Friday, July 01, 2011

Rachel Cosgrove Payes' Oz-Stories

Apparently, Rachel Cosgrove Payes became good friends with Eric Shanower and David Maxine, thanks to Eric's work on The Wicked Witch of Oz. When Maxine began Hungry Tiger Press, one of their first offerings was Oz-Story Magazine. The annual anthology would consist of new and old Oz and Oz-related work.

Their first issue, appearing in 1994, contained "Percy and the Shrinking Violets" by Rachel Cosgrove Payes. I can't claim to know exactly how it was written, I can only imagine that they asked if she would be interested in writing a story for it, and this was the end result.

"Percy and the Shrinking Violets" opens in Lake Lavendra, a little kingdom in the Gillikin Country, where the ruler Violetta is discontent at ruling such a tiny part of Oz, so she enacts a plan to take over all of Oz from Ozma.

Percy finds a strange boy in the palace gardens, who has a gift of violets for Ozma. Percy, despite the boy's protestations, takes the boy's violets to Ozma's apartments himself.  The worried boy is then nowhere to be seen. Ozma is not in her apartments at the moment, so Jellia puts them in her room.

Percy and Jellia then notice that they are growing smaller, while they attempt to find out what became of the boy. They ask the Magic Picture to see Violetta, since the boy mentioned her, and they see her scolding the boy and he removes a pin he was wearing. Ozma soon returns and sends Percy to Glinda's palace with the Magic Belt to see if he can find out what happened. It tells him that Violetta sent Ozma a shrinking violet.

Percy is then sent to Lake Lavendra to investigate further, and he finds the boy, who introduces himself as Bloo, Crim's son. (YES! Back to the creative names!) Violetta used her Shrinking Violets to take over Lake Lavendra, making everyone shrink with the scent of the violets, and giving them pins to counteract the violets only if they agreed to obey her. Since Bloo doesn't have his pin, he decides to risk it and help Percy steal enough pins from Violetta's Palace for themselves and Jellia and Ozma. They manage to, even though they are discovered by Violetta and chased by her and a cook with a cleaver. Ozma brings them to the Emerald City, just in time.

With Ozma, Jellia, Bloo, and Percy regaining their proper sizes (or in Percy's case, his giant size), Ozma sends all the Shrinking Violets to the Deadly Desert with the Magic Belt, meaning that no one has to fear the violets anymore. Then, Violetta is brought before Ozma. With her magic and violets removed from her, Violetta is encouraged to be a more caring and gentle ruler, and agrees to do so.

Even in short form, Rachel Cosgrove Payes continued to write good Oz stories. This one, in only 13 pages, sets up a threat to Ozma's rule, a magical attack on her, and the way it was thwarted, all with great characters old and new. Quite an adventure for a short story, and Rachel did it well.

A couple years later, Oz-Story Magazine featured a new story by her, entitled "Spots in Oz." This story brought a somewhat different approach to Oz.

Two freckle-faced Winkie twin children called Fudge and Taffy are having a birthday. A nearby herb lady gives them presents. Fudge gets a chemistry set, while Taffy gets a doll dress kit. Fudge sets to making some spot remover for his mother, while Taffy is jealous of her brother's gift. Fudge needs some soapwort for his spot remover, but he won't let Taffy help him find some. Taffy, indignant, goes to find some witchwort to ruin the compound.

The Leopard with the Changing Spots, and the Hungry Tiger happen to be in this part of Oz, and happen to see Taffy picking  witchwort. They accidentally scare her and she runs home, telling her mother what happened. Fudge is working on his spot remover, and Taffy slips in the witchwort.

However, the effect of the witchwort makes spots disappear to an extreme extent! The spots from dresses and curtains vanish, the Leopard's spots disappear, and even the twins' freckles are gone! Spots and the Hungry Tiger arrive at the twins' home, intending to apologize for frightening Taffy, though now they are wondering what became of Spots' spots! They make their apologies, and Taffy and Fudge's mother and the two beasts are curious as to what could have happened.

Finally, the two twins are sent to the herb lady, who, from Taffy's looks, deciphers what happened. She sends Fudge to get some soapwort, while Taffy admits her crime. Fortunately, the herb lady knows what to do, and with Fudge's help, a new compound is made that reverses the damage done. Taffy confesses her guilt, but all is forgiven, and the Hungry Tiger and Spots are welcome guests at the twins' birthday dinner.

While not quite as exciting as her previous work, "Spots in Oz" is a fine tale, especially for getting in Taffy's mind and helping us really sympathize with the girl when she fears the Tiger or Spots may eat her, or that she may receive a severe punishment from her mother. It's also great to have Spots as a lead character, given his appearance in Hidden Valley was so brief. (Though, it must be admitted, this isn't really any more substantial.)

What I really wonder about the story is where is Taffy and Fudge's father?

This was the final Oz story written by Rachel Cosgrove Payes, as she died in 1998. She did intend to write another short story for Oz-Story Magazine, but it didn't happen. However, David Maxine had discussed with her publishing the original first chapter of The Hidden Valley of Oz, and she was apparently open to it and provided him with it, as it appeared in the final issue.

Cosgrove's Oz is very close to Baum's Oz. She felt that Oz was for children, and didn't believe there were deeper meanings to the Oz stories. As such, one of the few things her Oz lacks is any witty commentary or puns or jokes. She also wasn't big on bringing technology to Oz, though the appearance of Leon the Neon indicates that she wasn't opposed to it.

All the same, Cosgrove's simple take on Oz is effective and welcome, after the odd stories of Thompson, the silliness of Neill's, and the overabundance of Baum references in Snow. Her contribution to the legacy of Oz stands as an enjoyable collection of work. (Admittedly, I couldn't wait to cover it.)

No comments: