Tuesday, April 27, 2010

From Oz to the US

Queer Visitors From The Marvelous Land of Oz and The Woggle-Bug Book. Not exactly the catchiest titles, huh? Strangely enough, this is the bit of Oz I keep coming back to. After searching down photocopies of the originals, and putting the stories online, even making a MIDI of "What Did The Woggle-Bug Say?" I wound up writing a review of the collected edition of Queer Visitors for the Baum Bugle, and contributed an introduction (and a lot of material) for a new edition of The Woggle-Bug Book. It almost feels redundant doing a blog for these stories, given my previous work with them, but here I am, typing away.

Queer Visitors was a series of comic strips that advertised The Marvelous Land of Oz from 1904 to 1905. The strips were actually full-size newspaper pages, with a story by Baum, and illustrations by Walt McDougall, which would include speech balloons.

The Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Sawhorse, and the Woggle-Bug visit America in the Gump, arriving at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, where they get into mischief. The visitors take time heading from St. Louis to somewhere in Kansas, where the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman are reunited with Dorothy and Toto.

As they visit with Dorothy and travel across the United States even more, more mischief ensues as the visitors attempt to do good deeds, or just visit.

Baum pays special attention to the Woggle-Bug's adventures. Many of the early newspaper stories featured the "What Did The Woggle-Bug Say?" contest, in which the Woggle-Bug solved a question, or showed off his knowledge. Later, the Woggle-Bug is instrumental in resolving plots, or carries them alone.

The Woggle-Bug Book follows up Queer Visitors, giving the Woggle-Bug a misadventure that reads like a "highly magnified" story from the series, and is also considered Baum's worst story.

The visit's conclusion was never properly revealed. In 2003, I wrote a short story that simply had the visitors become homesick, and decide to return to Oz, and they have to send Dorothy back home instead of letting her join them. And when they return, they tell Ozma that money should be abolished in Oz. I never published this story online or otherwise, and probably would not, though I still have it.

What I find most interesting about these stories is that they turn the conventional idea of Oz on its head: usually, someone from America goes to visit Oz. Now we have people from Oz visiting America.

The stories, Queer Visitors and The Woggle-Bug Book, have been questioned when it comes to continuity with the other Oz books. While the proper Oz books seem to say that magic doesn't work outside of Oz, Jack, the Sawhorse, and the Gump are alive outside of Oz, the Woggle-Bug maintains his immense size, and only here, the visitors practice magic. One could argue that they are actually ambassadors, so technically, wherever they are is counted as part of Oz, and Glinda gave them magical charms to use to keep them out of trouble, or to help people. However, though these explanations are reasonable, they require validation, and the stories offer none.

In the Oz books, Baum indicates that Oz is on a hidden continent on Earth somewhere. Promotional material for the series told of the visitors visiting other planets, however, Baum may not have written these.

Another is that, given that her old friends visit, it is odd that Aunt Em doesn't believe Dorothy's tales of Oz, which is a factor that comes into play in The Emerald City of Oz. Once again, one could argue that Baum, not quite catching all the details, added Aunt Em's skepticism, given that Dorothy relayed the Oz stories to him, in-universe.

One minor point is that, despite it appearing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and being mentioned in The Marvelous Land of Oz, the visitors mention that money is not used in Oz. Apparently, despite my fabricated ending for the series, Ozma must have abolished money prior to The Road to Oz.

The biggest concern to modern readers is the ethnic humor. As in my introduction to The Woggle-Bug Book, I see this rather as Baum depicting an ethnically diverse America, at a time when stereotyping was not seen as hateful to people of differing ethnicity.

All in all, these stories are of varying quality. Some of the Queer Visitors stories are quite innocent, while others, and especially The Woggle-Bug Book, can get rather cringe-worthy.

After the initial releases in 1904 and 1905, all the stories were unavailable. Dick Martin illustrated a heavily re-written picture book called The Visitors From Oz, which was based on some of the Queer Visitors stories, which were later reprinted as double-page spreads in the International Wizard of Oz Club's Baum Bugle. The Woggle-Bug Book was available in black and white in a pricey hardcover in the late 1970's, and has since has had some reprints as well.

The stories, both Queer Visitors and The Woggle-Bug Book, were collected in the mid-1980's as The Third Book of Oz, with new illustrations by Eric Shanower. Despite two editions, the volume disappeared quickly. It was replaced in 2005 by Hungry Tiger Press' The Visitors From Oz.

Last year, Sunday Press issued Queer Visitors in an oversized but attractive hardcover. To accompany this edition, I worked with Marcus Mebes and Ruth Berman to present a new edition of The Woggle-Bug Book, so now these odd Ozian tales are available, with or without their original illustrations. If you want to read them, take your pick.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Marvelous Land of Oz

L. Frank Baum did not want to write sequels. Like many good authors, he wanted to try to try other things, test his writing skills. While he eventually got to try various stories, he eventually found that series were very lucrative.

However, his return to Oz was not intended to start a series. The musical adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz spurred many people to read the book, which had already been popular. Many children wanted to know the further adventures of their favorite Oz characters, and wrote to Baum. While Baum indicated that a "Dorothy" had made a long journey to see him, in actuality, the newly formed Reilly & Britton had offered to make him their star author.

Baum was ready to jump for the chance. His last star author position was at the George Hill Company, who had published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Baum's intended follow-up, Dot & Tot of Merryland. Currently, Baum's publisher had been Bobbs-Merrill, who he was not very happy with. The offer of being a star author again was enough to break through Baum's reticence to write a new Oz story.

The story opens with a boy named Tippetarius (or Tip for short) living with a cruel "sorceress" named Mombi. Tip hates his guardian, but does not know why he lives with her. When Mombi is out on a shopping trip, Tip makes a pumpkin-headed wooden dummy to scare her with. When Mombi returns, she brings "Jack Pumpkinhead" to life. Now, she decides to get rid of Tip once and for all by turning him into a marble statue.

While Mombi sleeps, Tip and Jack escape, Tip taking the Powder of Life Mombi used to bring Jack to life with. Determining to go to the Emerald City to meet the Scarecrow, Tip brings a wooden Sawhorse to life for Jack to ride, to ease his joints. However, the Sawhorse soon separates Tip and Jack by running the rest of the way to the Emerald City.

On the rest of the journey, Tip runs into Jinjur, a general of her own army, who intend to conquer the Emerald City and run it to suit themselves. Tip goes with them to the Emerald City, which is conquered quickly and bloodlessly, due to the Scarecrow's low defenses.

Tip and the Soldier with the Green Whiskers (who Baum would later reveal as Omby Amby, though Thompson said he was named Wantowin Battles) hurry to the Scarecrow, and using the Sawhorse, Tip, the Scarecrow, and Jack run to the castle of the Tin Woodman, who is eager to help his old friend. Heading back to the Emerald City, they are joined by the Woggle-Bug, who has been thoroughly educated, highly magnified, and doesn't really help to advance the plot. The party's progress is thwarted by deceptions by Mombi, who has joined with Jinjur. Guidance by the Queen of the Field Mice, making her sole return appearance since The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, easily defeats this, and she lends the Scarecrow some mice who scare away Jinjur and her army.

Once they have taken the Palace back, the Scarecrow and his friends realize they're still captured, as the army waits outside. Putting together a flying machine consisting of two sofas, a gump's head, palm branches, a broom, and a lot of clothesline, Tip uses the last of the Powder of Life to bring it to life with. Dubbing it "The Gump," the company flies to Glinda, but not before a miscalculated direction sends them into a misadventure in a jackdaw's nest, during which the Scarecrow has to be re-stuffed with money.

Glinda refuses to restore the Scarecrow to the throne, claiming that there is a proper heir to the throne. (Why she allowed the Scarecrow to take the throne at all is a mystery.) Revealing that the Wizard took the throne from the former King of Oz, Pastoria (a history Baum would retcon), she further reveals that he had a daughter named Ozma. The Scarecrow says he would not mind surrendering the throne to Ozma, as he tires of the duty. Glinda reveals Mombi was involved in Ozma's disappearance, and so she takes her army to the Emerald City so she can question Mombi.

Jinjur feels that it would be in her best interest to just surrender Mombi, but the witch threatens her, and disguises herself. Glinda manages to thwart Mombi's first attempt, but when Mombi disguises herself as a rose, Glinda and her friends fail to find Mombi, except the Tin Woodman picks the rose on his way out of the City.

Glinda becomes suspicious of the rose, and Mombi transforms herself into a series of shapes, until she turns into a griffin, and starts running towards the desert. The Sawhorse, however, races the griffin to the edge of the desert, where the griffin tires and transforms back into Mombi, being swiftly captured by Glinda.

Upon questioning, Mombi reveals the Wizard gave her Ozma, and in order to conceal the princess, she transformed her into a boy, which everyone realizes, and Mombi confirms, must be Tip. As her last act of magic, Mombi restores Ozma, who, with the aid of Glinda, quickly takes the Emerald City again. Tin Woodman returns to his kingdom and Scarecrow becomes the Royal Treasurer, Woggle-Bug unsuccessfully tutores Jack Pumpkinhead and Saw-Horse becomes Ozma's steed for occasions.

One major misunderstanding of the book is that Baum was making fun of the feminists with General Jinjur and her army. While Baum cleverly pulls off the revolt, keeping the women in character, it is not Baum disapproving of feminists at all. Baum's mother-in-law, Matilda Gage, was a leading, though largely forgotten, feminist, and Baum respected her work. It has even been held that she was the one who told him to start writing his children's stories, which led to his great successes. And the story itself presents a flaw with the theory: if feminism is a bad thing, why is a girl ruling the Emerald City at the end of the story, and throughout the rest of Baum's books? Glinda even states that if it wasn't for Ozma's inheritance, Jinjur would have as much claim to the throne as the Scarecrow, and she would not have interfered. Would Jinjur's government had been the right one? Probably not. But remember, Glinda let a humbug in a balloon rule the Emerald City.

Baum fairly peppered his script with humor, such as when Jinjur declares they are revolting, the Guardian of the Gates tells them they "don't look it," since that is also a word for "ugly." And one of the most memorable scenes is the scene in which the Scarecrow calls for Jellia Jamb (making her first appearance with a name) to interpret his conversation with Jack Pumpkinhead, and the girl decides to have some fun at their expense.

Also, Baum made the story fairly adventurous: midnight runaways, a city being conquered, familiar characters mixed with new characters, and a literal high-flying adventure! It's no wonder that this book was paired with story elements of Ozma of Oz to plot Disney's Return to Oz (Think about those points, and you'll see that they are in that film).

The discovery of Ozma as Tip is the most notable sex change in Baum's works. He did other enchantments, or fairies disguising as a member of the opposite sex. Many members of the LGBT community relate to Tip and Ozma due to this plot twist. Really, the two, as they appear early on, seem to be polar opposites: Tip loves mischief and is very handy with his jack-knife, while Ozma is definitely sophisticated and regal.

This is also a long Oz book, mainly due to the characters spending much time talking as they walk or stand about - a prime example being the Woggle-Bug's recollection of how he came to be - which naturally slows down the story and drags the action. Naturally this is changed in the adaptations, be it comic or acting-media.

All in all, for some reason, there is something lacking from Baum's sequel... What was it? Well... We'll soon see...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

This is part of what I hope will be an ongoing series that will cover the Famous Forty and other Oz stories by those authors. Given that I do not own or have read all of those books, there may be some gaps in between entries. I will attempt to do the Famous Forty in order, at least. Sam has said he may contribute to this, but has made no promises.

Really, what can be said about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that hasn't already been said? Even saying that it is Baum's most examined piece of work is an understatement. It's been picked apart, torn, shredded, examined under microscopes, and re-assembled. So, honestly, there's not much to say about it, even though I finished re-reading it recently after a long time with no Oz. (Yes, it was scary.)

Baum says in his introduction that he believed it was time for a revolution in the children's library, as existing stories felt out-of-date considering the atmosphere in which children grew up. Thus, he states, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was written to please contemporary children. Little did he know that adults and children over 100 years later would still be reading it.

While I do appreciate how Baum wrote his Oz books, and appreciate examining them, as I do myself, I tend to keep in mind that Oz was originally intended to be enjoyed. If you start getting so defensive of this literature that you can't enjoy it anymore, you've missed out. Reading it too critically can spoil your fun, and comparing it with a certain movie as you read can also be spoiling.

Almost two years ago, I wrote about how the story fit the basis of myths and epics very well. Although I would have written some things differently today, I still stand by this analysis of the story, so if you want my take on the story structure, please refer to that blog.

I noted on my latest re-read how grim the story can get. After meeting the Tin Woodman, Dorothy notes that she will run out of food soon and fears starvation. Although this is mentioned rather grimly, noting Dorothy "could not live unless she was fed," Baum manages to turn this grim situation into a bit of character development for the Scarecrow. After meeting the Cowardly Lion, and before they can cross the river that will soon lead them into the Deadly Poppy Field, he manages to find food for her, first in the form of nuts, and then in fruit. This thoughtfulness on his part shows that he can think, though he, and sometimes the readers themselves, may not realize it.

The Tin Woodman, I felt, should be the one out of Dorothy's friends, who could sympathize the most with her, since, unlike the Lion or Scarecrow, he had been human at some point, and had people he loved who were taken from him. However, oddly, Baum didn't seem to play with this. In fact, although he claims he will go back to the Munchkin girl he loved (revealed to be named Nimmee Aimee in The Tin Woodman of Oz), by the end of the story, he seems to have forgotten about her. Baum would resolve this in a much later story (his third to last Oz book), but here, the story is left cold and unresolved.

The Cowardly Lion, I have found, is almost one of the most accurately portrayed lions in literature. Male lions tend not to hunt, leaving female lions to do so. As Baum's Lion has no mate, he hunts on his own (he offers to kill a deer for Dorothy's dinner), and like a real lion, will only attack to defend his territory, or his pride, if needed. (If you want to read Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, and Tin Woodman as his "pride," that is.)

Dorothy herself is almost your fairytale leading lady, though very different from the impudent Goldilocks or the all too-trusting Red Riding Hood. Fairy tale characters she mirrors are the kind Snow-White and her sister Rose-Red who take pity for even grotesque creatures, and the persevering sister who saves her enchanted siblings in the fairy tales of "Brother and Sister," "The Six Swans," "The Seven Ravens," and "The Twelve Brothers." Updating on these characters, Dorothy is very feminine. She has learned to be self-reliant when needed, she takes charge of the situation, and her first visit serves to be the catalyst for changing Oz into a better country, causing the demise of the Wicked Witches of the East and West, and dethroning the Wizard, which would ultimately lead to the restoration of the true heir, a story Baum would pick up on later.

I say The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has rightfully earned its place as an American classic and a fantasy story. May it have many more years of pleasing children and adults.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Royal Podcast of Oz: An Interview With Eric Gjovaag

I’m delighted to release this podcast, where I interview Eric Gjovaag, the webmaster of The Wonderful Website of Oz, as we discuss his online work, the book Queen Ann in Oz, the Oogaboo Rendevous, the Winkie Convention, his favorite Oz books, and Oz movies. As always, you can play it or get download links at the podcast site, or use the player below.

This is the next to last podcast I'll be releasing where I used a analog headset, and it should also be the last where extensive editing was required due to buggy software. Due to a problem with the latest version of Skype, sometimes Eric's audio would cut out for the recording program I used, so I'd need to cut and splice his audio so it would make sense and still represent what he was trying to say. I attempted to make it sound as good as possible, but still, some parts may sound a little off. However, when I mentioned the audio problems to him, he was very cooperative and even re-recorded a couple of lengthy answers. He was an excellent interviewee.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

APRIL FOOL: EA Games announces new Oz game!

Announcement from the company that brought us a Pinball construction set in 1983. Right off the bat, I could tell it was a doozy of an announcement. Loving the description! Fully playable Oz mapped out. Oh, this is going to be good. Lucky fans, we are.

From Kevin Taylor from EA: "We're delving into every location, every character from your favorite Oz stories by L. Frank Baum and mapped them out. Players can explore everywhere from the Yellow Brick Road to the Island of the Skeezers. And they can play as a wide selection of their favorite Oz characters, or create their own character, who can be either a visitor or a resident of Oz. And using online game play, they can team up with another player.

"There are various plots that you can follow. While you won't find every Oz character from the books in the game, we're including many of them. You can ride the Sawhorse to the home of Reera the Yookoohoo, or you can accompany the Woggle-Bug to the home of General Jinjur.

"I find it odd that no one else has seen the viability in the scope of this game before. Baum's characters and John R. Neill's illustrations lend themselves well to a video game, and the possibilities of stories you can play are almost endless.

"The game should be available in stores by Christmas and we're porting it for the XBox360, the Wii, and the PS3. Just now, we have no plans for a handheld game, but if this game sells well enough, then we'll look into that."

You can read more and see a bit of concept art here.