Thursday, June 02, 2011

Yankee in Oz

After offering to return to Oz, Thompson vowed never to work with Frank O'Donnell again, especially when he opted to publish Oz books by Jack Snow, Rachel Cosgrove, and Eloise McGraw. But the International Wizard of Oz Club offered to publish a story Thompson had written in the late 1950s. They managed to get permission from Contemporary Books, the company Reilly & Lee had turned into, and works of fiction published by the Club could refer directly to the Famous Forty. (The process was not quite as simple as I made it sound, I'm sure, but it'll do.)

Yankee in Oz was published in 1972 in a large paperback illustrated by Dick Martin. The large size was so Martin could show his work off at a large size, and so that he wouldn't have to do as many. I guess he was a busy guy. A few years ago, the Club re-issued Yankee and other books published in this format in a hardcover uniform with recent Oz books. (This wouldn't be the last time the Club would publish a new Oz book by an author of the Famous Forty, not by a long shot!)

Yankee finds a young drummer boy named Thomas P. Terry (or "Tompy") washed away from his parade by a hurricane. He finds himself in Oz with a just crash-landed space dog named Yankee. They're in the northeast Winkie Country and soon come across the town of Wackajammy, who provide baked goods for Oz. However, Aunt Doffi, the princess of the town, is missing, and her useless nephew Jackalack doesn't know how to run the town in her place. He is sure that Tompy and Yankee are going to fulfill a prophecy to rescue Doffi. But when Yammer Jammer, the advizer, uses his copy of The Mind Reader to read their thoughts, he doesn't like what he sees and throws them in jail until they change their mind.

Yankee digs their way out of jail and they steal the Mind Reader. They head out to find their way across Oz (which Tompy has read about), and come across a series of misadventures. In earlier Thompson books, these would normally be silly and forgettable, but this time, Thompson isn't too silly. In fact, the misadventure in which they meet a man who has a neat and tidy city because he can constitute people out of powder is a little disturbing, but in a way that makes you think. When they meet a town of people made of lanterns who are lit with cold light, it is actually one of Thompson's most beautiful pieces.

A rather whimsical character Thompson introduces is Tim Ber, the trav-e-log who gives Tompy and Yankee a ride to his owner's home. To be sure, he looks like the Sawhorse without legs or ears, but he's a lot of fun. However, as he only gives one ride, his role is brief.

However, a much more fun (and familiar) character awaits us on Mount Upandup, where they run into Jinnicky, the jolly Red Jinn of Ev. Jinnicky is quick to befriend them, but they are attacked by Badmannah the giant. In retaliation, they whisk his cave keeper to Jinnicky's palace, only to discover that she was Aunt Doffi! Now Badmannah wants a new princess, so he captures Ozma, and even worse, her palace!

Jinnicky must return home to make preparations to fight Badmannah, and he executes his plan to capture Badmannah and send him to the Nonestic Ocean, wrapped in a net. They find Ozma's palace empty, but they use the Magic Picture to find Ozma in Badmannah's cave. Everyone else is inside a chest and made invisible. Together, Ozma with her Magic Belt and Jinnicky with his red magic, they restore the palace.

Tompy, Yankee, and Jinnicky celebrate with Aunt Doffi in the Red Jinn's palace, but Tompy and Yankee must return home, Jinnicky giving Tompy a little red jug to pull open should he ever need help.

The two Americans are sent home with Jinnicky's jinrikisha, and Tompy tells Yankee he wants to keep him, but Yankee (before his speech stops at leaving fairyland) is doubtful the space program would give him up. Tompy decides to ask his father to get Yankee honorably discharged, and his father makes the attempt. It seems hopeless, until Tompy opens the jug.

And so Tompy and Yankee live happily ever after, with one sweet little touch. For one hour, each afternoon, Yankee may speak to Tompy in plain English. And one day, Tompy brings home a copy of The Purple Prince of Oz (the first book in which Jinnicky appeared by name) and begins to read it aloud with his dog.

After my first reading I said it was a "good story, but it felt very brief. ... Thompson was still struggling for ideas for a good Oz story." To be sure, Yankee is shorter than her other Oz books, but I think this time it works in her favor. Rather than being all over the place, it has a tighter, concise plot. Tompy and Yankee make good protagonists, even though Tompy isn't as interesting as Speedy or Peter. And it's always fun to have Jinnicky around! He is definitely one of Thompson's best creations.

My only quibble is that Badmannah, for being so cruel, is disposed of rather quickly and easily. Sure, it sends the message that sticking to your principles and having good friends can get rid of your enemies, but it feels a little dissatisfying. However, Thompson quickly makes Jinnicky unsure if he did the right thing when Tompy wonders where the Magic Belt is, making Jinnicky wonder himself if he acted too quickly.

Now that Thompson had had a new Oz story published, would she do any more? Time would tell.

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