Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Giant Horse of Oz

As I come to the end of my first batch of Thompson books (more on the way, don't worry!), I end with her book for 1928, The Giant Horse of Oz.

We open in the Ozure Islands, which have been held in the thrall of the beast Quiberon for many years.

And something gets me about this: Quiberon was summoned by Mombi to keep the people of the Ozure Islands in the lake. Here's what I don't understand: why Mombi? The Ozure Islands are in the Munchkin Country, while Mombi was in the North. She'd be messing around in another witch's territory then! And another thing is why must this be because of a witch?

Anyways, Quiberon demands a mortal girl to serve him next, as the last citizen of the Ozure Islands to wait upon him told him about Dorothy, Betsy Bobbin and Trot. If his demand is not met, in three days, he will destroy the city.

It really doesn't make sense that this girl knows about Dorothy and her American friends. Apparently, Quiberon was there before Dorothy showed up in Oz, and the girl says that she knows about them from an old book she has.

King Cheeriobed does not think they could get to the Emerald City in time and says the one person who could help them would be the Good Witch of the North.

... Say what? Not Ozma, the Wizard, or Glinda, but a character who had less appearances in Baum's stories than the Queen of the Field Mice?

It's decided Prince Philador will go to seek the Good Witch of the North, because that's standard for Thompson now. A giant sea gull carries Philador away from the Ozure Isles, never mind why a sea gull is by a lake in a landlocked country.

Soothsayer Akbad (wait, did Thompson just put the word "bad" into this guy's name?) picks the golden pear that was supposed to be for only Philador to use. This gives him golden wings that carry him to the Emerald City.

Then we head over to Boston, where a statue of a famous public benefactor comes to life by a passerby finding some magic words and reading them. That... is actually one of the more Baumian touches I've seen. Anyways, Benny falls to Oz through a hole in the ground. (Thus supporting a theory a friend had that Oz is a "Hollow Earth" country, though Dorothy & The Wizard in Oz and Baum's map seem to indicate otherwise.) There, he meets the Scarecrow and wishes to be a real person. The Scarecrow suggests he tries acting like a real person and nicknames him Benny.

Benny sees what appears to be a big bird and runs away from it, carrying the Scarecrow with him. The "big bird" turns out to be Akbad. Benny stops when he sees Trot, and so does Akbad! Realizing who Trot is (how???), Akbad grabs her. The Scarerow and Benny try to rescue her, so Akbad ends up depositing them all in Quiberon's cave, and then Akbad just gets a bad rap and sulks around for most of the story, with two heavy flightless wings on his back. (There is an exception, but I won't mention it just now.)

I don't get why Akbad got it so harsh. Frankly, Cheeriobed decides that if Philador survives, then they can all die. So, he's putting one life before the life of the entire kingdom? I can't really blame Akbad here. Sure, kidnapping is bad, but still, I thought his motive wasn't bad at all. At the end, he repents and the wings are removed. Still, Thompson really wants to put him in a bad light. He's the only person in the Ozure Isles that did anything that made sense!

In Quiberon's cave, the trio manages to find a tunnel that leads them to a series of caves, and Quiberon can't follow them there.

Meanwhile, we see what the Good Witch of the North is doing. Oh, and Thompson named her Tattypoo. I don't even want to try etymology on that name. She lives in a little cottage with a dragon named Agnes. Agnes asks her if there was ever a time she was "young and pretty."

... Because, apparently, with Thompson, you cannot be old and pretty.

So, Tattypoo thinks about her past, remembers something, and jumps through "the Witch Window." Agnes follows her, leaving the place empty just as Philador arrives.

Being told by Tattypoo's magic slate (remember that? Nice!) that Tattypoo is gone for good (Hooray! Now no character will have to have that name!) and that he should go to the Emerald City so Ozma can help him. He helps himself to some food and magical supplies, but accidentally knocks a bottle off a shelf. The liquid in the bottle begins forming into a man with a medicine chest as his chest.

The man introduces himself as Dr. Herby, who was thrown into a cough syrup he was boiling by ... guess who? Mombi. (Well, at least this one was in her own country!) He melted into it, got poured into a bottle, and was apparently confiscated by Tattypoo, who never suspected that it contained an enchanted person.

Philador and Herby head out and use the magic tools and Herby's medicines to get past obstacles, until they meet Joe King. (Okay, Thompson, you have to be joking with these punny names!) He lets them use his horse High Boy to get them to the Emerald City. High Boy is twice as large as a normal horse and has telescoping legs.

Meanwhile, the Scarecrow, Benny, and Trot (what is Trot doing without Cap'n Bill?) escape Cave Town by an explosion that frees them from Shadow People who were about to make them shadows like them. This opens up the cavern they were trapped in, supposedly freeing Quiberon, who is waiting out the three days. After getting caught with the Round-abouties, they meet Philador, Herby, and High Boy, who offer them to join. They hurry to the Emerald City, helped in part by Herby's medicines.

Which points to a concern some readers have that I think is valid: Herby's medicines are comparable to amphetamines and are taken by all members of the group who can swallow, including the children, quite liberally.

After getting through Shutterville, High Boy's group hurries to the Emerald City.

Meanwhile, in the Ozure Isles, Orpah, a merman who cared for the Sea Horses that Quiberon ate (and helped Trot, the Scarecrow, and Benny in the caverns) returns and they are surprised when Queen Orin of the Ozure Isles arrives to stand by her husband on the day of its destruction. Quiberon tries to attack Orin, but Akbad saves her, the one other thing he got to do in the story.

In the Emerald City, Ozma and the Wizard hurry to the Ozure Isles to help Cheeriobed, and manage to turn Quiberon into a statue. The Wizard restores the Sea Horses from their skeletons, and Orin reveals that she is Tattypoo. Mombi, when snubbed by Cheeriobed for choosing Orin over her, kidnapped Orin and transformed her into what she intended to be a Wicked Witch, but Orin's goodness made her a good witch that conquered Mombi. Agnes was also Orin's maid and has also been restored.

Now, while some readers dislike the fact that Thompson did away with one of Baum's characters, my problem is she failed to make Orin an interesting enough character to validate getting rid of one of Baum's good witches. We are told how Orin got to the Ozure Isles after she was restored by the Witch Window, but it would have been more satisfying to follow her adventure.

Still, some fans protest that Orin was not really THE Good Witch of the North, and some stories have been written to have both her and the Good Witch of the North co-exist. (Some call her "Locosta," the prettier name that appeared in "The Wizard of Oz" musical in 1902.)

Furthermore, why is almost every other character in Thompson's Oz a prince or princess of some sort? I'm missing Baum's Oz where people were content to be ordinary hard-working citizens!

At the end, Ozma decides to make Cheeriobed and Orin the rulers of the Munchkin Country and Joe King and his queen Hyacinth the rulers of the Gillikin Country.

Joe King might make a nice ruler for the Gillikins, but I wish Thompson had had him in a story where he played a larger role first. And Cheeriobed I wouldn't put in charge of the Munchkin Country at all! He was going to let his kingdom die as long as his son survived! Yes, first love for children, but still, what a pushover!

Oh, and Benny decides he doesn't want to be human. Living in Oz is enough life for him, so he resigns himself to it.

Over all, The Giant Horse of Oz isn't bad. It just left me confused a bit. There were parts that didn't make sense, underdeveloped secondary characters are given big responsibilities, and unnecessary transformations happen. And why so much blame on Mombi? She was already executed, so why not let her rest in peace?

Hey, Herby, you got any pills to keep me smiling?


S.P. Maldonado said...

Thompson never used Cap'n Bill in any of her stories. In fact she left out a big chunk of Baum's characters ( the Shaggy Man, the Woozy, Button-Bright,etc ).

Nathan said...

Cap'n Bill was mentioned in passing as the one who carved Peg Amy's doll form, but that's hardly a major role.

Thompson seems to have been desperate to do SOMETHING with the Good Witch of the North, but couldn't think of anything better than another enchanted princess plot. It's kind of a shame, considering that the chapter describing Tattypoo's cottage actually had a lot of potential.