Sunday, June 26, 2011

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.


Sam A M said...

You must be right, I have NEVER heard of a place called the The Land of Love before . . .

British Fan Of Oz said...

One of the chapter in Tik-tok of Oz I'm pretty sure is called the Land of Love. This maybe where you are making a connection.
Colin :)