Thursday, August 27, 2009

Oz: The Manga Podcast (Part 2)

Finally, after over a month since the release of the first part, the second part of the podcast is up! I apologize for the wait. This is tiresome work that I do without payment, so it gets a little slow at times.

Sam Milazzo and I conclude our look at David Hutchison's manga-inspired take on Oz as we look through The Land of Oz: The Manga and The Land of Oz: The Manga - Return to the Emerald City.

Here's the link to the podcast site...

Or you can play it here with this nifty little player...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Sea Fairies

With the intended close of the Oz series in 1910, L. Frank Baum really wanted to try his hand at other stories. I've already written that I see this period as a time when Baum was trying to reinvent himself as an author.

The first book-length fantasy he released was The Sea Fairies. Baum tries to change his style by not jumping into the adventure right away (whenever an earlier Oz book had required someone to come to Oz or a bordering country from the Great Outside World, the transportation usually happened in the first chapter, or, in the case of The Emerald City of Oz, when it happened in the same chapter Dorothy first appears in), he took his time to introduce the characters. However, he did not bore the reader by following a few days in the life of Trot and Cap'n Bill, the protagonists, and instead gets the adventure started in the second chapter.

The book began with Trot and Cap'n Bill talking by the ocean about mermaids. Cap'n Bill swears that no one has seen a mermaid who has lived to tell the tale, as they will pull careless admirers overboard, where they will drown. The curious Trot is not sure that mermaids are so cruel, and wonders that if no one who ever lived has seen a mermaid, how do we know what they're like? She suggests to Cap'n Bill that maybe someone found a photograph, though that does raise the question of how someone could photograph a mermaid without seeing them.

The next day, Trot and Cap'n Bill go boating, and decide to visit Giant's Cave, a cave in the sea. Inside, they are greeted by mermaids who make them an offer: to prove Cap'n Bill is wrong about the mermaids, they will let the two visit them undersea.

Trot eagerly takes them up on the offer, diving into the water and emerging with a mermaid's tail. Cap'n Bill is a little more reluctant, but eventually follows.

As they make their way to the home of the mermaids, Trot and Cap'n Bill ask many questions of the mermaids they are accompanying, who are named Clia and Merla. Among these, Baum sets up some rules of how life underwater would work. Instead of having gills, there is a tiny space of air around the mermaids and their visitors that allows them to breathe, the oxygen being replenished from the water. The visitors later deduce that the same air space keeps the pressure from being so far underwater from harming them.

They reach the palace where they meet Queen Aquareine, who introduces them to a soon-arriving visitor, King Anko. Anko is a sea serpent, and one of the three rulers of the three oceans. We are left to assume he is the King of the Pacific Ocean. Given that the book is connected to the Oz mythos, it is safe for us to assume that the sea serpents answer to Bo, the Master Mariner of the World, introduced in The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus.

The Queen puts Trot's mother (still on land) in an enchanted sleep, where she will awaken when Trot returns. While Trot's mother reappears in Sky Island, she is oddly absent from The Scarecrow of Oz and never reappears.

Trot and Cap'n Bill are treated royally while they are guests in Aquareine's palace. Later, they get to meet the amusing sea life, including aristocratic codfish, mackerels who claim that those who get caught go "to glory!," an octopus who is sad because of his reputation, and a sea horse.

The sea horse I found to be a little interesting, as a sea horse was part of the signature of W.W. Denslow, Baum's former illustrator. Denslow was even nicknamed "Hippocampus Den," "hippocampus" being the name of the sea horse genus. While speaking to the octopus, he says that the sea horse "used to be a merry and cheerful fellow, but "since they named him 'hippocampus' he hasn't smiled once." Was Baum possibly taking a stab at his former friend? It'd be interesting to explain why, but something tells me he wasn't.

The visitors, Aquareine, and Clia set out to visit an island near the Arctic Circle, and then to visit King Anko. Magic Circles are drawn around Trot and Cap'n Bill to keep them from harm, especially from the devil fish, who are the servants of Zog, who, in traditional Baum fashion, has not been introduced until now. Zog is part man, part beast, part fish, part reptile, and part bird, and he lives in a castle that has been hidden away.

On their way to Anko's palace, the four are trapped by the devil fish and are forced to enter Zog's domain. Zog promises that he will find a way to kill them, but he will not do so immediately, as he gets joy from torturing and killing, not dead things. Since he cannot kill King Anko, who imprisoned him in the palace, he will annoy Anko by killing his friends.

The prisoners are given comfortable rooms, and are fed well, but Cap'n Bill reflects that pagan peope (like the Aztecs) would treat their human sacrifices royally before killing them. However, they discover Zog's slaves are people he decided to save from drowning in shipwrecks. By giving them gills (it's not explained how they defy the pressure of the water), Zog equipped them for living under the sea. Among them is a prince named Sacho and Cap'n Bill's brother Joe, who is practically his twin, down to the wooden leg.

I wonder if Baum had legends of the lost island of Atlantis in mind in this story, with some telling of fish-men who live underwater.

Zog tries to torture his prisoners with a gigantic crab-like monster called the Yell-Maker, by freezing the water in their rooms, and making the water boiling hot. However, each time Queen Aquareine comes to the rescue.

The Queen asks a goldsmith to make a sword for her to use so they can escape, and in return, Cap'n Bill parts with many items in his pockets. The four leave the palace, and fight through the top of the Great Dome, but Zog himself comes after them, showing his body, similar to a sea-serpent. He destroys Aquareine's golden sword and makes her lose her fairy wand, but before he can do any more, King Anko arrives and squeezes Zog into a shapeless gelatinous mess, continuing Baum's last-minute rescues. However, Baum managed to write the escape, pursuit and victory so well that it becomes a real page-turner.

Anko takes the four to his home, where he shows them the entire length of his body (so long they can't see the end of it) and commands them that Trot and Cap'n Bill must be returned home.

On their way back, the four check in on Zog's servants, who have decided to make Cap'n Joe their king. Then, back to Giant's Cave, where Trot is given a ring that she can use to summon the mermaids. When they return to the boat, Trot and Cap'n Bill resume their human form, and are happy to realize that they have seen mermaids and have lived to tell the tale.

Although The Sea Fairies was not a financial success for Baum, I must admit that it is not one of his worst books. He did seem to lose it, with more than one chapter dedicated to tours of the ocean that don't add to the plot, and the villain, who didn't have much of a reason to attack the protagonists, being defeated a bit too suddenly.

I could easily see the book being adapted for a film. I read that an independent producer had taken it up as a possible project when Disney was preparing to release Return to Oz, but it seems the project was shelved. Trot and Cap'n Bill were replaced with the Oz Kids (minus a few of them) and the story was re-located to a lake in Oz for the Oz Kids animated video Journey Beneath The Sea.

A Vampire, A Werewolf, and A Ghost Share A House In Oz...

I was in a chat room a couple weeks ago, where fans of the BBC show Being Human could chat with each other, and somehow, despite it being the dirtiest chat we'd ever had, somehow... We drifted to Oz.

keepmakingtea: Eileen. (loveheart icon)
Eileen: wah?
Eileen: a heart? for me?
Eileen: Thank you!
keepmakingtea: If I only had a heart...
Eileen: aww, poor heartless KMT
Eileen: i would give you mine
Eileen: but i need it
keepmakingtea: Ah'll 'ave tae see the Wizahd, then.
Kinkyclawz: Aww, you're wrong KMT. You're full of heart. *hugz*
Kinkyclawz: Aha! KMT's Wizard of Oz reference! Well done!
Eileen: yes but a bad joke that noone gets can only get badder without getting better
Eileen: lol KMT
keepmakingtea: Picture me, a balcony, below a voice sings low: "Wherefore art thou, Romeo?"

The Wizard of Oz meets Being Human.

Eileen: Who is Dorothy?
Eileen: Goerge needs to be Toto!!!!
Fang: Oh I didn't get that wizard of Oz reference, I must be the scarecrow
keepmakingtea: lol...
Kinkyclawz: LOL As wella s the cowardly lion!
keepmakingtea: Annie - Dorothy... George - Lion, Mitchell - Tin Man.
keepmakingtea: Heheh...
Kinkyclawz: LOL AWW! So who gets to be the scarewcrow?
Eileen: ok back to the scaregrow
Kinkyclawz: lol who needs a brain? SETH! He could have been teh scare-grow.

Now, can you guess which one is me?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Very sorry...

But the fan fiction site for posting Oz fan fiction I was the head administrator at ( is now down. I don't know if it will be back up, as I was never in charge of the servers. Until I get more information, I'll keep the link up in the sidebar, but it may go down.

EDIT: I e-mailed the server's owner, and this was the reply...
Everything is still there.
The database is good.
The domain expired, but I will renew it next week. Should still be on lockdown then,. but we're not going to lose control of it.

Podcasts coming...

I've been working on the second Oz: The Manga podcast, and after that, I have another one to edit: an interview with F. Douglas Wall about his RPG Adventures in Oz.

Just to give you guys an idea of what goes on when I edit these, here's a few things I go for:
  • Long pauses. Whether we're discussing something, or it's an interview, everyone needs a few seconds to think. However, these seconds are not appreciated by your casual listener, so they get cut.
  • Slurred speech or re-starting sentences. I have a tongue that tends to get tied, after some surgery was done on it when I was a kid. (I forget what exactly it was for.) I often have to repeat myself so I have something clear to present. And sometimes, the guests lose or re-focus their train of thought. Of course, no one wants to hear this, so it gets cut.
  • Length. There is a limit in the size, and the podcast needs to be a length that would be listened to easily. A half hour is an ideal maximum, unless you have a fascinating topic. When Sam and I discussed Oz: The Manga, sometimes we read a bit from the comic. I've kept a couple bits in, but for the most part, I had to axe a lot of it.
  • Uninteresting or irrelevant pieces. They happen. It ties into the above issue of length.
So, while, yes, it is taking awhile, be assured, I'm working on a quality product. (Except that Sam was speaking on the phone, so his quality isn't quite up to mine, but it is very audible.)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Happy Birthday, Ozma!

"Come on, Shaggy Man, if you want me to show you the road to Butterfield." She climbed the fence into the ten-acre lot and he followed her, walking slowly and stumbling over the little hillocks in the pasture as if he was thinking of something else and did not notice them.

"My, but you're clumsy!" said the little girl. "Are your feet tired?"

"No, miss; it's my whiskers; they tire very easily in this warm weather," said he. "I wish it would snow, don't you?"

"'Course not, Shaggy Man," replied Dorothy, giving him a severe look. "If it snowed in August it would spoil the corn and the oats and the wheat; and then Uncle Henry wouldn't have any crops; and that would make him poor; and--"

"Never mind," said the shaggy man. "It won't snow, I guess. Is this the lane?"

"Do just as you please about going away," he said; "but I'd like to show you the sights of my city and to entertain your party while you are here. We feel highly honored to have little Dorothy with us, I assure you, and we appreciate her kindness in making us a visit. For whatever country Dorothy visits is sure to become famous."

This speech greatly surprised the little girl, who asked:

"How did your Majesty know my name?"

"Why, everybody knows you, my dear," said the Fox-King. "Don't you realize that? You are quite an important personage since Princess Ozma of Oz made you her friend."

"Do you know Ozma?" she asked, wondering.

"I regret to say that I do not," he answered, sadly; "but I hope to meet her soon. You know the Princess Ozma is to celebrate her birthday on the twenty-first of this month."

With those two passages from The Road to Oz, Oz fans have placed Ozma's birthday on August 21. In celebration, I have prepared the above video.

Also, a little bit of news. J.D. Rose, a fairly new Oz writer, has started her own blog. She has some poems and a short story up right now, be sure to check out To Oz and Back.

Happy Birthday, Ozma! Congratulations on keeping Oz a happy land for 105 years!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

John Dough & The Cherub

L. Frank Baum's 1906 fantasy novel was Reilly & Britton's major children's book of the year. While John Dough & The Cherub was far from Baum's best effort, it was not his worst.

The book opened with a chapter that told of how someone received a mysterious visitor who gave them something that served as a catalyst for the rest of the story. Usually when this happens, the person who got the catalyst is the hero of the story, but it was not the case with Baum. Madame Tina Grogande, who sells her husband's baked goods, is visited by Ali Dubh, who has her protect a vial containing the Great Elixir of Vitality. In return, he gives her a vial containing a cure for her rheumatism. After he leaves, it is revealed that she is color-blind and cannot tell the difference between the vials. She accidentally uses the Elixir of Vitality for her rheumatism, which it does cure.

Baum played with rheumatism cures in his books a few times. In The Glass Dog, one of Baum's American Fairy Tales, the titular item is made by a glass-blower in return for a magic cure-all, which he wanted for his rheumatism, but instead uses to cure a rich woman, hoping she will marry him. And later, in Queen Zixi of Ix, the Magic Cloak was given by a shepherd to Dame Dingle for a rheumatism medicine, which "has made the pain considerably worse. So today I threw the bottle into the river."

The next morning, to celebrate the Fourth of July, Jules Grogande, the baker, decides to make a life-sized gingerbread man, fully featured like an actual human being. In doing so, he mixes in the rest of the Elixir, which was poured into a bowl of water that was left out overnight. To his astonishment, after the gingerbread man, who he names "John Dough," is fully baked, it comes to life, grabs a giant candy cane and the baker's hat (John R. Neill's illustrations show a top hat), and leaves the store.

John is quickly discovered by humanity and he knows right away that he isn't like them. Boys in the street set off fireworks near him, steal bits of his candy cane, and a woman tells him to come inside so she can slice him up.

And in that scene with the housewife, Baum introduces John's plight: most people believe that just because he is made of gingerbread, he has no right to be alive. Immediately, John feels cast out from society and can't stay anywhere where people think of possibly eating him.

John returns to the baker's shop, only to overhear Ali Dubh express his rage at Madame Tina's mistake and ask of John Dough's whereabouts, so he may eat John and get what he can of the Elixir, so he may live forever, or at least, an unnaturally long life.

John flees the shop again, and runs into men setting off a Fourth of July fireworks display. He is asked to hold a rocket, but doesn't let go in time, and is carried off with it. However, the rocket was only made for flight, so it doesn't explode, but carries John to the Isle of Phreex, another place that Baum cleverly named.

Phreex is ruled by a little boy called the kinglet, who has a lady executioner who can never seem to do an actual execution, a group of men called the Brotherhood of Failings ("every king must have his failings"), and the island is also populated with people who have weird quirks, strange animals, live vegetables, and inventors who are either useless (like one who has made so many diamonds, they are now worthless), or their inventions don't work.

But the most important person John meets in Phreex is Chick the Cherub, a child raised in an incubator. While Baum had used artifical and metal people in his stories before (though his most famous, Tik-Tok, would not debut until the next year), Chick could be seen as an artificially bred human. Baum touches on the subject of gender identity by never saying if Chick is a boy or girl, only calling the Cherub, "the child," or sometimes even "it." It is hard to determine if Chick is one or the other, as everything that Chick says or does is not gender-specific. This creates a character that all readers can relate to, as Chick is a friendly, bold, and brave person.

John is quickly no longer the latest arrival to Phreex, as Ali Dubh appears, having bought a couple of magic transportation powders from a witch he met in America. (One of the few magic-workers outside of a fairyland Baum had in his works.) Chick, who has become John's friend and protector, hurries John to an airship made by an inventor named Imar. They escape Ali Dubh and stop at another island.

This island's most prominent feature is a golden palace called the Palace of Romance. The only inhabitants of the Palace are many traditional Lords and Ladies who feast and celebrate every day. (I wonder how this would be possible. Where does the food come from? Don't these people work for basic needs? Or is there a more sinister side to the island we never heard of?) They have a law that prevents this from becoming a permanent home for John and Chick, though: any strangers who arrive must tell every story they know, then they will be sent to drown in the ocean. John and Chick decide to wait until night to find the flying machine, until they can, Chick pulls a Scheherazade and tries to tell a never-ending story (... hey!) about a Silver Pig. Finally, one night, they find the way back to the airship and take off again.

This time, the airship breaks down and Chick and John manage to land right by another island. While Chick is looking for food, John is befriended by Pittypat the rabbit. Pittypat tells John (who can understand all languages, a virtue of the Elixir) about the inhabitants of the island. The main inhabitants are the Mifkets, little humanoid beings that are violent-natured. A little family lives on the island, consisting of a man, his wife, and their daughter Jacquelin, who the Mifkets call their Princess. An oddity who lives on the island is Para Bruin, a bear made of rubber.

Using great strength given him by the Elixir, John earns the respect of the Mifkets, but Ali Dubh appears, having used his last transportation powder. While Chick, the Princess, Pittypat, and Para Bruin try to keep John safe, eventually the Mifkets, who ally with Ali Dubh, catch him, and a renegade Mifket, Black Ooboo, eats the fingers from John's left hand, but he manages to escape before they can eat more of him.

Here, the story hits a high point: the Princess is revealed to be ill, and she's getting worse. Chick suggests that since John's missing the fingers on his left hand, he could feed Jacquelin the rest of it. John rejects the idea, hating to lose more of himself. Chick and Para Bruin in turn tell John that if the Princess dies, they won't be his friends any longer. John goes to contemplate this, and while he does, a bird steals and eats his coat-tails. John then realizes just how much surplus he has and how much he could sacrifice. The bird then rescues John from the Mifkets and John gives the Princess the rest of his hand, which cures her. (Did you expect such a strong theme of self-sacrifice in an L. Frank Baum fantasy?)

With the Mifkets more angry than ever, they try to attack Jacquelin's parents, who escape in a rowboat. Now Pittypat helps rescue John, Chick, and Jacquelin by going to the King of the Fairy Beavers, who, hearing of John's sacrifice, agrees to shelter them. With some help from Para Bruin, the three refugees make it to the Palace of the Fairy Beavers. Using a submarine, Jacquelin is returned to her parents.

Next, the King of the Fairy Beavers designs a plan to get John and Chick off the island. He cuts John into nine pieces, delivered to a high part of the island. There, John is restored with a magic cordial, and flamingos carry him, Chick, and Para Bruin away.

The next stop is almost without importance: an island of retired pirates (led by Sport, a creature made of sporting goods) who demand a ransom of three gems for the three companions. This removes three diamonds from John Dough that had been given to him in the Isle of Phreex, but that's it.

The flamingos drop John, Chick, and Para Bruin off on a larger island. They discover an abandoned palace on a wall dividing two countries. One country is full of tall buildings, the other with short buildings. Chick investigates, and finds the high country filled with extremely tall people, while the short one is filled with short, squat people. They both say their next king is prophesied to be neither flesh or blood, and Chick realizes that John Dough is the fulfillment of that prophecy.

The story then concludes promptly with John Dough as King of Hiland and Loland in the palace of Hilo, while Chick the Head Booleywag, and Para Bruin the Chief Counselor. The story closes with an extended way of saying "And they all lived happily ever after."

This is one case where I think the story could have been improved with less story. I've thought that if I ever adapted the story for a dramatic version (it was a presentation in Baum's short-lived Fairylogue and Radio-Plays), I would cut many things. Both the Palace of Romance and Pirate Island would get cut, and a lot of the drama on the Isle of Phreex. I would also have the Flamingos take Pittypat, who would have no friends left on Mifket Island, and Jacquelin and her parents could arrive on the shores of Hiland and Loland. (John R. Neill's take on Jacquelin's mother looks a lot like a Lolander, anyways.)

But even with those cuts and slight additions, the story would still very much be Baum's. And though he did overdo it, every bit of John Dough & the Cherub is filled with fantasy, adventure, and fun for all readers.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Yes, THAT Wizard of Oz

Exactly 70 years ago today, MGM's The Wizard of Oz premiered at Grauman's Chinese Theatre. A landmark in fantasy and family film, it has gone on to become one of the most widely-watched movies in the world. It was also the first movie based on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that offered a very faithful adaptation. (With the possible exception of The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays adaptation, but as that one no longer exists, it's hard to tell.)

Today, the movie is loved by many: children, adults, families, you name it. Despite the easily-seen through special effects, the movie has passed the test of time, thanks to the classic songs and performances of the cast, headlined by Judy Garland.

I have to thank the MGM movie for my own interest in Oz. I saw it on television when I was young, and my interest caused me to read the book, and later, I discovered the other books in the series. After a number of years consciously avoiding Oz, seeing the movie again at a youth center made me remember just how good Oz was. That led to my re-reading all of Baum's books, looking it up online, research into Baum's life and works, collecting Oz and Baum books and movies, which has eventually wound up to my writing this blog.

You'd think I'd be crazy about the MGM movie, right? Well, the surprising answer is no. I don't hate it, but it's not my favorite take on Oz. Aside from owning the movie on home video and owning the soundtrack on CD, I'm not interested in collecting memorabilia related to the movie. (What I do have are gifts.)

One annoying thing about the movie is that it is the most popular version of Oz. Normally, there would be nothing inherently bad about that, but this has led to many people to reject other versions of Oz, such as The Wiz, Return to Oz, and Tin Man. Many of these new adaptations are very well-done, but people fail see that they are good because of their preference of the movie they fell in love with, usually as a child. Some people have even claimed the book that inspired this masterpiece of a film is inferior to it. (To say that would be to suggest that the book is an unreadable mess, and that they managed to base such a successful film on it is a miracle.) I disagree with that sentiment, and I feel that if the writers, directors, or even the cast members were asked, they would agree with me. (Early drafts of the script drifted far away from the book, but Noel Langley was the lead in tying the story closer to the original version.)

As for me, I've gotten very annoyed when I talk to an Oz fan, and all they want to talk about is the MGM movie, when there are so many other topics that could be covered. It even gets irritating when someone tells me they got a new "Oz book," and I inquire, only to discover that it is in fact a biography or autobiography of one of the cast members. (I'd call this an Oz reference book, though it's not one I'd usually turn to.)

It just annoys me that people want to cling to this one version of Oz when there is so much else out there, the books and other adaptations and interpretations. (Not that these fans are bad people. The ones I've come across are very courteous.) Like I said, I don't hate this movie, and I don't think it's a bad movie, but I just don't have any special love for it.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

A little quiet?

I know, not a lot of blogs recently. The next in the series of "books connected to The Road To Oz" series of analysis blogs is John Dough & the Cherub (and I'm considering doing The Sea Fairies, as it's connected through Sky Island, just like The Magical Monarch of Mo was through The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus), but as I'm re-reading each book before I do a blog about it, I haven't reread it yet. (I made The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus an exception as I'd already done many blogs about it, and will likely do more, so I just made an index of those blogs.)

I did write a few John Dough blogs last year when the book was reissued by Hungry Tiger Press, but it was more of a review than an analysis. However, those led to my being asked to review the book's new edition for The Baum Bugle, which led to more reviews for the Bugle. (Even more will be coming.)

Why I haven't reread the book yet is because I've been reading another book I've been trying to finish for a few months. (It's slow going. I thought it was finally picking up after the first 300 pages, but then it slowed right back down.) I've only 80 pages left, so I should be done soon. (Should have taken it with me on my post office run this morning...)

By the way, some might wonder why I said Sky Island was connected to Oz through The Road to Oz. It's just about a reverse case for most of the other books, which were connected by having characters from those books appear in The Road to Oz, this time, characters from The Road to Oz appeared in Sky Island.

I'm also writing something for a possible publication that may be published before the end of the year, but that's all I'm going to say. It it happens, I'll tell you.

I need to get back into my video-making, but it is tedious work. Sorry for the delays there.

Podcasting is continuing. The next Manga episode might not be for awhile, as the conversation between me and Sam needs to be heavily edited. (Blank spots, too many spoilers, irrevelant parts.) However, the next podcast, if all goes to plan, will be recorded tomorrow night. It will be an interview with one of my blog followers who's been working on a project he'll be releasing soon.

Keep your eyes and ears open, I'm not taking a break. (Yet... But that's enough.)