Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Glinda of Oz

Mr. Baum did his best to answer all the letters from his small earth-friends before he had to leave them, but he couldn't answer quite all, for there were very many. In May, nineteen hundred nineteen, he went away to take his stories to the little child-souls who had lived here too long ago to read the Oz stories for themselves.
And with those words, it was broken to children who hadn't yet heard that one of their favorite storytellers had died. That appeared in Glinda of Oz, the last Oz book that Baum wrote, in place of Baum's always fun introduction.

The story finds Dorothy and Ozma visiting Glinda, and Dorothy, reading the Book of Records notes the Flatheads and Skeezers are going to war with each other. Ozma decides she and Dorothy will go and try to reason with them, and in case they need Glinda's help, Glinda gives Dorothy a magic ring to summon her with.

Already in the first chapter, I note something different. Action is described in quite a bit of detail, more than was usual for Baum. Was this Baum's usual way (a quick view of the first page of manuscript shows a virtually identical piece of prose) and he often rewrote it? Now, while it seems safe to assume that Baum's story was left largely intact, a question arises of who might have edited the book or had to rewrite, if needed? A friend of mine suggested it might have been Maud Baum, the widow, or Ruth Plumly Thompson. I, however, think that it was simply a staff member at Reilly & Lee. I don't have any examples of fiction by Maud to compare it to (her literary work largely consists of letters and diaries), and the tone is a bit somber, a far cry from Thompson.

As I just said, the tone of the book is notably more somber than all of the previous Oz books. It seems Baum knew this would be his last Oz book (I wouldn't be surprised if a doctor had told him he didn't have long to live), and said not only his farewell to Oz, but to his readers. We know Baum said he had non-Oz stories he wanted to get out, but the demand for Oz prevented him from writing them, although he did find some work-arounds. Perhaps he was frustrated that those stories would not be told.

On their way north, Dorothy and Ozma are kidnapped by giant spiders, who want them to be their slaves, keeping them in webs, but a friendly crab offers to help in return for a color change. Dorothy and Ozma next encounter a misty valley, where they are helped along by the Mist Maidens, obviously cousins to the Daughters of the Rainbow and the Cloud Fairies the Wizard identified in Dorothy & The Wizard in Oz.

Camping overnight, Dorothy notes Ozma's fairy wand which can conjure up anything, and wishes everyone had one. Ozma replies that this would be detrimental to the work ethic of Oz, which keeps everyone happy and contented. With no struggle for happiness, there is only boredom. Baum believed in strong work ethics, and that there was no shame in honest work, however lowly it may be. One of my blog readers stated that it is pride in their work that keep the Oz people working, rather than just enjoying their play.

They reach the mountain of the Flatheads, which is blocked by an invisible wall, but the girls find a way in, then they head into a winding, complicated staircase that tires anyone easily. (Ten steps up, then five steps down.) They find the Flatheads to have flat heads, and as such, they have no room for brains, so they carry their brains in cans. The Su-Dic (Supreme Dictator) and his wife stole brains from other Flatheads and made themselves the rulers. The war with the Skeezers began when Rora, the Su-Dic's wife, went to catch fish in the Skeezer's lake, and did not heed Queen Coo-ee-oh of the Skeezers when told to stop, so she was turned into a golden pig.

Seeing that the Flatheads will not submit to their peaceful errand, Dorothy and Ozma escape to the submersible island of the Skeezers, where Queen Coo-ee-oh similarly defies them. Her servant, Lady Aurex, though, tells them that Coo-ee-oh learned magic from the three Adepts at Magic, who ruled the Flatheads. But Coo-ee-oh turned on them and transformed them into fish. However, she was warned that if they died, she would shrivel and lose her power. Thus, she kept them in the lake, and that is why no one was allowed to catch fish: they might kill the Adepts.

Coo-ee-oh keeps Dorothy and Ozma in her palace and submerges the city. The next morning, the Su-Dic and some Flatheads arrive to dump poison into the lake. Queen Coo-ee-oh and some of her soldiers go out in submarine boats to fight them, but using a magic potion, the Su-Dic turns her into a diamond swan. However, he also accidentally spills the poison onto the ground, so it cannot harm the fish.

Seeing that they are now stranded in the submerged city, Dorothy summons Glinda, who reads of the situation in the Book of Records and assembles one of the largest rescue parties Baum ever had. Aside from Glinda and the Wizard, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, Tik-Tok, Scraps, the Shaggy Man, Cap'n Bill, Trot, the Woggle-Bug, the Frogman, Uncle Henry, Betsy Bobbin, the Glass Cat, Button-Bright, and Ojo go to the Skeezer's lake. Of all the seventeen characters, very few of them actually do anything. Button-Bright gets lost and Ojo notices he's missing, and after Glinda rescues and scold Button-Bright, the two boys might as well have gone home because they don't do anything else.

One thing I noticed about the chapter detailing their conference is that a long time is spent detailing the characters, but the conference is extremely short. I almost wonder if Baum wrote it this way or the previously mentioned editor or re-writer expanded on it, trying to fill some extra pages.

While Glinda is on her way, the abandoned soldiers from Coo-ee-oh's boat grew less in number, as one of them, named Ervic, was told by three fishes to carry them away to Red Reera, a Yookoohoo. (She says she is the best Yookoohoo in Oz, and considering Mrs. Yoop is now a green monkey and probably didn't know her craft quite so well as she would have had us believe, this sound right.)

When Glinda arrives at the lake, she attempts to summon the three fishes, and even finds the other soldiers and their boat, which she and the Wizard take to the island, but cannot enter.

Red Reera changes her shape and the shape of everything that lives in her home many times a day, and hates being disturbed, so when Ervic arrives, she is not kind to him. However, he manages to convince her that he would hate for the three fishes to become girls, especially Adepts at Magic, so in order to spite him, she turns the fishes into the Adepts again, and when it is revealed to her, she is amused, but asks that in return, they tell no one what happened.

The Adepts and Ervic arrive at the lake and they finally hit upon a solution: drain some water from the lake (possibly blocking an inlet and speeding the flow of water through an outlet?) to let them at least access the Dome. They manage to remove part of the dome, and using a rope, Glinda, the Wizard, and the Adepts arrive in the Skeezer city and are reunited with Dorothy and Ozma.

They find Coo-ee-oh's workshop and discover she raised and lowered the island with a magic ritual of burning some magic powder and saying a magic word, which Dorothy decides might be a syllable of her name. Accidentally setting free the boats, they discover Dorothy guessed the truth, and raise the island permanently.

Lady Aurex is made the new ruler of the Skeezers, and the group head over to Flathead Mountain, where the Adepts quickly resume their former status as rulers of the Flatheads, deposing the Su-Dic and restoring his wife. In addition, Glinda and the Adepts give the Flatheads round heads with their formerly canned brains inside, so no one can steal each others brains anymore.

And that is how Baum's last story ended, not exactly conclusive, leaving the story of Oz open. While it was a great finale for Baum, it also maintained that there were still parts of Oz that were not yet under Ozma's control, and many new adventures yet to be had.

Glinda of Oz is a finely written book, with a notably tighter plot than most of the other Oz books, however, it is not quite as joyous, even when everyone gets a happy ending, Ozma simply maintains they were doing their duty.

Would the publishers take advantage of the open ending of the book? Look at how they ended their introduction:
But he (Baum) left some unfinished notes about the Princess Ozma and Dorothy and the Oz people and we promise that some day we will put them all together like a picture puzzle and give you more stories of the wonderful Land of Oz.

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