Thursday, September 20, 2012


I've written about L. Frank Baum's young adult works, and I've mentioned the book Annabel before. It was published in 1906 under the pseudonym Suzanne Metcalf. As you can see, I don't have the original edition (nor the reissue in 1912), but two reprints by Hungry Tiger Press: it was released in Oz-Story #6, and later it was released in a single volume hardcover, containing all the illustrations by H. Putnam Hall and Joseph Pierre Nuyttens (it was newly illustrated for the 1912 edition, and it's a rare case where a Baum book was re-illustrated in his lifetime), as well as new decorations by Eric Shanower.

The Hungry Tiger Press edtion notes that this is Baum's first young adult novel. I'm not sure where this conclusion is from, but I haven't exactly researched the book. It came out the same year as a large batch of other Baum books under his name and pseudonyms: John Dough and the Cherub, Sam Steele's Adventures on Land and Sea, Aunt Jane's Nieces, The Last Egyptian, Daughters of Destiny, The Twinkle Tales series and Aunt Jane's Nieces Abroad. Counting each of the Twinkle Tales separately, that's thirteen books in one year. It's quite possible that Reilly & Britton stockpiled Baum books to release under pseudonyms and Annabel was the first young adult book to be turned in. (I must note that The Last Egyptian was not published by Reilly & Britton.)

You have to remember, Baum was in a unique position. He was a big author and had a lot of ideas for stories, but releasing too many "Baum books" in one year wasn't a good idea (as evidenced by the sales in 1900-1901 for a lot of Baum titles). This new publisher could reprint and issue new editions of older books, but they needed new content as well. Thus, their answer to not be just another reprint company was to issue Baum's books disguised as non-Baum books! Baum's creativity needed an outlet, and Reilly & Britton were only too glad to be that outlet.

So, we come to Annabel, set in the small American town of Bingham. Vegetable boy Will Carden is a friend and chum of the Williams family, but Mrs. Williams doesn't approve of him as a playmate for her children, placing social class above personal traits.

The oddest thing is: Will's father actually helped keep the Williams family rich. Through a strange series of circumstances, Will's father developed a way to make steel easy to use while not affecting its strength, but had to sign his profits over to an Ezra Jordan for money to go to England, except the ship he was on sank, and there were no survivors. Jordan has licensed the method to Mr. Williams, who runs a big steelworks factory. Jordan boards with the Carden family to provide them some income.

Dr. Meigs, the local town physician, takes an interest in Will and helps him expand his business to growing mushrooms in his shed with his disabled brother Egbert (quite possibly one of the most pitiful characters in Baum, and one of the least defined as he is deaf and mute), which quickly takes off and becomes popular, Will planning to make enough to make his family independent of Mr. Jordan so his mother can take it easier.

Will gets back in the good graces of the Williams family when he rescues their daughter Annabel from drowning during ice skating, and while the two form a fast friendship, Dr. Meigs and Mr. Williams begin re-examining the case of Mr. Carden's disappearance. The more they look at it, the more suspicious it becomes. It's clear someone's not being very honest and the Cardens are unwitting victims. What levels has Jordan sunk to, and how can it be cleared up?

Baum effectively depicts an enterprising yet humble young man in Will and Annabel gets to mature after her near-death experience and although they have no idea of the suspicions Dr. Meigs and Mr. Williams have of Jordan, they do prove instrumental in that plot line.

However, that plot line of Jordan's trickery really becomes the main plot line of the book. It's intriguing though, and showed promise for Baum's later works when the young people would move into leading roles in the plots. (You may remember I noted a similar problem in Aunt Jane's Nieces Abroad.) It's not Baum's greatest, but it's definitely one of his better non-fantasy books.

And I really enjoy it, a trademark common for Baum, but really evident here. While Baum might have problems having the most important characters take on the roles they should, his stories are always enjoyable.

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