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 Goodness knows how many Oz stories have actually been written and left unpublished.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.

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