Monday, May 30, 2011

Ozoplaning With the Wizard of Oz

It was 1939 and Oz was... yes, 1939. Oz was back in the spotlight as a little movie based on Baum's first Oz book was being made by MGM. Knowing that this would help book sales, Reilly & Lee wanted an Oz book to help capitalize on the film. There was just one thing: Ruth Plumly Thompson wanted out. After 18 years and suggestions, not just to the publishers, but to people such as Maud Baum and Roy Disney, for new Oz merchandise, films, cartoons and publicity stunts, and all of these being turned down, she'd had enough. She frequently contacted Frank O'Donnell about leaving Oz, but he would ignore her and request the next book.

Anyways, Thompson hurried and turned out Ozoplaning With the Wizard of Oz just in time for publication. The front cover was going to feature the words "the Wizard of Oz" to help sell the book to people interested in the film. (Reilly & Lee did not have the option to publish an edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz until after it went into the public domain in 1956.)

The story opens with the characters who featured in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz meeting for a reunion, remembering that adventure. There's the Wizard, Dorothy, Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, Jellia Jamb, and Wantowin Battles.


Seemingly, Thompson forgot the Soldier with the Green Whiskers had been named Omby Amby by Baum, so she named him Wantowin Battles and gave him an obsession with pickles. John R. Neill used the name once, but Jack Snow reverted the name to Omby Amby, while other writers usually call him Omby Amby or just the Soldier with the Green Whiskers. In Edward Einhorn's Oz books, Ozma visits a sinister version of the Land of Oz. The soldier with a sharp black beard is named Wantowin Battles. The naming issue causes a problem for continuity, but most fans ignore that part and just enjoy the adventure Thompson sent him on.

Anyways, after a recap of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as told by the characters themselves, the Wizard proudly shows off his new invention: Ozoplanes! These silver airship are able to travel to outer space, and the Wizard has made two: the Ozpril and the Oztober. The Tin Woodman, Jellia, and Wantowin inspect the Oztober, but Wantowin accidentally sets it off. When the Tin Woodman tries to control it, he quickly gets a handle on it, and decides not to go back to Oz, being bitten by wanderlust.

The Oztober lands in Strat, which the Tin Woodman tries to conquer for Ozma, but the people are not interested in becoming a territory of Oz. They make Jellia their "Starina," the queen, and force the Tin Woodman to take them to Oz with the intention of conquest! The Wizard arrives in the Ozpril with the other guests at the party to find Jellia and Wantowin, but they are not able to pursue the Oztober due to King Strut's people interfering. But the delay makes the Ozpril get blown away by the Blowmen of Strut, and the people from Oz are forced to use the same type of flying sticks Strut's army are using to return to Oz.

Upon arriving in Oz, they are taken captive by Bustabo, the self-proclaimed King of the Kudgers of Red Top Mountain, who refuses to help them warn the Emerald City of the invasion of Strut unless they can find princess Azarine, the true ruler of Red Top Mountain. She gets her stag Shagomar and his wife Dear Deer to help carry the Wizard and his companions to Glinda's palace so they can attempt to use magic to stop Strut's invasion.

Everyone else has escaped Red Top Mountain and they hurry to Glinda's. The Scarecrow stays up to date on Strut's progress with the Book of Records while the Wizard has to fix a transporter of Glinda's to bring him the safe the Magic Belt is in, just as Strut arrives in the Emerald City and attempts to blow open Ozma's safe himself.

Ozma, Glinda, and the rest of the company arrive on the scene. Strut's army has been transported back to Strat by the Magic Belt, and after Ozma renders his weapons useless, she sends Strut back to Strat. The Wizard and the Tin Woodman leave in the Oztober to search for the Ozpril, while Ozma restores peace to Red Top Mountain by turning Bustabo into a squirrel.

And the story ends with what appears to be a promise to tell of the exciting flight of the Wizard and Tin Woodman to recover the Ozpril, but that was a story that Thompson never told. Finally having enough of Reilly & Lee, having increased stress on her personal life, and finding work elsewhere, she quit Oz at last.

It really is too bad, for while Ozoplaning does contain Thompson's regular loose misadventures (which I didn't mention in my summary, read the book for yourself!), it really is an exciting story with some of our oldest friends in Oz.

But was that it for Thompson and Oz? The fact is, she offered to return to Oz after taking a year's leave and had even offered to edit the next Oz book, which someone else wrote. However, Frank O'Donnell seemed to be bitter about Thompson's sudden retirement and ignored further communication, with one exception that we'll look into later.

However, every dark cloud had a silver lining, and in the 1970s, Thompson was able to return to writing Oz stories again thanks to what she had cultivated through her nineteen years as Royal Historian: the fans.

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