Friday, August 13, 2010

The Cowardly Lion of Oz

I wonder if Thompson thought she was completing a trio with The Cowardly Lion of Oz. Baum had The Scarecrow of Oz, then later, The Tin Woodman of Oz, but that was it. Two of three books named after Dorothy's first three friends in Oz. Plus, this new Oz book was published in 1923.

I suppose The Cowardly Lion of Oz also has something akin to both of these books, but we'll get to that later.

The story opens in the Munchkin Kingdom of Mudge, where the Arab-ish people the Mudgers are forced to stay. And why? Because Glinda flew over in her swan chariot and unceremoniously dropped a book into Mudge, saying that if any of the Mudgers left Mudge (as they would rob and raid nearby people), they would lose their head, by order of Ozma.

... Oz is getting mean! Buckle up, kids, it gets meaner!

Mustafa, the King of Mudge, has taken to collecting lions, and has nine thousand, nine hundred, and ninety-nine and a half lions in his menagerie. (One lion got out of hand and got cut in two. The front half escaped.) Mustafa wants to increase his collection to ten thousand, and sets his sights on the famous Cowardly Lion, as he makes a handsome specimen. But how to get it when any Mudgers leaving Mudge will lose their heads?

Meanwhile, an orphanage takes all their children to the circus on a rainy day, and one of the clowns, called Notta Bit More, does a trick with one of the orphans, and makes up a nonsense rhyme:

Udger budger! You're a Mudger!
Udge budge! Go to Mudge!

To his surprise, the orphan vanishes into thin air. Startled and trying to discover what happened, Notta alters his rhyme:

Udger budger! I'm a Mudger!
Udge budge! Go to Mudge!

He vanishes, too, and finds himself... well, you know where now.

Notta introduces himself to orphan, Bobby Downs, who he decides to call Bob Up. Noting the city of Mudge, Notta decides to employ his rules of action:
  1. Disguise yourself.
  2. Be extremely polite.
  3. Joke about.
  4. Run!
So, Notta enters Mudge disguised as... a lion. And yes, Mustafa sees it and attempts to put Notta in with his other lions. Bob runs in and tells them they can't take the lion, because it's Notta.

"Not a what?"
"Not a lion!" That joke is going to get old really fast.

Anyways, Mustafa sends Notta and Bob to capture the Cowardly Lion for him, and if they don't, they will turn blue.

SO ... Notta and Bob head out, having a round of Thompson-esque misadventures, which while they are fun, are not quite so notable.

And in case you think this should have been Notta & Bob in Oz, in comes the Cowardly Lion, suddenly bemoaning his still being a coward, even though Ozma of Oz seemed to indicate that he had learned to live with it. Scraps suggests that he eats the bravest man in Oz, and somehow, the Lion thinks this is a good idea. So, he heads out to the Munchkin Country to find woodsmen, thinking they must be brave, but he can't after they welcome him warmly. (Okay, Thompson, I gotta admit, that little twist really was funny.) He meets up with Notta and Bob, who don't capture him, but intend to, so they can reach the Emerald City, and just maybe get sent home, out of Mustafa's grasp.

And now another series of misadventures, the most notable being on the skyle (a sky island) of Un, where they gain a new traveling companion, Nickadoodle the Snorer, a bird with a telephone beak. Attacking Uns are sent to Mudge.

Finally, the Lion confesses why he wanted to find the bravest man in Oz, and Notta and Bob reveal Mustafa's demands (turning them blue for a time), and the Lion agrees to help them out.

The story begins to climax when they fall from the stolen Flyaboutabus from Un, and fall into the clutches of a stone giant named Crunch, who takes a fancy to the Lion. They agree that Crunch and the Lion will go to Mudge, while Notta and Bob will go to the Emerald City.

In the Emerald City, Notta messes up royally by running up to Dorothy dressed as a witch. (Yep, it's cross dressing in Oz!) He is put on trial, but when Bob protests, the Wizard tests to see if Notta is a witch or not. Notta is encouraged to just be himself, as Thompson makes a good point by stating that all sorts of curious people are welcome in Oz.

Suddenly Glinda appears and hurries in (I actually thought Thompson's description of a trailing gown requiring a dozen maidens to carry it was a bit much) and says the Cowardly Lion is in trouble. Notta uses the chant to send them all to Mudge.

Crunch has let his new-found high ambitions slip and just wants to get to Mudge and get it over with so he can take the Lion for his own. He even carries the Lion the rest of the way, and the Lion goes to see Mustafa on his own, and Mustafa sends him to fight the other lions. It is at this time that the group from the Emerald City appears, just in time to see Crunch turn all the lions, even our own Cowardly Lion, to stone.

The Scarecrow advises that Crunch be de-animated, so he remains a stone statue in Mudge to remind Mustafa of his foolishness.

The stone Lion is brought back to the Emerald City, but the Wizard and Glinda cannot find a way to counter Crunch's magic (maybe you shouldn't have been so quick to de-animate him?). The Lion is placed in the palace gardens.

You know, didn't the Wizard learn a secret word of transformation that could have solved this? What was it? Oh, right: Pyrzqxgl. However, either it didn't work, or it has been ignored by Thompson, or the Wizard is keeping it a secret from Glinda. (I like to think the last one.)

Dorothy begins crying over her old friend, and it turns out the way to counter the stone magic is tears. So, everyone hurries out and sobs over the Cowardly Lion until he is revived.

Notta and Bob are given their own circus outside the Emerald City, and everyone lives happily ever...

... Wait, what about those stone lions and the half lion? Well, the half-lion is rejoined with its front by the Wizard (Notta and Bob met the front half on their travels), but the rest, it is said, Mustafa sold.

Wait ... So, in Oz, where animals are held in the same regard as humans, even when a way to revive the lions is found, these fierce yet otherwise innocent beasts are left as stone statues to be sold commercially? And why are things being sold in Oz when we were told there's no money in Oz back in The Road to Oz?

Admittedly, this was one of the Thompson books I was least impressed with. One fan even told me he stopped reading the Famous Forty with this one. As a clown, Notta doesn't really make me laugh. He does make for a nice action hero, though. Bob bounces between a cheerful adventurous boy and a whiny kid. (I imagined "It's not a ____, it's Notta!" in a really whiny voice. That's just how it sounded to me.) And also, we have some shocking deviations from what Baum had established.

So, what did I mean when I said it had something in common with The Scarecrow of Oz and The Tin Woodman of Oz? Well, like Scarecrow, the main focus is on two newcomers to Oz, a child and an adult, instead of the title character, who now both get to live in Oz on their first visit. Like Tin Woodman, the title character goes out a quest to resolve something, though the Tin Woodman's adventure was much more satisfying.

At least, unlike Button-Bright, Bob is introduced as being an orphan so he has no family to worry over his disappearance. But what about the orphanage guardian/supervisor who can't account for a missing child?

Anyways, folks, I didn't really enjoy The Cowardly Lion of Oz much. You might, you might not, give it a shot.

NOTE: Although Ruth Plumly Thompson's Oz book weren't adapted for the screen or stage, it has been said that Notta Bit More is one of the joyous citizens in the restored Emerald City during the Coronation Parade in Disney's "Return to Oz"; this seems unlikely - due to copyright circumstances - and could actually be a humanised version of Mr. Joker, the cracked Clown (here, not cracked in the least) from the Dainty China Country.

1 comment:

saintfighteraqua said...

Dorothy trying to melt Notta without any provocation was funny but out of character too.

Definitely not Thompson's best.
Thankfully she did get better and some of her later books were amazing.

Maybe I'm biased against this book for starring a clown?