who wants courage. Witch Pete tries to stop them so he can steal Minnie's shoes for their magic power. For Pete's part, they gave him a wig and a Witch's hat. So, they almost did full witch drag on Pete.

Arriving at the city, they're let in by the Guardian of the Gates (Daisy Duck), and let in to see the Wizard of Dizz, who appears as a mechanical eye and robotic arms and he asks them for Witch Pete's hat. They go to Witch Pete's castle, and he tells them that he's decided to become good, and asks to borrow Minnie's shoes. Minnie lets him, but he double crosses her. Using the Mystery Mouskatool of the day (a problem solving device on the show), Minnie is able to make Pete sneeze with feathers from a pillow, taking away his magic.

They return to the city, where they discover the Wizard is really a normal man (Ludwig Von Drake), who gives them all gifts to make them happy before offering to take Minnie and Pluto back to the clubhouse in his balloon. However, Clarabelle arrives at the last minute and makes the Wizard leave without Minnie. The forgetful Clarabelle tells Minnie how to use the shoes to get back to the Clubhouse. Minnie awakens at the Clubhouse, where the party continues, but not before Minnie realizes she still has the green shoes.

Given that this entertainment was aimed for very young children, it doesn't seem fair to give it a critical review. I'm not entirely sure of how beneficial it proves to young minds, but the colorful design and friendly characters are probably pleasing to children. Perhaps, however, this is more of a footnote in the shared history of Disney and Oz, though its similarity to an early Oz concept at the Disney studios does add some curiosity to it.

I didn't get to this earlier due to not wanting to pay much for it on DVD, which seems to have been released before the TV debut on the same day that Oz the Great and Powerful was released to home video. I eventually added it to my Disney Movie Club cart and bought it alongside the Return to Oz Blu-Ray.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Return to Oz Blu-Ray review

Well, Return to Oz is now on Blu-Ray, and although the official release date is April 14, people who ordered it as soon as it was available are getting their copies now.

Return to Oz's Blu-Ray is an exclusive from Disney Movie Club. Exclusives are typically titles that seem to have limited customer bases. Which it seems most of Disney's live action catalog that dates before 1990 is a part of...

This means these titles aren't being treated to high profile home video releases. These are plain vanilla releases. Disney does do a nice digital master of the title, however, and there are English subtitles. So basically, when you buy an exclusive movie title from Disney Movie Club, that's what you're getting.

The movie.

I'd seen Return to Oz in HD before, digital high definition through Vudu. However, there are limitations to streaming HD in that the compression rate can limit some of the actual detail. Vudu's version had some speckles and artifacts in the beginning, and the Nome King's face on the mountainside looked like it was added in. Blu-Ray, however, has better compression rates.

I suspect most of my blog readers already know about Return to Oz, but if not, here goes:

Dorothy Gale (Fairuza Balk) has not been able to sleep since returning to Kansas after the events of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Concerned Aunt Em (Piper Laurie) takes her to get an experimental new therapy, but during an accident, Dorothy escapes the hospital and finds her way to Oz with a talking chicken named Billina. Finding the yellow brick road torn up, the Emerald City falling to ruin and all the people turned to stone, Dorothy and Billina join with Tik-Tok and Jack Pumpkinhead to save Oz from the clutches of Princess Mombi (Jean Marsh), her Wheelers, and the wicked Nome King (Nicol Williamson).

Return to Oz was not a hit, mismarketed by Disney as a fun Oz sequel, when it was more in the vein of The Dark Crystal, Legend, The NeverEnding Story and the soon-to-arrive Labyrinth. With some well-handled creature effects and claymation (everything you see in the film was actually in front of a camera), great performances, and a beautiful score by David Shire, Return to Oz truly deserves a classic status that has eluded it so far. It also ensured that first-time director Walter Murch never got a directing job again.

So, how does Return to Oz look on Blu-Ray? The answer is that it's great. The issues I noted with the digital version are gone, the 5.1 audio mix is nice and clear, and the film grain is intact. This level of clarity can be a revelation sometimes (I didn't realize that Dr. Worley's ring's gem was that round), but overall just offers a nice, clearer picture for HD displays, but otherwise similar to the version that's been available on Disney's DVD the past 11 years.

That said, the presentation is not perfect. Several night scenes were intentionally dark, and in the home video releases, they've been rather light. This actually takes away some of the creepiness of the movie. Scenes are tinted certain ways to help visually tell the story, and as it seems, here they're lacking. But at least that's the only problem with the movie's presentation. And in any case, the Blu-Ray is an improvement on the DVD's presentation.

While Disney is not likely to flank Return to Oz with bonus features other 80s fantasy films (see above) have enjoyed, Oz fans, Disney fans and fantasy fans who want their movies in high definition would do well to pick up the Blu-Ray.

You can see some HD screencaps here.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Volkov-thon: The Mystery of the Deserted Castle

And so we come to the final book. Volkov, like Baum, wrote Magic Land stories to his final days.

One thing we notice is that Volkov tended to make use of his old characters as much as possible, where Baum would have characters come in and go again and sometimes never return. This is not to say either is a problem, but it does speak of the differences of the two worlds: Magic Land feels smaller and more interconnected as a result (which is in its favor as it is hidden in America somewhere), while Oz feels larger and if a character doesn't reappear, it's more likely that they're just going about their lives and didn't get involved in this particular story.

The Mystery of the Deserted Castle opens not in Magic Land nor in Kansas but in outer space as the rocket ship Diavona from the planet Rameria heads to Belloria (Earth). Volkov explains quite a bit about the ship, Rameria, and the two races of the planet: the amiable, hard-working, inventive Arzaks and the lazy and cruel Menvits, who have the power to make the Arzaks forget their accomplishments and stay subservient.

Although Volkov takes his time to tell the story, it can be recapped briefly: the Diavona lands in Magic Land, outside the abandoned castle of the giant wizard Hurricap who had made Magic Land magic (kind of like Lurline, but not immortal). The newcomers take possession of the castle. Having the birds and gnomes spy on the newcomers as much as possible (some birds are killed when the Menvits fire their ray-guns), the people of Magic Land try to discover as much as possible from a safe distance. Also, Strasheela has the Magic Television set.

Urfin Jus, who became a gardener as well and had his regular food festivals interrupted by the newcomers, manages to sell his vegetables to the newcomers and get what information he can. The Menvits capture Mentaho (a former Underground King) and his wife as they learn the language and discover that the Arzak people who came with the Menvits are actually friendly. Furthermore, they discover that if the Arzaks are holding emeralds, they are immune to the psychic control of the Menvits. Mentaho lies to the Menvits about Magic Land to make the newcomers hesitant to openly attack, the main elaboration being that there are giants are all around. (The gnomes keep everyone else informed of what Mentaho says and Tilly-Willy walks around with different painted faces regularly.)

Because this is a Magic Land book, Annie and Tim are sent for by means of Oyho the Dragon, and Fred Canning joins them to help the people of Magic Land build a mine. However, they are hesitant to blow up the mine, and try to put Soporific Water into the Menvits' food instead, though it seems they might not have a choice as the Menvits are becoming frustrated with the repeated failures of their attempted attacks (thanks, eagles and Gingemma's black rocks!) and want to blow up the Emerald City and the rest of Magic Land before returning to Rameria. They also kidnap Annie to confirm what Mentaho said. (Thanks to the gnomes, she's in line with him.)

Luckily, the Soporific Water comes through the newly constructed pipes just in time, putting the Menvits to sleep and putting the Arzaks in charge, who get ready to head back to Rameria with plenty of emeralds in tow so they can fight against the Menvits' psychic powers. Oyho takes Annie, Tim and Fred back home.

Magic Land has definitely developed over the series. By this book, Strasheela has united so much of Magic Land and has such a good surveillance system that there was pretty much no need to call for Annie at all. Yes, she helped (Ramina and her mice are actually instrumental in bringing the Soporific Water to the castle, and Annie summoned them), but it's really pretty minor considering what else was being done.

One might well gape at using invaders from outer space in a book that was inspired by Oz, but may I remind you that Ruth Plumly Thompson's Ozoplaning with the Wizard of Oz and John R. Neill's The Wonder City of Oz also go beyond the stratosphere. In any case, Volkov doesn't make the invaders far too fantastic.

In any case, we've seen how you could take a concept like Oz and go in a different direction than Baum while not going overly dark or adult in theme. Although, Baum's feminist fairyland certainly becomes a patriarchal society here...

So, this wraps up Volkov's series. He died in 1977 before the book edition was published in 1982. However, Magic Land had captured the imagination of readers, and spinoff novels exist, just as they do with the original Oz series. Blystone has translated a series of books by Sergei Sukinhov, but I've yet to get those. But now that we've got these done, I think I can say that we'll be back to Magic Land someday.

All pictures in this series are by Leonid Vladimirsky. They—and more illustrations—can be found with the Russian texts of the series at volkov.anuta.org

The Royal Podcast of Oz: Hanging with Ed Cao

Jared talks with his friend Eduard Cao about all things Oz! His role in the recent revival of The Tik-Tok Man of Oz, his own Oz film, and a lot of talk about Disney's Return to Oz.



Download this episode (right click and save)

Check out the podcast website to subscribe on iTunes and in the new Podbean iPhone app!

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Wiz on NBC

It has been announced that following NBC's live productions of The Sound of Music and Peter Pan, we will be getting The Wiz this year, which I hoped this trend of live musicals on TV would lead to. They are partnering with Cirque du Soleil, who will follow the TV production with a revival on Broadway. The TV broadcast will occur December 3.

So, here's some questions I haven't been asked, but I have seen these statements pop up online a lot.

  • This is gonna be awful! To be honest, it could be. Also, Avengers: Age of Ultron could be awful. Some casting choices aside, NBC's Sound of Music wasn't that bad. I wasn't big on their Peter Pan, but I've never liked that adaptation of Barrie's story in the first place.
  • Why are they remaking the movie? This little thing has been frustrating because not only have online commenters run with this idea, but so have big websites who report such things. Let's get one thing straight: THEY ARE DOING A LIVE PRODUCTION OF THE PLAY. The movie adaptation of The Wiz literally tossed out the original book and they had Joel Schumacher pen a new EST-infused screenplay. The songs may be the same, but the script is quite different.
  • No one will top Michael Jackson's "You Can't Win." In the original production, the Scarecrow sang "I Was Born On The Day Before Yesterday." "You Can't Win" was written for the play, but was shifted around before finally being dropped. In the movie, they had the Scarecrow sing it instead of his original song. Some productions since have added it to the Scarecrow scene or had it replace the original song. Whether it will be in NBC's production remains to be seen. Personally, "I Was Born..." is a more optimistic song, so I hope they use it. In addition, even if they use that song, please cut the actors some slack and enjoy their interpretation for what it is. Michael Jackson's version will still be around afterwards.
  • Will they cast this right? No cast has been announced yet. Let's hope so.
  • Will the same cast be in the Broadway revival? From early news reports, it sounds as if the TV cast and Broadway cast will be separate, however I wouldn't be surprised to see some crossover. They may have some of the big roles filled with more notable names for the TV version.
  • Are they going to make the cast multi-ethnic? Possibly. Personally, I hope they try to keep the cast African-American as The Wiz was created as an African-American interpretation of the Oz story.
  • Will there be a DVD of the performance? Given that DVDs of The Sound of Music and Peter Pan were released shortly after their broadcasts, we can say an optimistic "Yes." No Blu-Rays were issued, however, HD versions can be bought on streaming video sites. In addition, cast albums were made for the previous musicals, so not only will The Wiz be on TV, but we'll also have a new home video version and a new music album available.
  • What will be different from the movie? The script is likely going to see some revision, and leaves some wiggle room for alteration, so I can't quite say. However, I'm hopeful that songs like "A Rested Body Is A Rested Mind," "So You Wanted To Meet The Wizard," "Y'All Got It," and "Who Do You Think You Are?" will appear in NBC's production, particularly the last one. Stephanie Mills also sang the song "Wonder, Wonder Why" in the 1984 revival and who knows? It could end up in NBC's version.
  • Will you be watching live? Unless something big comes up that night or my antenna suddenly can't get NBC, you bet!
  • Will you blog about it? Definitely.

Disney's Return to Oz on Blu-Ray at last

I'd presumed recently that if Disney released Return to Oz on Blu-Ray, that it would be as a Disney Movie Club exclusive. With it being a niche (if very popular) title, Disney would presume mainly collectors would want it. After all, if popular live action classics like Pollyanna, Old Yeller and The Love Bug are only getting Blu-Ray releases in Disney Movie Club, what chance did a critical and commercial flop from 1985 have, even with its cult following?

There would be good things and not so good things about this. On one hand, you would have the movie in high definition on a physical disc: no sudden compression issues due to internet streaming. On the other hand, it would be unlikely for there to be an extensive restoration of the film, and no new—if any!—bonus features on the disc.

However, Return to Oz on a plain vanilla Blu-Ray would certainly be better better than not having it on Blu-Ray at all. And thank goodness, because Return to Oz has been confirmed for such an edition, officially releasing April 14.

The only other downside is that as an exclusive, people with easy access to it would be members of Disney Movie Club. It is not unheard of for DMC exclusives to turn up on eBay or through Amazon Marketplace. But prices there often wind up being $10 over what Disney would ask its club members to pay for the title without discount.

Disney Movie Club is Disney's direct-to-the-customer home video program, including some hard to find titles in their library of animated and live action offerings, as well as titles from Marvel Studios, Pixar and Studio Ghibli. You won't find officially "vaulted" titles (so no Beauty and the Beast, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or The Lion King right now), but when you do find titles that have run into short supply everywhere else, you won't find them charging exorbitant prices for them. And once you complete your VIP status through the introductory offer, you get a pretty good discount on everything in the store.

When I joined last year, I planned to slowly complete my VIP status with some upcoming Marvel and Disney titles. However, in early November (less than six months after I joined), I completed it. I didn't quite go about it the smartest way, but there's some good resources online about how to cheaply and quickly do so. As with any offer, I recommend you read up and make a decision on whether or not to join based on your own situation.

And if you decide not to but still want Return to Oz on Blu-Ray, remember that your chances of getting it will at least be higher now that a Blu-Ray of the title actually exists!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Volkov-thon: The Yellow Fog

On to the penultimate book in Volkov's series. It didn't matter that I'd read them out of order because Volkov wrote the books so that they could be read individually. Baum did the same thing, but they did them differently. Baum would just fill you in on the information you needed to know. Volkov, however, would tend to recap the entire series so far.

In The Yellow Fog, he at least has a nice reason for doing so. He opens thousands of years in the past, telling how the wizard Hurricap (who created Magic Land, pretty much Volkov's Lurline... noticing something?) battled the Witch Arachna, who was also a giantess. Upon victory, he put her in an enchanted sleep instead of killing her. The tribe of tiny gnomes (actual tiny little men, no relation to the Nomes we know from Oz) refreshes Arachna's clothes and a food supply and her magic flying carpet as she sleeps for five thousand years. They also keep a record of everything that is happening in Magic Land for her to read when she awakens.

In this way, I was kind of reminded of not a Baum book, but Rachel Cosgrove Payes' The Wicked Witch of Oz in which a witch awakens from a long, enchanted sleep. As Cosgrove wrote her book in the 1950s but it went unpublished until 1993, and Volkov's book came out in 1974, there is no chance of one inspiring the other.

As it happens, Arachna awakens one year after the events of The Fiery God of the Marrans and reads the record to get up to speed on Magic Land. So here is where Volkov takes two chapters to recap the entire series for people like me who began with this book.

After finishing the chronicle, Arachna decides to take over Magic Land, and she has the Nomes send for a henchman in her schemes: Urfin Jus!

Volkov goes back to Urfin and Guamoko's fates after their defeat in the previous book. There was nothing left for Urfin to do but return to his home in Munchkin Land, feeling defeated and sorry for himself, but along the way, the Munchkins open their doors to him, letting him have food and shelter. And so, touched by their kindness, Urfin begins to think about how he's been living. Returning home, he finds the plants he made his Powder of Life from respawned. He briefly considers building a new army, but then uproots the plants and destroys them and builds a new home elsewhere. He's done enough to the people of Magic Land who have repaid his foul behavior with kindness.

I was developing my book Outsiders from Oz when I first read The Yellow Fog and at the time, Ruggedo the ex-Nome King had not joined the story. I'd seen people compare Urfin to Ruggedo due to his repeated plots to conquer the Kingdom, so when I read these chapters, it gave me the idea not only to include Ruggedo, but also what to do for his character arc. I added some twists and Ruggedo's story is quite different from Urfin's, but it did prove my inspiration.

So, when the gnomes arrive to fetch Urfin to consult with Arachna (he gives them some gifts and carries them in a wheelbarrow to make the trip faster), he refuses to help her. She says that he will regret it and he leaves, noting that other gnomes fetched another potential henchman: Ruf Bilan. He had just awaken from drinking the Soporific Water and was being re-educated when the gnomes fetched him. Arachna has him learn his past life from the Record and he agrees to help her, assuring her that the people of Magic Land will swiftly surrender.

That is not the case. Word spreads quickly in Magic Land and all the people Arachna tries to conquer: the Marrans, the Winkies, the Emerald City, the Ore-Diggers and even the Munchkins are all able to repel her attempts at conquest. Oyho the Dragon even manages to rip off a piece of the Magic Carpet which Rujero uses as its own carpet.

So Arachna sets her next plan in motion: the Yellow Fog. This fog covers Blue Land, Violet Land, and the Emerald Kingdom, and at first seems to be harmless, but after some time, people begin coughing from its effects. But the doctors Robil and Boril discover that wearing raffaloo leaves over your mouth and nostrils will ease your breathing. Urfin Jus—who is brought to the Emerald Island after Strasheela discovers his reformation—also shows that the fog can be repelled with smoke.

Soon, the fog begins affecting vision as well, and everyone is required to wear glasses. Finally, the fog brings cold weather and snow—previously unknown to the people of Magic Land—and Strasheela sends Oyho and Faramant to fetch Annie and Tim to show them how to prepare for winter.

In Kansas, the mechanical mules have been helping John not only plow his own fields, but also that of his neighbors, increasing his income. At the time Oyho and Faramant arrive, Charlie Black has been visiting and Tim is interested in going to sea with the old sailor.

There is one bit that Tim quotes that kind of set me off: "Men are obliged to seek their fortunes in foreign climes, while it's the lot of the women to keep the home fires burning." This rather old-fashioned maxim does give us a little reminder about one of the differences between Volkov's Magic Land and Baum's Oz. Baum had women take lead roles. They're allowed to do as they please. However, Volkov's women are either villains, the rarely seen Villina and Stella, or simply assist the male characters. Even as Annie returns to Magic Land, it's really Charlie and Tim who lead the action.

Arriving in Magic Land, Strasheela and the Iron Woodman confer with Charlie on how to openly attack Arachna. They wind up building a giant mechanical man they call Tilly-Willy, and with his fierce, ugly face, is sure to frighten even the giant witch. Tilly-Willy comes to life after construction and begins to speak like Charlie. This giant will fight Arachna, and Tim will help sneak mice into her lair to devour her magic carpet to prevent a getaway. After a long, hard journey (many mice perish on the way), they manage to surprise Arachna with Tilly-Willy and destroy the carpet. In an amusing twist, the bits of the magic carpet allow the mice to fly away from the wildcats Arachna summons. Volkov mentions that they lost the power to fly and the magic carpets remnants were spread all over Magic Land. Those who know how digestive systems work realize what Volkov just said without actually saying it.

Little fun bit, in James Patrick Doyle's song "Pull Together" for his musical adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the Queen of the Field Mice sings "We can even learn to fly!" I can't help but mentally connect that verse and this scene in The Yellow Fog.

Annie goes to get Carfax the Eagle, who assists Tilly-Willy in his fight against Arachna, using his giant sword to break her club, and eventually pushing her over a cliff, where she perishes.

Charlie and Annie find the spell to lift the Yellow Fog in Arachna's magic book, and after the fog is gone, the book is burned to prevent anyone from using it again. The gnomes do not miss their old mistress and Strasheela tasks them with maintaining their record of the events of Magic Land. (So, this could be Volkov's take on the Book of Records.) The book wraps up with a celebration in the Emerald City as Oyho prepares to take Annie, Tim and Charlie back to Kansas.

The Yellow Fog is a good story on its own, and what I appreciated when I first read it was that Annie and her companions are not called to save Magic Land. The people of Magic Land were defying Arachna on their own and only called for them to learn how to survive during the Winter.

One little thing does bug me: why is such a huge disaster happening in the rest of Magic Land and Villina and Stella are just doing nothing? Volkov rarely used these characters after the first book, and in a contrast to Baum's books, Villina the Good Witch of the North gets more appearances in these books than Glinda's counterpart, Stella. Still, Ruf Bilan suggests that the Flying Monkeys could overpower Arachna. Did it occur to no one that calling on these two sorceresses might help?

Well, we have one more book. Then I can get on some proper Oz books I got recently.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Volkov-thon: The Fiery God of the Marrans

On to Book 4. Translator Peter Blystone noted that The Fiery God of the Marrans was Volkov's weakest in the series. Let's see what he meant.

Reminder that Volkov had previously prevented Ellie from returning to Magic Land by means of saying she wouldn't return, so how was the series going to continue?

Speaking of which, in the last blog, Sam commented that he hoped there would be an explanation as to why Ellie would not return to Magic Land. Commenter Marc Berezin (who also assisted Blystone on the recent editions of the translations) said that it seemed to be because Ellie was growing up. This seems to be accurate as Underground Kings had her parents put a lot of emphasis on her need to go to school and learn more about the world. This almost seems to be a concept lifted out of The Chronicles of Narnia, in which the Pevensie children are told they need to grow closer to their own world as they get older.

In The Fiery God of the Marrans, Volkov doesn't keep Ellie out of the picture, revealing that she studied to become a teacher after her final visit to Magic Land. He also reveals that while she having her third adventure, her mother gave birth to another daughter, Annie.

The early chapters mainly focus on the new designs of Urfin Jus after his famous defeat in the second book. He of course isn't happy about his defeat and wants to conquer the Emerald City again. After waiting for a new chance for years, he gets one when he hears about the Marrans from Carfax, the eagle he helps. He sends Eot Ling the wooden clown to investigate further.

The Marrans were introduced back in The Wizard of the Emerald City in place of the Hammerheads. The short people can jump high and far and are nicknamed the Leapers. They're also very good at throwing punches. They live in their mountain and have never used fire.

It just so happens that Urfin managed to get a hold of a spare cigarette lighter that Charlie Black had when he visited Magic Land, so he has Carfax carry him to the Marrans and with his ability to call forth a flame instantly, he gets them to hail him as a god. He teaches them to cook, then build nice houses. (The noble Carfax eventually realizes Urfin's deceitful game and leaves him.) Soon, he has an army ready to march on the Emerald City.

Meantime, Strasheela has busied himself with digging a deep trench around the Emerald City to turn it into an island. Aside from the wall, this adds extra protection to the city by stopping a Deadwood Oak-manned ferry should enemies attack. Stella the Good Witch sends him a small box with a frosted glass side that will show him whoever of whatever he wishes to see by chanting a rhyme and requesting what he wants to see. (The "magic television set" is Volkov's portable version of the Magic Picture.) However, it can only show him people and places in Magic Land.

When Urfin attacks the Emerald City, Strasheela and his forces put up a mighty effort, but the Marrans eventually break in and conquer the City. This leaves Kaggi-Karr at a loss as to what to do next.

In Kansas, Annie is about seven years old and is obsessed with Ellie's tales of Magic Land. Ellie even gives her the whistle that can summon Ramina. She shares her obsession with her friend Tim O'Kelly, and when Fred Canning sends them solar-powered mechanical mules named Hannibal and Caesar, they prepare to ride them all the way to Magic Land! Hannibal and Caesar begin speaking when they arrive in Magic Land, and I couldn't help but think of them as some combination of the Sawhorse and Tik-Tok. Also accompanying them is a puppy Totoshka fathered named Artoshka, or Arto for short.

After being helped into Magic Land proper by Carfax, Annie manages to rescue a talking fox who is the king of a community of foxes (basically, a less-anthropomorphized version of Foxville), who gives Annie a silver circlet with a ruby that will make her invisible. Arriving in Munchkin Land, Annie discovers what has befallen Strasheela and the Iron Woodcutter (who's also been locked away by Urfin), so she heads to the Emerald City, where using the circlet, Soporific Water from Underground Land and the whistle, manages to free Strasheela, the Iron Woodcutter and steal the Magic Television Set from Urfin. Then, they head west.

Urfin tells the Marrans that a group of them who were attacking Winkie Country were killed and their bodies cut up and fed to pigs. This spurs them to march to Winkie Country, but Strasheela's use of the Magic Television Set warned him and they do the most surprising way to counter the attack: they have a volleyball game with the supposedly slaughtered Marrans. The incoming Marrans see their supposed dead friends and relatives still alive and realize Urfin was lying to them this entire time and chase him away. Ellie and Tim return home on the mules.

Quite a few more things happened in the book as well, but my above summary gives you the most plot-important bits. The Fiery God of the Marrans works well to introduce Annie and open the door for further adventures, but unfortunately, so much time is spent setting up the siege on the Emerald City that the sudden and quick wrap up with the volleyball game feels quite dissatisfying. It's fun, but I would have preferred a little more of Urfin getting a comeuppance.

Volkov has an afterword where he mentions he considered having this book be the final one, but he wound up starting a fifth book. That was actually the first of the series I'd read, and it wound up having a bit of inspiration for my own Oz spin-off Outsiders from Oz. But just to be fair, I'm going to read it again.