Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Mary Louise Adopts A Soldier
Katherine Rogers suggests in her Baum biography that Harry Neal Baum finished the book. A few tweets from a correspondent of Michael Patrick Hearn informed me that he believes L. Frank Baum's work in the book is only a small fragment. And that, I can believe!
The book opens with Mary Louise and Grandpa Jim going to greet the return of the Dorfield Regiment: a group of soldiers hailing from Dorfield and some soldiers from elsewhere who helped fill out their ranks. The two note that some soldiers might need a place to stay before getting back into society, so they consider "adopting" (a better term would be "hiring") a displaced soldier to help out at their home.
They decide to hire an odd, eccentric rambler named Danny Dexter who did quite well in the army. He takes some convincing, but eventually accepts the position.
And that, I believe, is about where L. Frank Baum's fragment ends. Because it seems he set up things about Danny that simply are not followed up on later in the book. Danny has a gash on his face that was plastered in mud that was healing it. This point seems to have been a point that Baum would have used later, but it's not used again. And also, Danny very quickly loses his quirks.
Also, a lot of the characters change. Josie comes back, but while Baum made her the primary detective in the story, she spends a lot of time off-screen and just doesn't feel like the character I've read about in the past four books. She's far too fond of Mary Louise this time around.
Mary Louise herself isn't the same. I've commented on her simplicity and often viewed this negatively (it does feel like a step back after Baum's other amazing female characters). She is more central to the plot this time, but she feels like a different character, the writer now giving her nuances and secrets, which she absolutely could not keep before. This might be seen as an improvement, but this is really a failure to maintain continuity.
A big, offensive change is in two characters I haven't mentioned before, though they've been in the background throughout the entire series: Uncle Eben and Aunt Sally. These two African-Americans are faithful servants to Grandpa Jim and Mary Louise, and they seem to have mutual respect. In Mary Louise in the Country, Mary Louise is buying dishes to replace ones Ingua broke so she won't get in trouble, and the shopkeeper wonders why she needs them, and suggests that they don't want their black servants sharing their dishes. Mary Louise refuses to reply to this.
Given how well these two are treated and how respectfully they act previously, it's a shock to have them being described as "trying to help and managing most successfully to be in everybody's way" and Aunt Sally suddenly yell, "Eben, you lazy old niggah, bring in de candied yams." They also now speak in some of the most painful phonetic spellings of dialect I've ever seen. Baum never depicted black supporting characters (not counting Father Goose's "Little Nigger Boy") this badly. Examples are in Nux and Bryonia of the Sam Steele/Boy Fortune Hunters series and Aunt Hyacinth in The Daring Twins. This tone is just decidedly different.
So, how does the story go? In the first two-thirds, Danny is made chauffeur of Mary Louise's car "Queenie." But one day, Danny and the car disappear. Inquiries are made, and the existence of Danny's criminal uncle Jim O'Hara is made known. The local police and Josie O'Gorman begin searching for the missing car and Danny.
One night, Mary Louise goes out being unable to sleep and finds "Queenie" back in the garage and a light on in Danny's room. Assuming he's returned, she goes to see him and finds his Uncle Jim, who takes her in "Queenie" to a crossroads where he goes off with someone else to catch a train to Santa Fe, intending to relocate to China. He passed several bad checks but Danny has vowed to pay them off. This makes Mary Louise find more respect for Danny.
Mary Louise and "Queenie" are found, and Danny has returned. Hearing that his uncle has jumped off the train near Albuquerque, Mary Louise decides to go try to find him before the authorities and Josie do.
And now, we reach the last third, revealing a whole new subplot of a German base hidden in Mexican America that Jim is tricked into helping with before he escapes and alerts the local authorities to, which suggests he may get a pardon. Oh, and he's splitting his oil wells with Danny.
And pretty much, Mary Louise has fallen in love with Danny.
So... Yeah. The part that I felt was not written by Baum felt loose and incompatible with the previous four books. Characterizations are off, and it feels like it was written in a rush to finish a book by someone else. I'm not sure how to feel about this. While it contains some work by Baum, it's very little. Do we count this as a Baum book?