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

5 comments:

Aaron Solomon Adelman said...

Somebody (such as Books of Wonder) reedit The Wonder City of Oz, The Scalawagons of Oz, and Lucky Bucky in Oz from scratch, please! They can hardly be made worse! Changing the continuity is not a problem; the published versions deviate from Baum and Thompson enough that they are a continuity problem.

Anonymous said...

I believe the earlier version (which contained a great deal of new material) was edited/expanded by Fred Meyer and Robert R. Pattrick.

Nathan said...
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Marcus said...
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Nathan said...

I believe the name on it is Margot D. Mueller.