Hello, Ozites! As Jared mention before heading off, I am Mike Conway, known on YouTube as Mikelo. I am an Oz fan. Seriously. I live and breathe Oz. I have read the books time and again and they never get old for me. When I started playing Dungeons & Dragons, my thoughts did turn to how to use such a medium with Oz. As of the time of my writing this, my RPG, Heroes of Oz, nears completion.
As Jared mentioned, I've always had "alternative" ideas about Oz, never being content to stay with the safe tried and true status quo that L. Frank Baum left behind when he died. I get a kick out of things that some Oz fans rail against, such as the Oz Squad comics. What can I say? I like shake-ups. This has, you can bet, gotten me in trouble with a few Oz fans.
That said, though, I am still a bit of a purist at heart. I don't like "remakes" or "new takes" or "new spins." I saw a comic once with Dorothy as an adult goth who hated her aunt and uncle. I never read past the first issue. When I read an Oz story, I want to see a story with Baum's Dorothy used as a foundation. If she's different in some way, I want to know why. If Oz is different, what happened to it?
I'd rather keep the same thing as what came before, but build on it, or just view it through a different lens. The book I'm going to review here, The Undead World of Oz, is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz with Zombies added to the mix. And yes, it is cool.
There has been a trend of late to add horror or sci-fi elements to classical (public domain) stories. It started with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It gave a fresh new perspective on the story, and new view through a different lens. It's the same story with the same characters and romance, but there is now zombies and martial arts in it.
This lead to an explosion of zombie-added value in classic fiction. Some good, some bad, as with everything. Heck, I pondered doing the same with Oz, but then Ryan C. Thomas beat me to it. I'm glad he did, too. I think he did a good job.
Undead World of Oz is the same story with the same Kansas and the same Oz, but it's been given a darker taint. Thomas starts from the get go by taking Kansas from the dull and gray place it was to a dry and cracked world of creepy. It's not that Dorothy and her family are poor. They are starving. Aunt Em may not be a zombie, but she does act a little like one, which creeps Dorothy out.
When the house gets lifted by the cyclone, and Dorothy looks through the trap door down, she sees a dead body that the cyclone unearthed from a shallow grave. Yes, this sets the tone for this new and dangerous Oz.
Upon getting to Oz, we learn that the Wicked Witch of the East cast a spell over Oz to make sure that the Munchkins knew they were her slaves, not even being able to escape her in the grave. So the dead of Oz didn't stay dead long.
The story continues with the same plot as the original story, but there are times when the characters have to take on the undead. Dorothy is fortunately able to defend herself, as she is given a magic gun by a Munchkin farmer. This saves her bacon throughout the story, even against non-zombies.
This was something I thought was particularly interesting. Zombies aren't the only things Dorothy and company have to face. Apparently pulling from Tolkien and Rowling, Dorothy does battle with a giant spider twice in the story. While unnecessary, I thought it was a neat addition.
The fun thing is, by the end of the book, Dorothy is battle weary and, since she's packing heat, she just blows away one of the Oz monsters from the original book. I don't blame her. She's been through the wringer and now these stupid and ugly things want to mess with her? I actually cheered (and that wasn't a good idea, since I was at work).
I think that Ryan Thomas must really be an Oz fan, since there are nods to other parts of Oz fandom, especially the MGM movie. Fighting zombies, your shoes aren't going to stay clean, for instance.
Even though the book does retain its happy ending, there is a part that suggests that the horror may not be over for Dorothy. This is perfect in the tradition of horror storytelling. Never leave them entirely safe.
My only real problem with the story is that Thomas tries a little too hard to fit zombies into the story. The Tin Woodman wasn't cutting wood when he was paralyzed with rust, for instance. He was fighting zombies. I could see it, but it was a little much. There's also place where the beginning of a chapter wasn't modified properly from the original.
I was originally hoping for a continuation of the books. I'd love to see Ozma dealing with the undead in a land where death has no hold. Still, Undead World of Oz is a lot of fun and is definitely founded in the original story. It's not a retake or anything like that, but it's a new vision that's faithful to the original. I readily give it four-and-a-half stars out of five.
And now back to your regularly scheduled Oz. Blessings and brains. ;-)