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.


Eric said...

Wait, what? No Polychrome since The Tin woodman of Oz? Then who was that rainbow's daughter who shows up in Grampa in Oz and The Purple Prince of Oz?

Jared said...

Whoops! You caught me!

J. L. Bell said...

I think the chronology of this book is even more twisted than you've noted. Events in the Emerald City happen both before and after events in the Joneses' journey.

Personally, I've decided that it's just a big fish story.

Nathan said...

Polychrome also makes a brief appearance in Wonder City.