Monday, July 18, 2011

The Rundelstone of Oz

Eloise McGraw tried writing a third Oz book in the mid 1980s, but it wasn't coming together well, so she gave it up and said that she was done writing Oz books. (Again.) Some of her attempt at a third Oz book appeared in the Club's 1990 edition of Oziana, a magazine featuring new Oz stories by Club members.

This little piece, titled only "Chapter Three," follows the misadventures of the Flittermouse from Merry Go Round in Oz as he flies alone to the Emerald City to visit Robin and Merry. He gets caught a number of times before running into an old friend.

Fast forward to 1999, and the guys at Hungry Tiger Press were planning the final issue of Oz-Story Magazine. They wanted to make it a big, special issue, and so they contacted Eloise about writing a short piece for it. Eloise instead decided she'd come up with a short story. She turned to her discarded ideas from The Forbidden Fountain of Oz, about the live marionettes and Slyddwyn, and went from there. Eventually, her short story turned into a new Oz book, and Hungry Tiger Press was only too glad to make it a star feature in Oz-Story with Eric Shanower illustrating.

Lauren did help with the writing  of The Rundelstone of Oz, but this time, she took the silent role of editor. Eloise's name appears solo on the story.

Eloise did see her final Oz book in print in 2000, but she died that year at age 84, due to complications of cancer. (The Hungry Tiger Press crew was aware of this, which is why they had not initially asked for much.) Due to the overwhelming response to the story, the next year, her last Oz book was reissued as a standalone book, with more illustrations by Eric Shanower making the book almost as lavish as The Wicked Witch of Oz, and an introduction by Lauren Lynn McGraw.

The story opens with Ozma having tea with some ladies in waiting, including Lady Pernilda, a prim, chubby Gillikin dignitary. When she mentions that she hasn't heard from her family in a long time, Ozma tells her they can check the Magic Picture if she ever gets too concerned.

The story shifts to the Troopadours, a performing troupe of live marionettes led by a man called Maestroissimo Furioso, arriving in Whitherwood Town. A tiny performance arouses the interest of the locals, and Slyddwyn of Whitherway castle offers to let them have a grand performance at his home. However, just after the performance, something strange happens, and everything around Poco, one of the Troopadours, vanishes and goes dark.

The next thing Poco knows, he appears to be a cuckoo of a cuckoo clock, before he suddenly resumes his regular form. Slyddwyn tells him he's been missing for weeks and the Troopadours left him behind, and offers him the job of major-domo. Poco accepts, hoping he will someday find and rejoin his old friends.

Despite Slyddwn's varying moods, Poco finds life at Whitherway Castle not to be too bad. His work is easy and he makes a friend in Rolly, a boy who brings mushrooms and watercress to the castle every couple days. But things begin to rouse his suspicions when a "foreign fella" comes to the front door to sell muffins, and mentions a rundelstone and that Slyddwyn would end up as a purple hedgehog. Then Rolly confirms that it was only a day or so between the performance at Whitherway and when Poco began working as a major-domo. Something mysterious and magical is going on, and given his own apparent transformation, Poco cannot help but suspect that the other Troopadours and the Maestroissimo are still around, transformed into other shapes. In fact, certain things around the castle remind him of his old friends.

The "foreign fella" returns, disguised as an herb lady. This time, Poco asks him to explain. He's really named Shmodda, and the missing Rundelstone keeps the sun rising and setting in his home country of Fyordi-Zik, but since one of the other spell-binders left with it, Slyddwyn now has the rundelstone, and there are only five days before the sun sets in Fyordi-Zik forever. Poco has three days to find the rundelstone, restore his friends, not let Slyddwyn know what he's doing, and then surrender the stone to Shmodda.

It takes most of that time for Poco to find the stone, and then trick Slyddwyn into using it so he can observe and learn how to use it himself. The night of the third day, Poco begins to break the enchantments on the Troopadours. Rolly joins them and helps them discover that the rabbits in a wooden hutch are actually the donkeys and the Troopadours' wagon. Deciding to punish Slyddwyn for his trickery, they discover he's locked himself into a tower.

Shmodda arrives, ready to take the stone. The Troopadours manage to convince him to help them with Slyddwyn, who suggests that the missing spell-caster is an empty suit of clothes, except that Slyddwyn has many of those, and it would be too much trouble to decide which one he would be.

And now Ozma, Dorothy, the Wizard, Lady Pernilda, and the Cowardly Lion arrive to put things right. Whitherway Castle is the home of Pernilda's family, and they seem to be missing as well. Slyddwyn is her cousin. Also, Ozma assures Shmodda that Glinda and the Wizard are finding a way to keep the sun rising and setting in Fyordi-Zik without the need of spell-stones, since unauthorized magic is illegal and dangerous in the wrong hands. (Example: Slyddwyn.) However, as Poco is only trying to set things right, they allow him to finish disenchanting Slyddwyn's victims, under their supervision, of course.

Eventually, Lady Pernilda's family, the missing spell-caster, and even the Maestroissimo are disenchanted, and it turns out the Maestroissimo is Rolly's father, and he joins the Troopadoours as they continue on their travels. Slyddwyn is no longer a threat without his magic, and Shmodda returns home.

The Rundelstone of Oz is not a very complex story. In fact, it plays out very easily, once Slyddwyn's deceptions are seen through. It is a little similar to Ozma of Oz and The Yellow Knight of Oz in that the plot mainly revolves around breaking transformations. Like Ozma and unlike Yellow Knight, there are consequences for trying to disenchant the wrong thing. But like Yellow Knight, an object is required to break the transformations, and the ones doing the disenchanting are careful enough to avoid making a mistake.

Poco (I wonder if his name was inspired by Pinocchio) is a good lead character, though I couldn't imagine him leading a different story. He is faithful to his friends, and very friendly to others, like Rolly and, once he stops listening to Slyddwyn, Shmodda.

Eloise definitely had fun with characters with long names in this story (I didn't tell you the longer names, read the book on your own for those!), similar to a couple of my favorite Baum characters. With the transformations, she gets to play around with people's identities based on certain traits. This makes for fun reading as well, something Oz writers sometimes forget: Oz should be fun to read!

The Rundelstone of Oz isn't the strongest Oz story, but it is a good one, a worthy successor to the McGraws' earlier Oz books, and also, what is at present the final entry in what I call "The Famous Forty +." The only living Royal Historian whose work was published by Reilly & Lee is Lauren Lynn McGraw, and she doesn't seem very interested in writing a story, Oz or otherwise. Unless a long-lost manuscript turns up or Lauren does turn out another Oz story, the Famous Forty + ends with Rundelstone.

1 comment:

Nathan said...

Considering that Poco identifies his maker as Angeletto (pretty similar to "Geppetto"), I think the connection with Pinocchio was definitely intentional.