Now, this book was one of the last Oz stories Baum wrote. He prepared The Magic of Oz and Glinda of Oz for two more Oz books, should anything happen to him. (Which did, as both of those books were published posthumously.) I'm unsure how early he'd written them. A character introduced in this book appears in Magic, meaning that either Tin Woodman was written first, alongside, or had been plotted out fully when Magic was.
Anyways, Baum now finally had his Land of Oz better visualized than at any other time in his life. And upon reading Tin Woodman, it shows! Baum really weaves a tale, that is well-written (though this book does have inconsistencies with some of his earlier books), and while it's too fantastic to be believed, you wish it was true. He really was a historian.
Baum had a penchant to satirize the types of stories he was writing within the story, and as this is a romantic fairy tale of sorts, he doesn't do any exception here. A former lover in shining armor (or in this case, a shiny body), braves many hardships and dangers for his love. And they all live happily ever after... Right? Well, yes!
The Tin Woodman is visited in his castle by Woot the Wanderer, who asks why he is made of tin. The Tin Woodman obliges and tells the story we heard back in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, now expanded, and altered slightly. In Wonderful Wizard, the Tin Woodman's former self (later named Nick Chopper) falls in love with a pretty munchkin girl, but the old woman she lives with disapproves of the couple, and has the Wicked Witch of the East cast a spell on the woodman's axe to make him have accidents. The woodman has his old body parts replaced with tin, until he is made of tin, but alas! he now has no heart, and cannot love the munchkin girl. Later, he gets caught in a rainstorm and rusts until he is rescued by Dorothy and the Scarecrow.
In Tin Woodman, the munchkin girl has a name, Nimmie Amee, and the woodman is now called Nick Chopper in the story. She lives with the Wicked Witch of the East, which simplifies the story, and the story of the enchanted axe and the accidents that accompanied it are expanded upon. After becoming the Tin Woodman, he set out to find a heart, but rusts in a strange forest, where he remains until rescued by Dorothy and the Scarecrow. Both stories are in all essentials the same, but the version in Tin Woodman is the better one.
Woot and the Scarecrow encourage the Tin Woodman to seek out Nimmee Amee and offer her a marriage proposal. The three set out, and face an odd series of adventures, first invading a country where the people are made of rubber and inflated like balloons.
Woot points out that if the Tin Woodman's heart was kind or loving, he would have gone after Nimee Amee long ago. Indeed, the Tin Woodman said he'd do so after getting a heart way back in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It's a little reminder to the Wizard's nature at the time, and it's a rare occasion in which Baum has a character question their actual nature.
Their adventure among the Loons makes another interesting bit: the Loons attack them, and while Woot says he'd like to puncture all of them, the Scarecrow tells him that they did invade the Loons' home, which they were warned not to go to. Anything other than self-defense would be cruelty. Coming from a time when the onslaught of World War I was felt (Baum's eldest son was serving in the military), this comes a bit of a nice piece of advice. (I wouldn't be surprised if some who want to view Baum as being repentant for certain statements about the Indians would take this as his apology.)
Next they encounter the giantess, Mrs. Yoop, who transforms them into animals. In this adventure, they are joined by Polychrome, the daughter of the Rainbow, who has been turned into a canary. They escape Mrs. Yoop's castle and have run-ins with a jaguar who tries to eat Woot, a family of dragons that Woot must escape from, and Tommy Kwikstep, a boy with twenty legs. They reach the home of ex-General Jinjur, where they are met by Dorothy, Toto, and Ozma, who manages to break Mrs. Yoop's enchantments.
Mrs. Yoop claims she is a Yookoohoo, and the effects of her magic are irreversible. Ozma has hard work restoring some of the enchantments, but manages. Again, it re-enforces Baum's rule that Evil will always be conquered by Good.
I noted that however much Baum makes his girls the leaders, they are still girls. Take this excerpt:
Dorothy wanted to go, too, but as the Tin Woodman did not invite her to join his party, she felt she might be intruding if she asked to be taken. She hinted, but she found he didn't take the hint. It is quite a delicate matter for one to ask a girl to marry him, however much she loves him, and perhaps the Tin Woodman did not desire to have too many looking on when he found his old sweetheart, Nimmie Amee. So Dorothy contented herself with the thought that she would help Ozma prepare a splendid wedding feast, to be followed by a round of parties and festivities when the Emperor of the Winkies reached the Emerald City with his bride.Yes, Dorothy and Ozma are already making wedding plans.
The four continue, being joined by Captain Fyter, who turns out to be Nimmee Amee's second lover after the Tin Woodman disappeared, and met with a similar fate as Nick did. The two decide that Nimmee Amee will choose her husband from between them, and they meet Ku-Klip, the tinsmith who gave them their tin bodies. He tells them of Chopfyt, a man he made of their old body parts who worked for him, until Ku-Klip let him go.
The scene in Ku-Klip's shop is one of Baum's most amusing scenes, for in a cupboard, the Tin Woodman finds his old human head, still alive and self-aware, but has become cross and disagreeable, and manages to be very rude to himself. Because of the two, Baum now touches on the matter of identity. There are two living entities, but can they be called the same person? Chopfyt confuses the matter even more, being made of the remaining parts of Nick Chopper and Captain Fyter. Is he one of them, or both, or a new person entirely?
Another item in Ku-Klip's shop reveals that maybe the Wicked Witch of the East wasn't as bad as the Wicked Witch of the West. The country seems to be well-maintained (though, as revealed in Wonderful Wizard, the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City was left to disrepair, making passage to there, and possibly out of the Munchkin Country, very difficult and maybe impossible), and Ku-Klip tells how she glued his finger back on when he accidentally cut it off, asking for seemingly no payment at all. Maybe she kept her people where she liked, but she wasn't too cruel.
Ku-Klip himself gets a little disturbing as he reveals how he made Chopfyt, digging through severed body parts, gluing them together to create a new person. For one, that's a pretty gruesome task. Second, he seems to be "playing God," creating another person. Ku-Klip is Dr. Frankenstein, and Chopfyt is his monster, that he literally unleashed on an unsuspecting Oz.
The travelers come across a place that makes them invisible to themselves and each other, and the tin men end up denting each other badly. During and after their adventure in this place, they meet a Hip-po-gy-raf who will help them along if the Scarecrow will sacrifice his straw. The Scarecrow eventually does. Shortly after, they meet the Swynes, a married couple of pigs, who let them stay the night outside their home, giving the travelers free use of a sack of straw.
The Swynes are another inconsistency. They claim to be the parents of the Wizard's nine tiny piglets, who the Wizard has with him in Dorothy & The Wizard in Oz, but in that book, he says they came from the Island of Teenty-Weent, where everything is small. It would take quite a bit of imagination to explain how, if the Wizard was lying (or had concocted the story to keep Oz a secret and told it out of habit, or if he had begun to believe it himself), the piglets remained so tiny while they were outside of Oz. Early stunted growth, somehow?
Finally, they find Nimee Amee, who they find has happily married Chopfyt, in one way, marrying both Nick and Fyter, and in another way, married neither.
Polychrome then returns home, and the remaining three get to the Emerald City. Woot disappears from the story here, and we discover that the Tin Woodman and Captain Fyter are both content with their lot. Both just felt they were doing their duty by Nimee Amee and didn't truly love her anymore, but would be kind husbands to her anyways.
Really, this story needed to happen a lot sooner after The Wonderful Wizard of Oz than it did. If it wasn't for the presence of Dorothy and mentions of events and characters (including Polychrome) after The Marvelous Land of Oz, it could have taken place at any time after that book. It's really the sequel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz needed, as it finally ties up one of the loose threads that was left hanging from that story.