Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Emerald City of Oz

Six novels about Oz. Something Baum never intended was happening at last. However, even with pseudonymous works and the endless possibilities of fantasy, Baum felt Oz was too limiting to his talents, yet it was his most popular work. In The Road to Oz, he attempted to make his Oz readers aware of his other work, by having the main characters from those books appear as guests at Ozma's birthday party. If anything, he probably hoped this would warm his readers up to the idea of him writing non-Oz stories. In 1910, the next book to complete his plan would be published, The Emerald City of Oz.

Unlike the previous Oz books that would open with one of our heroes, Baum instead opened with the villain. The Nome King is back, and he's still furious that Dorothy and Ozma took his Magic Belt, and rescued the Royal Family of Ev, back in Ozma of Oz. Yes, of the four Oz books that Baum was contractually obligated to write, he bookended them with the same villain, the second appearance leading from the first, because now the Nome King decides to get his revenge: invade Oz.

Now we catch up with Dorothy and her family. Baum reveals that though Uncle Henry is a good farmer, he has been unable to pay off mortgages to the bank. What were these for? For rebuilding a house, and paying for a trip to Australia. Yes, Baum tied in little things he'd written in previous stories to create a big problem for his leading heroine. Finally, the bank threatens foreclosure, and Aunt Em and Uncle Henry tell Dorothy of their troubles, that they will soon have to move,and the whole family will have to get jobs to support themselves, though they will try to continue Dorothy's education.

Dorothy realizes that there is an easier solution, so she assures her aunt and uncle that she will go to Oz when Ozma looks in on her next and speak to her. Although Aunt Em and Uncle Henry are skeptical of Dorothy's belief in Oz, they tell her that it is all right if she doesn't return this time.

In Oz, Dorothy (who has brought Toto, too) fills in Ozma about Uncle Henry's trouble, and reminds Ozma that she has been offered to stay in Oz, but the only reason why she turned down the offer was her loyalty to her family. Now, she tells Ozma, she is only willing to stay if Aunt Em and Uncle Henry are allowed to come as well. As it turns out, Ozma never needed any persuasion. (I almost wonder why Ozma never extended the offer before.)

When rooms are prepared for Dorothy's family, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry are brought to Oz without warning. (It seems Eureka's transportation didn't occur until later, or perhaps, as a fan-written story states, she was already in Oz.) Em and Henry feel like the proverbial square peg in a round hole, but Ozma and Dorothy do everything they can to make them feel comfortable.

Meanwhile, the Nome King is plotting how to conquer Oz. His General of his armies claims it is impossible: Ozma is too powerful, and Billina has been hatching eggs, meaning that Oz has a large supply of eggs. (Though in the book, they claim Billina was the first chicken in Oz, ignoring a quick mention of a rooster and a hen in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, so apparently, Billina has been hatching eggs asexually, which is pretty weird...) The Nome King doesn't like what he hears, so going by the rule of "Don't nobody bring me no bad news," he has the General "thrown away." He summons for other Nomes to be the new General, but when he doesn't like what the first says, he has the unfortunate Nome sliced into thin slices and fed to seven-headed dogs. (If you feel sorry for the Nomes, possibly the other Nomes didn't carry out the sentence.)

The Nome King finds a new General in Guph (another homophone name describing something about the character!), who proposes that the Nomes tunnel to the Emerald City and begin a surprise attack. Because of the Nomes' fear of eggs, Guph tells the King he will round up allies while the Nomes dig.

Despite the more minor inconsistencies, we have to stop and admire that Baum wove this tale of the Nome King plotting revenge. We already saw that he tied in an event all the way from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to Aunt Em and Uncle Henry's trouble. When he really put his mind to it, Baum could tie together wonderful plots, however, he also had many other stories he was working on, so such occurrences became rare.

Unlike Zeb, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry attempt to adjust to living in a fairyland, including a hilarious scene in which Aunt Em tries to overpower the Cowardly Lion with her stare. Dorothy feels her Aunt and Uncle are becoming restless, and miss doing manual labor, so Ozma decides to assign them some light jobs to do, but while she is deciding, Dorothy may take them on a tour of Oz.

The tour begins at the Woggle-Bug's college, where the Woggle-Bug uses pills to have the students quickly digest their knowledge and they can just focus on sports. While you'd think the Woggle-Bug would want his students to learn like he did, but maybe he's decided that enjoying life is more important. After all, who cheers at a spelling bee?

The first visit is to the Cuttenclips, live paper dolls made from magic paper. Then, it's on to Fuddlecumjig, where the people, when disturbed, fall to pieces and must be re-assembled like a jigsaw puzzle. Uncle Henry and Aunt Em have fun reassembling a few of the citizens, including Grandmother Gnit, who gets to work on making a new pair of mittens for the Kangaroo who had lost them, and fears getting its paws sunburned. Then, using magic he learned from Glinda, the Wizard makes handkerchiefs into tents for the party to camp under. (Wait, what happened to the safest wizards are humbugs?)

Meanwhile, Guph has been meeting allies. He manages to get the Whimsies, strong burly men with tiny heads. Guph promises that the Nome King will give them normal-sized heads when they reclaim the Magic Belt. After crossing the frustrating Ripple Land, he wins over the Growleywogs, lanky strong wild men, by promising them Oz people for slaves. And finally, he goes to the Mountain of Phantastico and wins the dreaded Phanfasms, who pledge their aid simply for the joy of making people unhappy. However, the Phanfasms plan to turn on the Nomes when Oz is conquered.

Guph returns to the Nome King, who is astounded at the apparent success, and feels assured they will be successful. Dang, Baum, you better find some way to stop them, right?

While Dorothy's group rests, they are approached by a zebra and a soft-shell crab who are arguing over whether there is more land or water. The group tells them what most authorities say: there is more water than land. (At least, on the surface of the earth.)

The next morning, Dorothy, Toto, and Billina go to look for a new path to follow, when they are captured by an army of spoons, who take them to Utensia, where they are put on trial, until King Kleaver realizes they haven't done anything and lets them go. (Baum filled that part full of puns!)

Dorothy leaves Utensia and finds a signpost that points to Bunbury and Bunnybury. Bunbury proves to be a town of live baked goods, who offer Dorothy some of their unwanted items for food, but when Toto and Billina start acting up, they are forced to leave. Only Dorothy is allowed in Bunnybury, a city for rabbits to live in. (She must shrink to get in, though.) The King of Bunnybury feels his life is unbearable and wants Dorothy to convince Glinda to relieve him of his duties as King, until he realizes how many benefits of royalty he'll miss.

After Dorothy leaves Bunnybury, she rejoins her group, and they continue to Rigmarole Town, where people talk on and on in the driest manner. Then onto Flutterbudget Center, where people worry themselves crazy over the slightest things, even things that haven't happened yet.

All in all, the chapters entailing Dorothy's trip through the odd settlements of the Quadling Country bring to mind the odd creatures from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. No real plot building here, just whimsical, fun visits.

While Dorothy has been out traveling, Ozma happens to think of the Nome King and asks to see him in the Magic Picture. She immediately discovers the Nome King's plans. Now, Ozma, you're going to get your army assembled, right?

Bad news travels fast. When Dorothy makes her next stop, at the home of the Tin Woodman, he tells them that the Nome King will be invading Oz, so they start planning what to do. Dorothy thinks they might move to Kansas, pay off the farm with a few emeralds, while the Tin Woodman offers to work to support Ozma. (How quickly the Tin Woodman thinks of moving to Kansas might be interpreted to be a reason for having the Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz stories as canonical.)

Along the way back to the Emerald City, they pick up the Scarecrow and Jack Pumpkinhead, and they all go to try to help Ozma...

...who has flatly refused to fight the Nome King. And she's not interested in moving to Kansas and leaving her people behind. She shows Dorothy and her group the scene in the Magic Picture, where they overhear the information about the Nome King's allies as well. Ozma has deduced the tunnel will come up in her gardens, right by the forbidden fountain. When the Scarecrow hears why the fountain is forbidden, he comes up with an idea that might just save Oz without violence.

Based on this book alone, many accuse Baum of being a pacifist. I'm not exactly sure. We have a little girl on the throne, whose army isn't even designed to fight. What else would happen? Anyways, if you read some of Baum's non-fantasy books, you'll quickly see that he was not a pacifist, but decided to present an alternate solution to fighting in his book, possibly to get the message to children that there are alternatives to violence.

The next morning, all rise early to join the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, Jack Pumpkinhead, and Tik-Tok in their lonely vigil beside the fountain. The Growleywogs, Whimsies, Phanfasms, and Nomes emerge... and run for the forbidden fountain, and all drink. After that, they look stupified, for the water in the fountain makes one forget everything they had never known, down to their own identity. Using the Magic Belt, Ozma had made the tunnel very dusty, so by the time the enemies emerged, they would jump at clear, fresh water to clear their throats.

Ozma sends the Nomes marching back and transports the other enemies home with the Magic Belt, and closes up the tunnel. Tik-Tok, however, points out that this just proves, that even surrounded by the Deadly Desert, Oz is not safe. Ozma takes this to heart and determines to consult with Glinda.

Glinda says the only solution is to put an invisible barrier all around Oz, rendering it invisible from the outside. When Dorothy and Ozma agree to this, Glinda reveals she already did so. (Hmmm? Acting before commanded, Glinda?)

The book ends with a bittersweet notice that because Oz has been cut off from the rest of the world, and that Baum's correspondent, Dorothy, is in Oz, there will be no more Oz stories. Baum assures his readers that they will live happily ever after.

Even when Baum turned out a less-than perfect Oz story, it still felt satisfying. He could turn out a very good plot, and though some might think The Emerald City of Oz drags with Dorothy's Alice-like farewell journey through Oz, when you consider that he set up a Doomsday Clock for Oz, even on a re-read, you get to those last chapters, waiting that bit of anti-climax that lets you know everything would be all right.

But even though Oz would be cut off from the rest of the world, did that really mean there would be no more stories about it? Baum hoped so, but as we'll soon discover, his readers didn't.

3 comments:

Nathan said...

Even if there were no chickens in Oz prior to Billina, there would have been other birds that laid eggs, right? Is a chicken egg somehow more harmful to Nomes than others? Thompson apparently didn't think so, as she suggested that the oztrich egg in Gnome King was even more dangerous to Ruggedo.

Baum might not have been a pacifist, but do you feel that Ozma is?

Jared said...

Ozma seems willing to fight in "Ozma of Oz," but right here, her complete reluctance to fight is baffling.

Nathan said...

It kind of seems like she's trying out the extremes, outright belligerence in Ozma and pacifism in Emerald City. Maybe she was better able to balance the two after that.