Thursday, June 30, 2011

All's Whale That Ends Whale

I usually try to repost entries here that relate to the books that Jared is reviewing, but I'm a bit behind at this point. So here's an entry on Davy Jones, originally posted here.

One of my favorite John R. Neill creations is Davy Jones, a wooden whale who is a seagoing vessel unto himself. I already wrote a little about him here, but...well, I'd say I barely scratched the surface, but that's not a good idea when it comes to a living creature made of wood. Besides, I don't know that there's THAT much more to say about Davy, who only features in one book (in the Famous Forty, anyway), but I still think I can work up an entry about him. He first shows up in Lucky Bucky in Oz as the ship for the Pie Rats, pirates who steal pies. They had control of the whale for two years, keeping him laughing the whole time, and stocking as many pies as they possibly could. He manages to maroon them on a floating volcano, however, and then teams up with Bucky on a voyage to the Emerald City. His lower jaw serves as a deck, and is surrounded by a brass rail. A door on one side of Davy's head allows entrance to his insides, which consist of a cabin with bunks and closets. The bunks are equipped with alarm clocks, which will tilt to drop a sleeper at the appropriate time. When Bucky first enters, he finds the closets full of baked goods, and a chest that the Pie Rats left behind that contains some enchanted doorknobs and a coat with a map of the area embroidered inside.

Davy is a very friendly sort, but has a tendency to get offended when anyone reminds him of pirates. He feels his best when he has chances to cry, and often accompanies his tears with sad sea chanteys. He sleeps quite a bit, which is somewhat unusual for a magically animated being in Oz, but not totally unheard of. It appears that being in disrepair tires him out, as seen when he sinks into Lake Quad after undergoing a great deal of damage. While he is obviously at his best in the water, he has some very limited ability to maneuver on land. At one point, electric charges from a gang of animated funny bones help the whale to cross a barren part of the Land of Ev. Throughout the adventure, he is very determined, constantly struggling along to reach the Emerald City no matter what happens. At the end of the book, he decides to remain in Lake Quad and transport baked goods to the city.

Since Davy is still under copyright, it's not too surprising that he hasn't appeared much in other books. He does make a brief appearance in Chris Dulabone's Deadly Desert, transporting Dorothy and Psychlapp the Dust Devil back to the mainland from Thirgy Island. He tells them he was summoned there by Dorothy's wish on Jacob the Nut, and presumably returns to Oz after this. I'm sure he didn't mind the opportunity to visit his old swimming grounds. He also plays a more major role in March Laumer's Frogman, which directly contradicts Lucky Bucky by stating that Davy was too big for Lake Quad and hence had to return to the Nonestic Ocean. I have to say he's a character I'd like to work with, and his statements that he's very old suggest that there could be some interesting tales in his past. We never do find out who built him and why, after all.

The Wicked Witch of Oz

Rachel Cosgrove Payes refused to let anyone so much as look at her manuscript for The Wicked Witch of Oz until it was a book. Well, the International Wizard of Oz Club finally offered to publish it in 1993, just as they had published two books by Thompson and another Oz book by the next Royal Historian. This time, however, they released it in a different form. Those books were oversized paperbacks (there was a limited run of hardcovers, too), with limited illustrations by Dick Martin, who had passed away in 1990.

However, Oz fans didn't like the paperbacks. Those with collections of older Oz books (or, at 1993, those collecting the ongoing reprints by Books of Wonder) would have to resort to a different format.

Not so with Wicked Witch. It was printed in hardcover, with proper typefaces and page layouts to create an attractive book. It was also just as tall as the original Oz books, though it wasn't as wide. (Page margins had shrunk in the last forty years.) Also on board was Eric Shanower, willing to lend his illustration services not just to the Club, but also to Rachel as her second Oz book finally saw print. I'll get to the illustrations later, but they were definitely a big change from Dick Martin's work.

Singra, the Wicked Witch of the South, awakens from a hundred year sleep that Glinda put her under. Cosgrove then describes the morning of a Wicked Witch, and while Singra doesn't do anything particularly evil, it's clear by her living habits that she isn't the nicest witch. She decides to find out from her Musical Magical Snuff Box how her cousins, the Wicked Witches of the East and West are. Boy, is she in for a surprise when she is informed that Dorothy did away with them! She will have to work out some plan to deal with Dorothy...

And in case you're thinking Glinda will read of this in the Book of Records, she won't. She's just left on a vacation to Ix that Ozma insisted she take. The Scarecrow will be going to Glinda's to keep an eye on the Book, but he doesn't leave until after Singra has begun her plans. Which is too bad, because she's determined to turn Dorothy into a piece of cheese, and she needs two things to complete it: some red powder that only Glinda has, and straw from a live man's body. And there's only one live man in Oz who has straw in his body.

The Scarecrow reads in the Book of Records that Singra stole the powder and goes to investigate the magic room, but is caught by Singra, who steals some of his straw, then ties him up and exits, cheerfully informing Glinda's servants that the Scarecrow doesn't want to be disturbed. She hurries back to her hut and completes her potion, which she then takes to the Emerald City. Upon reaching the Palace, she is met by Percy, the Personality Kid, or rather, the giant rat from Hidden Valley. He tells her that Dorothy is around the corner in the gardens, so Singra follows his directions, and finds a girl there and gives her the potion, telling her it is Ozade. Dorothy is horrified to see Trot turn into a piece of green cheese! Realizing her mistake, Singra takes the cheese with her anyway.

Dorothy and Percy are on the chase, but cannot overtake Singra, given they have only the scent of the cheese to go by. And even worse, in classic Oz book style, strange people delay them. There's a rubber band, a group of men made of rubber who play music.

Dorothy and Percy make a new friend and companion in Leon the Neon, a man who was experimenting with neon tubing when he had an accident and became a human neon sign. This is Cosgrove's first real "grotesque" character, and one of the few in the Oz series. Baum created several, but Thompson only had Handy Mandy (Grampa and Kuma Party are close seconds, though). and Neill didn't have any.

When Dorothy and Percy stop to get some honey, bees capture the trio and force them to slave away for them. They are sealed away in beeswax cells, but Percy manages to use his teeth to get them out, and they make a good escape. But their troubles are far from over. Next they encounter hummingbirds that offer them nectar to drink, but it gives Percy and Dorothy wings, making them fly high in the air. The wings vanish after a time, because one must continue drinking nectar to maintain them, and Dorothy and Percy can't. However, they did see a hut where they decide they can go to ask for directions.

The hut turns out to be Singra's, and she has woven a net to cast on Dorothy to turn her to stone. And, as fate would have it, Dorothy was the one who went to the door. Percy and Leon are by Singra's ink well, when Percy smells cheese, so they pull up the bucket and find Trot in her enchanted form. Fortunately, Percy knows not to eat it. Leon goes to ask Singra the way to the Emerald City to see if Dorothy is all right, but sees the statue. Singra gives him a ransom letter to take to Ozma.

Betsy Bobbin has grown concerned over not seeing Dorothy or Trot for a couple of days. Ozma thinks they may be visiting the Scarecrow or the Tin Woodman, but when the Tin Woodman arrives without having seen either, Ozma checks the Magic Picture and sees Percy and Leon carrying a piece of cheese, running back to the Emerald City, the Scarecrow, tied up in Glinda's workshop, and Dorothy turned into a stone statue in Singra's hut. Dorothy is brought to the Emerald City by Magic Belt, and the Wizard can't find a way to restore her, so he goes to Glinda's with Betsy, Ozma, and the Tin Woodman, where they rescue the Scarecrow and read about Singra in the Book of Records. Along the way back to the Emerald City, they overtake Percy and Leon. Ozma reads the letter, seeing that it demands that Dorothy and Trot will remain transformed if they do not make her the Witch of the South, taking over from Glinda.

While everyone is away at Glinda's, Jellia cleans the room Dorothy is in, sadly noting the fate of this beloved girl. She notices Singra's net, which looks like a spider web. She attempts to dust it off, but that doesn't work, so she tries removing it, and it comes off easily, restoring Dorothy.

The Magic Belt is used to bring Singra to the Emerald City before Ozma, and she is forced to restore Trot. Ozma then has her drink the Water of Oblivion (it was revealed earlier that she un-courteously saved the life of a water nymph, who made her "impervious" to water, but apparently, it has a normal effect if it is drunk), then she is sent to sleep, having forgotten all her magic and wickedness, for another hundred years.

Many fans consider Wicked Witch better than Hidden Valley, and I must agree. There is a tighter plot that is much more exciting, even if we do have some little stops along the way. Rachel Cosgrove Payes uses the classic Oz characters in ways that are true to their characters, and Percy, still as headstrong and wisecracking as ever, really comes into his own here. (It seems at one point, the book was called Percy in Oz.)

But the real star is the Wicked Witch herself, Singra! She is a true, out and out villain, but yet, you enjoy reading about her. You don't want her to win, of course, but her side of the story is so deliciously wicked, it's fun to read, and you're a little sorry that it's over when you reach the end.

Now, I can't help but mention Eric Shanower's illustrations. Unlike many previous Oz books, The Wicked Witch of Oz is lavishly illustrated. Any two-page spread has an illustration. This definitely makes the book more attractive than Hidden Valley. And, unlike some illustrators who simplify their designs for book-length illustration jobs, Shanower illustrates in his regular style consistently.

So, if anyone had doubted Rachel Cosgrove Payes' claim to be a Royal Historian with Hidden Valley, she more than made up for it with Wicked Witch. If only Reilly & Lee hadn't turned this one down, who knows if the Oz series may have actually picked up again?

And we're not done with her yet!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Royal Podcast of Oz: The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914)

In this episode, Sam and Jared look at the 1914 film The Patchwork Girl of Oz by the Oz Film Manufacturing Company.

As always, you may listen and download at the podcast site, or use the player below.


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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Animal Rights and Wrongs

Cross-posted from here.

As most, if not all, animals in Oz are sentient and capable of speech, you might think they would be civilized as well. And some are, but others prefer to live in the wild and act according to their natures. The ones who live in the Emerald City and are close friends with humans seem to be the exception rather than the rule. Even then, they have to sit at their own table during meals, except for the Wogglebug and the Frogman. Maybe this is more a case of the table being made to accommodate their needs rather than their being treated like second-class citizens, however. Since the Wogglebug and Frogman have learned to function like humans, they wouldn't require such special amenities. In The Patchwork Girl of Oz, Ozma mentions letting the Woozy stay in the Royal Menagerie, presumably the same as the Royal Stables, which are described as much nicer than stables elsewhere in the world. According to Wishing Horse, each stall is equipped with a shower. For what it's worth, Dorothy and the Wizard makes clear that Ozma's palace has no stables, but Patchwork Girl has the Scarecrow mentioning that the Sawhorse lives in one. At the end of Tik-Tok, the stables are identified as the home of not only the Sawhorse, but also the Cowardly Lion, the Hungry Tiger, and Hank the Mule. The Woozy isn't around, but maybe he was out somewhere at the time. As Ruth Plumly Thompson frequently added new large animals to the ranks of the Emerald City celebrities, I can imagine that the stables might have been expanded over the course of her contributions to the series.

One thing I found rather disturbing about John R. Neill's books is that his Emerald City included an animal enclosure. In Wonder City, it is identified as the home of chained lions and tigers. I wonder how the Cowardly Lion and Hungry Tiger feel about their fellow big cats being locked up like that. There's also the garden of the animal-plants in the Public Gardens, which is apparently a different place, but it also has chained animals. I've already mentioned the bull-rushes, and other animal-plants living there include goose-berries, dandy-lions, tiger-lilies, skunk-cabbage, snap-dragons, cow-slips, horse-radishes, cocks-combs, pussy-willows, dogtooth violets, larkspur, fox-gloves, and catnip wildcats. During one of her temper tantrums, Jenny Jump frees the animal-plants, and they run amok in the city. Some of them turn out to be friendly, though, including a bull, a dragon, and some horses. In Scalawagons, the animal enclosure appears again, and animals inhabiting it include donkeys, giraffes, chimpanzees, tigers, sheep, dragons, mules, horses, unicorns, and at least one dragonette. It's also said to be Kabumpo's home, although general consensus is that he still lives in Pumperdink. This time, the animals break their chains on their own and run into the Quadling Country, where they admit to Ozma that all they really want is a vacation. Indeed, the animals behave so well that I have to wonder why they would have been chained in the first place. It doesn't make much sense to my mind.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Outsiders from Oz coming soon!

When a restless Ozma is told about a mysterious hole that has appeared in Jack Pumpkinhead's pumpkin patch, she takes a brief leave of duty to investigate. Meanwhile, Button-Bright and the Wizard are going to Glinda's Palace to examine a watch that belonged to Button-Bright's father. But when they find themselves stranded outside of Oz, they must rely on the assistance of the locals for a return.

In her journey, Ozma finds an old but familiar acquaintance who seems to have forgotten her. Button-Bright and the Wizard meet some new friends who will be familiar to dedicated Baum readers. And what will happen when they encounter an old enemy who everyone seems to have forgotten about?

Outsiders from Oz
A new Oz story founded on and continuing the works of L. Frank Baum
by Jared Davis, illustrated by S.P. Maldonado

Coming soon, to be available in hardcover, paperback, digital, and audio.

I have some flyers featuring an illustration and a matching excerpt that I'll be giving away at the Winkie Convention!

Help This Oz Happen!

Our pals Clayton Spinney and Sean Gates are still trying to raise funds for their movie adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz! You can help, but they're not going to expect you to do it without expecting anything in return.

Right now they have a campaign on Kickstarter, and all pledges of $25 and up will get you a copy of the movie on DVD when it's done, "loaded with bonus features!"

Clayton and Sean were interviewed on the podcast not too long ago, so that should give you an idea of their noble intentions to bring a faithful version of Oz on the big screen!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Hidden Valley of Oz

The dedicated Oz fans were out there, and when they didn't have new Oz books, or ones they wanted to read, they wrote their own. Fans would write their stories for themselves and sometimes their friends and family. Goodness knows how many Oz stories have actually been written and left unpublished. But one first time writer, Rachel Cosgrove, wrote her own for herself and her mother, and on a whim, sent it to Reilly & Lee.

To Cosgrove's surprise, she received a letter from an editor saying she had read it to her "critical" eight year old, who had loved it. The editor suggested some revisions, and that if she wasn't contacted again in a year, she should re-submit her story. Frank O'Donnell offered to buy the story, and Rocket Trip to Oz was underway. Cosgrove was thrilled!

At some point, they asked her to remove the rocket ship. Cosgrove recalled that they had rejected a rocket ship story, but there was also the fact that Speedy arrived in Oz in a rocket ship in The Yellow Knight of Oz. Revisions were done, and in 1951, the thirty-ninth Oz book, The Hidden Valley of Oz, was released.

The original first chapter with the rocket ship was printed in Oz-Story Magazine #6 (we'll get to why it was there in a few blogs) and involves a little boy named Jonathan Andrew Manley (or Jam, from his initials) sneaking aboard his father's test rocket ship which is launched.

I'm not entirely sure why, but I prefer Cosgrove's revised version in which Jam builds a collapsible kite that can be folded up when not in use. It winds up being much more powerful than he thought, and he ties a crate that he can sit in to the kite. He also brings along a white rat and two guinea pigs. But, as you can guess, the kite carries them far away to Oz, specifically a Hidden Valley in the Gillkin Country.

The Hidden Valley is held in the thrall of a giant named Terp the Terrible, having the people make grape jam (it is the purple Gillikin Country after all) for his muffins from his magic muffin tree, which is guarded by a fabulous 2-headed beast. They advise him, and the guinea pigs and rat (who can now talk and call themselves Pinny, Gig, and Percy, respectively), to get out of the Valley before Terp catches them. ... Which is what happens almost immediately afterward. And Jam makes the big mistake of introducing himself as "Jam," making Terp decide to eat him for breakfast on a muffin.

It is the resourceful and street smart Percy who saves Jam by bringing a vine to the window of his prison room, allowing him to make an escape by night with Pinny and Gig. However, Percy is wondering why Terp is so protective of the Magic Muffins and runs back to steal one. By the time he catches up with Jam and the Guinea Pigs, they have been captured by Equinots, who are basically centaurs who wear clothes. Going on a hunch, Percy eats some of the magic muffin and grows to Jam's size, scaring away the Equinots.

Jam and Percy decide they will go west and attempt to find the woodman the people in the Hidden Valley wanted to come to help cut down the Magic Muffin tree. Before long, they come across a farmhouse where they are allowed to stay the night. Pinny and Gig decide to stay with the farmer's children, thus letting them drop out of the plot.

Next up is Kite Island, where the Wicked Witch of the West brought kites she had taken away from happy children. They discover the Collapsible Kite, which has been in Jam's pocket the whole time, is alive but just lacked a face to communicate with them. The Kites are grateful after Jam unties them and help them back over the river they had to cross, which got them stranded on Kite Island.

They soon arrive at the Tin Woodman's Castle, where, after being made guests, Percy begins shrinking and must have more of the magic muffin to remain at his large size. The Tin Woodman suggests that they go to the Emerald City. Percy hopes Ozma can help him stay at his large size. The next morning, Dorothy and the Scarecrow arrive, and they decide to go to the Hidden Valley to help the people get rid of Terp. Dorothy and the Scarecrow arrived on the Cowardly Lion and Hungry Tiger.

They soon meet a new big cat friend: the Spots, the Leopard with the Changing Spots. As his full name suggests, he can change his spots to look like hearts, diamonds, pinwheels, etc. None of the other animals trust him, so he's an outcast. But Dorothy and her friends don't have a history of being particular and welcome him along. However, he's not in the plot long as their next stop, Bookville, has the party captured and almost put into books, but Percy manages to gnaw a way out for them, thanks to the help of a Rhyming Dictionary, who Spots takes to the Emerald City.

Next little stop along the way is Ice Town, where Snowmen also throw them in prison, which happens to be an igloo. The Scarecrow sacrifices his straw to build a fire to melt it so they can escape. Luckily, they shortly meet a Winkie farmer who happily lets them have straw to re-stuff him.

The Tin Woodman makes a raft from some trees to carry them across a wide river, but the wood rebels at having been cut down and carries them in the wrong direction. The Scarecrow gets an idea and convinces it that that's the direction they WANT to go in, so it rebels again, and carries them to where they really want to go.

The Lion and Tiger and Tin Woodman's axe allows them to cross the Equinot's territory without interference. In the Hidden Valley, the Scarecrow comes up with a plan. At night, the Tin Woodman manages to hypnotize the guardian of the Magic Muffin tree into a well-mannered beast by swinging his axe (how that works, don't ask), which he then uses to chop down the tree. The next morning, Terp is told that Jam is back in the valley, and is tricked into looking for him in a smokestack in the jam factory. This incapacitates him, and with no Magic Muffins, he begins to shrink into a normal Gillikin.

Then a return to the Emerald City, where Percy is allowed to stay, and also is made to stay as large as he presently is. Jam is returned home in a crate tied to the Collapsible Kite, by means of a wishing pill.

The Hidden Valley of Oz is a good Oz story, although, in writing this blog, I had to have the book open to remember everything. It's not quite as memorable as (guess what?) Cosgrove's later Oz stories, which most fans agree are better. Still, I like that Cosgrove doesn't rely heavily on magic, and when it is brought in, she manages to use it as a proper plot device. The Oz characters use their wits and abilities to solve their problems, even the big problem of Terp. So, even though this wasn't one of the best Oz stories, it was far from a bad one.

The worst thing about Hidden Valley is the illustrations. Neill's delicate and elegant poster-style art was not emulated, and whatever bizarre charm was behind Kramer's uneven work was also missing. The pictures are flat and reminded me of illustrations you would see in novels based on live action TV shows and films in the 1950s. (My dad had a few.) That they would turn to artwork like this shows how little Reilly & Lee were investing in this relaunch of Oz: not much at all.

When the International Wizard of Oz Club reprinted the book in the early 1990s, Eric Shanower offered to re-illustrate the book. They rejected the offer. I can only assume it was to create a historical presentation. I suppose Shanower still could, but he's a very busy writer and cartoonist, and someone would have to handle the rights situation, since the book is still under copyright. It would have been nice, because Cosgrove's later Oz work was illustrated by Shanower.

Anyway, speaking of that later Oz work, Cosgrove turned out another book called The Wicked Witch of Oz, but Reilly & Lee were not interested, since sales on Hidden Valley were not impressive. The International Wizard of Oz Club offered to serialize it in The Baum Bugle, but Cosgrove insisted that if this was to be seen at all, it needed to be in book form.

Cosgrove's breakout with Oz led to many other books. These were mainly romance and science fiction novels, published from the 1960s to the 80s. Some were under pen names, like E. L. Arch, or Joanne Kaye. No one would expect an Oz author to be turning out books called Satan's Mistress or The Coach to Hell!

However, about 1993, Cosgrove—or rather, Payes—and the International Wizard of Oz Club managed to make a deal, but we'll get to that next time.

The Later Oz Works of Jack Snow

While they were not publishing any new Oz stories by him, Reilly & Lee kept Jack Snow as a possible returning author for future Oz books. (They did publish an Oz book without him and Kramer, but we'll get to that soon.) But his next (and last) Oz venture with them wasn't an Oz story.

Published in 1954, Who's Who in Oz was an alphabetical listing of all the characters from the thirty-nine Oz books. Also, Snow provided biographical sketches of the authors and illustrators of the Oz books. (It must be noted that this was 1954, before the International Wizard of Oz Club was founded, so there had not been a lot of published research done in this area yet, so some of Snow's information is a little faulty.)

While Snow is informative and doesn't reveal too many plot details, there are a few points in his listing of Oz characters that stick out oddly. When he covers the Good Witch of the North, who he seems to treat as a different character from Tattypoo, who "thought she was the Good Witch of the North," he says, "Dorothy says that some pretty important things have transpired involving the Good Witch of the North, but the story is just too long to crowd into a small space. It would take a whole book, Dorothy tells us."

The Guardian of the Gates is not listed as Snow somehow made the mistake of combining him and the Soldier with the Green Whiskers, Omby Amby. Under Omby's listing, it says "See also WANTOWIN." Wantowin has a separate listing saying, "This is really Omby Amby, the soldier with the green whiskers. Perhaps the Oz historian who wrote this book wanted to see if you remembered Omby Amby and so invented a new name for him. Well, you did remember, and now Wantowin is again called Omby Amby." Snow, you cheeky man...

Who's Who in Oz is a worthwhile addition to an Oz collection, and it should only take a little bit of searching to find. It was reprinted in 1988 by Peter Bedrick Books, which is the edition I own. I would not be surprised if it had a largely new design, but it is a very attractive volume. Apparently, the International Wizard of Oz Club bought up a large stock of these and has had them available for sale. (However, they have recently announced that they are trying to clear their inventory.) Books of Wonder once listed it in their catalog. There has also been another reprint, but I have not seen this one.

The only other completed Oz work by Snow is a short story called "A Murder in Oz," which he submitted to Ellery Queen magazine, but it was rejected. Posthumously, the International Wizard of Oz Club serialized it in some of the earliest issues of The Baum Bugle. It has also been reprinted alongside some of Snow's supernatural horror fiction in Hungry Tiger Press' Spectral Snow: The Dark Fantasies of Jack Snow, which is where I read it.

It is a story that I have, for a long time, been against spoiling the ending of. Let it suffice to say that in the story, Ozma is found dead and the Wizard and Glinda must find the murderer.

Although many do not consider "Murder" to be part of Oz continuity, I personally accept it as so. I see no real discontinuity, except for that clunky bit where the characters say that Baum established that people in Oz cannot be killed. But my favorite part is near the beginning, in which the adult characters of Oz enjoy some things they wouldn't around the children. Cocktails are served, while Glinda is attended to by handsome mountain giants and the Shaggy Man smokes a cigar. I would recommend "Murder" to Oz fans.

There has been word of Snow working on a third Oz book manuscript entitled Over the Rainbow to Oz. There has been talk that it would cover the early history of Oz, but according to Lin Carter, Polychrome would meet a boy in America named Billy and take him over the rainbow to Oz. And seemingly, the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West would also play a factor. I would not be surprised if that odd bit about the Good Witch of the North in Who's Who was also a clue about this book.

If Over the Rainbow to Oz ever existed, it has been tragically lost to us, and perhaps not because of time. I have heard a rumor that the manuscript was possibly destroyed. Marcus Mebes informs me that to his knowledge, a Virginia Glendening, claiming her mother was in negotiations to illustrate, said she had the manuscript in a safe deposit box and would trade it for a copy of Ruth Plumly Thompson's The Wonder Book. When Fred Meyer of the International Wizard of Oz Club offered to follow through on this, she claimed she was having trouble retrieving the manuscript, but she'd work on it. She died sometime afterward without having done so, and her heirs have not responded to any questions about it. (Marcus asks that if this information is inaccurate, he'd welcome a correction.)

Jack Snow's final, but perhaps greatest, contribution to Oz came shortly after his death. He noted that Sherlock Holmes fans had begun a group called "The Baker Street Irregulars." Why couldn't such a society exist for Oz fans? Snow had been corresponding with many Oz fans, and had commented, "How nice it would be if they could write to one another and leave me alone."

An announcement of "The Oz Irregulars" appeared in the April, 1955 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, but nothing came of it. However, after Snow's death, his address book was used by a young fan named Justin Schiller to create the charter members of a little group called "The International Wizard of Oz Club."

Snow died in 1956. In his afterword to Spectral Snow, David Maxine writes: "The cause of his death is said to have been internal hemorrhaging probably related to cirrhosis of the liver." But Snow's life was not a happy one, even aside from his lack of success with Oz.

Jack Snow was gay in a time when homosexuality was extremely frowned upon. Thus, not only was he treated as a social pariah, he also had trouble accepting it himself. This personal stress is believed by some to have helped the deterioration of his health, leading to his death at age 48. In a posting on the International Wizard of Oz Club's message board, Maxine criticized Snow's family. "They cut him off, have blocked research into his life, and have left him in an unmarked grave for fifty-plus years. Their bigotry is what they should be ashamed of — not Snow's sexual orientation"

(David Maxine has since visited Jack Snow's grave and discovered that Jack Snow is buried next to his father whose grave is marked by a simple military headstone, issued by the government. Perhaps financial straits are a reason why Snow's grave has gone unmarked.)

Maxine's mention of "cut him off" refers to financial troubles Snow experienced in his later years. One sad item of note to Oz fans is that Snow had one of the largest collections of Baum materials at the time, but in his dire financial straits, he was forced to sell it off.

Unlike Baum and the others who had worked on the Oz series, Snow's life did not have a happy note before death. He had no idea of how much his Oz work would be appreciated, or of the result of his hope of an Oz society that did come to pass and still runs today.

Appreciation of Snow's work is what we can do to remind us of a man who wanted to bring Oz back to how Baum had it. Everyone, as long as they could get along with others, is welcome in the Oz Snow wrote about, no matter what their eccentricity might be.

The Shaggy Man of Oz

Snow didn't waste time getting to work on his next Oz book. This time, he'd send the classic Oz characters on a proper adventure, led by the Shaggy Man! There would be Father Goose, an inventor, and Crystal People!

Well, until the Reilly & Lee editor told him that it was too reminiscent of Tik-Tok of Oz.

Well, back to basics...

Kramer was back on board too, and this time, he was set to make his illustrations much better than last time.

However, The Shaggy Man of Oz was delayed until 1949. The initial delay was because Reilly & Lee hoped that Magical Mimics would pick up in sales. There doesn't seem to be a formal explanation as to why there was a three year gap in between Snow's books, but we can definitely tell that it didn't help Reilly & Lee's efforts to relaunch the Oz series.

Shaggy Man opens with two twins called Tom and Twink who live in Buffalo, New York. It's a rainy day, and they're bored as they go to watch a Buffalo Bill serial on their projection television screen. But shortly after the show begins, the scene shifts to an island with a castle and a tiny clown who looks like their toy clown Twoffle. The clown tells them to step into the picture to meet Conjo the Wizard who wants to see them, and as it turns out, the picture serves as a portal to Conjo's Island. The tiny clown introduces himself as Twiffle, the cousin of Twoffle.

Meanwhile, in the Emerald City, the Love Magnet has fallen from the gates and broken. Ozma tasks the Shaggy Man to have it repaired, having discovered Conjo created the Love Magnet. They look in at Conjo's island and see Tom and Twink. Ozma immediately has her doubts of Conjo being a good man, and gives the Shaggy Man a magic compass that will bring him home to Oz. If he uses it while holding hands with the children, they will be brought along as well.

Shaggy arrives on the island, and joins Twiffle, Twink, and Tom. Conjo definitely has something up his sleeve, but acts amiably, and agrees to repair the Love Magnet in return for the Compass. Conjo has an airship that works by repelling gravity, which he tells Shaggy he may use to go back to Oz. Shaggy marvels at this, but he doesn't outrightly agree to the trade, particularly as the Compass is Ozma's. However, that night, Shaggy wakes up and finds a repaired Love Magnet (I suddenly had a thought of "What if Conjo had a spare and just used that?" But if that's the case, how is it of any importance? Shaggy will be going back with a complete Magnet, which was what he set out to do.), but the Compass is gone. He goes back to sleep, wondering why Conjo couldn't do a proper exchange, if the airship will work, and even more troubling, why did Conjo want Twink and Tom?

Shaggy soon finds the answer when Twiffle awakens him. He has discovered why Twink and Tom were brought: to have their memories wiped and to be servants of Conjo. Ashamed of his own involvement, he helps Shaggy get the children and then helps them escape in the airship.

The ship alights outside a city in the air (not clouds, not an airborne island, AIR), where the people are only too happy to invite the four newcomers to live with them. The ship flies away without them, as Twiffle forgot to put it in a proper "parked" mode. But a bird tells them they may "swim" down to earth. This brings them to the Valley of Romance, which is somewhere in the Land of Ev. (Oh, Ev... And Ozma of Oz made you look so barren...)

In this Valley is a lovely castle where people who act confused perform a play very badly. The Shaggy Man is enchanted into joining the play, and the next night, Twink herself is taken. Twiffle tells Tom about this and exclaims that these people do not understand love, giving Tom the idea to use the Love Magnet to introduce the Palace inhabitants to love and remind them about true romance, which works. (A bit weak, but there you go.) The Valley of Romance becomes the Valley of Love.

Wait... Do we vaguely recall some other place called the something of Romance? ... Nah, must be because this is my second read...

As the four set out again, they meet the King of the Fairy Beavers from ... John Dough and the Cherub! Ah, right, that book had the Palace of Romance, and the King of the Fairy Beavers was on Mifket Island! ... What's he doing in Ev, then?

Anyway, the King of the Fairy Beavers would like to visit Oz, and with Shaggy as an escort, says he has a plan to do so: use the Nome King's tunnel from The Emerald City of Oz! (Wait... wasn't that refilled with earth? *Checks.* Yep. ... Snow...) The tunnel poses only two difficulties: Flame Folk who live on the desert do not want the travelers in the tunnel, which they use to help them enjoy the burning sands of the desert better, and Glinda's Barrier of Invisibility. (Remember that? Well, after Baum, Thompson, and Neill ignored it so many times, it's a wonder Snow even brings it up.) The Flame Folk are forced to go back to the surface by the Beaver King's water magic, and he uses Visibility Cloaks so they can see each other in the barrier.

Finally, everyone emerges in the Emerald City garden, where they discover Conjo arrived a short while ago and stole the Wizard's black bag, then locked himself in the tower where the Wizard's workshop is. Conjo wants the Wizard's job, and plans to make Ozma comply with his wishes. However, the King of the Fairy Beavers saves the day again by squirting water from the Fountain of Oblivion into Conjo's mouth, wiping his memory, which mirrors what he planned to do to Twink and Tom.

Ozma returns and sends Conjo and Twiffle home, Twiffle being in charge of re-educating Conjo. The King of the Fairy Beavers is allowed to visit and have some of the Water of Oblivion. The Wizard's black bag is found, hidden behind a tree in the Magic Picture's default image. Twink and Tom, although they enjoyed their visit to Oz and meeting so many of the people they had read of in the Oz books, ask to go home, which Ozma promises to do as they sleep. (Ala The Road to Oz.)

Altogether, while Shaggy Man is a fun Oz book and an enjoyable read, it's not as good as Magical Mimics, though it improves with less heavy-handed exposition. Still, Twink and Tom are rather two-dimensional characters, and while they react well to their experiences, they lack the wide-eyed wonder Dorothy had when she first came to Oz, or Button-Bright's almost jaded approach, where nothing bothers him.

Snow strangely blunders continuity-wise more than once here. Conjo's story of the creation of the Love Magnet matches the story Shaggy told Dorothy of how he obtained it in The Road to Oz, except that story was later admitted to being a lie, and Shaggy must always be truthful having bathed in the Truth Pond. I mentioned the new location of the Fairy Beavers' home, unless we assume that they have many homes, or moved away. I also mentioned the issue with the Nome King's tunnel. That Snow, someone who had studied Baum's work so thoroughly, made these errors is very strange indeed.

Kramer's artwork is somewhat better this time around, although he was definitely not a John R. Neill. Still, some errors pop up. Twink's hairstyle changes often. And this is not because "she's a girl and changes it." When she enters the picture to Conjo's island, she has two straight braids. When Ozma sees her in the Magic picture, she has a single thick braid at the back of her head. We can assume these two moments take place in no more than ten minutes from each other, and we can scarcely imagine that a girl would un-braid and re-braid her hair in that much time, particularly when she's just been transported to fairyland. Perhaps it is no wonder why a couple of my Oz friends wanted to re-illustrate Snow's books in new editions. (Those plans have since been abandoned, but I'm putting it back out there!)

Altogether, though, I enjoyed The Shaggy Man of Oz, faults and all, as it was Snow having a fun romp through the world of Oz, rather than the high stakes he created in Magical Mimics. I'd definitely recommend it as one of the better post-Baum Oz books.

Although... I do have to wonder if my reading of another piece of literature didn't prepare me for this book. I speak of "Abby," a short story by Eric Shanower, printed in Oz-Story Magazine #2. It follows up with Tom and Twink (their real names being Zebbediah and Abbadiah, respectively, Twink going by Abby now) after they have become adults, Abby reflecting on her incredible visit to fairyland. As for what else happens there, I won't spoil it. (Yet.)

At any rate, this was the last Jack Snow Oz novel. With sales for this book also tanking, it seemed clear that the Oz series was not destined for a revival quite yet.

But you probably now how it goes with Oz and the "Royal Historians" who were published by Reilly & Lee. Their final entry to the Famous Forty was never their last venture into Oz.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Magical Mimics in Oz

About 1920, Reilly & Lee received a letter from an enthusiastic Oz fan. In light of L. Frank Baum's death, if they needed someone to write Oz stories for them, he was ready. He was turned down. They had already selected Ruth Plumly Thompson, and this fan was only twelve years old.

Despite his dismissal, this fan continued research into Baum's life and works, and later worked for several radio stations. He also began writing short stories and columns for magazines. So, in 1943, when he heard of the death of John R. Neill, he brought his offer to the table again. His name was Jack Snow.

Reilly & Lee had put the Oz series on a brief hiatus while looking for a new Royal Historian and illustrator. Mary Dickerson Donahey was offered the Oz series, but although she would have loved to, a series of already thirty-six books had too many characters and too much back story to keep a track of. In 1944, Snow was selected to continue the series.

In a perfect world, Snow would have immediately cranked out an Oz story, it would be illustrated and on store shelves in time for Christmas, 1944, and business would resume for Oz as usual, but that was not to be. While Snow turned out a manuscript quickly enough, the paper shortage and labor difficulties due to World War II prevented a 1944 publication.

Snow suggested Frank Kramer, an artist who had done illustrations for many of the same types of magazines that Snow had worked on, take over as illustrator. Frank O'Donnell agreed, and the illustrator was in.

Sadly, The Magical Mimics in Oz, Snow's first Oz book, did not see print until 1946. Although a brave promotion strategy was enacted, the book failed to sell as well as other Oz books. Note that there had been a four year gap since the last Oz book, so there was plenty of time for enthusiasm to die down. A 14 year old child who had received Lucky Bucky in Oz for Christmas would have been 18, and the just-concluded war had brought about new and exciting developments in the real world that, in the minds of the American public, put fairy tales to shame.

But how was Magical Mimics? Well, Snow did not have the same fears that Mary Dickerson Donahey had experienced. Instead of trying to remember every detail of all the previous Oz books, Snow went back to the Oz Baum had left the end of Glinda of Oz. (Reportedly, Thompson approved of this.) This has since become the standard way most subsequent Oz tales begin. Snow's Oz would be a refreshing step back instead of trying to work with the messy world Thompson and Neill had developed Oz into.

Ozma calls Dorothy to her study to inform her that she and Glinda will be attending a Grand Council with Queen Lurline in the Forest of Burzee. In her absence, Dorothy will govern the Emerald City.

That's the first two chapters. Much of the first chapter was an expanded tale of how Lurline made Oz into a fairyland. The third chapter tells us what she did next: place a spell on the Mimics of Mount Illuso, the twin mountain of Mount Fantistico of the Phanfasms, so they could not harm a citizen of Oz. Already Snow is delving into the world Baum had created and expanding on it in his own way.

But now Snow does his biggest deviation from Baum as the villains come in. He had just established the Mimics, who can take any form they choose, but their most fearsome power is taking someone's form by casting themselves on their shadow, the victim becoming completely immobile. The leaders of the Mimics are Queen Ra and King Umb, and when they discover Ozma and Glinda have left Oz, they turn into giant birds and fly to Oz, where they steal the forms of Dorothy and the Wizard, and then have them carried back to their mountain.

In the cavern that Dorothy and the Wizard are dropped into, a light shines after the Mimics have left and frees Dorothy and the Wizard from their enchantment. A little wooden man named Hi-Lo arrives and takes them in an elevator to his home on the mountain, where they meet his wife in the village of Pineville, where Princess Ozana lives. She made the citizens out of a pine forest, for she is a fairy who has been tasked to keep an eye on the Mimics. When Dorothy and the Wizard tell Ozana of their plight, she is unaware of Umb and Ra's departure. (Sneaky devils!) She begins to make preparations to go to Oz, and allows Dorothy and the Wizard to enjoy one of Snow's most whimsical creations: Story Blossom Garden.

In this garden, plants tell stories when picked, based on what they are. Roses tell love stories, tiger-lilies tell jungle tales, and weeds tell action hero stories. Subtle humor on Snow's part, quite worthy of a Baum successor. At the chapter's close, Dorothy is told a bedtime story by a poppy, which harkens back to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, though this poppy is definitely not of a malignant nature.

Meanwhile, the other people in the Emerald City are struck by the sudden change in Dorothy and the Wizard, how they have forgotten things they knew and secretive and dismissive of others. Ra is looking through Ozma's magic books for a spell to counteract Lurline's enchantment on Mount Illuso, but fails to find it before dinner, which they attend to avoid looking too suspicious. Toto, a late dinner arrival, immediately sees that Ra and Umb are not Dorothy and the Wizard. We are left to assume this is how well he knows Dorothy. At any rate, he blows the Mimics' cover and they flee to the magic room and lock themselves in, finding the enchantment, stealing the Magic Belt, and turning into hideous batlike creatures and flying away just before the other palace residents break down the door. Uncle Henry is sent to Glinda's to gather a report on what happened from the Book of Records, while the Magic Picture assures everyone that the real Wizard and Dorothy are safe.

On Mount Illuso, while Umb and Ra are shocked to discover Dorothy and the Wizard gone, they waste no time in dispelling the enchantment, so all the Mimics soon swarm to the Emerald City and quickly conquer it, immobilizing regular people as they duplicate them, sedating the animals by magic, and tying up the Scarecrow and Scraps. Ozma and Glinda return and defy them as they might, they cannot overcome the Mimics.

Ozana has summoned giant swans to carry them back to Oz, but realizes they are too late to prevent the invasion. Upon arriving, Ozana proves that magic against her is useless and restores Lurline's enchantment to protect the people of Oz. The Magic Belt is returned, and Ra and Umb are rendered powerless. All the Mimics' victims are free again, and the Mimics are enchanted into mirrors, which are shattered, returning them to Mount Illuso. (The mirrors are magically repaired, so Jellia doesn't have to worry about cleaning up all that glass!)

Ozma invites Ozana to stay in Oz, where she can still keep an eye on the Mimics. Her village of Pineville and Story Blossom Garden are transported to the Quadling Country, where the Mimics cannot get to them. A grand celebration is held in honor of Ozma's return, the defeat of the Mimics, the wit of Toto, and the new Princess of Oz, Ozana.

While the style change from Thompson, Neill, and even, in some ways, Baum may have thrown off some readers, The Magical Mimics in Oz is a refreshing story after going through the past several Oz books. Snow's story is humorous, exciting, and bold. And even though there are some nasty villains, by the story's end, they are disposed of and rendered powerless, in classic Baum tradition.

But still, Mimics was not a commercial success for Reilly & Lee. As I cited above, after four years with no new Oz books, the audience could easily have lost interest, especially with the lastest developments in the real world. Children were less interested in fairy tales at the time, and more entranced by what could be achieved through science and technology. The magic of Oz was just a story, while the new craze in science fiction, which both Snow and Kramer had worked in, showed what might actually happen. Unlike Thompson and Neill, who had introduced magic automobiles and airships to Oz, Snow abstained from bringing new technologies to Baum's fairyland.

Kramer, sadly, received some of the blame for the book's financial disappointment. He had not been a children's book illustrator before, and while his work is fine, when compared with the art of the legendary John R. Neill, something feels lacking. Kramer's art was also inconsistent at times. He draws Toto looking as like a different breed of dog each time.

Anyway, despite the commercial disappointment, Reilly & Lee didn't write Snow and Kramer off as a failure, realizing that it might take time to bring their audiences back to Oz. This new author and illustrator team would return to Oz very soon.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Weekly Oz Update

The Region 2 DVD for The Witches of Oz mini-series will hit the shelves in the UK on August 8th. Pre-order that here.

Danny Elfman has signed on to compose Disney's Oz, the Great and Powerful. Read the report here.

Besides those, a bunch of Oz items have been auctioned off this past week, including an Arabian test pair of ruby slippers, and a Dorothy dress.

Also, Jared will be interviewing Leigh Scott on the Royal Podcast of Oz soon, so stay tuned for that, as well as the other podcasts Jared's been working on.

Some announcements on the Witches of Oz release will be made soon, so keep an eye out around their Facebook page for that.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Runaway in Oz

Neill wrote a new Oz book for 1943 and submitted it to Reilly & Lee. However, he died at age 65 before the work could be completed. Reilly & Lee scrambled for what to do next, because they were now out of an author and illustrator for the Oz books. Frank O'Donnell contacted Ruth Plumly Thompson about returning, as she had indicated she would be open to it, but she had a big question: "Since poor Johnny Neill is dead, who will do the illustrations? I think this is a pretty important matter and if someone without imagination or a certain style takes over, they'll be as good as killed from the start (or rather the thirty-seventh start—or something.)."

Neill had been her friend and his work had been a staple of the Oz series for thirty-seven years. If Oz would continue without him, it was important to Thompson that a suitable successor be found. However, O'Donnell did not have an answer.

Many Oz fans maintain that the series went on its first hiatus since 1910 in 1943, but Reilly & Lee were actively looking for a replacement author and illustrator. Yes, the cost of publishing a new book was an expense that, in this time of paper shortage, would be nice to write off, but the publishers did want the series to continue. What they eventually settled on will be the topic of the next blog.

But to the point of this entry, what became of Neill's final Oz book and how was it? The answer is that the manuscript remained with his family for years, until the 1990s. Well, there seems to have been another version made, but it doesn't look to be faithful to Neill's original intentions. Also, it is not easily available. Books of Wonder founder Peter Glassman wanted to give Neill's final manuscript the treatment it deserved, bringing established Oz illustrator Eric Shanower on board. While I'm sure many of my blog readers know of Shanower (hey, he might even be reading this), at the time, he had finished publishing his fifth and final Oz graphic novel with Dark Horse, and Books of Wonder had published his The Giant Garden of Oz.

In Shanower's own words: "The plot of the published book is essentially what Neill wrote, though I did a few nips and tucks (pun intended) in places to make it more unified. I retained as much of Neill's actual language as I could, although his prose style is nothing to write home about. I was far more concerned with retaining Neill's substance It was not my intention to change any of Neill's ideas or characters, but to make the book more readable."

As you can see in the above linked page, Shanower compares himself with the same editor who had worked on Wonder City, but I feel the difference is that this time, the editor had good intentions not only about staying true to the spirit of Neill, but also to the spirit of Oz overall. Shanower also illustrated the book, and while fans have compared his artwork quite favorably with Neill's, they are very different from each other. But still, Shanower was one of the best Oz illustrators at the time, and he still is!

The Books of Wonder version of Runaway was published in 1995, and as I have no other version of the book, and it was authorized by Neill's family, it is the version I refer to.

Everyone in the Emerald City is getting ready for a grand banquet, but Scraps just wants to play. She scuffs up the just cleaned palace, puts a couple scratches on the Tin Woodman, gets torn by the Dragonette, and when she asks Jenny Jump for help in repairing, she's turned down because the magic turn-style doesn't seem to fix tears, and it would take hours to repair Scraps by hand, and Jenny only has minutes. Basically, Scraps is doing the wrong things at the wrong time. However, she feels wronged and runs away on her spoolicle. (A bicycle with giant spools instead of wheels.)

Scraps' first stop is Jinjur's farm, where Jinjur makes it clear she will have no idle hands on her farm. A fix-it shop repairs her body, and the owner tells her about Fanny, the Weather Witch, who might help Scraps leave Oz altogether.

Along the way to Fanny's, Scraps visits the Woggle-Bug's Athletic College, where she meets a boy named Alexample, who prefers old-fashioned studying to education pills. The Woggle-Bug is planning on a vacation in an air castle he dreamed up (literally), but Scraps accidentally sends it—and Alexample—afloat. So she hurries on.

Scraps reaches Fanny's mountain and begins riding the spoolicle on the narrow spiraling mountain path. Halfway up, she finds High Faluting City, a place where all the inhabitants have had themselves flattened. The shape helps with wind resistance, for Fanny often makes winds blow from her mountain. Everyone simply lies flat on the ground, so the wind does not blow them away. After a failed attempt to go up the mountain, Scraps has herself flattened, being informed that she will resume her former shape if she gets wet.

Scraps heads up the mountain, being able to resist the wind by pressing herself against the mountainside, but she soon makes a new friend in Popla the power plant, a bush with a girl's face who is incredibly strong. Soon, Scraps regains her normal shape when it rains, and soon reaches Fanny's hut. Fanny is busy and seems to be a little bothered at being disturbed, but agrees to send Scraps over the desert. But things go a little wrong. Popla, carrying Scraps and the spoolicle, hesitates and breaks Fanny's windmill as they go sailing away!

Meanwhile the Woggle-Bug is furious at the loss of his castle and goes to complain about Scraps to the Wizard and/or Ozma. He runs into Jenny Jump and Jack Pumpkinhead, who are looking for Scraps themselves. Jenny regrets being unkind to Scraps (revealing the Wizard restored her temper to her) and wants to find where she ran off to. The Woggle-Bug joins them. The next morning (during the night, Scraps would have been in High Faluting City), they find a man who seems to be made of shards of glass. When he captures Jenny to "repair" himself, Jack shatters him, freeing Jenny. Given Neill's previous books, I can only dread how this must have originally read. However, this scene, probably thanks to Shanower's editing, is a little exciting, even if it feels too short.

Also, in classic Baum style, the plot usually alternates chapter by chapter, while in Thompson and the earlier Neill books, there would be a few chapters of one plot line, then some (or sometimes one) of another. Given Neill's earlier books, I might wonder if this is also Shanower's work. If so, it makes the chapters more satisfying as they cover more story.

Back to Scraps and Popla. They wind up on a cloud being pushed along by Cloud Pushers who want to take them back to Fanny who wants to have a word with them. The two manage to escape on a shooting star, which is controlled by a robotic man named Battery Batt, who Scraps puts out of order by punching him, and the two are joined by a chubby little man named Twinkler. Fanny sends bad weather their way, but they manage to escape to the Woggle-Bug's air castle, where they find Alexample who has been enjoying this time away from the college, thanks to an extensive library in the castle. The four decide they'll stay in the air castle forever. Shortly, they must defend the castle from air-pirates, who are quickly defeated when Alexample fires education pills at them. They turn and run quite quickly, so apparently those pills gave them some sense.

Four days after the Pirates attacked, the castle begins to turn into a doughy substance and disintegrate. Apparently, it was only good for a week, and that's up. Scraps and her friends gather together around the spoolicle on the last remaining bit of the castle, a brass door, and begin falling back to earth.

Meanwhile, the Woggle-Bug and Jenny's search for Scraps has proved fruitless (of course). Jack's head gets lost during a storm, and the two are obliged to lead the body around. A self proclaimed poet they run into offers no help, and eventually, the three enter an orchard, where there is no escape. A live bandbox warns them that conse-quinces have risen in rebellion, which is why the orchard has been made so no one can escape. However, they are soon attacked and found by the quinces, including their leaders, the Quince and Quincess. However, the Woggle-Bug happens to look up and see his air castle disintegrating.

Jenny has not been able to find her fairy gifts in her suitcase which provides her with different clothing. (Shanower the illustrator makes use of this and Jenny doesn't look the same in any two illustrations.) She intends to find them to defeat the quinces, but the suitcase only gives her endless black boots, which soon pile up all around. These break the fall of Scraps, the spoolicle, Alexample, Popla, and the Twinkler. The spoolicle crushes the Quince and Quincess, and the other quinces attack in retaliation. They fire smoke balls at Scraps, which make every inch of her black, but it also kills them (similar to how a bee cannot live without its stinger). Soon, each quince is lifeless, and the enchantment on the orchard is broken.

Scraps hates her new condition and Jenny, finally finding her fairy gifts, has to drag her out of the orchard. (She also finds a new pumpkin for a new head for Jack.) The nearby farmers are grateful and have a celebration, and the Twinkler decides to stay, but Scraps will not go to the Emerald City in her present condition. They continue to convince her to go, and finally, she agrees, but she wears a sheet with eyeholes to cover her new condition. (She says it is the prison garb, as it is in The Patchwork Girl of Oz, but as Lucky Bucky said there were no prisons in the Emerald City, this may be a Shanower addition.)

Scraps attempts to bypass the Emerald City, and winds up dropping Jack off back at his home before returning to the Emerald City. There, after scaring a few residents, she appears before Ozma, who says nothing of Scraps' offenses to Jellia, the Woggle-Bug, or the Tin Woodman, but promptly uses the Magic Belt to restore Scraps' body to its former condition, before the quinces attacked her. She says she now wants to see more of the world, and more or less declares devotion to Popla, who seems to share the feeling. (Hmmm?) This leaves it open that the two may go on to have many more adventures.

Except they won't have any more adventures for a long time, as it was the last book Neill wrote.

The Runaway in Oz reads much more clearly and linearly than any of Neill's other books, but for this, I am highly suspecting the editing work of Shanower, and it is this contrast that lets me say my final word on Neill's Oz books.

Neill had some great characters, and some nice plot ideas, but he was no master storyteller. Wonder City is easily the best of the books he'd written for the Famous Forty, but likely the editor who went against his intentions helped with that. Somehow, Lucky Bucky is a close second, with Scalawagons being the worst. But Runaway beats them all.

Still, Runaway has a few issues. Is Scraps REALLY that immature? How is Fanny in control of all the weather in the world and yet we've never heard of her in any of the previous Oz books? And while Scraps & Co. stay in the air castle for about five days, for some reason, the Woggle-Bug and Jenny's journey to find Scraps doesn't feel like it took that long.

Shanower informed me that Scalawagons and Lucky Bucky only had minor editing, and in the page I linked to at the beginning, he says that "The original manuscript of Wonder City is no great shakes, and I can see why Reilly & Lee thought it needed work, but their editors seem not to have cared one whit for Neill's intentions (or for Oz as Baum and Thompson had established it) and the published book is no better than the manuscript and arguably a good deal worse."

What Neill's earlier books needed was an editor who cared about respecting the author's intentions, as well as respecting the creations of Baum and Thompson. Unfortunately, they did not receive such treatment, and if someone were to do new versions of them with new editing, now that the original books have been around for almost seventy years, while it would please some fans, would cause many questions for continuity buffs.

It certainly is a shame the best book with an author attribute to Neill was published over fifty years after his death and may have been the best only because there was a good editor behind it.

Still, Neill had made his mark. His books were published by the same publishers who had published Baum's books and Thompson's books. Regardless of quality, they are part of the Oz series that fans have regarded as such. While Neill contributed little, he did have his memorable contributions to the Oz universe. Few authors seem to want to even touch on his Scalawagons, but his character of Jenny Jump has provided an interesting character to work with, except that as Neill's books are not public domain (his family, unlike Baum's and Thompson's, kept his copyrights active), using Jenny in new Oz stories is limited to non-profit fan writing (such as online fan works), or in the International Wizard of Oz Club's Oziana.

Now, back to 1943. Neill was gone, and the Oz series needed both a new author and illustrator, and would have to wait until a pair could be found

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Retro Review: The Oz Audio Collection

These reviews are of pieces of merchandise that are now out of print and are not likely to get another release too soon. I'll try to direct you to places to get them, but they may be hard to find or expensive.
Audio books have become an important secondary way to enjoy literature. Whether the audience for them is blind, spends a lot of time driving, or if they just want a different way to enjoy a good story, they present a story in a way that is easy to digest. With digital formats today in CD, MP3, iPod AudioBooks, and Audible, as well as the recently deceased audio cassette, it seems odd to realize that the unabridged audio book took awhile to come about.

Stories told through audio are, of course, an evolution of oral storytelling, and began with the debut of radio. But it was not until the long playing phonograph was introduced that audio stories became commercial items. Storytelling records for children became a popular item, and adaptations of classic stories and film stories were the norm. Eventually, the idea came around to abridge or condense a book to a length that would only take the length a vinyl record to play a recording of. Complete recordings of books were not unheard of, but they would require multiple records, making the sets costly to produce and package, and thus, a higher price to the customer.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz went into public domain in 1956, and many reprints and adaptations came about because of it. Caedmon Audio (which was later taken over by Harper Collins) noted this and eventually came to release three abridgements of Baum's books and a collection of short stories for sale.

The choice for narrator (which was often a noted actor) in this case was Ray Bolger, who played the Scarecrow in MGM's Wizard of Oz movie.

The four records were re-released for sale as a collection of audio cassettes, which was how I was able to enjoy them. It seems a CD release was in the works, but it didn't last long if it was produced. I asked my library to get them, but later found the set you see pictured at a yard sale.

The first of the tapes is an abridgement of The Wizard of Oz, which is a basic abridgement. Dorothy and her friends arrive at the Emerald City after meeting the Cowardly Lion, with no incidents noted. The Wicked Witch immediately summons the Winged Monkeys, and the journey south to Glinda is also told without any incidents. While this is expected, it sadly removes the events that help the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion prove their qualities to Dorothy without realizing themselves, or put them to the test.

The second Oz book, The Land of Oz, gets a similar treatment, but all mentions of the Woggle-Bug are removed. Also, rather grievously, the story cuts off just after Ozma is restored. It ends with the Scarecrow making up a poem about being glad of no longer being king that must have been added by the person responsible for the abridgement. With this ending, the Emerald City is still held by Jinjur, and as Ozma of Oz is not in the set, we are given no indication that this changes.

The other Baum book to get an abridgment is Queen Zixi of Ix, which is also cut tragically short. The wishes of Rivette, Jikki, and Tallydab are excised as well. The story ends just after Zixi meets the little girl in the boat and scolds her for her foolish wishes before realizing her own wish might be considered just as foolish. While this feels more like a complete story, Bud and Fluff are now without their magic cloak, and Bud doesn't get to make the best wish made with the cloak. I really wished there was a second tape for Zixi, as it deserved it.

The final tape is called Little Oz Stories. What is it? Is it Little Wizard Stories of Oz? Is it excerpts from the Oz books that can be read as standalone portions? No, it's a selection of stories from the Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz series. That's a rather odd choice, as the stories are out of order, and these weren't some of Baum's best. Also, people unfamiliar with the series would wonder why the Oz characters are in America. Anyone unfamiliar with the post-Wizard Oz stories might wonder if Jinjur exiled them!

The first side contains:
  • The Scarecrow Presents a Magic Automobile to a Little Girl
  • The Two Wishes
  • Jack Pumpkinhead Pawns the Sawhorse
  • The Scarecrow Tells A Fairy Tale To Children and Hears A Equally Marvelous True Story
Side two features five more stories, including three featuring Dorothy:
  • A Magnetic Personality
  • How the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman Met Some Old Friends
  • How the Sawhorse Saved Dorothy's Life
  • Dorothy Spends an Evening with her Old Friends and is Entertained with Wonderful Exhibitions
  • How the Woggle-Bug and his Friends Visited Santa Claus
Since these are short stories, they are not properly abridged, though stories with the "What Did the Woggle-Bug Say?" questions have the lead-ins for those removed. This is, notably, the first time the actual Baum stories had been collected, though it wasn't complete.

Bolger is, admittedly, not the finest narrator, but he gives these stories—which he was a fan of—a delightful performance with little vocal gestures and chuckles, and frankly, I love the dignified voice he puts on when he says "H.M. Woggle-Bug, T.E." Even the stories with some poorly-done abridgements are worth listening to for his performance. His Scarecrow doesn't sound the same as it did in 1939, but it is still quite in keeping with Baum's character. His Tin Woodman sounds squeaky, his Woggle-Bug is dignified, his Jack Pumpkinhead sounds a little "mush-mouthed," his witches are mean, and his ladies are elegant. Bolger's Dorothy has a tone of innocence, and his boy characters are lively.

The set also features music, some bouncy travel-style music for the Oz stories, while Queen Zixi has a dreamlike, melodious selection. Little Oz Stories also makes use of the same music at times.

The set comes packaged in a stiff card package as pictured. Today, we'd call this "environmentally friendly" packaging, but I prefer cassettes in a package that will last. When I got this set, it had already seen use, then after my purchase, it spent a few years in a desk drawer before I finally decided to record the audio to MP3s for personal use. Since that is completed, I likely won't have much cause to use the packaging, but still.

The absolute worst thing about the set is the back cover blurb. It reads all right until it gets to the description of The Land of Oz:
The Land of Oz recounts the adventures of the Tin Woodsman and the Scarecrow with Tip, a little boy who lives just outside the city of Oz with an old witch, and their magical friend Jack Pumpkinhead.
A poor use of commas make it sound like Jack was a longtime resident at Mombi's. "The city of Oz" is a confusing term, as Oz has many cities, but is not a city in itself. I believe it should have said "Emerald City." Furthermore, Jack was brought to life by magic, but other than that, he can't really be considered "magical."

The blurb for Little Oz Stories is even worse.
Finally, the Little Oz Stories relate numerous tales including Dorothy's return to visit with her old friends, how Glinda the Good Witch returned Oz to its rightful ruler, Princess Ozma, and the Woggle-Bug's visit with Santa Claus.
That makes it sound like Dorothy goes back to Oz, but the story it refers to (the last of the three in which she appears) has her visit her friends who are staying in a hotel or apartment provided for them during their visit to America. The story of Oz being restored to Ozma's rule should have been on the set, but it is not in there.

My final gripe is the potentially confusing statement that the Wizard of Oz film was made in 1938. This is accurate, in that the production took place during that year, but the film was completed and released in 1939, which, for the brevity of the back cover, should have been used instead.

Anyways, this is a set that MGM fans who have a moderate interest in Baum's books should enjoy, with the Scarecrow's most famous voice telling them more stories about Oz, and Baum fans might enjoy the presentation. If you want it, and can use audio cassettes, affordable copies are on Amazon.

(Please don't ask me to send you my MP3s. Legally, in order to have MP3s made from a cassette still under copyright, you must own an actual copy.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

People of the Sky

Cross-posted from here.

By now, I suppose we all realize that life of sorts can exist in pretty much any medium in the fairyland shown in the Oz books, so it shouldn't be surprising that the skies above the land are also rather well-populated. Polychrome, one of the Daughters of the Rainbow and a Sky Fairy, is known for sometimes visiting the Earth. The Oz books also refer to Cloud Fairies, made of a fleecy substance. And in John R. Neill's books, we see sky sweepers and scrapers who clean up debris in the air, as well as the windbag-like Cloud Pushers who help guide the clouds. The Ozian skies are also dotted with several floating islands, the first and most famous of them being Sky Island.

The book Sky Island, in which the titular land first appears, is not an Oz book, but was intended to be tied in with the series. Button-Bright and Polychrome, who had earlier had significant roles in The Road to Oz, show up again in Sky Island. The island itself, which the protagonists accidentally reach by means of Button-Bright's Magic Umbrella, is divided into two main countries. Each one is color-coded like the quadrants of Oz, but the color schemes are even more pervasive. The dark Blue Country, where the sun never shines and snubnoses are considered a sign of beauty, is ruled by the Boolooroo. While allegedly an elected office, each Boolooroo actually chooses his own successor, and forces everyone else to vote for that person. The Pink Country is much brighter and seemingly friendlier, yet the inhabitants can be quite hostile at times. The people are divided in a feud over whether the sunrise or sunset is more beautiful, and punishment for some crimes involves pushing people off the edge of the island. The ruler of the Pink Country is whichever person has the lightest shade of pink skin, and at one point there was a law that the ruler's power had to be countered by the monarch living in poverty, but this was later altered. In fact, the entire island underwent some major changes when Trot, through a combination of legal interpretation and conquest, became ruler of both countries. The two colored territories are separated by the Fog Bank, a damp area inhabited by enormous frogs and other abnormally large animals. There's a fun surreal moment when the heroes come across a giant lizard who's dreaming of parsnips.

The next major appearance of a skyland is in The Cowardly Lion of Oz, in which the main characters are carried off to the Skyle of Un (a skyle being an isle in the sky). The inhabitants, known as Uns, are strange and disagreeable bird-people. Eventually, the heroes learn that anyone on the island grows a feather whenever he or she does anything un-ish. The Uns live in treehouses, and go fishing for birds. Previously, they spent most of their lives shouting out their wishes and fighting each other, but they apparently reformed when Ozma placed Unselfish, known as the only good Un, on the throne.

A few other Thompson Oz books feature lands in the sky. Grampa has the characters visiting a country in the clouds, where they encounter Polychrome, a star shepherdess named Maribella, and several disembodied heads. Much of the plot of Speedy takes place on Umbrella Island, a land in the Nonestic Ocean that the wizard Waddy rigged with a magical mechanical umbrella in order to make it fly. In Enchanted Island, King Rupert of Kapurta uses a magic vest button to turn his country into an island in the sea, then later one in the sky. And Ozoplaning with the Wizard is largely set in the sky, and specifically in the Kingdom of Stratovania, which is where I got the name for this journal. As the name suggests, Stratovania is located in the stratosphere, about twenty miles above the Land of Oz. Inspired by the success of Captain Salt in claiming countries for Ozma, the Tin Woodman tries to do the same with Stratovania, but that doesn't go over too well with its ruler Strutoovious VII. In fact, he's so incensed that he decides to invade Oz; and while the Wizard and Ozma manage to repel the attack without too much trouble, it's quite possible that the Ozites thought twice about expanding their empire after this. The land and buildings in Strut's kingdom are made of solid air, which I would think would generally require temperatures pretty close to absolute zero, but I suppose these things can work differently in fairyland. After all, Nimmie Amee also uses a compound that she took from the Wicked Witch of the East to form a wall of solid air around her house, as seen in Tin Woodman.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Lucky Bucky in Oz

Neill kept keeping on with his Oz stories, and 1942 brought Lucky Bucky in Oz. Now, would it have a plot to follow like Wonder City, or would it be a plotless disaster like Scalawagons?

Bucky Jones is a young boy working on his uncle's tug boat when suddenly the boiler explodes.

Usually when boilers explode, people die, but this a post-Baum Oz book. Instead, he's hurled through the air and lands in a volcanic island used by bakers, who think he is a thieving pirate. He is rescued by Davy Jones, a wooden whale, and the two decide to go to the Emerald City together, taking a river through what appears to be the Land of Ev, meeting doll-like "dollfins" along the way.

In the Emerald City, crazy things start happening. ... Actually, that's not far from the truth. When the Solider with the Green Whiskers finds children defacing the Emerald City, he wears himself out trying to stop them, and almost resigns. But Ozma decides to put the children's talent to good use by creating a mural to tell the history of Oz. (And now you KNOW an illustrator is writing this.) More than just children get involved. Jack Pumpkinhead paints a picture of Mombi so lifelike that it comes to life, almost a reincarnation of her, it seems. She steals the Wizard's black bag, but Jenny Jump uses her fairy foot power to retrieve it. Mombi escapes over the Deadly Desert, #9 keeping an eye on her with his tell-all scope.

Hmm... Remember last time a Neill villain ran off? They disappeared for a long time! So... Mombi... hides in Davy Jones. ... So, she doesn't disappear. Okay. But that's all she does!

Davy and Bucky enter the Nome Kingdom, where some help from #9 protects them and helps them make Bucky the new and temporary ruler. He has to keep on, and uses some explosive door knobs to blow attacking Nomes away. These turn out to be transformed Gabooches named Tom, Dick, Harry, and their sister Flummox. These queer creatures are like tiny storks with bellows for heads and arrows for feet. They join Davy and Bucky.

Davy winds up in a land of "funny bones," who chase them to the edge of the Deadly Desert, where the rainbow lands and at Polychrome's intervention (I find it amazing that Neill remembered her, given she had been absent since The Tin Woodman of Oz), lets them get to Oz by going (there's no other way to say it) over the rainbow.

After traversing the Stiff River, Davy and Bucky and company wind up in Game River, where you cannot leave until you have won every game. A lot of giant fireflies (called Thunderbugs) interrupt the final game, allowing them to make an escape, despite interference from a safety pin policeman.

The river then takes them through a dark tunnel inhabited by illegal magic users who are either scared away by the Thunderbugs clinging to Davy or distracted with a free pie from Davy's hold. However, soon after this, the river suns out of water, and it is up to the Gabooches to find how to fill it up again. They find the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman, who have had a lot of rivers rolled up and put away so they wouldn't fall in and rust or get soggy.

... Wow, Neill, way to make these two classic Oz characters sound like jerks! And they're messing up the ecosystem!

Anyways, hearing the plight of Davy and Bucky, they allow the river to be unrolled so the journey to the Emerald City may be resumed. Along the way, they come across Wise Acres Country Club where all the Uncles live, including Uncle Sam, who Bucky says is his uncle.

To be honest, I didn't get who Uncle Sam was until I saw the illustration of an old man with a thick goatee and a thin layer of hair on top. It is, of course, the American icon Uncle Sam.

All the Uncles ask to visit the Emerald City, too, and Davy obliges, as there is plenty of room. Soon, the Lake Quad is reached, but as it is deeper than the river and Davy is carry so much weight, he sinks, but everyone manages to swim to shore, the Uncles keeping the Tin Woodman and Scarecrow from serious water damage. However, Mombi is forced to leave as well, and the Gabooches see her and chase her into a volcano. Having followed the adventure, Ozma, Glinda, and the Wizard follow in a Scalawagon and shrink the volcano around Mombi, trapping her tight inside it. The volcano is relocated to the Emerald City, where the bakers who had tormented Bucky may now resume their baking without fear of pirates, and at night, it can be used in a fireworks display. Jack Pumpkinhead repaints Mombi into an agreeable citizen.

The Gabooches try Jenny Jump's turn-style and it turns them into three boys and a girl, which they realize must be their true forms. Davy can use his hold and the rivers to deliver baked goods around Oz, and Bucky decides he will stay in Oz as an assistant.

While Neill is still loose and nonsensical, this book actually has a clear, linear plot. In classic Oz book form, there is a journey the characters undertake and they overcome obstacles on the way. However, unlike better Oz books, Bucky and Davy don't have much of a real motivation for going to the Emerald City.

Neill also gets a little weird about his chronology.  Are we supposed to believe Mombi went undetected aboard Davy for four whole days? And speaking of Mombi, it's a weird, yet imaginative way for Mombi to return, and I think it's a more imaginative way to deal with her rather than having her melted. (As it is, the painted Mombi does get wet and shows no ill effects.)

Neill's wording is weird, too. The Nonestic Ocean that Baum introduced and Thompson mentioned several times is called the Nonentic Ocean. The Tin Woodman's name gets spelled Nickchopper. And where's the editor? Because while Jenny Jump has her name spelled that way, when it mentions something that belongs to her, it's suddenly "Jennie's." And weirdest of all, when they're still in the Ocean, Davy says they're in Oz. Which we diehard fans know isn't the case.

In Neill's art, throughout his over thirty-five year tenure as Royal Illustrator, his art became a bit simpler. Sometimes we had richly detailed work, but near the end, we got a cartoonish line art style. (I think Baum would have approved, as he said Neill's work wasn't humorous enough.) You'll have to get your own copy, but there's a big surprise for fans of Neill's work on pages 184 and 185.

After Scalawagons, Lucky Bucky is a huge improvement, even if it doesn't live up to the standards of Baum and Thompson. It seems Neill was finally coming into his own.

Now, I said Neill wrote four Oz books, but his last one didn't have the standard story behind it. But you'll have to wait for next time.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Curiozities By The Book

Sharon Ray of the popular Oz merchandise blog Curiozity Corner has a new blog! This one is Curiozities By The Book, which will focus on items inspired by the Oz books, as, while there is quite a bit of overlap, not all fans of Baum's books are fans of the MGM film, and not all fans of the MGM film are not big fans of Baum's works. (Not saying either group is openly against or completely ignores, it just happens.)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Three weeks!

And it'll be Saturday evening at Winkies. And Sam and I have completed our plans. I'll have more time to kill this time around, since I got an earlier arrival time and a later departure time.

Anyways, I've got a LOT of things for the new Winkie Swap meet, and I'll have my first ... 20(?) Oz action figures at the Winkies Show and Tell, and I got a little something to hand out.

But if you want to see something REALLY cool to get you excited... Check out what Eric Gjovaag's been blogging about recently!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Weekly Oz Update...well, sort of.

Dorothy of Oz has been announcing various licensing deals this past week. Read all about that here.

Casting in Pontiac, Michigan for Oz: The Great and Powerful has been taking place as well. Over 3,000 people auditioned.

Tom and Jerry & The Wizard of Oz is now on iTunes. I saw the preview for it on my iTunes page, and it looks like it will be a fun movie.

I was planning on doing another blog exclusive this week or next week, but the lovely folks at CW3PR did not allow me to do so.

Since there's not much news to report this week, enjoy this video of Anne Hathaway (set to play Judy Garland in an upcoming biopic) playing Dorothy in an Oz-themed segment of Saturday Night Live.

The Scalawagons of Oz

Neill was not dissuaded by his editor's reworking of his work. Perhaps Thompson's own perseverance for her nineteen year term as Royal Historian inspired him. (The two had shared a closer friendship than Neill and Baum had.) But whatever determination this man of Scottish, Irish, and Dutch descent possessed, it did not help his next book gel at all.

Perhaps The Scalawagons of Oz, his Oz book for 1941, has an excuse for this. In the introduction, Neill writes:
Day by day strirring events happen in the Land of OZ which we are compelled to let pass. No one will ever know of them.

It would be impossible to tell you all that happens in a whole year.

This book is the record of less than a week.
So Neill is chronicling the events of a few days in Oz, focusing on certain characters. (It also offers a lovely excuse for all the Oz fiction that comes out nowadays.)

#9 has a second job, he's assistant to the Wizard of Oz! However, the Wizard's been at work on a top secret project. So secret, even #9 doesn't know what's going on. Only Tik-Tok knows: Scalawagons! These flying cars are being mass produced on Carrot Mountain for everybody in Oz. They run on flabbergas and Tik-Tok is using a mallet to knock sense into them.

You know, I think I know why people don't like this now.

Anyways, after the Wizard leaves, and after knocking sense into all the Scalawagons, Tik-Tok looks outside ... and winds down. This allows our mysterious villain the Bell-Snickle to enter and send Tik-Tok clanging down the Mountain, and then he gives the Scalawagons some flabbergas that sends them flying out of the workshop. Soaking himself with flabbergas, he flies away, too.

The Wizard had planned a party at Glinda's palace to unveil the Scalawagons, but Glinda discovers through her Book of Records that the Wizard's surprise has disappeared. Jenny Jump is the first to volunteer to look for them, and she is joined by the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Sawhorse. However, the Sawhorse proves too competitive, and his speed dries out the Tin Woodman. (You know... that actually makes a little bit of sense.) After an adventure in the Winkie Woods renders the the Tin Woodman completely immobile, Jenny makes use of her fairy gifts and sends the others back to Glinda's. (Of course, you realize, that means Jenny could have set off on her own and the story could have gone the way it goes without them.)

You know, this story is getting so tedious, I'm having trouble keeping my attention on this blog. (Come on, just a few more, and we get to JACK SNOW...)

Along the way to find the Scalawagons, Jenny meets the Nota-Bells, little men who live in bells and make music, and #9 joins her, and they rescue Tik-Tok from the town of the Lollys and Pops. And somehow they wind up flying and find the Scalawagons flying over the desert, which they take back to Glinda's palace.

While the festivities finally begin, the bloated Bell-Snickle arrives, but Jenny puts a hole in it, deflating it. It hurries off again and Jenny uses her Scalawagon to go after it. Things aren't quite as easy, because the Bell-Snickle steal Jenny's gifts, then tries to make a bunch of walking trees conquer the Emerald City and ... Ummm... Yeah...

Finally, Jenny brings the Bell-Snickle to justice, and Ozma agrees with her that by use of the magic turn style, he will be made smaller into a rubber stamp, and also be used as a rubber stopper to stop things Ozma doesn't approve of.

And then there's a celebration and all...

Just about the only redeeming thing about Scalawagons is getting to go on an adventure with the resourceful (if still somewhat flighty) Jenny Jump. The plot is a big, confusing, jumbled mess that can only be enjoyed by reading it. Attempting to examine it makes my head ache. Ugh...

Baum brought technology to Oz in little ways. In Tik-Tok of Oz, the Shaggy Man and Ozma have what seem to be cell phones, and there has always been electricity and, as fans assume from the luxurious baths in the palace, indoor plumbing in Oz. But most Ozites look to technology as common place, and it doesn't play a huge part in their lives.

The problems with Scalawagons, and to a similar extent, Thompson's Ozoplanes, is that travel machines in Oz take away a large part of the charm of tramping around Oz looking for adventure. Rather than face a giant monster with wits, an Ozoplane or Scalawagon could just fly over it. Stranded outside of Oz? Call the Emerald City for an Ozoplane lift! It's no wonder that later Oz authors ignored these two inventions. In fact, Neill's later books don't really mention them, at least, not that I recall.

Two more Neill books. Are they as messy as this, or have a good story at heart like Wonder City? Let's see...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Outsiders from Oz

Like it?


Because that's what The Borderlands of Oz has just been retitled.

While Borderlands wasn't a bad title at all, considering the number of Borderlands actually visited in the story, I felt it was a little inappropriate.

So, we brainstormed for days and days, and finally came up with Outsiders from Oz.

And you can see an illustration at Shawn Maldonado's Oz art blog.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Wonder City of Oz

With the departure of Ruth Plumly Thompson, Reilly & Lee decided to turn to someone who had had 35 years of experience in Oz: illustrator John R. Neill. Neill had made up stories for his children, and had written a number of comic strips on his own. Anyways, he'd illustrated for Baum and Thompson, so surely he must have picked up on their style, right?

His first book was published in 1940: The Wonder City of Oz.

Let me warn you: if you thought Thompson's stories could get disjointed, you haven't seen ANYTHING yet!

We open in the New Jersey home of a 15 year old Jenny Jump, who spies Siko Pompous the leprechaun about to steal her pepper cheese. (Pepper cheese? Pepper jack cheese? Jenny and I must have something in common!) She catches him, and promises to let him have the cheese if he will make her a fairy. He makes her half a fairy. (And eats all her cheese!) One ear, one eye, eight fingers, and her ears are fairy. He refuses to do more so she won't get into trouble.

I'm assuming trouble is her middle name, because soon Jenny's fairy foot sends her flying high into the air, far away from her New Jersey home!

Meanwhile, in the Emerald City (which is the titular "Wonder City"), a celebration is being prepared for Ozma's birthday. Neill already begins to exhibit his new take on Oz. He dips into nonsense by having Jellia accidentally sew her mouth shut, and so she can still talk, Ozma enchants her so she can talk through her ear.

During a parade for the birthday, Jenny crash lands in Ozma's carriage. Introductions are made, and Jenny is made welcome. When Jenny spots a Munchkin boy who accidentally sends himself soaring through the air (don't ask), she uses her fairy foot to rescue him, and the boy, who calls himself Number Nine, promises to be her servant.

Jenny wants to stay in Oz, and Ozma welcomes her to do so, but when she expresses the desire to be a queen, she asks when the next election is. Ozma does not know what an election is, but decides, for the fun of it, they will have an Ozlection, and she and Jenny will run against each other.

Jenny spends the night with Number Nine and his family, where he is one of fourteen children. The next morning, the two head out together. Quickly, Jenny shows how their relationship will be. She threatens Number Nine (can I call him #9 for short? I'll do that) to accompany her to the ruins of a wicked magician's home that had exploded (and THAT is why Ozma banned unauthorized magic). Jenny goes through a turn-style she finds and discovers her clothes have changed somewhat. Discovering how to use this magic turn-style that turns styles, she and #9 take it to the Emerald City to set up a style shop!

You might think a magic clothing store would be a terrible idea, but somehow, Neill writes about it with enough enthusiasm and energy that it somehow works.

#9 is made to wear "whistlebreeches" by Jenny, as a reminder not to loaf, because when he stops working, the whistles whistles sharply and loudly.

Meanwhile, Ozma and her court decide, through a series of homophones, that the votes in the Ozlection will be counted by people depositing their right shoes.

And #9 is having no luck with the whistlebreeches, making too much noise. Scraps notices and chases #9 into Jenny's shop, accidentally running through the turn-style, which changes her classic patchwork dress into a boy's bathing suit. And there's a bit where the houses in the Emerald City fight...

Jellia gives Jenny her shoe as thanks for freeing her lips by completing the dress that Jellia had been working on. Jenny receives many more shoes, before #9 points out that people are leaving left shoes, which are invalid as votes.

The votes are to be dropped off at Jack Pumpkinhead's home, which is a decommissioned Ozoplane. It's not clear why Jack is living in the Emerald City instead of his pumpkin home in the Winkie Country. Maybe this is where he's begun to stay while visiting the Emerald City. But during the night, the Heelers, creatures who enjoy eating votes (or shoes?) sneak in, but Jenny and the unwitting Cowardly Lion manage to defeat them.

Quickly, #9 is befriended by a mysterious magical man who readers will quickly guess is the Wizard of Oz. He makes himself a pair of whistlebreeches, much to Jenny's anger. When #9 tells him that Jenny would be much nicer if she was younger, the Wizard gets Siko Pompus to make Jenny de-age to 11 years old, but in the process, she will lose her fairy powers.

Jenny notices herself getting smaller as she helps a red box-like man find a job. She then runs into Scraps, who, after a little fight, is willing to let bygones be bygones, and they visit Jack. But then Jenny accidentally sets off his Ozoplane home. (Those things are really touchy, aren't they?). The three wind up prisoners on a planet of some sort inhabited by chocolate soldiers who take them prisoner and intend to invade and conquer Oz.

Meanwhile, #9 is running the style shop alone, letting his family all get new clothes, and then the aid of a dragonette must be enlisted to rid the shop of two nomes intent on stealing the magic turn-style. Surprisingly, Sir Hokus of Pokes appears, which is odd, as we thought we'd seen the last of the bluff old knight in The Yellow Knight of Oz. But here he is, willing to give the dragonette a merry chase.

As the chocolate soldier's planet is cold (if it was too warm, they would melt), the guard guarding the prison freezes solid. Jenny manages to "eat" her way out of prison (the chocolate is bitter, and she couldn't stomach a lot, so she bites and spits). She is unable to rescue Jack and Scraps before the guards are changed, so she decides to head straight for the Ozoplane and get back to Oz to warn Ozma of the invasion.

Back in Oz, #9 has begun to worry about the lack of Jenny, and takes the Sawhorse to look for her, heading first for the Quadling Country, which proves to be a wise move, because it is there that Jenny crash lands the Ozoplane! They hurry back to the Emerald City, noting the chocolate soldiers are moving in. Finding that Ozma is visiting Glinda, Jenny does the only thing she can do: open the gates to the invaders. Except that the magic turn-style has been placed in the gates, so when the soldiers march through, they come out as tiny tin soldiers, who are then made the playthings of some local children.

#9 is sent to the palace to find the Wizard so he can rescue Scraps and Jack, but #9 doesn't know the Wizard, so when he sees him, he thinks he is just a crazy old man. (Neill's illustrations show him looking a little different as well, which doesn't help, either.) But the Wizard uses a tell-all scope to find them, and uses a golden ray to bring the two prisoners home. Shortly, the Wizard finally introduces himself to #9.

The Woggle-Bug finds the rules of the Ozlection must be amended and he suggests that all voters be weighed, and whoever has the most weight on their votes, wins. But when the weights are counted, they come up equal, until they realize Siko Pompus has not voted. He makes his vote... for Ozma.

Jenny is furious, and goes on a rampage, releasing tigers from tiger-lilies, bulls from bullrushes, lions from dandelions, and other such animals. She soon regrets her anger, but is knocked unconscious. The animals are rounded up by #9's father and General Jinjur, who are both farmers, and they take the animals home.

The Wizard finds Jenny and sees that she desperately needs her bad attributes removed, so he does so, and these take the form of a black wasp (bad temper), a green snake (envy), and a fat red toad (ambition?). When Jenny awakes in the palace, she finds a surprise: Ozma has decided to make her a duchess and Chief Stylist of Oz.

Jenny and #9 return to the shop where Siko Pompus awaits with some gifts for Jenny. An eyeglass with an ivory handle, a gold slipper, a pair of gloves with no thumbs, and a pair of ear-muffs. Trying these, Jenny discovers that they will restore her fairy powers while she uses them. She decides to be kinder to #9, only having the shop open half the day now, and bringing in his "Sister 6" to help, and the two begin their relationship over again as friends.

I hadn't heard very nice things about Neill's Oz books, so my expectations were low when I read The Wonder City of Oz. But there is an upside to the unevenness of Neill's first Oz book: an overenthusiastic editor rewrote and added much of the plot, including the ridiculous Ozlection and the Wizard performing what we'd identify today as a lobotomy on Jenny. (The Ozlection was likely thought of as 1940 was an election year, and perhaps the editor wanted to help children understand it better through the fantasy of Oz.) Apparently, Neill wasn't crazy about these changes. There are no illustrations of the Ozlection proceedings at all, and those that are there could easily have been for other purposes.

If this is completely true, even with Neill's silliness, the story as he wrote it takes on a different tone than what comes across in the finished book. Sadly, it is unclear as to why Jenny was letting the animals run wild in the Emerald City, but we would have seen her go from a contrary teenager to a young girl, a member of the nobility of Oz, who would manage to have a better control of her temper, with magic tools. Jenny even becomes a hero by saving Oz using her magic tool and her wits.

While Neill might not have been a masterful storyteller, knowing this about his books, I can't write Wonder City off as "bad." Look at the character development for Jenny, and the wonderful character of #9. Frankly, I like Jenny Jump. Thompson, in all her books, had failed to add any new child characters to Ozma's court, so it was refreshing to see one with a twist: unlike Dorothy, Betsy, and Trot, Jenny does not live in the palace, and she runs her own business.

So, Neill wasn't a completely poor choice to succeed Thompson, but his first book was hampered with silly one-note characters (I didn't mention them all) and an editor who was not working with the author's intentions. (Most of the nonsensical logic seems to be from those additions.) Neill would write three more Oz books, so let's see how he did there before passing final judgement.