Wednesday, June 11, 2008

An Old Recipe Works Best

Hungry Tiger Press' new edition of John Dough and the Cherub shows that often, old ideas work best. It is a black and white facsimile of the original with some corrections. And, in keeping with the older out of print Dover edition, it has a Foreword by a highly respected Oz fan and Baum scholar. The Dover edition had Martin Gardener (the only thing worth getting that edition for), Hungry Tiger Press got J.L. Bell from Oz and Ends.

Now, I am not saying the Dover and Hungry Tiger Press editions are equal. If I had to pick one, I'd take the Hungry Tiger Press edition: it's larger, hardcover, easier-to-read type, and clearer illustrations. Even the pictures that originally appeared in color look better than the Dover reproduction. If you were to compare page 31 with the picture of Monsieur Jules in both editions, you'd see that his face and hands are covered with dots and the "frame" behind him is solid black in Dover's reproduction. In Hungry Tiger Press' restored black and white image, Jules' face and hands are clear and the "frame" is not solid black, but outlined.

It's also been noted that the text was oddly altered in the first edition of "John Dough," and sure enough, the corruption is in Dover's edition. This corruption ruins a fun Baum joke. David Maxine noted it and corrected it for his edition.

The story tells of how an Arab entrusts a color-blind baker's wife with the Great Elixir of Vitality. By a mix-up, the baker ends up using the Elixir in a giant gingerbread man he is making, which brings it to life. Fleeing for his new-found life, John Dough is carried by a rocket to the Island of Phreex, a classic Baum fairyland, where he meets Chick the Cherub, the Incubator Baby. John also meets a host of odd characters who may rival the classic Wonderland characters in terms of selfishness.

Chick and John journey together from island to island, meeting a strange race called the Mifkets, a beautiful young girl named Jacqueline, Pittypat the Rabbit, the Kind of the Fairy Beavers, and a rubber bear named Para Bruin, one of Baum's best characters.

This is certainly an excellent Baum classic and highly reccomended.

As Bell reveals in his foreword, John Dough was originally intended for inclusion in "The Ladies Home Journal," but was rejected. Baum later added more chapters (it was originally four) and it was published by Reilly & Britton, who were ready to make Baum their star author.

John Dough makes a fascinating protagonist for Baum. John is, to an extent, self-centered, as he must be careful not to break or be destroyed or eaten. In fact, Chick is really the hero of the story until Mifket Island, when John finally uses the strength given him by the Elixir to defend his friends, and later sacrifices a part of himself to save Jacqueline.

Neill seems to pick up on this idea himself: Chick, until Mifket Island, is drawn as bold, impetuous and daring, while much of the time, John wears looks of dread and shrinks back. After saving the Island Princess, John suddenly looks much more heroic in most of his pictures: he has come to learn that he is not the only person who needs to fear destruction.

Certainly, this is not Baum's best book, but when he wanted to tell an entertaining, engrossing story, Baum was a master at his art. Even today, his books continue to please readers. Baum made no exception when he wrote John Dough and the Cherub.


Nathan said...

What was the altered text in the Dover edition? (I've probably heard about it before, but I can't remember.)

Jared said...

The original Baum text had John Dough comment on Chick's vocabulary. Chick asks him "you always know what I mean?" (Or something like that.) John admits that he does. Chick replies, "Then don't kick." The text then mentions John looking at his feet.

In a later printing, an editor at Reilly & Britton changed "kick" to "complain," spoiling the joke.

Nathan said...

Maybe "kick" had become obsolete slang by that point? Regardless, I think it's a rather odd change.

J. L. Bell said...

The "complain" line appears in the first state of John Dough, but is replaced by "kick" in the later printings.

As David Maxine recreates events, Baum wrote "kick" in his manuscript, Reilly & Britton changed it (presumably to avoid the slang), and Baum asked the firm to change it back. That would imply the slang was still current—perhaps too current for respectable tastes.

Jared said...

OK... I misread. Edited the blog's text to correct it, and am now admitting my mistake here. Thanks, J.L.!