Saturday, March 31, 2012

Nathan on "Scarecrow of Oz" Film

The Scarecrow from the Oz series is already animated, but in this case I'm talking about a different sort of animation. A computer-animated version of L. Frank Baum's The Scarecrow of Oz is the latest project from the same people who did Tin Woodman a few years ago.

Strangely enough, this is actually written as a sequel to that earlier film, although the Scarecrow book came out three years before Tin Woodman.

I'll admit I wasn't too fond of the changes they made to the story in Tin Woodman, and here they're even worse. Most of the basic ideas from the book are there, but in a completely different order, and with some elements altered for no particular reason. Trot is Gloria's cousin, and she and Cap'n Bill were actually intending to reach Jinxland? This added nothing to the story, and just confused me as someone who has read the book.

I also wasn't too keen on many of the designs. Trot looked like some weird Raggedy Ann doll, and Pon like Pinocchio. There was a very Rankin-Bass look to many of the characters, which probably would have worked if they'd actually done the film in stop-motion animation, but doesn't make sense in a computer-animated feature. I did like the Ork, aside from the fact that his mouth was under his beak and had teeth, which bothered me.

For that matter, the Scarecrow had unnecessary teeth as well. Googly-Goo had a weird design, but since the main things we know about him are that he's rich and ugly, it worked.

The effects with the water were quite good, and I enjoyed some of the little touches like King Krewl's statue and the fact that the Tin Woodman was reading his own book at the beginning. Overall, not great, but I'm still impressed that it was done at all. It's nice to know that there are other fans of the Oz books out there, even if I don't always agree with their design choices.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Weekly Update: Scarecrow of Oz

Remember Hash Inc's amateur CG movie based on The Tin Woodman of Oz? No? It was released on YouTube a couple years back and then put on DVD. And the DVD was twenty dollars. After watching it on YouTube, I decided, uh... no thanks! It had really bad acting, and the animation was off.

All of these things considered, they've decided to put out a second movie based on an earlier book, The Scarecrow of Oz. But this film is intended as a sequel to their first one.

It's now on YouTube for your viewing pleasure. I haven't watched hardly any of it, but from the looks of it... things have not improved much since the last movie. Jared was able to sit through it, and he didn't seem to have anything particularly good to say about it.

From what I did see, there's a new guy voicing the Tin Woodman. Which is not a bad thing; he seems to be better than the actor (actually creator of the software...) that provided a rather dull performance in the first film. The Scarecrow now has a weird Winnie the Pooh/Mickey Rooney voice that is pretty annoying.

But, if you're in to this kind of thing, you can watch it here.

 Oh, yeah, and the first issue of the Dorothy of Oz prequel comic is now available from IDW. Check local comic shops or try and find it on eBay if you're compelled to do so. Apparently, the Jester is the Witch of the West's brother and despite the title, Dorothy is not present in the comic at all.

That's it for this week... happy Friday!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

"Heavens to Murgatroyd!"

In the 1960s, Hanna-Barbera were producing records as well as cartoons. One line featured their characters taking part in classic literary stories and fairy tales, and yes, The Wizard of Oz was one of them.

Snagglepuss Tells the Story of the Wizard of Oz was released in 1965. However, my copy (stage left) is a re-release dated 1977, retitled Snagglepuss and the Wizard of Oz. Going from eBay, it was also released in sets with other records, or possibly it was edited down and put on a record with other stories.

Here's the original cover:
Unlike some of the other titles in the series, Snagglepuss does not take part in the story. Instead, he retells the story, so it's an audio dramatization, sort of, with Snagglepuss narrating. If you're familiar with the character, you know how he has a dramatic way of saying things: "The Wicked Witch of the West could see for miles! Inches even!" He also gets to use his trademark line: "Heavens to Murgatroyd!"

The story actually sticks very closely to Baum's story with a few major exceptions. First off, there are no Good Witches, a Wicked Witch of the East, or Silver Shoes. The Wizard's idea to take Dorothy home in a balloon works. So this eliminates the journey south.

There are also no adventures featuring the kalidahs or the poppy field, so no Queen of the Field Mice, either. All the friends go to see the Wizard as the big head at once. Also, the Wicked Witch of the West calls the Winged Monkeys with the whistle, and the bees were removed. The wolves and crows are not killed, but made to flee.

Dorothy makes a point of when the Scarecrow has a good idea, the Tin Woodman is kind, and the Lion is brave, so when the Wizard explains that each of them already had what they wanted, it doesn't feel so much like a cheap cop-out.

The voices work pretty well. I'm not too keen on the Scarecrow sounding like a somewhat mush-mouthed dunce, but since this is a funny adaptation, I'll cut it some slack. The Tin Woodman has a squeaky-sounding voice. The Lion's voice is a deep humorous-sounding voice, sounding more like a clown than anything else. Dorothy's voice is definitely an adult actress attempting a child's voice.

There are also five songs, at least four of them original to this album:
  • "Snagglepuss" A song introducing Snagglepuss. There doesn't seem to be any other records featuring Snagglepuss, but I'd be surprised if this was the only time this song was used.
  • "If I Only Had A Brain" Despite the title, not the song from the MGM film. The Scarecrow sings about his longing for a brain. "I'm not very smart, I'm not very wise, and I've got a low IQ. There's nothing at all between my eyes, what's a poor Scarecrow to do?" Note the singing voice doesn't match the speaking voice of the Scarecrow.
  • "The Wizard of Oz" A charming upbeat song sung by the Wizard about how great he is. However, the song is sung in a tired, elderly voice: "I am the greatest, I am the most! I am the leader because, I don't like to brag and I don't like to boast, but I am the Wizard of Oz!"
  • "The Wicked Witch" A song sung at the death of the Wicked Witch of the West. "The Wicked Witch is down!" Not exactly the best song on the album.
  • "The Land of Oz" A haunting, peaceful tune describing the Land of Oz and some of the inhabitants. It's a pretty good song, actually.
Overall, Snagglepuss Tells the Story of the Wizard of Oz is a fun retelling of the story with some nice additional Oz songs. If you're collecting Oz vinyl records, pick it up.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Aunt Jane's Nieces and Uncle John

And now for book six!

My copy of this one is in great shape, and it may be a first edition. Once again going off of advertisements in the front, this book is the last one listed. However, it is possible they used the 1911 plates through 1912 or who knows how long before they changed them out.

Some of the plates weren't inked quite properly in my copy. Sometimes the text would be clear at the top and start thinning out at the bottom.

After Patsy adopts a mistreated dog named Mumbles, Uncle John gets the idea to spend the winter in California. John, Patsy, Beth, and the Major will take a train to Denver, Colorado, where they'll get a specially outfitted car, then down to Albuquerque, New Mexico where their hired chauffeur will drive them to California.

In Denver, they meet a girl named Myrtle Dean, who was sent out by her aunt to find and live with her Uncle Anson Jones. Myrtle doesn't have much and has poor strength in her legs, making it difficult for her to walk. Uncle John and the nieces take her under their wing, and she joins them on their trip.

The chauffeur is a French Canadian (going by his speech pattern) named Wampus. He has some odd quirks, like how he forced the train to go faster to New Mexico which gets him arrested, forcing Uncle John to post bail. But overall, Wampus is a faithful man to Uncle John and his party. He keeps a careful eye out for snakes, and on a few occasions manages to take out some rather disagreeable types single handed.

On one occasion, the party is stalled by remittance men placing barbed wire in the road, forcing the nieces to attend a dance. However, they cleverly outwit them and resume the journey.

And those familiar with Baum's life will find it no surprise that the party stays at the Hotel del Coronado. And it is at the Hotel that the party meets a C. B. Jones, who Myrtle manages to keep from committing suicide three times. They get acquainted and soon Mr. Jones confides in Uncle John that he is Collanson B. Jones, and everyone at home called him "Anson," and he is the elusive uncle Myrtle was looking for. And, like Uncle John, he's rich.

Mr. Jones soon reveals his familial connection to Myrtle and eventually they move to New York and rent one of Patsy's apartments. Myrtle, we are told, recovers the full use of her legs.

Aunt Jane's Nieces and Uncle John might sound shorter than it is, mainly because there is a lot of travelogue, a lot like The Sea Fairies. However, we are given some excellent new characters: Myrtle, the new friend who is obviously going to take the place of Louise from now on; Mr. Collanson Jones who will likely become a friend to Uncle John and the Major; and Wampus. I really hope Wampus comes back. I liked him.

The Major really gets to develop a little more. He doesn't enjoy traveling much. In past stories, he traveled alone and we didn't see his point of view. And then he just took a train. Here, his grouchiness gets to contrast with the excitement of the Nieces and the appreciation of Uncle John.

Baum self-references himself a little. He refers to the Nieces as having the generosity of Glinda the Good. But more importantly, here Baum gets to write about his new home, putting his wonder of the splendor of California into the eyes of the Nieces and Uncle John. Baum had moved to California probably about the time he was writing the book and he enjoyed many pleasant visits to the Hotel Del Coronado.

So, just as Baum's life was changing as he wrote Aunt Jane's Nieces and Uncle John, the series had changes: there were now two nieces (unless Louise returns, which wouldn't be bad) and they had new friends. I found myself really enjoying this one.

But before I jump into the next book, time for some more Thompson with The Wonder Book.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Oz Before the Rainbow

Oz Before the Rainbow: L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on Stage and Screen to 1939, by Mark Evan Swartz - This is in overview of the earlier and lesser known stage and screen adaptations of Baum's book, from the 1902 stage play up through the 1925 silent film with Larry Semon. I find this topic rather fascinating, particularly in regards to the original play, a musical extravaganza of the sort that was popular at the time. What's odd is that it seems every secondhand source of information I read says something different about the creation of the show, mostly in terms of how much input Baum actually had. While his original script was pretty close to the book, some credit him with many of the changes that took place before the show hit the stage, while others claim Julian Mitchell was responsible. Also, I've seen it proposed that some of the songs written by Paul Tietjens with lyrics by Baum ended up being credited to other writers. Certainly, most of the hits from the play ended up being totally unrelated songs, sometimes from other musicals. It appears that many, but by no means all, of the original Baum/Tietjens songs were actually plot-related in some way. Also, neither Baum's original script nor any known version of the show included the Wicked Witch of the West. She was also absent from the Semon film, but she DID make a significant appearance in the 1910 movie produced by the Selig Polyscope Company. Considering how significant the Witch was in the MGM movie, it's weird how she'd been omitted entirely from so many earlier versions.

One bit of trivia I found interesting was the fact that some people complained that the MGM film would not include any of the songs from the stage play. The play had been a hit for years, frequently being revived by new companies, but most of the songs had nothing at all to do with Oz. Although not mentioned in the book, I also remember hearing that Ruth Plumly Thompson tried to sell MGM the songs from her play A Day in Oz. All in all, I think MGM was right to go with Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg instead. Oh, and in light of my speculation on the idea of characters from Dorothy's Kansas life being represented in Oz, Noel Langley cited his most direct influence for this to be a Mary Pickford film called The Poor Little Rich Girl. Apparently Langley and others felt that audiences wouldn't connect with the fanciful denizens of Oz unless they were first introduced to them as mundane humans. And maybe they were right, but I still see it as unnecessary. It was basically a way to make the movie both a fantasy and a non-fantasy at a same time.

Monday, March 26, 2012

"Once Upon A Time, When There Was Magic Everywhere"

Hey, magic is everywhere! And it will touch you if you really care! If you care, if you care, you'll find that magic is everywhere!

Look up... ... Sorry, got carried away there.

Well, with all the people making records retelling The Wizard of Oz, MGM themselves had to get into it, right? Yep, and here's a record from 1961 with their own version.

I'll do an uncommon aside and talk about the cover art. This artwork looks very similar to the character designs that would be later used in the TV show Off To See The Wizard, especially with the Tin Woodman and Scarecrow. The Wizard looks quite a bit like John R. Neill's version.

The record was one in a series of many stories retold for children (they seem to have all opened with a musical sting and the line "Once upon a time, when there was magic everywhere."

Despite crediting Baum, the story follows the MGM movie quite closely. The story has been condensed, of course, and a narrator helps with that. The Munchkinland sequence is just "Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead" and then the Wicked Witch of the West appears. There is also no poppy field scene.

None of the audio is from the film (dialogue from the film appeared on its first actual soundtrack recording to retell the story), and the actors don't sound a lot like the film's cast, though they present an admirable performance.

Although the cover only says "If I Only Had A Brain," all three of Dorothy's friends sing. The Lion's song is an alternate version:
Life is sad, believe me Missy,
When you're born to be a sissy
Without the vim and verve.

But I could change my habits,
Nevermore be scared of rabbits
If I only had the nerve.

I'm afraid there's no denyin'
I'm just a dandylion
A fate I don't deserve.

But I could show my prowess,
Be a lion not a mowess
If I only had the nerve.

Oh, I'd be in my stride, a king down to the core
Oh, I'd roar the way I never roared before
And then I'd rrrwoof
And roar some more.

I would show the dinosaurus
Who's king around the fores'
A king they'd better serve.

Why with my regal beezer,
I could be another Caesar
If I only had the nerve.
The story spills over to Side 2, where it wraps up, and the rest of the record is filled out with a retelling of Babes in Toyland. Interesting and fitting choice, as the original operetta was a follow up to the original Wizard of Oz stage extravaganza.

However, this album tells a different story from the operetta. Here Gonzorgo takes Alan and Jane to the Forest of No Return, where they head to Toyland. Barnaby arrives and uses a machine to turn the children into toys, but later, he is forced into the machine himself by toy soldiers, and he turns into a toy bear, somehow restoring the children to their natural forms, and Alan marries Contrary Mary. I find it strange how few adaptations follow the original libretto's story. The listed songs are there, though.

In today's age, this might get passed over. We have the MGM movie on home video, so if we want to relive the movie, all we have to do is start it up. Still, this record is interesting as the children's record is a thing of the past now. Recordings like this just aren't made anymore.

And there's the very different take on "If I Only Had The Nerve." That's worth listening to, as well.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: A Centennial Celebration

The year 2000 brought some much-needed attention to the presence of L. Frank Baum's original book, and while no one was too interested in making a major new film version, new adaptations of the book popped up in other media.

The Children's Museum of Los Angeles produced a rather lavish audio dramatization. In fact, it's longer than most audio versions of the story, clocking in at 3 hours and 40 minutes. Checking the Librivox recording, it's only five minutes shorter than that unabridged recording. (And probably longer if the Librivox bumpers were removed.)

The cast included some big names: Mark Hamill plays a Munchkin named Munch, John Goodman is the Guardian of the Gates, Phyllis Diller is the Wicked Witch of the West, and Michelle Trachtenberg as Dorothy. The music is a combination of classic American tunes and Paul Tietjen's score for the original Wizard of Oz stage extravaganza. And, surprisingly, the Munchkins play a few bars from "A Rollicking Irish Boy" from Baum's score for The Maid of Arran. Also, all the dainty china people sing.

The script is so detailed I think it could have easily been repurposed as a TV mini-series. The plot quite faithfully follows Baum's book, with very few deviations. The story is also fleshed out and rearranged a bit. For example, when the Good Witch of the North leaves, two Munchkins say they need to make a new Scarecrow, and another decides to throw a party he invites Dorothy to.

That little change means the Scarecrow was not made "the day before yesterday," and instead of hearing him tell his story to Dorothy, you hear it happen and then hear Dorothy come along.

Dorothy also sings little songs to herself and her friends, but not in a style to make the production a musical. The songs she sings are varied, such as "The Glow-Worm" and "A Bird in a Gilded Cage," although neither of those songs would have been popular enough to get to a small farm in Kansas in 1900. In fact, "The Glow-Worm" was written in 1902, in German, and the first English translation was about 1905.

I actually just researched those and discovered that. If you're going to have a period piece in which the characters sing, they need to sing songs they would have realistically have known. It was a nice attempt to add something to Dorothy and Aunt Em's characters, but some more research should have been done there.

Some touches from later Oz books come in. The green girl in the Emerald City is named Jellia Jamb, and I think I heard them call the Soldier with the Green Whiskers Omby Amby. The Tin Woodman names the Munchkin girl as Nimmee Amee and the tinsmith as Ku-Klip, but his story follows that in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. And while we're talking about his story, it has been moved to after they meet the Cowardly Lion.

Another example of shifting events around is that there is only one gap in the yellow brick road: the one the Cowardly Lion jumps over. The Kalidahs are still there, but they arrive when the party is about to board the raft to cross the river.

Many times dialogue scenes are dragged out. Do we need to hear the Wicked Witch of the West wonder where to hide the Golden Cap before the Winged Monkeys return with Dorothy? Not really. It's fun, but not necessary. Do we need to hear them changing the Guardian of the Gates at the Emerald City before Dorothy arrives? No. With all this, it's a wonder they dropped the origin story of the Winged Monkeys.

The voices are well-cast, except I did have to wonder why the Tin Woodman sounded French. None of the other characters have distinctly non-American accents, so he stuck out.

Overall, I thought the adaptation was too long for the wrong reasons. It's all right to flesh out the characters a bit, but when it causes the length to rival that of an unabridged recording of the original text, then length is an issue. Like I said, it feels more like the writer had a TV miniseries in mind rather than an audio drama. It's not that it's bad, and the added touches do make it worth listening to, but the length might make one opt not to listen to it again too soon, particularly when shorter, suitable audio adaptations (and even an unabridged reading or two) exist.

The CD version also has a 17 minute track filling out the last disc in which Ray Bradbury talks about his Oz fandom and his thoughts. That is certainly worth listening to!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

W. W. Denslow - A Biography by Douglas Greene and Michael Patrick Hearn

I knew my knowledge of W. W. Denslow—the original illustrator of Oz—was lacking. In fact, it's not at all an exaggeration to say that when it comes to the original writers and illustrators of the Oz series, Baum is the most documented.

Anyway, I knew that there had been a biography of Denslow by Douglas Greene and Michael Patrick Hearn, so I decided to pick it up.

Denslow's story, compared with the lives of many others connected to Oz, is not a happy one. Despite a promising start in a career as an artist and even a brief stint as a cowboy, Denslow made some poor decisions in his career, partly based on his ego.

Also, Denslow had little success in his romantic life. He divorced his first wife when she was pregnant with his only child. His second marriage lasted a bit longer, but it was strained by his desire to get away from Chicago and re-locate to New York. It also ended in divorce. He and his third wife had separated in 1913, two years before his death.

Some of Denslow's life was surprising to discover, such as his early work painting advertising signs (after reading Aunt Jane's Nieces at Work, I really had to wonder what Baum would have thought had he heard about that) and his giving up alcohol and championing sobriety.

It is surprising to discover how varied Denslow's output could be. His grim lithograph "What's the Use?" depicted a skull wearing a crown of laurel, while when he created picture books for children, he would remove mentions of death or severe punishments for the baddies, believing that children should not be given such grim subjects in their entertainment.

Another recent Denslow purchase of mine, Denslow's Picture Book Treasury, has examples of this: Old Mother Hubbard has been almost completely rewritten, removing "She went to the baker to buy him some bread, but when she came back, the poor dog was dead." Animal Fair is rewritten to remove mentions of the drunk monkey that sat on an elephant's trunk with disastrous results.

Taking these into mind, his work for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Father Goose: His Book—depicting Kalidahs falling to their doom, the severed head of the wildcat, a dead wolf and Jack holding a severed giant's head—falls somewhere in between Denslow's double-sided output. Indeed, the idea that the modern child "gladly dispenses with all disagreeable incident" as noted in the introduction of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz feels like it is more Denslow's ideal than Baum's.

The biography itself is well-written, easy to read, and very well researched. However, compared to biographies of Baum, the descriptions of Denslow's life feel sparse. This is not a fault so much as the fact that this is the first book-length biography of Denslow. The earliest biographies often don't have rich detail, especially when the person they profile has been dead for about sixty years. It is often hoped that later biographies will build on the research laid down in the first, but in the case of Denslow, none have surfaced. Either there has been little interest in the study of Denslow's life or little has been found to build onto this biography.

The only problem I had with the book was the use of pictures. We are given only two photos of Denslow (if there were more on the dustjacket, my copy didn't come with one and I can't find a picture of it), one of him in 1899, and another of him as a child, and these are in the front matter. Examples of Denslow's work are bundled into two sections of pages, going from 46 to 61 and from 142 to 158, when it would have been nicer to see these interspersed with the text in relevant locations. The examples are broad and generous to be sure, but this interrupts the text. All the pictures are printed in black and white and on the same type of paper as the text, so this error goes to design rather than the publisher's paper requirements.

A thorough listing of Denslow's work follows the biography, as well as a bibliography and a section of notes.

W. W. Denslow should be read by Oz scholars to help us better appreciate the man who first gave us a look at our favorite fairyland.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"The Trees Are Green, The Grass Is Green!"

From the earliest days of easy-to-handle records, there have been records for children. We saw one as early as 1949 in Capitol Records' Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. These became popular items, and soon, some companies were dedicated to making children's records. And of course, when The Wonderful Wizard of Oz went into public domain, it became a favorite for companies to adapt. (One reason why there are so many of them...)

Well, one company was the Mr. Pickwick Players. They turned out many records of children's music and stories, and, of course, The Wizard of Oz was one of their titles.

This Wizard of Oz was noted by Greg Ehrbar in The Baum Bugle ("The Wonderful Records of Oz," Winter 1988) to be the version that The Wizard of Oz Returns would likely follow. I have to agree, although unlike that album, there's not a lot of songs. Unlike Returns' nine original songs, there are only four originals here, with three songs licensed from the MGM film:
  • The Cyclone Song - "The giant windy cyclone picked the house up off the ground!" A song sung by the chorus after the narrator explains how Dorothy's house was lifted by the cyclone.
  • We're Off To See The Wizard - Sung by the chorus as Dorothy leaves the Munchkins.
  • The Emerald City - A song about how everything in the Emerald City is green, also sung by the chorus.
  • Ding! Dong! The Witch is Dead! - Sung at the death of the Wicked Witch of the West.
  • Thank You Song - Sung by the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion when they are presented with their gifts from the Wizard.
  • Humbug - A song sung by the chorus when Dorothy discovers that the Wizard is just an ordinary man.
  • Over the Rainbow - Sung by Dorothy when she returns home. This change also calls for a slight revision of the lyrics.
I don't think I need to go over the story, but there are some changes worth pointing out:
  • It is mentioned that Dorothy takes a school bus to school every day, which means the story has been brought forward in time a bit.
  • A more happy home life for Dorothy is indicated as it is told that in the evenings, Dorothy, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry read stories or play a piano and sing songs. (You hear them singing the opening of "Long, Long Ago" which doesn't count as its own song.)
  • One change that puts this version in line with The Wizard of Oz Returns is the wordy way in which the Scarecrow speaks. For a guy with no brains, he does an awful lot of talking! (As I'd listened to that one first, and reviewed it before hearing this one, I'd assumed they'd done it there to make him sound brainy, but if this is the forerunner, then it was a sign he was smart all along.) I should also note that I don't believe the voice actors are the same. There may have been some crossover, but the Tin Woodman has a decidedly different voice.
  • Instead of kalidahs, we are told they are attacked by "croco-bears," bears with crocodile heads. The Lion leaps on them and kills them immediately. No other adventures are mentioned on the way to the Emerald City.
  • The friends all see the Wizard at one time.
  • The Winkies are mentioned to be smaller than the Munchkins, and it is they who capture Dorothy and her friends. No other attacks on Dorothy and her friends are made by the Wicked Witch. There are also springing noises after the Wicked Witch sends them away, suggesting they travel by jumping or use pogo sticks.
  • Dorothy's elimination of the Wicked Witch is very quickly done. No restoration of Dorothy's friends are needed.
  • The Wizard has gifts awaiting Dorothy's friends: a blue beanie/thinking cap for the Scarecrow, a heart-shaped box of chocolate for the Tin Woodman ("a heart I can share with everyone!"), and a sweater with a C on it for the Lion. (In the art for The Wizard of Oz Returns, the Lion wears a military jacket, perhaps the sweater is underneath.)
  • The Wizard exposes his humbuggery to Dorothy alone, and tells her how to use the Silver Shoes, and he travels back to Kansas with her. (His logic: the Silver Shoes can carry a person around the world, but since Kansas is only halfway across the world from Oz, it should work for two, and dogs ride free.) He then heads to Wichita, where he presumably rejoins the circus. This is exactly in line with The Wizard of Oz Returns.
  • Not exactly a change, but it is mentioned that Dorothy wants to go back to Oz at the end.
  • In addition, there are various little added details, but you'll have to listen for yourself.
Overall, it's a fun, whimsical adaptation. I can't say the changes make the story any better. The songs are pretty fun, except I find the "Thank You Song" pretty cringe-worthy.

Now, I did buy the record, but there is another way you can get this album: it has been released on Amazon MP3 and iTunes. I got the Amazon version, since it's less than $2. (Note: I can only confirm these services for the US. Due to international licensing, it may not be available from those links outside of the US, but you may want to check digital music services in your country.) And considering all the albums I've reviewed, this is really a breath of fresh air that one of them is available on a digital music service! I can only hope that whoever sits on the rights of other wonderful otherwise unavailable recordings tries to get them out there again.

According to that Baum Bugle, this one was released many different times. I can't seem to find many other records with the same recording, but you never know. The specific one I got also had much of the text (but not all of it) of the story on the back cover, as well as a little biography of Baum, which even mentioned his non-Oz and pseudonymous work. Pretty nice!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Aunt Jane's Nieces in Society

On to book 5!

My copy of Aunt Jane's Nieces in Society is strange. It's from 1915 or later (it's still attributed to Reilly & Britton and the advertisement inside lists all ten books in the series), but the pastedown image is incorrect. The image looks like it would match the story (until you read it and find no corresponding scene), but it's actually the front cover image for Aunt Jane's Nieces Out West. This is the actual front cover for In Society (I don't own this cover, it's actually from March Hare Books' website):
In addition, my copy doesn't have a frontispiece.
That's what you see!
However, I had previously bought a later Reilly & Lee edition with an extremely simplified cover design. It did have the correct frontispiece. I have donated that and the other latter Reilly & Lee Aunt Jane's Nieces books I'd picked up to the International Wizard of Oz Club's auctions, but before packing it up, I scanned the frontispiece. I got it reproduced, so I can tip it in.
The frontispiece must have come loose, or it was removed, or for some reason, Reilly & Britton didn't include it, either as a cost-cutting measure or mine was an error.

Now for the story!

Mrs. Merrick—Louise's mother—thinks the nieces (especially Louise) should become socialites and move in New York's big social circles. Uncle John isn't so hot on the idea, but does what he can. Leading socialite Diana Von Taer befriends the nieces and introduces them to high society.

However, the stake of jealousy comes between Diana and Louise: Louise's fiance Arthur Weldon. Diana wants him and attempts to shame Louise, and when that doesn't work, she gets her cousin, Charlie Mershome, a social black sheep, to try to win Louise away from Arthur. Louise does not return his attempts, but he falls in love with her.

Finally, Charlie is frustrated at this rebuff and has Louise kidnapped and taken to a safe house in New Jersey. Uncle John manages to keep the press away from the scandal and detectives are hired to try to find Louise. Eventually, links in Mershone's chain of secrets snap and everything comes to an exciting finish.

This book made me begin to wonder how the Aunt Jane's Nieces series were written. A story about the socialites of New York hardly seems a subject Baum would go for, but he does. In fact, I almost wondered if this "Edith Van Dyne" book was actually by Baum until we got to the climatic ending which was definitely Baum. I imagine Baum must have grown tired of a socialite story himself and introduced the kidnapping plot.

Really, I found the socialites plot to be underdeveloped. It feels like Diana is going to try to make Louise look bad, but I guess a cat fight didn't interest Baum, so he goes another direction. After all, he was a feminist, so he probably had second thoughts about putting even fictional young women's reputations at stake. (Note how in Oz, Jinjur gets redeemed.)

However, the whole socialite plot really undercut Baum's strong female characters that he'd developed previously. It's not that it's bad, but now we have Patsy, Beth and Louise doing girly things, and during the kidnapping plot, the strongest characters are male. There is a strong female character in Cerise, an elderly French woman who cares for Louise while she's being held hostage, but as she's only secondary, she isn't developed much.

So, pretty much I felt the subject of Society worked against the series' characters in this case. But there is something that changes the series from here on out: Louie quickly marries Arthur in the end. So, does that mean Louise is going to sit out for the second half of the series? We'll see.

But not just now. I'm reading W. W. Denslow by Douglas Greene and Michael Patrick Hearn.

What Happened to Yew?

In The Enchanted Island of Yew, L. Frank Baum wrote about a fantasy land that bears some resemblance to his other locations, but has no clear connections to them. The story involves a female fairy who is transformed into a male knight named Prince Marvel for a year, and travels around the island doing good deeds and making the place less barbaric. The name for the entire place, the Isle of Yew, is actually a pun, but I have to admit I didn't get it until I had it explained to me. It's basically the same joke that Piers Anthony would later use with Isle of View, although he spells it out more directly. Anyway, the book ends with a flash-forward, which isn't unusual for Baum, but is still weird in a way. One hundred years after the end of the main plot, the Red Rogue of Dawna escapes from his prison in a magic mirror, and finds that the island is now civilized and no one remembers him or Prince Marvel. Does this mean Yew has become part of the civilized world, or just that it's not as magical as it was in the past? It's hard to say. As I said in this post, Baum eventually tied most of his fantasy lands together, but never did this with Yew. That could just be because his map shows only a tiny bit of the ocean, but it's possible there's some other reason he didn't include it. James E. Haff and Dick Martin's map does include Yew, placing it to the east of Hiland.

Yew has been used in a few recent Oz books, but never in a particularly major role, perhaps because today's authors aren't totally sure what to do with it either. In Do It for Oz, Chris Dulabone describes the civilized island with his typical sense of humor, claiming that the fairy bower in the Forest of Lurla had become a parking lot for a fast food place, and the Baron Merd's castle an apartment building. The Red Rogue soon leaves the island, though, so we don't see that much of Yew. And in The Royal Explorers of Oz, Prince Bobo visits nobles called Nerle and Seseley, only to find that these are actually titles and the two are not the same characters who appeared in Baum's book. There's also still a King Terribus in Spor, but he's a descendant of the original Terribus whom Prince Marvel assisted. I wonder if any of Terribus' descendants inherited his legendary ugliness. Yes, Marvel changed his appearance so he would be good-looking, but was that change genetic or merely cosmetic? There's also a hint that the pirate captain who steals Bobo's ship could be the Red Rogue, although it's left ambiguous.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Royal Podcast of Oz: Abandoned Oz

Jared and Sam discuss abandoned Oz film and television projects over the years, especially Disney's The Rainbow Road to Oz.

As always, you can listen and download at the podcast site, or use the player below


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More about The Rainbow Road to Oz:
On the Disneyland Records Oz releases:

Friday, March 16, 2012

Realm of Fantasy

A long, long time ago (about seven years), I discovered Eamon. It was a text adventure system for the Apple II, and a big cross between text adventures and RPG. You'd create a character and go on an adventure, using your weapons and skills to fight monsters, win treasures, and sometimes solve puzzles.

It was rewritten for MS-DOS as Eamon Deluxe, and I decided to take a whack at creating an adventure for the new version.

The game I created was titled "Realm of Fantasy" and instead of creating something new or adapting something I loved, I decided to throw a bunch of my favorite fantasies into a melting pot.

The adventurer was asked to look for a missing person, which leads you down a rabbit hole into a garden where you fight a wicked witch. Once she's dead, a house lands on her, and if you open it, you can get Dorothy as a companion. (I had Toto too, but apparently the editor thought it was too much and removed him.)

Travelling along the yellow brick road, you meet the Mad Hatter and the March Hare (who might be friends or foes depending on your charisma level), the White Rabbit, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, Jack Pumpkinhead, and Tip. Along the way, you fight crows, fighting trees, kalidahs, poppy sprites, the Jabberwock, and an army of "revolting girls."

Then, you come to a town where you meet Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, then you go south through the Fire Swamp, battling ROUSes, to get to Miracle Max's, where you can get a Miracle Pill and a holocaust cloak.

Heading back to the town, you can go north to a tower where you meet Fezzik before descending through levels of the Zoo of Death before battling Count Rugen and saving Westley with the Miracle Pill. Then you ascend through the tower and head up with a key to defeat Prince Humperdink and save Princess Buttercup.

So, yes. I adapted most of The Princess Bride as a computer game.

Heading out the window of the tower leads you to the Emerald City. And if you go through the plumbing, you meet Mario and Luigi and join them in defeating a horde of Goombas. West of the Emerald City (past the Unicorn) is a castle where you defeat Bowser, the Wicked Witch of the West, and save Princess Peach.

Then, using a key, you go back to the Emerald City, fight a giant head, then meet the missing person who tells you he's happy as is before you end your adventure.

I did start work on a sequel that would explain that the Realm of Fantasy is not Oz, Florin, Wonderland, or the Mushroom Kingdom, but a land created by human fantasies. I'm kind of glad I abandoned the sequel, because that sounds exactly like The Neverending Story.

Well, I submitted the game. The programmer made some extra touches and it was released. And a review never appeared on the official Eamon website.

That was 2006, and I'd hardly heard a thing since. Occasionally, I'd get the Eamon newsletter, but very little happened.

Then, just last Monday, I got an e-mail from the programmer titled "Realm of Fantasy and Eamon Deluxe revival." The Eamon Deluxe system is getting a new makeover so it runs without the assistance of DOSBox on modern operating systems, and they looked me up and let me know "Realm of Fantasy" would be converted to the new system.

I wasn't sure what to say, but it was obvious they wanted some reply, so I replied "Okay."

He replied with an e-mail revealing that my adventure had not been reviewed due to a mix-up as to who was reviewing it. Surprisingly, he told me someone had reviewed it, a college professor nonetheless. Furthermore, my adventure had received some nice feedback as well:
But from my naive position, (Visual Impairment Audio additions for text adventures) seems like a natural fit; it's not as if Mario Brothers is going to be accessible to the visually impaired. (Though, in a sense, by the artful hand of Jared Davis, Mario Brothers is so accessible...)
If the idea of having the likes of the White Rabbit and Dorothy duking it out with the infamous Bowser doesn't appeal to you, you will certainly not enjoy this Eamon, however if you have a surreal or literary mind there are definitely some nice touches, such as having the wicked witch of the West crushed by Dorothy’s house when she dies, or of freeing the Tin Man from two evil trees.
The review, despite liking my concepts, noted that I rushed to the ending and got less elaborate in my descriptions, and that I was unfamiliar with "the specials," all of which I had to admit was true. Also, there's the problem I even noted right away that your group of allies grows far too quickly so when you battle monsters, they mainly do it for you and you just have to keep everyone alive. They thought it was an interesting way to do combat, which I guess it is, making it more of a strategy, but with so many allies to carry the damage between them all, it gets pretty easy.

The programmer has suggested we do a few little changes, something I've agreed to. Well, we'll see how it goes.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Aunt Jane's Nieces At Work

Now on to Aunt Jane's Nieces At Work. As you can see, this one has some cover damage. Likely some moisture getting to it. The cover is also slightly warped, so if I had shelf space for all these books, it'd be pushing the next book to the side.

I had been informed that this must be a first edition, because of the blue on the pastedown image. However, this can't be the case. The book was first published in 1909, and this page in the front of my copy lists all the current titles:
What do all these authors have in common?
Yeah, all the way through Aunt Jane's Nieces and Uncle John, which was the book for 1911.

Furthermore, I can definitely identify this as a 1911 printing thanks to this inscription:
 Well, Felix, you definitely had a nice taste in books to give as gifts! Though whatever their name is (Minnie? Trinnie? Frinnie?) might not have treated it well. (Or they may have. Never know how many times it could have changed hands in 100 years.)

So, on to the story!

Kenneth Forbes (the heir of Aunt Jane's estate) needs help! After noting some advertising painted on rocks, fences, and barns, Kenneth is disgusted and offers to work with the farmers to get rid of them. However, this is more than he can handle, and he soon becomes an object of ridicule, mainly thanks to district representative Erastus Hopkins. However, it is an election year, so Silas Watson suggests that Kenneth runs against Hopkins, who quickly makes the young Forbes look like a misguided fool. So, the nieces and Uncle John hurry to Elmhurst to help him—with their well-polished speech and kindly actions—win the campaign!

I was surprised that Baum wrote a story that dealt directly with American politics. He'd done a few in other countries and in Oz (think of the political upheaval in the first two Oz books), but he didn't seem too keen on writing about American politics. This is an exception, and—so far as I know—the only story he wrote that did so. (He wrote some pieces and poems about politics.)

It's also clear here how Baum sided politically. Hopkins is a disagreeable man who stoops to spies, ridicule and slander, and even false votes to win. He also owns some mortgages, expecting the people who owe him money to vote for him for fear of foreclosure. And he's a Democrat.

Kenneth, running on the Republican ticket, responds softly to his criticism, gets research done, and helps to make the lives of the people in the district better before he is elected.

One such example is the case of Will Rogers and his daughter Lucy. No, not the cowboy and movie star Will Rogers, it's an old man in this book. Lucy was falsely accused of stealing a diamond ring and was told she must either return the ring or pay for it, or be tried. Her boyfriend Tom forged a check to pay for the ring and was thrown in jail. Lucy ran away from home and hadn't been seen since. And the missing ring? The owner found it in a vase.

Kenneth, when told about the trouble by Will, bails Tom and employs him as his secretary. However, Tom and the nieces spot a new girl working at Elmhurst who Tom says looks identically like Lucy. However, when he talks to her, she doesn't know him, and there is no air of dishonesty to her at all. If this is a double, where's Lucy? And if this is Lucy, what is going on?

Everything is wrapped up at the end of the book, and we may assume that happy endings are had by all.

I did wonder how the election would play out. Even though Kenneth, Silas Watson, Uncle John and the nieces manage to intercept many schemes by Hopkins, there was always the chance that Hopkins could still win honestly. Was that what happened? I'm not spoiling it.

I enjoyed this one, too, even though the nieces' actions aren't front and center, they are still very essential to the plot as it unfolds.

However, I decided I needed to keep myself in some Thompson for that presentation at Winkies, so after I finished this one, I picked up The Wish Express. Not a long one... Want to hear about it?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Speckled Rose of Oz

The Speckled Rose of Oz, by Donald Abbott - Back when Books of Wonder was still publishing new Oz books, they put out quite a few by resident W.W. Denslow imitator Abbott, and these books were never all that popular among the fans with whom I'm familiar. To my mind, it's not even so much that they're BAD per se as that they're very slight, and presumably intended for an audience even younger than that of the original series. In this book, a magician called Poison Oak causes all of the flowers in Oz to disappear. Yeah, kind of a lame plot, and the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion don't have much trouble defeating him. One thing that Abbott does well, however, is his introduction of characters from the 1902 Wizard of Oz stage play into a more book-consistent universe. And this time, the character he uses is second-tier villain Sir Wiley Gyle.

In the play, Wiley Gyle appears in the Emerald City scenes. He's an aged inventor who despises all magic, and seeks to expose the Wizard of Oz as a fraud and take the throne for himself. He succeeds at the former, but not at the latter, as Pastoria takes the opportunity to reclaim the crown. He's then put to work sweeping up. It appears that, during the run of the show, his role as inventor was phased out in favor of just making him a conspirator. A version of the script from the New York Public Library makes his main gag throwing discount bombs that don't work. So how does Abbott work the character into his story? Well, in Speckled Rose, Gyle is identified as the younger brother of the Wicked Witches of the East and West, who had no magical powers of his own. He spent most of his time guarding a vault of equipment for his sisters, but after they died, he sought revenge against Dorothy's companions. This relation is interesting in light of my post last week, as it introduces a new figure to the family. If the Enchantress Vile is Wiley's mother, does that make her full name Vile Gyle? Eh, probably not. By the way, Abbott frequently refers to Wiley as "Sir Gyle," which is actually inappropriate, as "Sir" isn't supposed to be used with just the last name. Then again, neither is "Reverend," and I don't know that anyone pays attention to that rule anymore.

Marketing Oz style

This is going to be an unusual post.

If you listened to the last podcast, Meg and Isabelle and I talked about how there doesn't need to be competition when it comes to web content. Unlike deciding where to buy a copy of a book or DVD from, web content is free to access, meaning that all it costs the user is the time used to enjoy it.

That's logic for web content, but what about Oz?

In The Road to Oz, the Tin Woodman tells us that money is not used in the Land of Oz. Everything that a person wants is given to them.

However, that sadly doesn't work in our civilized countries. When it comes to online Oz fandom, us bloggers are very open to promoting each other. When David Maxine started the Hungry Tiger Press blog, he included a sidebar with links to many blogs. I've always linked to other blogs (ever since I started putting links on the side, that is), and I recently added a similar side bar.

However, I must speak of business. Having just published a book and a little imprint of Lulu called Saladin Press (you won't get it unless you've read Sky Island), I've put myself into the position of marketing Oz.

However, I do have one little advantage that prevents me from feeling pure evil: I'm not selling an item that anyone else is. Thus, I am not competing with anyone for this particular product. Of course, to buy Outsiders from Oz may mean you're doing it instead of buying another item you want, but if you really want that other item, you'll probably just be putting it off for a bit. I hope so, anyway.

That being said, although I have a book out (and more to follow, I hope), I will continue to help promote other works. Even if it means that potential customers will be buying a record on eBay or a book from Tails of the Cowardly Lion and Friends instead of my book. As long as a standard of quality is aimed for, there should be no real competition at all. Just what gets bought first.

To me, it feels Ozzy to help others out instead of just trying to be in it for yourself.

I wonder if other marketers of Oz feel the same way.

The Royal Podcast of Oz: Namesake

Jared talks to Megan Lavey-Heaton and Isabelle Melançon of the webcomic Namesake.

As always you can listen and download at the podcast site or use the player below!


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Monday, March 12, 2012

Aunt Jane's Nieces At Millville

And I finally read the third book in the Aunt Jane's Nieces series.

Major Doyle informs Uncle John he has a farm up in Millville. (I had to check; yes, there is a Millville, New York, but it doesn't seem to match the Millville as described in the book. Going off of just Wikipedia, the fictional Millville is much smaller.) It became property of Uncle John's bank when young Joseph Wegg defaulted on his loans.

Well, summer's coming on, and it'll be getting hot in New York City, so Uncle John has the farm set up so he and nieces can spend the summer there.

Of course, the nieces can't go and just relax, and they begin investigating the history of the Wegg family. If Captain Wegg was so rich on such a poor farm, what became of all his money? How did he die? Murder?

The answers are eventually revealed, but the nieces never could have guessed the truth!

Meanwhile, there are couple other humorous subplots. One only lasts a couple chapters as a local shopkeeper woman sends her son to court Patsy, Beth, and Louise, expecting him to get engaged to one of them. However, he doesn't exactly have the moves...

Another involves Mr. McNutt, who Uncle John hired to have the farm fixed up and furnished before they arrived. McNutt knows full well how rich Uncle John is and attempts to get more of his money all the time. He manages to sell Uncle John and the nieces his last three copies of Radford's Lives of Saints, and not good copies either. They play it cool, but the nieces manage to exact revenge in one of the most humorous ways I've ever read!

Aunt Jane's Nieces at Millville was definitely an improvement on Aunt Jane's Nieces Abroad. The nieces take on more of an active role. It is, in fact, Louise who begins reading mystery into the Wegg family. Also, no one's lives are put in danger, so it's overall more of a fun story.

I have an ever-increasing number of books to read, but I went ahead and grabbed Aunt Jane's Nieces at Work, so I'll probably be blogging about that within a week.

'Dorothy and the Witches of Oz' Round Two!

I'm blogging on a Monday? WHAT? Do pigs fly too?

I just wanted to stop by and announce the second batch of theaters that will get to see 'Dorothy and the Witches of Oz' on the big screen. Here are the official theater locations for THIS FRIDAY, that's March 16th, 2012.

  • College Square (Cedar Falls, Iowa)
  • Addison Cinemas (Addison, Illinois)
  • Marcus Cinemas Elgin (Elgin, Illinois)
  • AMC Mayfair Mall 18 (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
  • 20 Grand Cinema (Omaha, Nebraska)
  • Marc Sheboygan (Sheboygan, Wisconsin)
  • Cinema Oshkosh (Oshkosh, Wisconsin)
There will be a Q&A with members of the cast and crew after the 7:00pm screening of the movie at AMC Mayfair Mall 18 on Friday. Be there!

Friday, March 09, 2012

Weekly Update!

Hey, this is Jared. Angelo's having a weekend in Disneyland, so I'll be rounding up news this week.

Audible has released a new unabridged reading of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz read by actress Anne Hathaway as part of their new A-List collection.

The audiobook is available for download at Audible for about $15.

While Disney seems to be in "hush mode" over their film Oz, the Great and Powerful (though someone did tweet about overhearing some interesting sounds being mixed for the film), there's been a lot of legal news about conflicting Oz copyrights and trademarks as Warner Brothers attempts to maintain the MGM Wizard of Oz film as their own property and ensure that no one, including Disney, is attempting to profit from the classic film's original ideas. Over at Law Law Land, writer Dan Nabel provides an easy to read, humorous, and well-informed look at the situation.

That's just about all for this week!

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Adventures in Oz with Cheryl

We've had the Land of Oz for 112 years now. When asking how it's been interpreted, a better alternative may be how hasn't it been interpreted?

Well, in 1999, Oz entered the fitness field with Adventures in Oz with Cheryl, a fitness program for kids consisting of a coloring book that came with a set of three video tapes or one DVD. (Guess which one I picked up?)

Cheryl Ann Silich, who appeared on American Gladiators, had fond memories of watching the MGM film The Wizard of Oz on television with her mother as a child. She decided to take the Wizard of Oz story and rework it as a fitness video adventure.

The three programs (Munchkidland, Yellow Brick Road, and Emerald City) tell a story loosely based on Baum's book, interspersed with lively song sequences featuring dance/exercise movements children are encouraged to move along with. The bits of plot in between the songs allow kids to have time to cool down and regain their normal heart rate so they don't overexert themselves.

The story is narrated by Cheryl, who is seen at times reading from a book titled Adventures in Oz with Cheryl, opening and closing each program. She also plays Dorothy, beginning in her house in the cyclone and continuing into the gaudily designed take on Oz.

In Oz, Dorothy meets the Lizard of Oz, a librarian lizard who wears a fez (which makes him cool). He's an animatronic, and even though he doesn't perform the same exact role, we can just say he replaces Toto. He also has a speech impediment, in which his "L"s sound like "W"s. (Several people think he says he's the Wizard.) He tells Dorothy how the Nice Witch got mad and sent a Lazy Rain over Oz, making everyone stop exercising regularly and eating nutritious foods. Then, she became the Ice Witch.

Another altered take is that the Silver Shoes become the Silver Exercise Shoes Archie and Leftie, who perform a lot of wisecracks. ("I wish we'd skipped." "Yeah, out of town.") They belonged to the Ice Witch, but she sealed them away. However, Dorothy is able to free them and she takes them with her as she and Lizard travel down the Yellow Brick Road to encourage the people of Oz to practice healthier life styles.

A character original to this take is the Key to Fitness. It frequently pops up on the upper right hand corner of the screen and dispenses fitness advice to the characters.

Along the way, they are joined by the joke-cracking Scarecrow who wants to learn to read. (While discussing reading and singing the song "Reading is a Dream," Baum gets a couple name drops.) Then, they meet the Tin Kid who doesn't have a heart, so he's rude. Finally, they meet a Lion, who is "Not An Ordinary Lion." He's a coward. They all join Dorothy, the Lizard, Archie and Leftie to the Emerald City to see the Wizard.

At the Emerald City, they find the Wizard has become a vegetable watching too much TV. (I have always wondered at video programs that speak against watching too much TV. Aren't these also counted as TV?) So they set off to the Northern Gardens to find the Ice Witch.

The Ice Witch is a little girl (who, before you say it, Sam, looks a lot like Alice in Wonderland), but she's frozen in her own ice. The Scarecrow manages to cheer her up with his jokes (a couple of which actually made me laugh). She thaws and Dorothy returns her shoes to her. The Nice Witch is back and is ready to undo what she did.

In the Emerald City, the Wizard is soon restored to his own shape (which made me think of Rinkitink) and helps the Scarecrow, Tin Kid and Lion out, and makes Dorothy (brace yourself, Oz fans who are prone to nerd rage...) Ozma, Princess of Fitness.

Feeling better now?

Yeah, so Dorothy stays in Oz to encourage everyone to have healthy life styles. Everyone gets a happy ending.

Now, I can't attest to how good the exercises are, especially since they were designed for children and I'm not a child anymore (in body, that is). However, the message behind it, encouraging healthy habits, is good and really drives home. Some might find it preachy, but hey, you're watching an exercise video, what did you expect?

This is a very different take on Oz, so it's best not to expect it to follow Baum's original story closely. The character designs are interesting if not especially great. They certainly play on your familiarity with the MGM film while not being derivative.

The camera work is okay, but some wonky shots might upset those who experience motion sickness from odd camera angles. (You can see some tilted shots in the screencaps I linked to. By the way, clicking on them will enlarge them.)

The songs I find nice, but not particularly memorable. There's some fun lyrics ("I want to live vicariously, to read along hilariously, of those who lived nefariously, I'd like to read with you."), but it's not easy to pick up on the lyrics right away.

So, Adventures in Oz with Cheryl, very good for what it is, a video exercise program for kids. As a take on Oz, it's interesting if not especially notable.

You can get the DVD on Amazon here.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Outsiders from Oz — Hardcover Out NOW!

For those of you who were waiting for the clothbound edition of Outsiders from Oz, wait no longer!

The clothbound is out! And believe it or not, I priced it at the lowest possible price.

The paperback is, of course, still available.

Witch Family General

As I've stated before when writing about the Wicked Witches of Oz, the idea that the Witches of the East and West are sisters comes from the MGM film, there being no hint of it in any of the books written prior to the movie's release. After the movie, however, the idea caught on with Oz writers, and many stories utilize that premise. As such, it strikes me as perhaps being quasi-canonical simply by popular appeal. In Rachel Cosgrove Payes' The Wicked Witch of Oz, Singra, the Wicked Witch of the South, claims to be a cousin of both the Eastern and Western Witches. This doesn't necessarily make the WWE and WWW sisters (they could be cousins or not related at all), but it seems likely that Payes was working from that premise. Also, Eric Shanower has said that he considers his own Wicked Witch of the South from Enchanted Apples to be Singra's sister, so that's another relative. The odd one out here is Mombi, the Wicked Witch of the North. I had previously thought that Fred Otto's short story "Mombi's Pink Polkadot Vest" (which can be found in the 1985 Oziana) indicates that Mombi is another sister of the WWE and WWW, but another look at the story makes me think this might not be the case. Mombi does tell her fellow witch, "No sister could be kinder," but this doesn't mean they ARE sisters, just that she thinks of the WWW as being LIKE a sister. I haven't reread the entire tale recently, but it looks as if the other references in it simply refer to Mombi and the WWW as colleagues, not relatives. As far as I can recall, the only source indicating Mombi is related to the other Wicked Witches is the animated film Journey Back to Oz, which is about as far from canonical as you can get. So maybe Mombi had no family connections to the others at all, and just happened to unite with the others due to a common goal.

So anyway, if the Witches of the East and West are sisters, who are their parents? Wicked covers this, but I think that can be safely disregarded when talking about the Oz of the original books. One author of Baum-consistent Oz books who dealt with this issue is Peter Schulenburg, who identifies their mother as the Enchantress Vile, or E. Vile for short. She makes an appearance in Unwinged Monkey, and Emerald Enchantress gives her another daughter, Emmy, who is not wicked like her relatives. I don't think either of those books give any indication as to who the father might be, but I could be forgetting. I believe March Laumer made the main Good and Wicked Witches all half-sisters, being daughters of Lurline by different fathers. As with most issues left unresolved by the Famous Forty, I doubt there will ever be a consensus answer here, but I do have to wonder what growing up in a family of evil magicians would have been like.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Oz and Beyond

So, remember how I said I read the backlog of The Baum Bugle? All those reviews made my want list soar! So, I'm slowly managing it so my bank account isn't left sore. (Tip for collecting: look around!)

Well, there's some fiction, and some non-fiction. Oz and Beyond: The Fantasy World of L. Frank Baum is by Michael O. Riley who is an expert at binding books and printing them. In fact, he has even reprinted short Oz-related works in pamphlet form with his very own printing press and I happen to have two of them in my collection. He's also been at Winkies both times I've attended and I hope he'll be back next time! I want him to sign my copy of his book!

Oz and Beyond looks at L. Frank Baum's fantasy writing as it developed from about 1897 to 1919. Riley also examines Baum's life without pretending at some funny agenda. He theorizes that Baum, who identified with children very well, missed his happy childhood days and points out supporting examples in his works. That's the most when it comes to drawing conclusions here. The book depicts Baum as a very real person by putting his writing in perspective with his life. It believably explains why Baum published many books in 1900 and 1901 and suddenly went to one fantasy under his real name a year shortly after.

Each book is given its own section. It begins with A New Wonderland (later The Magical Monarch of Mo), as Riley correctly notes that the Phunnyland stories were the first fantasy stories Baum wrote. Mainly, the rest of Baum's fantasy work (including the "Laura Bancroft" Twinkle Tales and Policeman Bluejay) is followed as they were published, a big exception being that about 1905, there is a section for King Rinkitink.

In the Rinkitink section, Riley surmises the book must have had a defeat of the Nome King and then a return to Pingaree. It seems plausible, and is likely the case. (I more or less said the same thing when I reviewed the book.) It's a nice way to appreciate the story on its own. Later, the revised version Rinkitink in Oz is covered, looking at why Baum dusted off a previously unpublished manuscript, and how the story was affected by turning it into an Oz story.

Riley spends a lot of time looking at how the Land of Oz develops in each Oz book, how it's vast in Wonderful Wizard, then shrinks in Marvelous Land, then varies in size until becoming vast again in the latter Oz books. He also looks at how the rules and mythology of Oz change in the series.

You might think I've done the same thing in my blogging, but I tend to look at the Land of Oz as a finished whole, while Riley examines it as it developed. Riley reminds us that unlike later fantasy series of the 20th century, Oz was not begun as a series. It was a book, then a book and a sequel, then a book, a sequel, and a series, then an ongoing series. Thus, the development of Oz under Baum is rather uneven, a point Riley drives home. However, rather than making Oz seem inferior, it reads more like Baum was polishing a valuable stone to show its true luster.

As Riley focuses on Baum's fantasy world, he does not give the same treatment in the book to the Oz books of Thompson, Neill, Snow, Cosgrove, and the McGraws. They are acknowledged and gone over briefly, however. Furthermore, he acknowledges their later Oz works and the new run of Oz books by fans that had begun trickling in the 1980s. However, he stresses his work in this book is not to examine Oz the continuing legacy and the core, but just the core.

Sometimes, that simple approach, to just stop and examine one area indepth, works best. Michael Riley did a great job.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Depicting Oz Characters: Nick Chopper, the Tin Woodman

Jared's posting of Disney's "Tin Woodman of Oz" Record+Story Album has reminded me that it's been too long since I last did a Blog about portraying characters of Oz, so now's the time to do so! Maybe soon I'll also discuss my thoughts on the CG movie but for now let's just focus on the character and his various looks throughout the century-plus . . . I won't be able to name ALL the depictions, illustrated on paper or played physically/vocally, but I can mention some examples.

Now of course anybody who has read the book, the FIRST Oz book, would know that the Tin Woodman wasn't tin in the first place, but a human Woodchopper (later named Nick Chopper). In checking the actual text, L. Frank Baum never actually said that he, the woodchopper himself, was a Munchkin: just "one of the Munchkin girls" he fell in love with, so MAYBE Nick was a normal-height human who loved a shorter woman (as shown in "Oz: the Manga"). But we'll never know the details for sure.
And of course those who have read the book know how he became tin: the Wicked Witch of the East enchanted his axe which then cut a piece of his body - a leg - instead of the tree he intended. Nick took himself to the Munchkin Tinsmith (later named Ku-Klip) and had that damaged body part replaced with a tin limb, then later upper body and finally head. That is how the heart was lost.

Now that's the main thing: one of the legs was cut by an axe and replaced with tin. This means that the metal limb has to match with the body: not too Thin - like how Evelyn Copelman depicted it in 1944, as it would be too light and skinny to lean on support for - and not too Thick either - as then it would be heavier to lift and walk with, not to mention rather heavily-bulked and out of sorts compared to the body. The "hinges" or whatever tool is used to link the flesh+blood+bone body to metal-replacement likewise cannot be to small (lest it would show a discomforting mass of 'remains/left-overs') or too big (too distracting for the eye or won't fit with two different body types). The same would have to be said for the arms too. The head of course needs eyes to see, mouth to speak, ears to hear, the nose . . . doesn't really smell and would be deemed useless, but then again a face without a noise would seem distracting and odd, so including a nose wouldn't be so bad after all. The head could be Can shaped, domed shaped or maybe more sculptured/articulated - depending on what looks best. Sometimes the tin head may include a moustache or some form of hair (the Toho anime and CG movie have interestingly given him a beard treatment), either for decoration or an attempt to be closer to human form. Many times (but not counting The Wiz versions, 1976 Australian Rock'n'Roll, Polish series, Sci-Fi "Tin Man", CG movie and "Heartless") the funnel hat is retained.

Sometimes the origin story is illustrated and sometimes it isn't. Those who DO the origin story can show their process of coming up with how Nick looks (Lisbeth Zwerger and now Robert Ingpen to name the FEW) and that makes the character's portrayal a bit more Believable. When there are editions that don't show the Tin-Limb-Replacement story, the look of the Tin Woodman can still work well (Paul Granger) and other times it doesn't (Evelyn Copelman).

Other times the origin story is revised to have the Wicked Witch of the East (sometimes the WEST Witch for whatever reason, which doesn't make sense) actually put a spell on HIM, TRANSFORMING the human into a tin 'humanoid' (?) - this has happened in the Cinar/Pan Media 1987 series, the Korean cartoon, the 'Beautiful Fables' anime series (though it could be suggested) and Muppets. Now, my belief is that if the Wicked Witch, East or West (but it should be EAST), really did magically Transform Nick into a Tin Woodman, then when she was killed by Dorothy her magic would likewise have died too and the spell would be broken, hence restoring Nick to his proper self and breaking himself free from the vines that grew over him in the past year. This is a case when an adaptation is too close to the knowledge of the story for its own good revised-points*. Most people don't think about this and it gets irritating (to me, at least). Remember, if you're revising a point in the story, DOES it still match the rest of the story?

Throughout the years, the depictions of the 'Tin Man' (while it is easier and faster to say, 'Woodman' explains the axe and location in the forest) could be organized into the following categories:
* Man in tin/metal Suit (Fred Stone 1902 Broadway Musical, 1908 Fairylogue & Radio plays, 1910 Selig short, 1914 Oz Film Manufacturing Co., Oliver Hardy 1925 Chadwick, Jack Haley MGM, Tiger Haines/Nipsey Russell 1975-8 WIZ, Heartless - Understandable, certainly in the early decades of the 20th century as puppetry or stop-motion would have been difficult, time-consuming and disconnecting from the story and other characters, while a costume would have been the only way to show the actor playing the character and keeping the chemistry)
* Tin (trash) Can with Skinny Arms & Legs + Feet & Hands (Evelyn Copelman is a prime example)
* Practical yet Believable Fantasy Man of Tin (1973-4 Russian stop-motion, Mauro Evangelista, Paul Granger)
* Robot, Cyborg or something Futuristic-like (Funky Fables, Oz: the Manga, maybe Maraja, Space Adventures/Wonderful Galaxy)

I do tend to forgot how a tin man was a NEW thing for fantasy back in 1900 and when coupled or compared with today's possibilities of animatronics (which could be the perfect tool in a definitive adaptation), how almost impractical the likes of which Neill and Denslow came up with; with Dick Martin, Dale Ulrey, Frank Kramer and such following suite. For the time, when he was introduced, the skinny-limbed look of the Tin woodman works better in the early century than it does now (but then again I could be wrong).
They have done great work illustrating the character for the book, but that approach cannot work as well on film, although some independent guys are showing some pretty impressive work that is well passable and truly acceptable in CG + live action (yep, you know who you are). In a definitive series treatment, an animatronic could visually follow the look of Denslow/Neill but could also be well capable of adding some more depth to the look and function, such as adding some thickness to the center of the legs in the transition stages of Nick Chopper from human to metalman. Maybe the upper body/torso doesn't necessarily have to be a simple round rectangular shape either, maybe a bit "body shaped"?

* In some versions of adaptations based on "Alice in Wonderland", Alice would meet the Duchess and the Cheshire Cat in SEPARATE scenes (1985 2-Part All-Star American TV Musical, Goodtimes video and Russian animation). Now the one big problem here is Alice knows that the Cat is a Cheshire Cat, but without the Duchess' introduction how could Alice know what it was, dream or no dream? Especially if there was NO Duchess in the Goodtimes version.

Outsiders from Oz - Out NOW

My first Oz book is now available for sale in paperback. Early next week, we will be releasing a clothbound edition.

When a restless Ozma is told about a mysterious hole that has appeared in Jack Pumpkinhead's pumpkin patch, she takes a brief leave of duty to investigate. Meanwhile, Button-Bright and the Wizard are going to Glinda's Palace to examine a watch that belonged to Button-Bright's father. But when they find themselves stranded outside of Oz, they must rely on the assistance of the locals for a return. In her journey, Ozma finds an old but familiar acquaintance who seems to have forgotten her. Button-Bright and the Wizard meet some new friends who will be familiar to dedicated Baum readers. And what will happen when they encounter an old enemy who everyone seems to have forgotten about?

You can get a copy here for $10. If you use the coupon code LASSO, you'll get 15% off! (Expires March 4th.)