Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Scarecrow of Oz

As I said in my previous post, Tik-Tok of Oz was the first of three of Baum's later Oz books that are sometimes, among fans, noted with poor writing simply because it seemed to feature a story based on a pre-existing work. Of the three Oz features produced by the Oz Film Manufacturing Company, the only one with an original story was His Majesty, The Scarecrow Of Oz. However, one has only to see that film and read The Scarecrow of Oz to see that there was much more to the story of the book than that film.

I believe The Scarecrow of Oz began as the third "Trot" book, featuring the adventures of Mayre "Trot" Griffith, and Cap'n Bill Wheedles. The first two books, The Sea Fairies and Sky Island, were published in 1911 and 1912, respectively, as a replacement fantasy series for the Oz books. The latter book alone showed that interest in the books were not too high, as Button-Bright came in as a third main character, and Polychrome appeared, Baum hoping to give the series a "boost" from Oz.

One of the biggest reasons why I think The Scarecrow of Oz began as the third book is because of where the story goes. The Sea Fairies featured Trot and Cap'n Bill visiting the mermaids, while Sky Island found them caught up in changing the political system of an island in the sky.

The Scarecrow of Oz opens with Trot and Cap'n Bill going boating, when they are caught in a whirlpool, and end up in an underwater cave, with only dark caverns and tunnels, and a very limited food supply.

You see, The Sea Fairies had the theme of water, Sky Island had the theme of sky, and the third book had the theme of earth. However, as he was forced to return to Oz, but some of his fans (if the claims he made in his introductions are to be believed) did like Trot and Cap'n Bill, he decided to turn his unfinished book into an Oz book. (This theory, while I am not alone in it, lacks complete verification.)

Trot and Cap'n Bill are soon joined by an Ork, a strange bird-like creature who considers itself to be superior. (It is briefly noted that his name is Flipper, and he is the ruler of Orkland.) Because it can fly (and hover, using a propeller-like tail), the Ork helps them through the tunnels.

They emerge on an island, rich in vegetation, including many fruits and nuts, so they decide, if they must live there forever, at least they won't starve. However, the island is not uninhabited. The sole resident is a pessimistic man named Pessim, who, living up to his name, finds fault in everything and everyone. However, he can help when the Ork eats a lavender berry that has made it shrink to a tiny size, by revealing that he experienced the same thing, but found a dark purple berry that served as an antidote.

Just as it is living with an overly critical person, they soon tire of Pessim and wish to leave the island. Because the Ork cannot carry two, they decide to use the lavender and dark purple berries to shrink so they can ride in Trot's sunbonnet, which will be tied to the Ork's neck. Pessim is both annoyed and pleased that they are leaving.

I actually liked Pessim's character. I think everyone knows a Pessim. There's a little Pessim in all of us. Yeah, he's the latest character with a name that defines his character. He is a pessimist, so that's his name. It's like how General Guph's name meant "guff," meaning he spread superfluous information and made insolent or otherwise unacceptable remarks. You gotta love Baum's wordplay sometimes!

The Ork flies them safely to the Land of Mo, where, after regaining their proper sizes, they meet the Bumpy Man, "The Mountain Ear" (he tells the mountain who lets them stay overnight and treats them to hot molasses candy and lemonade, which they are grateful for, but wish for something better to eat. The next morning, they discover that it snowed, except Mo snow is popcorn. They find someone buried in the snow, who proves to be Button-Bright, who has gotten himself lost in Mo, somehow losing the Magic Umbrella from Sky Island.

Deciding to fly over a nearby desert, they use the remaining dark purple berries to enlarge some birds, who fly them over the desert and into Jinxland, which is in the Quadling Country. The Ork takes his leave, and the three humans wander into the plot of His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz.

It's hard to tell exactly where the possible third "Trot" book may have ended, and where Baum began writing new material. It is very possible that he did intend to have them visit Oz originally, as a way to make the third book really sell so subsequent books would as well, before opting to just write new Oz books. In any case, by the time King Krewl is mentioned, I am sure it is new material.

After getting a meal from a friendly resident, they encounter a sobbing young man named Pon, who is in love with the Princess Gloria. He says Gloria's father was king, then his own father was king (it is not told how Gloria's father left the throne), then his father was sent to the bottom of a pond by Krewl, who is now King.

Krewl wishes Gloria to wed an ugly old courtier named Googly-Goo, who is paying the king handsomely for her. However, she refuses, especially as she loves Pon. Pon has been beaten for Gloria loving him, hence his crying.

Trot and Cap'n Bill do not think much of Pon, and go to see the King. Marvelling at Cap'n Bill's wooden leg and boastfulness, Krewl assumes he is a magician. He gives the travelers rooms, but calls the Witch Blinkie to do to tasks: incapacitate Cap'n Bill, which she does by turning him into a grasshopper (his wooden leg becomes a wooden grasshopper leg), then freezing Gloria's heart, which Trot and Pon witness. However, the plot backfires, because now Gloria can love no one, not even Googly-Goo.

And now, Glinda reads of these occurrences in her Book Of Records and sends the Scarecrow to assist Trot, Cap'n Bill, Button-Bright, and conquer Krewl and Blinkie. In Jinxland, he is disassembled by Blinkie, but re-assembled by Trot, Pon, and the transformed Cap'n Bill. Button-Bright, meanwhile, has been lost and was found by the Ork, who found his home, but came back to check on his friends. Now, he listens to the Scarecrow making his plans to conquer Krewl and decides to get more Orks.

When Pon tells Krewl that the Scarecrow will conquer him, he is struck and sent back. Then the Scarecrow arrives to announce his conquest, but is captured and is to be burned at the stake. However, the Orks arrive in time to blow out the fire with their tails before the Scarecrow can be harmed in the slightest. The Orks also subdue Krewl, and the Scarecrow is hailed as the new King of Jinxland.

Being democratic, the Scarecrow asks the people who should rule them, Pon or Gloria, and they all call for Gloria, but before she can become Queen, her heart must be thawed, so an Ork gets Blinkie, who, under threat from the Scarecrow who uses a powder from Glinda to start shrinking her, she restores Cap'n Bill to human form, and then thaws Gloria's heart. Blinkie stops shrinking, but does not regain her former size, nor can she work magic again. Gloria takes her throne, and proclaims Pon shall be her consort, while Krewl will become the new Gardener, and renamed Grewl.

That night, the Orks carry the Scarecrow, Trot, Cap'n Bill, and Button-Bright over the border into Oz proper, and let them head to Glinda's palace. Along the way, they have places to rest and sleep magically provided for them by the Wizard, as Ozma, Dorothy, and Betsy Bobbin were watching in the Magic Picture. When the Scarecrow becomes water-logged after falling into a lake, the Wizard provides fresh straw.

Finally, they arrive at Glinda's palace, where they are welcomed to a party (Ozma being absent, noting she needed to consult with the Woggle-Bug and Jack Pumpkinhead, though those two appear at the party), and then assured all three of the new arrivals are welcome to stay in Oz, which they accept.

Really, Baum didn't do a lot of great, deep writing here. He wrote a good story, but it feels flatter than most of his Oz stories. This is probably because of the effort he was dedicating to the Oz Film Manufacturing Company at the time. It puzzles me why Trot, Cap'n Bill, and Button-Bright are welcomed to live in Oz so quickly, when Ozma was unsure to let Betsy, Shaggy's unnamed brother, and Hank stay in Oz in Tik-Tok of Oz.

Further confusion arises in that Trot's mother and Button-Bright's family, all of them mention in previous Baum books, are not given a thought. Are we to assume Trot's mother was brought to Oz, or died somehow during these adventures? We are given no explanation, nor does the character appear in later Oz books.

Button-Bright is more curious. How did he wind up in Mo? Was he trying to return to Oz and either let go or stopped too early and somehow dropped the umbrella in the "snow"? And what of his family? Did they die? Is he angry at them? The answer, again, is not revealed in any subsequent Oz book.

Although very subtle at times, it is here that John R. Neill's art isn't as fine or delicately beautiful as before (main example being the colour plate of Pon and Gloria in the garden, or the chapter title head image of Queen Gloria). It is too bad John didn't see to reuse Gloria's costume from the film.

So, Baum may have re-used an unfinished book and brought in the plot of a film and brought some new characters to Oz from his other books, and despite this, managed a great story, but again, it falls a little flat.

And if you think that practice wasn't so great, just wait until the next Oz book . . .

1 comment:

Nathan said...

The summary in the back of Who's Who says that Baum considered Scarecrow his best Oz book, but I haven't seen confirmation of that elsewhere.

Did Flipper actually say he was the ruler of Orkland? I thought he just said the Orks were the rulers of all other creatures in Orkland. Also, Gloria's father was pushed into the Great Gulf by Pon's father.