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 As Cosgrove wrote her book in the 1950s but it went unpublished until 1993, and Volkov's book came out in 1974, there is no chance of one inspiring the other.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.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Volkov-thon: The Seven Underground Kings

On to book 3! I hadn't read this one before, but I'd seen the stop-motion adaptation of it, but now that I've read the book, I can tell that that was a very abbreviated version of this story.

Now, one thing Volkov did quite differently from Baum was setting up a backstory. In Baum's books, things are there, and why they're there isn't always explored.

At the start of The Seven Underground Kings, Volkov takes us back to the Land of the Underground Ore-Diggers, explaining why these people live underground. They have seven brothers for kings, and they each one rule one month in turn and each king has his own court. This was very draining on the resources of the Underground Land until they discovered the Soporific Water, which makes someone enter a sleep for a time and when they awaken, they have to be reeducated on who they are. (Basically, Volkov's take on the Water of Oblivion.) The Kings agree that to ease the burden on the kingdom, they and their courts will use the water and sleep in between their reigns.

This system works fine until the close of Urfin Jus and his Wooden Soldiers. The traitor Ruf Bilan fled underground, and while doing so, accidentally damaged the spring the Soporific Water came from, preventing them from using it. Over the months that follow, the Kings and their courts awaken and become a burden on the people again. The Kings finally have to decide to dismiss most of their courts and have one shared court.

Back in Kansas, Ellie goes to school for some months after her last return from Magic Land, before being invited to spend time with her cousin Fred Canning, who prides himself on his adventures until he hears Ellie's tales of Magic Land. The two decide to go visit a cave with Totoshka, but are trapped by a rockslide. They travel underground for many days, nearly starving, until they find Underground Land.

Upon seeing Ellie, Ruf Bilan calls her a powerful fairy and suggests she restore the spring of the Soporific Water before she can leave. Ellie objects since she's just a little girl, but the king sides with Ruf. They are able to send Totoshka to the surface, to Munchkin Country, where he's able to get the word out that Ellie is in Underground Land and being held prisoner. Strasheela plans to attack Underground Land until they get Fred out to Munchkin Country and to the Emerald City to explain the full details. This lets the mechanic Lestar decide that it would be a better idea to find the source of Soporific Water and set up a pump

So it is that Strasheela, the Iron Woodman, the Courageous Lion, Lestar and a regiment of Deadwood Oaks arrive in Underground Land with many gifts. While Lestar works on the pump, Ellie's friends begin to suffer from the damp, requiring Strasheela to stay near a forge (but not too close!) to stay dry, the Iron Woodman to stay in a tank of oil to prevent himself from rusting away, and the Lion has to continually consume medicine for his cold as the Deadwood Oaks begin to swell.

As they hit the water, they discover its vapor can send people to sleep as well, unless they're wearing diamonds. The Kings begin to plot against the each other, wanting to put all the others to sleep so they can rule continually. So the timekeeper Rujero decides that maybe the time of having Seven Kings needs to come to an end, and Strasheela suggests that all the kings and their courts be put to sleep, and instead of reeducating them back into their old lives, to send them into being contributing members of society who will work to keep Underground Land from starving again, and Rujero will move from timekeeper (who kept an eye on the hourglasses to measure when the Kings' time would be up) to the new, single King of Underground Land. This measure is agreed to and they manage to expose all the kings and their courts to the water at the same time.

After the Kings are reeducated, the end of Underground Land arrives. It is decided that it would be best if the Underground people didn't stay underground and move to the surface. They agree to this, though given that many of them are used to living with low light, they will need to adjust to living in the sunlight.

Ellie calls Ramina, the Queen of the Field Mice, who tells her that she can see into the future and that Ellie will not be returning to Magic Land. Ellie says a tearful goodbye to her friends, wanting to hide from them the notion that she won't be back, even though the Iron Woodman feels it in his heart. She, Totoshka and Fred are carried back to Kansas by Oyho the Dragon from Underground Land.
Here we see Volkov fully branching into his own stories. Is the existence of an underground kingdom inspired by the Nome Kingdom? Maybe. The Soporific Water is certainly based on the Water of Oblivion, but its abilities to put people to sleep is an invention of Volkov, as is the idea that with a little reeducation, the people exposed to the water can regain a sense of who they were.

More importantly, Volkov was able to put an end to Ellie's adventures and send her home, while Baum had Dorothy move to Oz. Yet the stories of Magic Land were not concluded. Volkov wrote three more books in his series, so how would they continue?

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

The Sound of Oz Indiegogo

Sometime back, I noted that there really wasn't a specific piece about the music of the MGM film, The Wizard of Oz. Well, now film critic Ryan Jay and Aaron Harburg, great-grandson of MGM laureate E.Y. "Yip" Harburg have something in mind: a documentary!

To do it the way they want it done, they've launched an Indiegogo to raise funds!

As always, there are perks from t-shirts to posters, from digital copies to DVDs and Blu-Rays, from special credit to an invitation to the premiere! Check it out, donate and share!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Volkov-thon: Urfin Jus and his Wooden Soldiers

One difference between Baum and Volkov was that Baum would write his books and they'd be published as books. However, some of Volkov's books were published in serial form in papers or magazines first. And sometimes, even after book publication, they would be updated to be a little more in line with the later books.

The first sequel to The Wizard of the Emerald City appeared in 1963. Urfin Jus and his Wooden Soldiers was no clone of The Marvelous Land of Oz, but it does bear some nods to that book and later Oz books. It was also here that Volkov made his Magic Land stories very distinct from Baum's Oz books.

Unlike Wizard, we open not in Kansas, but back in Magic Land. Volkov would make use of what he'd already established and then build on that for a sequel. We actually go back in time to before Gingema was killed and meet an unsociable Munchkin joiner (a carpenter) named Urfin Jus who eventually became Gingema's trusted servant. He happened to be away when Ellie's house fell on her, but took some of her things when he discovered her fate. This included her owl, Guamokolatokint. (Urfin calls him "Guam" at first, but the owl insists on no less than "Guamoko.") The owl attempts to tell Urfin how to be a good sorcerer, but Urfin, though bitter, would rather not eat live mice and leeches.

One day, in his garden, Urfin finds a strange thorny plant that he eventually has to uproot and lets it burn in the sun. When it brings to life his bearskin rug (akin to the one from The Road to Oz), he realizes that the ashes of the plant make a Powder of Life. He then brings to life a toy clown and then stuffs the bearskin rug with sawdust, naming his new assistants Enta Ling and Topotun, respectively. Then, he decides to conquer Blue Land by building Wooden Soldiers he calls the Deadwood Oaks. The Munchkins—being peaceful farmers—are easily conquered.

Urfin increases his army and marches for the Emerald City. Luckily, Kaggi-Karr the Crow is able to inform Strasheela in time for him, Din Gior and Faramant to set up simple but effective defenses to keep Urfin out. However, Guamoko is able to convince Ruf Bilan, one of the Emerald City guards, to betray Strasheela and open the gates for Urfin and his army. Strasheela is easily imprisoned, and the Iron Woodman—who had been called to come assist his old friend—is also captured. Needing help, Strasheela and the Iron Woodman have Kaggi-Karr fly over the desert with a message on a leaf for Ellie.

This is one touch I enjoy. In Baum's books (and in fact, the entire Famous Forty), Dorothy or other people from the outside world are never called to Oz to help out. (Closest is The Road to Oz in which Dorothy is brought to fairyland so she can get to Ozma's birthday party.) This happens most in some fan-written stories and original sequels to the first story. (Dorothy of Oz/Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, I'm looking at you...) What can Dorothy do to save the day that the people of Oz can't? In Magic Land, it is specifically Ellie's ingenuity that they look to. And they only call for her when they've exhausted all other options.

Ellie, meanwhile, is enjoying the company of her uncle Charlie Black, who is a peg-legged sailor. (Cap'n Bill, anyone?) He believes her tales of Magic Land and when Kaggi-Karr arrives, he is the driving force in getting them on the way to Magic Land, which lies not too far from Ellie's home in Kansas, just over the mountains. (So... there are mountains and a desert in this version of Kansas. Got it.) They cross the desert on a wheeled boat. (Also a nod to The Road to Oz.)

During the crossing into Magic Land, Ellie, Charlie and Totoshka are stranded on black rocks in the desert. They appear to have been cursed by Gingema to keep outsiders from reaching Magic Land. Ellie finally sets Kaggi-Karr free from her cage and lets her fly to Magic Land. About six days later, they are on the brink of dying from starvation when the crow returns with some strangely nourishing grapes. This allows them to leave the rock and reach Magic Land at last. (Kaggi-Karr reveals that most of the time was spent finding Villina, who transported Kaggi-Karr to the vineyard.)

After meeting with the Courageous Lion, Ellie and her new band is successful in freeing the Munchkins by managing to tie up the Deadwood Oaks who were guarding the new ruler of Blue Land. Then they head to the Emerald City, where the Queen of the Field Mice, Ramina, shows them an underground passage through the land of the Ore-Diggers (we'll be back in future stories), which goes to the tower where Strasheela and the Iron Woodman are held captive. They are freed, along with Faramant and Din Gior, and they escape to Violet Land to free the Winkies before they try to dethrone Urfin himself.

With a duel between the Iron Woodman and Enkin Feld (Urfin's appointed ruler of Violet Land), the Winkies are freed once again, though the Iron Woodman is badly damaged, requiring a delay before they can march to the Emerald City, where Urfin finally exhausts his supply of powder on a poor batch of Deadwood Oaks. Using a cannon, the force of Deadwood Oaks in the Emerald City is soon defeated as flaming debris is shot at them.

With order restored, Urfin is sent back home to live among the Munchkins, letting him remember who he tried to harm. All other guilty parties get sentenced hard labor, and the remaining Deadwood Oaks are given new faces and become loyal to Strasheela. The book ends with Ellie, Uncle Charlie and Totoshka preparing to return home.

Volkov wasn't going to take long with Ellie's next adventure. But we already know that he wrote six books while Baum turned out fourteen novels and several short stories and related works. What would Volkov do?

Pictures are by Leonid Vladimirisky and can be found here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Delphi's Complete Works of L. Frank Baum e-book

I don't often review (or buy) e-books, but as I was looking to add digital versions of books in my library to my phone for convenience's sake (and also because I'm packing up my library), I came across one that sounds as if it needed some closer examination. Claiming to be the Complete Works of L. Frank Baum for $3 on Amazon or $4 on Google Play or direct from the publisher.

Well, what does the publisher say about the collection?
For the first time in print or digital publishing, Delphi Classics is proud to present the complete fictional works of master storyteller L. Frank Baum. This monumental eBook offers hundreds of beautiful illustrations, lost works, informative introductions and the usual Delphi bonus material.
How does that hold up? Well, here's the table of contents.

Wow, that's pretty impressive! And well, it does contain all of his novels. The best way to navigate is to go through this table of contents and each novel contains its own table of contents. Some of the ones I haven't seen in e-book form before do seem to have some typos. Here's what you don't get, though: A New Wonderland (The Magical Monarch of Mo before it was revised, it contained at least one different chapter), and the new ending chapters of Aunt Jane's Nieces in the Red Cross added for its 1918 revision.

But wait, aren't there more plays that Baum wrote that still exist? Yes, the script for Ozma of Oz (eventually revised and produced as The Tik-Tok Man of Oz) is actually already online and the script for The Woggle-Bug exists in the Library of Congress. There are also a number of shorter plays Scott Andrew Hutchins put on his now-offline (but Archived) site. So, this is a section that could be expanded. (Also, the complete script for The Uplift of Lucifer is out there.)

So, what about the short stories? They have two tables of contents, one chronological, one alphabetical. (There's also a similar one for the poems.)

So, it seems we're losing the introductions for Animal Fairy Tales and Mother Goose in Prose here. Strange. Also, the recently-discovered short story "John" (published in the Baum Bugle) doesn't appear. And, of course, "Chrome Yellow" doesn't appear. (You can't get that anywhere, thanks, Baum Trust.)

There is, however, one item that causes me some consternation. "The Queer Visitors from Oz." Does that title sound familiar? Well, as I'm the one who compiled that collection, it should. It's an import of an e-book made of my digital collection on an old version of my website. It has no table of contents and this means that The Woggle-Bug Book is included in this compilation twice. (I've since compiled a better version with a working table of contents in both HTML and EPUB. It is not online, though.) Even more strangely, some of my captions for pictures on my site made it into the text! Also, there's no note that I edited the "What Did The Woggle-Bug Say?" answers into the story.

Okay, so what about poems?

Well, that's pretty nice, though I know the next Baum Bugle will contain a never-before seen poem by Baum, so it's incomplete, but we can't quite call foul here since the publishers had no access to it before.

As for illustrations? No, the illustrations aren't complete. Not every book has illustrations, and not even all of the illustrated books have all the illustrations. The main point of e-books is retaining the text, and a complete set of images for all of Baum's work would result in a massive file.

Finally, perhaps songs would be out of the scope of an e-book collection, but I know, Baum had written many songs for plays and otherwise. While I imagine it wouldn't be ideal to include the sheet music, at least having the lyrics would have been nice.

Overall, though, while I've pointed out that this collection is not complete, it is still a massive selection of Baum's works in a fairly easy to access format. For only $3 or $4, I'd say what is there would make it ideal for anyone wanting to add Baum's works to their e-reader.