Thursday, September 02, 2010

The Hungry Tiger of Oz

Now, for those of you who've been following my readings and criticisms of Thompson (many of them my first impressions), you might be expecting me to rip into Thompson yet again. We'll see if The Hungry Tiger of Oz from 1926 is worthy of my ire.

We open in the country of Rash which is... not in Oz. Yes, Thompson actually placed this one just beyond the Deadly Desert. (Good. It was getting to the point that you couldn't take a step in Oz without walking into some kingdom.) Irashi, the Pasha of the Arabian-esque country, has jailed many citizens. It's getting to be too much to handle, so when someone suggests they get a tiger to devour the prisoners, they set out to get the Hungry Tiger.

"Wait!" you say. "That sounds a lot like the opening of The Cowardly Lion of Oz!" And yes, it does seem to be a rehashed idea. I like how Thompson handled here better because there's more of a purpose to it rather than someone just wanting something.

So, how to cross the Deadly Desert? With a hurry cane! Now, my only issue here is that there seems to be far too many ways to cross the Deadly Desert. One of my readers, when I asked him, said that by his count, in 10 of Thompson's 19 books, the Deadly Desert is crossed. So, the biggest defense of Oz isn't so terrible anymore.

Anyway, the Hungry Tiger is easily tempted by the thought of guilelessly eating criminals, so agrees to visit Rash. However, they intend a more permanent stay.

Back in Oz, Betsy Bobbin meets Carter Green, a vegetable man who is made of vegetables. Fun idea for a character, except that it says he used to be an ordinary man but just ate vegetables and went the way of "You are what you eat." Now, this is fun and fantastical enough, but it does give the idea to impressionable young readers that if they eat too many veggies, they'll become a freak.

Anyway, Carter is selling vegetables, and Betsy buys some, when suddenly, they find themselves on a winding road. They get thrown off course and Betsy finds a pair of Quick Sandals and gives them to Carter, who noted he wanted a pair of shoes to keep his feet from rooting in the ground. However, these accidentally carry them over the Deadly Desert and they find themselves in Rash, where they are soon thrown to the Tiger.

As it turns out, the Tiger has been having a disappointing time, as he sees the people who have been thrown to him are not ardent criminals. When a little boy is thrown to them who is identified as the Scarlet Prince Evered (or Reddy), they and the prisoners attempt escape through some loose paving stones, and find themselves underground.

It turns out, of course, that Irashi is an usurper, while Reddy is the proper ruler of Rash, and if he had the three missing rubies of Rash, then he would be protected from any harm, and be able to take back his kingdom. It turns out Carter had one of the rubies with him, and he happily restores it to its owner.

The company finds themselves in Down Town, where the rulers, Dad and his queen Fi Nance (a woman who is now literally made of money), command them to find something to do to make money. While Thompson uses this to wisely rid herself of the extra characters, she sends the rest to the Nome ... oh ... Gnome Kingdom.

Kaliko welcomes them warmly, but when he hears that they're looking for the Rubies of Rash, he hides a Ruby Ring in his throne. But when Carter overhears him tell where it is, they quickly recover the ring and escape the Gnome country by a "fire fall," at the cost of Carter's corn ears popping. (Fortunately, he shortly finds replacements.)

They find themselves outside a giant's city, where the Hungry Tiger is mistaken for a kitten by a giant little girl, and a giant bird carries Reddy into the city. (Fortunately, the two rubies he has will protect him.) Carter devises a plan to get into the city: he'll take her in his arms and take root and grow over the wall of the giants' city. (Wow... Self sacrifice!) However, suddenly, a giant walks out, calling for Betsy.

And then we get a "Meanwhile..." and we go to... Ozma? Yes, we just got a new subplot two-thirds of the way into the book. Thompson didn't weave her subplots together quite as tightly as Baum. Here, it's a little aggravating, because we just had an interesting twist and now we start up another subplot.

Ozma is kidnapped by Atmos Fere, an "airman," who is basically a giant balloon man. He doesn't have evil intentions, though. He just wanted a specimen of a human being to display at a lecture on them. However, Ozma doesn't have time for this, so after he crosses the Deadly Desert with her (AGAIN?), she whips out a pin!

Ozma has Atmos Fere repaired by Rusty Ore, a repairman, who also gives him a pair of Iron Boots, so he and Ozma head off again...

And then we discover what's been going on with the Hungry Tiger and Reddy. Reddy finds the Hungry Tiger, then discovers to his astonishment that the giants of the city are actually only giants when wearing wigs. At night, they remove their wigs, shrink to a normal size, and sleep in normal-sized beds. Reddy steals the wig of the girl who took the Hungry Tiger (who now feels sorry for regular kittens) and gets out of the city, meaning he is the giant who's calling for Betsy.

And then Ozma and Atmos show up, so the two plots merge. Upon hearing the stories of each others journeys, Atmos realizes he has the last ruby of Rash. So yes, an invincible giant Reddy conquers Rash and Irashi, who Atmos takes home (with Irashi's right-hand man Ippty) to be the specimens of humans for his lecture, saying he will drop them off on a deserted island somewhere when he's done.

Hey... Thompson didn't kill or transform the villains this time around!

And everyone else uses Hurry Canes to return to Oz.

Altogether, Thompson finally begins here to show some promise. She gives us a quest story so interesting that when it is interrupted, the reader is a little irritated.

One little issue I have here is that Betsy is very much Thompson's Dorothy again with a name change. She didn't really make the character feel distinct.

In the end, though, The Hungry Tiger of Oz is a good Oz book, probably Thompson's best since Kabumpo in Oz.


J. L. Bell said...

Was Betsy ever not Dorothy with a different name in the Reilly & Lee books? (It's an opinion question since degrees of similarity are often subjective.)

ColinAyres said...

I too enjoyed this one, although Betsy was very much a Dorothy I still enjoyed Betsy having something to do for change.

I have noticed when reading the Thompson books that whilst her characters have a flair for the fantastic, she does not have the same depth to her characters as Baum.

Jared said...

Actually, I think Dorothy is more defiant than Betsy. In "Tik-Tok of Oz," if Dorothy was told she was conquered or going to be killed, as Betsy is, she would have objected noticeably. Betsy, however, has a more laid back personality. While she's not crazy about being conquered or killed, she talks around it by keeping her cool.

Hungry Tiger Talk said...

I tend to agree with Jared that Dorothy is much stronger and more defiant - and, IMHO, Betsy NEVER really had the distinct personality that Dorothy or Trot had.

However, there's an additional element here and that's that Thompson simply couldn't write girls well at all; they become generic namby-pamby princesses.

MaskedMan said...

It's "anyway," not "anyways."