Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Lost Princess of Oz

In the introduction of Rinkitink in Oz, Baum wrote:
If I am permitted to write another Oz book it will tell of some thrilling adventures encountered by Dorothy, Betsy Bobbin, Trot and the Patchwork Girl right in the Land of Oz, and how they discovered some amazing creatures that never could have existed outside a fairy-land.
So Baum was ready to return to Oz properly (if you didn't notice, Baum kept the previous three books mainly out of Oz, or in very small parts of it). Thus, we can assume he'd been planning The Lost Princess of Oz for awhile, possibly even writing it in between other projects and books. Anyways, now Baum felt the story was ready for publication. Would the quality improve now that he was putting his full focus into a new Oz story?

The story opens with Dorothy, Betsy, and Trot discovering Ozma is missing. They hurry to find the Magic Picture to ask it of Ozma's whereabouts, but that too is missing. The Wizard hurries to Glinda to ask for her help, but discovers that Glinda's Book of Records and magic tools have been stolen. Returning to the Emerald City, he discovers his own magic tools have been stolen as well.

Over in a far-off corner of the Winkie Country, in the land of the Yips, Cayke the Cookie Cook discovers her golden, diamond-studded dishpan is also missing. Asking the Frogman (a frog who has grown to gigantic size and flaunts his supposed wisdom) for help, she begins a search that takes her and the Frogman away from the Yip Country.

So, what did Baum do here? He quickly sets up a dilemma and then removes the easiest solutions. Removing the Magic Picture and the Book of Records, he prevented his characters from quickly discovering where Ozma was. I have a feeling that if he'd written the story a few years earlier, and the Book of Records and the Magic Picture had not been stolen, they would have been inexplicably ignored.

In the matter of Cayke and the Frogman, Baum introduces a new magic tool, Cayke explaining that all attempts to bake without the dishpan have been failures (or maybe she's actually a really bad cook). Cayke is a bit of an interesting character, taking a more traditional female role, though still independent. Most of Baum's females depict his belief in feminism, such as women ruling countries and serving as the real heroes of their stories. All Cayke wants is her dishpan back so she can bake well again.

As for the Frogman, I think he's almost a repeat of the Woggle-Bug, just in a different form, and while the Frogman feigns his knowledge, the Woggle-Bug really is smart, except he has trouble applying it to situations reasonably.

Ozma's subjects gather to decide what to do, and they form search parties. The one the story mainly focuses on is led by the Wizard, and it includes Dorothy (who has the Magic Belt, though she's not sure of how to use it), Betsy, Trot, Scraps, the Woozy, Button-Bright, the Cowardly Lion, Hank, and the Sawhorse. As they leave to search the Winkie Country, Toto sneakily follows and joins them.

Their first major challenge is getting by the Merry-Go-Round Mountains, but soon find that this is easily done by swinging themselves onto one of the mountains and bouncing from one to the next until they are dropped off on the other side. Another creative L. Frank Baum obstacle with a non-magical solution, showing that the characters must rely on their wits now.

Their next obstacle arrives when they try to approach a walled city, but it seems to keep moving away from them. Finally, they come to some thistles, which they can use a series of blankets to walk over, or the Woozy and Sawhorse can carry people over. The city appears to have no gate in the wall, but Scraps discovers the wall is but an illusion, and they enter the city of Thi, where oddly-shaped people eat thistles and ride in chariots pulled by mechanical dragons. The Thists know nothing of Ozma, but tell them that further to the west is the city of Herku, where people have giants for slaves.

A humorous bit occurs in Thi, in which the mechanical dragons are stylish, but the Cowardly Lion, Hank, the Woozy, and the Sawhorse are forced to walk slowly to keep up with them. A little reminder that sometimes technology isn't better.

Baum brings up a little subplot: Toto cannot bring himself to growl, and thinks someone may have stolen his growl. Perhaps Toto cannot growl because he is happy adventuring with Dorothy, or maybe it is because he subconsciously loves Ozma and cannot bring himself to growl without her around. Whatever happened, Baum doesn't say exactly what happened with the growl.

The Wizard's party finds an orchard, and they soon find fruit trees bearing delicious fruits. Button-Bright, looking for his favorite fruit, peaches, wanders off, trying to find such a tree. He finds a tree bearing a lone peach, which is rosy and ripe, and he eats it, and finds that it had a golden pit. He keeps it, but it warned by some nearby animals that eating the peach will infuriate Ugu the Shoemaker. Scraps finds him and scolds him for getting lost.

The travelers soon arrive at Herku, where they find the rumors are true: there are giants kept as slaves in the city, and their masters are skinny people who have great strength due to a compound they call zosozo. The Wizard accepts six doses of it, but does not take any. The Czarover of Herku tells them of Ugu the Shoemaker, who became a magician and moved away from Herku, making him the first real suspect in Ozma's kidnapping.

In case "Herku" sounds familiar and you instantly thought of "Hercules", that's a good reason. L. Frank Baum knew the stories about the Labours of Hercules, a character of incredible strength. However, the real Greek name was "Heracles", the popular and famous 'Hercules' version being Roman.

Now Baum turns back to Cayke and the Frogman. After being refused breakfast due to his haughtiness, the Frogman finds a pond and takes a swim in it, only to discover it to be the Truth Pond, forcing him to admit that he is not so wise to Cayke. She is mainly indifferent to whether the Frogman is wise or not, so long as he can help her.

Cayke and the Frogman find themselves in Bear Center, inhabited by animated teddy bears, who take offense to them on two counts: they intruded uninvited and asked if they had the missing dishpan, which the bears take to mean as suggesting they stole it. The Big Lavender Bear, king of Bear Center, gives them a fair trial, and is very lenient, revealing his little Pink Bear (which works only after being wound) as a device that will give a truthful answer about anything that has happened. The Big Lavender Bear decides to join Cayke and the Frogman, after setting their sentence as an execution to be carried out a decade later. (Presumably, by this time, they won't care about the offense anymore.)

Very soon, the Patchwork Girl and No-Longer Wise Frogman meet each other and the two parties become one. Using the Big Lavender Bear's magic wand, which can conjure up images, and the truthful answers of the Little Pink Bear, they discover Ugu the Shoemaker is responsible for kidnapping Ozma, stealing the Book of Records, the Magic Picture, Glinda and the Wizard's magic, and Cayke's magic dishpan. (Baum reveals in an aside chapter that Ozma's capture was not planned, as Ozma caught Ugu in the act, and the dishpan can grow large enough for a man to sit in, and can transport a person anywhere.)

To the group's surprise, the Little Pink Bear tells them that Ozma is not in Ugu's wicker castle, but in a nearby hole. Looking in, though, they discover Button-Bright, who had wandered off again. They think the Little Pink Bear is faulty, to which the Big Lavender Bear takes great offense. After Button-Bright comes out of the hole, the Little Pink Bear tells them Ozma is not in the hole. They decide to continue on.

Ugu takes a cue from Mombi's illusions in The Marvelous Land of Oz, and tries to trick the group into not entering his castle. However, using wits and the Wizard's knowledge of magic, they are able to pass by every illusion.

Upon entering the wicker castle, Ugu turns the room upside down (or perhaps just the gravity in the room, except a cage he was sitting in with the magic tools). He escapes through a trap door, and the group makes an unsuccessful attempt to get to the magic tools. Dorothy, who has been experimenting with the Magic Belt, uses a daily wish to turn the room right side up.

It is odd that Dorothy has forgotten how to use the Belt, but then, Ozma and Glinda may have made the Belt so it cannot be easily used by anyone but Ozma.

Ugu reappears, furious that his plans are being foiled. Dorothy then uses the Magic Belt to turn him into a dove, but due to her lack of description becomes a giant grey dove, and tries to attack her, but the Frogman (who the Wizard had given some zosozo) fights Ugu off until Dorothy can shrink him. Ugu then uses the Dishpan to escape.

Now that they can access the Book of Records and the Magic Picture, they discover Ugu has fled to the Quadling Country, and when they ask to see Ozma, they just see a small, round dot on the Magic Picture. Asking the Little Pink Bear more questions, they discover Ozma is in one of Button-Bright's pockets, and he produces the golden peach pit. The Wizard pries it open, and Ozma appears, having been imprisoned inside the pit.

The story wraps up with everyone packing up everything and heading back to the Emerald City. (How the massive Book of Records was easily carried by "the animals" on their backs is anyone's guess, especially when Ozma could have just transported everything with the Magic Belt.) Toto finds he can growl again, and the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman find the Magic Dishpan in the Quadling Country and take it to the Emerald City, where it is restored to Cayke, who doesn't seem to be in a hurry to get home. (If Neill's endpaper design is to be taken as a story extension, she is seen baking for many of the story's main characters, suggesting she decided to stay in the Emerald City or they visited a nearby bakery.)

Ugu the tiny gray dove comes to the Emerald City and begs forgiveness for his wickedness, and in a twist, asks to remain a dove, as he can lead a simple and pleasant life as a beautiful bird. Ozma and Dorothy grant him this.

So, really, after the last three books, Baum came back in his best top form, though he still had his problems. Really, The Lost Princess of Oz is one of his better Oz books, and, as it turned out, his last four Oz books would probably be his strongest.


Nathan said...

I always wondered if there was any real significance to Toto's lost growl, or it was just psychosomatic on his part. I guess it's possible that Ugu stole it, as the bark of a dog seems like one of the odd ingredients that spell often call for. I know the Wizard of Mo used hen's teeth in his magic potion.

Olson said...

I've just recently started reading the OZ books and have just blogged this one (that I've nearly finished). I didn't read some of your post so as not to spoil the end.
Yes, I like the Toto losing his growl subplot. When the hell did he start speaking though? I will have to check out the others, because I am really enjoying this one. I keep hearing bad reviews for the later Oz books and that the first six are the best, well so far so good.