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.


Nathan said...

In March Laumer's Careless Kangaroo, we learn how the Wogglebug ended up getting a degree in Kentucky after his companions had returned to Oz. Personally, I don't really see the stories as canonical, despite the fact they were written by Baum.

Randy Alexander said...

Do you have any idea why when the Scarecrow appears in Ozma of Oz, he is not stuffed with money anymore?

Jared said...

I'd assume paper money would get musty, eventually, as well. He got re-stuffed sometime in between stories, in fact, one of the "Queer Visitors" involves him being out during a rainstorm, and the Tin Woodman trying to find fresh straw for him.