Sunday, July 04, 2010

The Magic of Oz

"L. Frank Baum is dead," the New York Times published in 1919, "and the children, if they knew it, would mourn. That endless procession of 'Oz' books, coming out just before Christmas, is to cease."

And now we come to Baum's last Oz stories. He'd submitted it prior to his death. It's a little sad, realizing that by tracing his Oz stories, we've looked over the last 19 years of this man's life, 19 years of successes and failures, but eminently, a man who left the world contented, the best way anyone could die. And that's what he earned, after writing so many stories that pleased children.

The Magic of Oz opens in a unique form: we come to a spot we just missed in the last book: Mount Munch, which was near Nimmee Amee's home. On the top of the Mountain live the Hyups. Bini Aru, a father of a Hyup family, was a practicing magician, until Ozma placed her magic ban. Unlike most characters, Bini Aru actually obeyed Ozma's command, stopped practicing magic, and destroyed his magic tools. However, he kept one magic secret with him: a magic word of transformation "pyrzqxgl." The secret was not in the word, but how it is pronounced, something that Baum does not reveal. (If this book ever got an adaptation, I wonder how that would be handled.) He writes the word, and how to pronounce it, on a floor board, and replaces it in the floor, in case he can ever practice magic again.

Some time later, when the story really begins, Bini's son Kiki is home alone and seeing if he can find any of his father's magic tools. However, he stumbles (literally) upon the secret of "pyrzqxgl" and memorizes it, fleeing Oz in the form of a bird, making his way to Ev.

The thing is, Kiki doesn't want to cause trouble or do anyone any harm. He just grew tired of living on Mount Munch and wanted to go somewhere where he would be happy. And considering he left Oz as soon as he had broken the law, he's not really defying Ozma. But, however, he soon gives away to dishonesty, when he turns into a thieving magpie (Gioachino Rossini reference?) to get money to stay overnight at an inn. However, he is scolded for his wicked deed by a bird, but it turns out there was another witness: Ruggedo, the former Nome King.

Apparently, Ruggedo decided not to live peacefully as a Nome, as indicated in Tik-Tok of Oz, but was allowed to leave with all the jewels he could carry. It's almost like Ruggedo's repentance in that book didn't happen at all, but on the other hand, he does tell his story to Kiki with a few alterations to make the people of Oz sound really bad, so I wouldn't be surprised if Kaliko threw him out.

Seeing what Kiki can do (but not how he can do it), Ruggedo convinces him to use his power of transformation to conquer Oz for himself. While Kiki agrees, both plan to turn on each other at the first possible moment.

Meanwhile, Ozma's birthday is coming up again, and Dorothy wants to give her a unique present. Bungle the Glass Cat is leading Trot and Cap'n Bill to a Magic Flower, Scraps is writing a song, the Scarecrow is making Ozma straw slippers, the Tin Woodman is making her girdles made of tin and studded with emeralds, and Glinda is making an emerald gown. However, Glinda suggests that Dorothy make a cake with a surprise in the middle. Dorothy decides to get the Wizard's help and have a dozen monkeys shrunken to hide in the middle of the cake to perform tricks and serve the cake. In order to do this, they ride the Cowardly Lion and Hungry Tiger to the Forest of Gugu.

Trot and Cap'n Bill follow Bungle to the tiny island where the Magic Flower is (as it is already in a pot), but upon reaching it, they find themselves rooted to the island, except Bungle and Cap'n Bill's peg leg. Convincing Bungle that she will be hailed as a hero, appealing to the cat's vanity, they send her to fetch the Wizard to help them.

Meanwhile, Kiki Aru and Ruggedo fly to the Forest of Gugu in the form of birds, where they take the form of Li-Mon-Eags (bodies of monkeys, heads of lions, wings of eagles, and donkey's tails with a gold ball at the end) and convince King Gugu the leopard to try to get the animals to revolt against the people of Oz, claiming that Ozma intends to enslave them. And as Gugu speaks to the animals, Dorothy and the Wizard arrive. Kiki, upon seeing a real magician, panics and transforms the Wizard into a fox, Dorothy into a lamb, the Cowardly Lion into a Munchkin boy, the Hungry Tiger into a rabbit, Gugu into a fat woman, and Ruggedo into a goose, Kiki stealing the Wizard's black bag in the confusion.

The Glass Cat finds out where the Wizard went and heads to the Forest of Gugu, where she finds the Wizard and the other victims of enchantments, and eventually, the Black Bag, where Kiki discarded it.

Kiki and Ruggedo have reunited, Kiki making Ruggedo a Li-Mon-Eag again, and Ruggedo convinces him to transform some monkeys into giant soldiers with swords. (Neill draws them as WWI American soldiers.) However, the Wizard has managed to hide in a hollow tree where Kiki says the magic word so Ruggedo won't hear him. Learning the pronunciation, the Wizard leaps out and turns Kiki and Ruggedo into nuts and restores his friends. He also bargains with Rango the Grey Ape to get the monkeys Dorothy wants by refusing to restore the transformed monkeys until he gets the monkeys Dorothy wants for the present.

Bungle now guides the Wizard and Dorothy to Trot and Cap'n Bill, who have discovered that the Magic Flower will bear fruit, a Lonesome Duck (because he scorns company) lives around there and gave them some toadstools to sit on, and that the Island will make them shrink into nothingness. The Wizard manages to rescue them with the magic word by temporarily transforming them into bees. Deciding that the island only affects flesh (including leather, why their shoes rooted) that actually touches the surface, Cap'n Bill straps a piece of wood around his non-peg leg and finally gets the Magic Flower.

And now, all head back to the Emerald City and prepare for Ozma's birthday, which is a much smaller and quieter affair than the one back in The Road to Oz, and after the celebration, the monkeys are restored to their proper sizes and sent back to the Forest of Gugu.

In the denouement of the story, the Wizard uses the magic word to restore Kiki and Ruggedo to their proper forms, but also makes them thirsty so they'll drink the Water of Oblivion and forget their magic and their wicked ways.

What Baum does here is just doing what he did best: write a good story. Probably the only really philosophical point in the whole book comes from Cap'n Bill...
"There's lots o' things folks don't 'preciate," replied the sailor-man. "If somethin' would 'most stop your breath, you'd think breathin' easy was the finest thing in life. When a person's well, he don't realize how jolly it is, but when he gets sick he 'members the time he was well, an' wishes that time would come back. Most folks forget to thank God for givin' 'em two good legs, till they lose one o' 'em, like I did; and then it's too late, 'cept to praise God for leavin' one."
What I think is interesting is that the Wizard now has a new magic secret that could let him do almost anything. However, I've not seen new Oz stories use it often.

The Nome King is back for his final Baum appearance, and now he's allowed to stay in Oz where Ozma can keep an eye on him. (Don't worry, though, other writers would ensure that it isn't the last we've seen of him.) But a puzzling problem lies in Kiki Aru. How can they bring him home? And though Dorothy and Ozma think he must have gone bad, the story told us it was a fairly recent corruption by Ruggedo, and if he hadn't kept on about it, Kiki might have gone with his original plan to just move somewhere he could be happy. Anyways, perhaps Glinda's Book of Records could tell them about Kiki's activities and they could figure it out from there, or they could head to Bear Center and ask the little pink bear.

Anyways, now that Baum was gone, many readers and reviewers despaired of getting new Oz books. But would the next year bring anything? We shall see.


Nathan said...

Maybe they'd just bleep out the magic word in a film adaptation.

Is Cap'n Bill's speech the only mention of God in an Oz book?

Jay said...

In Baum, yes.

F. Douglas Wall said...

I'm reminded of the Superman villain Mr. Mxyzptlk, whose name was devised so as to be unpronounceable. Then when he appeared in the cartoons, they had to devise a way to pronounce it (and pronounce it backwards, thanks to the nature of the character)

Nathan said...

Hmmm, "Pyrzqxgl" and "Mxyzptlk" are the same number of letters. I wonder if there's a connection there.