Well, isn't this an appropriate time of year to write this one?
In a change of pace for Thompson, we open in Philadelphia with Peter from The Gnome King of Oz. He and his grandfather put the gold Peter got in that story to use, putting one bag in the bank for Peter's college fund, and the other bag they basically blew. (All on fun stuff, but still...) Peter kept the sacks, though, and he finds a small leftover gold piece. He toys with it and wishes he was back in Oz and then he finds himself just outside Jack Pumpkinhead's home.
Jack greets him and theorizes that the coin was a "piece of change." They decide to head to the Emerald City, but Jack takes the wrong road.
Thompson really gets on a roll with new places to explore here: they visit Chimneyville, home of the Chimney-villains, who are living beings of smoke; a Goody Shop that sells only Good things, but not exactly what they want; and they even come across a live Christmas Tree that is ready to snatch what it can for ornaments. However, when they refuse to give things to it, it throws ornaments, including a silver bell inscribed "The Red Djinn's dinner bell," which when rung summons a black servant boy who gives Peter a dinner.
Then we head over to Scare City, where King Harum Scarum finds Jack and Peter un-scare-able. Using the dinner bell, Peter defends himself by throwing dishes at Harum. Finally, their luck runs out, and Harum is about to attack, when the pirate sack Peter's been carrying from home sucks up Harum, and all the other Scares in the city, except a griffin called Snif, who has lost his growl—his "gr—rr"—and now calls himself an Iffin and often speaks in rhyme. He offers to fly them to the Emerald City.
The trio takes a break in the Land of Barons, where they meet Baron Belfaygor, who has a constantly growing beard that has led him to a life of seclusion, while the cruel Baron Mogodore has kidnapped his love Shirley Sunshine to force her to marry him. The quartet decides to rescue her, but before they can get to Mogodore's castle, Snif eats some shrinking violets and shrinks. But, a clever plan from Snif helps them reach the castle.
For a bit, we follow Mogodore and Shirley Sunshine, who doesn't think much of the cruel Baron. She unwittingly convinces him to conquer Ozma and the Emerald City. We also learn of the Forbidden Flagon. If it is opened, a dreadful disaster will befall Mogodore's city of Baffleburg. Mogodore is curious as to what exactly would happen.
Peter and his friends arrive and pretending to be powerful magicians, make their way to Mogodore, who sees through their bluff and has them thrown into a dungeon, the sack falling to the ground.
Peter and Snif escape when the effect of the shrinking violets wears off, making Snif burst through the bars of the cell. They quickly free the others, find the sack, and, having heard about the Forbidden Flagon, take that as well.
After a misadventure in Swing City, a city of acrobats, they find Mogodore on the march to the Emerald City. They attempt to swoop down and have him swallowed by the sack, only to have Snif, Peter, and Belfayor swallowed instead, leaving Jack with a broken leg, the Flagon, the sack, and the dinner bell. Having an idea, Jack rings the bell and grabs the black boy who appears, disappearing with him into the castle of the Red Jinn. (The spelling mysteriously changes in the book.)
Jack finds himself in the palace of the Red Jinn, a portly fellow who wears a red glass jar. He gives Jack some advice before Jack mysteriously vanishes.
It so happens that Mogodore arrives in the Emerald City as Ozma and her court is playing Blind Man's Bluff. Mogodore sees that Ozma is prettier than Shirley Sunshine and decides to marry Ozma instead. As a banquet for Mogodore ensues, Mogodore uses the Magic Belt to bring the Flagon. Jack appears, removes his head, and hurls the Flagon at Mogodore.
Mogodore and the people of Baffleburg are restore to their original forms: tiny people only a few inches high. Mogodore's ancestors had done a sorcerer a favor, and he returned it by making them normal sized people, the enchantment maintained as long as the Flagon was intact. Ozma returns the Baffleburgians to the now reduced city of Baffleburg.
The people captured by the sack are restored simply by holding it upside down and shaking it, so even the people of Scare City are restored and head home. Peter, Snif, and Belfayor emerge. Snif has found his growl again, so he is a Griffin again. Belfayor's beard is permanently gone, and he marries Shirley Sunshine. Peter goes home.
Altogether, I was impressed by Thompson's story. I thought her characterization for Jack was a little off, but she explained it was because of Jack's changing heads also making variations in his character. Unlike some of her other books, a linear plot was maintained, stepping away only to introduce situations when they were coming into the story.
Even better, at the end, no one is left unjustly punished or enchanted or transformed in a disturbing way.
So, Jack Pumpkinhead of Oz, well done, Thompson!
But who was that Red Jinn guy? Will we ever find out exactly where Jack went off to? Or is this going to be left unanswered?