Monday, August 22, 2011

Shanowerthon! The Forgotten Forest of Oz

Like The Ice King of Oz, The Forgotten Forest of Oz had seen a previous version before becoming Shanower's 1988 Oz graphic novel. "The Story of Nebelle" was a comics story he had begun in art school, however, it was never finished. The version included in the hardcover Adventures in Oz collection consists of four pages of pencil art and rough sketches of the last two pages, with no dialogue or narration within.

"The Story of Nebelle" finds the Queen of Fairyland banishing the fairy Nebelle for kissing a mortal man. She flees and marries Chungash, King of the Demons and Lord of the Underworld, who reveals he was the mortal man disguised. Seeking revenge against the fairies, Nebelle helps the Demons plan an attack on the fairies. Nebelle is among the first sneak attack on the fairies, but she changes her mind and regrets her anger when she sees a fairy baby. She kills a Demon about to attack the baby. Chungash, seeing this, kills Nebelle, whose dying words warn her fairy sister Nelanth about the Demons.

As it turned out, the titular forest of The Forgotten Forest of Oz would not be actually in Oz. Shanower quickly changed the Queen of Fairyland to the Queen on the Wood Nymphs, Zurline, from The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. The offending fairy Nebelle was changed to the Wood Nymph Nelanthe (however, another nymph that has pity on Nelanthe is named Nebelle). However, as Nelanthe leaves Burzee as a mortal, the story quickly expands from what was in "The Story of Nebelle."

Nelanthe is found by the King of the Trolls, who takes pity on her and offers to make her his queen. She accepts and soon decides to make war on the other wood-nymphs. However, when the night of the attack draws near, she realizes she misses the forest, but her memories also remind of her of why she wants revenge. She finally decides she just wants to forget everything and start fresh. Then, she finds an entry about the Water of Oblivion in a book. (Coincidental? Maybe, but after reading Thompson and Neill, this is so far from a stretch of the imagination.)

Now, where is Oz? Well, Chapter Two takes us there. Dorothy is awakened by Toto and they go out on the balcony to investigate something Toto can hear. Toto accidentally slides off the balcony but Dorothy sees a giant bat fly up and Toto is holding onto its collar with his teeth. Dorothy tries to grab him, but they both get carried away.

The Scarecrow is riding to the Emerald City on the Sawhorse, and they spot Dorothy and Toto being carried away by the bat and they follow, even when it flies over the desert. (The Sawhorse reasons that neither of them are made of flesh, nor do they need to breathe.)

Nelanthe receives the water, but discovering Dorothy and Toto, she makes them her guests, since if they are harmed, Ozma will surely find out and do something to avenge them. She decides to have them returned the next day. When Dorothy realizes what Nelanthe had Nightshade (her bat) do, she stops her from drinking the water right away, and Nelanthe is forced to go prepare for battle without drinking.

Meanwhile, the Scarecrow and Sawhorse have sneaked into the Troll King's castle and they find Dorothy and Toto and help them escape, Dorothy taking the Water with her.

The Trolls are calling the Dragons, their long-time enemies, to help them destroy Burzee. The Dragons accept, but a Troll runs in and tells Nelanthe and the Troll King of Dorothy's escape. Hearing that there are now people from Oz involved, the King is furious and tells Nelanthe that this is what he'd been planning all along: he was the "mortal" man Nelanthe had kissed. Nelanthe runs to her room to get the Water, intending to get on Nightshade and fly away somewhere, to drink the Water and begin fresh again. But the Water is gone, so she has Nightshade fly after the Sawhorse, who is heading to Burzee.

The Scarecrow and Toto fall off the Sawhorse, so Dorothy goes on alone to Burzee. She reaches it, but Nightshade crashes into a tree. Nelanthe, realizing the Troll King is to blame for her unhappiness, decides that she must stop the attack herself. She tries to convince the Dragons that the Troll King has led them into a trap, and they are convinced when the Wood-Nymphs, alerted by Dorothy, arrive on the scene. The Dragons turn on the Trolls and all scurry back to their underground homes.

Nelanthe swoops in and takes the water from Dorothy, but the Wood-Nymphs make the trees catch Nightshade and Nelanthe falls to the ground, hard. She is hurt badly and will die if nothing is done. Zurline feels she cannot break the laws of the Forest, as she has no idea that Nelanthe has repented of her hatred of the Forest, nor of the Troll King's plot. However, the Scarecrow arrives with Toto and reveals that Nelanthe did turn the Trolls and Dragons back.

Dorothy realizes that Nelanthe has nothing left but the Water, and feeling sympathy of the former Nymph and Queen, offers her the water, but it is rejected. All Nelanthe wants is the Forest. Deciding that she cannot allow Nelanthe to die, Zurline restores her immortality, making her a Wood-Nymph again as dawn breaks over Burzee.

(How Dorothy, the Scarecrow, Toto, and the Sawhorse return home is anyone's guess. Let's just assume the Wood-Nymphs or the Fairies of Burzee worked with Ozma to get them back home.)

This was actually not Shanower's original ending. In the hardcover edition of Adventures in Oz, rough sketches for the last two pages (that would have replaced the last three, actually) reveal an ending in which Nelanthe accepts the Water, her empty mind allowing her to be essentially reprogrammed by the Wood-Nymphs. Shanower decided he didn't like the ending after all and re-wrote it. I agree, it would be an ending suggesting that happiness can be found in a substance. The revised ending makes Zurline and Nelanthe much stronger characters.

And overall, the characters are quite strong and many Baum-influenced ideas make it into the story: the Dragons and Trolls hate each other, so at the first sign of trouble, they turn on each other. Yet again, Shanower keeps the classic characters in line: even Dorothy's eventual offering the Water to Nelanthe works with her caring and considerate manner.

The artwork is once again amazing, though, in my opinion, Shanower's Wood-Nymphs resemble Fredrick Richardson's Fairies of Burzee in Queen Zixi of Ix, one of Baum's non-Oz fantasies. It might be a niggle of mine, since I consider them to completely separate beings. Of course, Mary Cowles Clark's illustrations for Baum's The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus showed the Wood-Nymphs as looking quite similar, so maybe they do look alike after all, and there is little difference aside from their assigned duties.

So, once again, Shanower turned out another wonderful story, even though there wasn't a lot of Oz proper in it. However, back when I started this, I said he only did five graphic novels. Why that is, we'll find out next time.


ericshanower said...

Thanks, Jared.

This remains my favorite of my five Oz graphic novels, both in story and in art.

I love Richardson's work. Yes, the wood-nymphs were influenced by Richardson's fairies in Queen Zixi, but they are firmly based in Clark's illustrations in Santa Claus. I figure that one magical Burzee tribe completely consisting of females might look an awful lot like another magical Burzee tribe completely consisting of females, especially when the names of their leaders differ only by one letter. The way to tell the difference between the Burzee fairies and the Burzee wood-nymphs is that the wood-nymphs don't have wings.

Jared said...

Eric, the name of the Queen of the Fairies in Burzee is Lulea in "Queen Zixi of Ix." Lurline is called a Fairy Queen, but she seems more like a goddess while Lulea doesn't.