Monday, November 19, 2012

The Twinkle Tales

As part of L. Frank Baum's bumper crop of literature in 1906, he released six little chapter books under the pseudonym "Laura Bancroft."

The books were published by Reilly & Britton in small volumes, broken into very short chapters. They were the right size for small hands to handle and Baum kept the stories very light so young readers wouldn't be bogged down or scared.

In 1911, the books were reissued in a collected book titled Twinkle and Chubbins. This book was later reprinted by the International Wizard of Oz Club in 1987, and in 2005, the book and its sequel (for a sequel it had, next blog) were collected into a volume titled The Twinkle Tales. (Which sadly didn't include all of Maginel Wright Enright's illustrations.)

The Twinkle Tales was the name of the series in its original book series form, and as I'll reveal, it actually makes a better title than Twinkle and Chubbins.

The series follows a little girl called Twinkle, who lives near the town of Edgeley, which is in North Dakota. Yes, Baum culls from his time in Aberdeen, but don't look for any autobiographical basis here.

In Mister Woodchuck, which the book edition places as the first story, Twinkle's father sets a trap for woodchucks. Twinkle watches it to see the woodchuck get caught. Instead, she finds herself outside of the Woodchuck's home, where he introduces her to his family and Judge Stoneyheart. To punish Twinkle's father, she is made to step into a trap, when she wakes up. She asks her father not to set out any more traps because the woodchucks have a right to life.

Mister Woodchuck shows Baum's love for animals quite clearly, making a touching yet humorous story about how mankind should respect animal life. Twinkle herself is a dear little girl, though I realized that with a few alterations, she could easily be a young Dorothy.

Bandit Jim Crow is second. The title would be offensive today, but I'm not convinced that Baum intended the title character to be anything but a crow. It is also the oddball of the series as Twinkle is only briefly in the story when she finds a wounded crow and bandages its wing. However, Jim Crow is very cruel and after he heals, he escapes, kills some newborn chicks, then goes to the forest.

In the forest, Jim Crow is regarded with caution by the other birds, but he remains scornful of them and causes trouble, including eating their eggs. Policeman Bluejay is called in and he keeps an eye on Jim Crow and stops him for a time, until the crow realizes he can disguise himself as a white bird in a chalk pit. When Policeman Bluejay grows wise, he gets many birds to assist him in pecking Jim Crow's eyes out.

The final chapter features the kind birds of the forest bringing food and water to Jim Crow, forgiving him of his past transgressions as he is now disabled and can do them no further harm. "And I wonder what his thoughts were—don't you?" Baum asks the reader, implying that Jim Crow is repenting of his wrongdoing.

While Jim Crow is a fine tale, it's curious as it feels more like Bambi than Oz. It's more in the vein of Baum's Animal Fairy Tales, except that there is no magic involved. It was also the most popular of the Twinkle Tales. I guess people really love stories about animals.

Third in the series is Prarie Dog Town, in which we meet Twinkle's friend, the school teacher's son Chubbins. Chubbins is a classic Baum little boy companion, like a midway point between Tot from Dot and Tot of Merryland and Button-Bright as he appeared in The Road to Oz. He's cleverer than those two, though he is not as well defined as Twinkle, a recurring feature of Baum's boy characters who accompany girls. (Though Sky Island has Button-Bright defy it suddenly.)

Twinkle and Chubbins go watch prarie dogs, who invite them into their town. This involves being shrunk down by magician Presto Digi, and the two children get to see that these animals have a little civilization of their own. After a lunch with the mayor, the two children leave the town and are restored to their size.

Baum suggests it may have been a dream:
"Do you think we've been asleep, Chub?" asked the girl.
"'Course not," replied Chubbins, with a big yawn. "It's easy 'nough to know that, Twink, 'cause I'm sleepy now!"
 Again, we see a common theme here in the Twinkle stories: animals. However, the remaining stories go for more traditional Baum fantasies.

Prince Mud-Turtle is the fourth story. In it, Twinkle finds a pretty mud-turtle that she makes a pet. (First Jim Crow, then a mud turtle...) On Saturday, it begins speaking to her and tells her that it is the enchanted fairy Prince Melga, transformed by the Corrugated Giant. He enlists Twinkle's help in defeating the giant and breaking the enchantment.

The next week (the turtle can only speak on Saturdays), Melga whisks Twinkle to the Black Mountains, where he instructs her to rub her eyes with a magic maita-leaf so she can see the fairy land. He shows her the way to the Corrugated Giant's castle, who makes her his slave, and puts her to work tending his kitchen fire.

Obeying Melga's instruction, the turtle is thrown into the cook pot, restoring him to his true form (in some traditional fairy tales, enchantments were broken by killing the animal a person had been transformed into in a specific way, this is a less grim version), and the giant is quickly dispatched. Twinkle joins a celebration before she's sent back home, where her mother tells her the mud-turtle has run away.

Baum also seems to set up future possibilities for the series. Before she goes home, Twinkle is told by Melga, "as your eyes have been rubbed with the magic maita-leaf, you will doubtless always see many strange sights that are hidden from other mortals."

This is probably the most Oz-like of the Twinkle Tales: a journey to a land of fantasy where a wrong must be righted. However, it skews a bit more toward the traditional fairy tale, and calls to mind Baum's short story "The Witchcraft of Mary-Marie." Overall, likely one of the best of the series.

Fifth is Twinkle's Enchantment, very much a travelogue in which Twinkle goes berry-picking and crosses a line of enchantment, entering a magic land where she meets the rolling stone that gathers no moss, a dancing bear, birds of a feather, a green monkey (predating Woot's transformation in The Tin Woodman of Oz), and Prince Nimble of the grasshoppers, as well as other strange and wondrous sights.

It is again suggested that the adventure was a dream, because while the dancing bear fills Twinkle's bucket of berries, Twinkle's mother finds her asleep in the grass with an empty bucket.

The story is charming and pun-filled, and is one of Baum's more whimsical stories.

Finally, we have Sugar Loaf Mountain. Chubbins has moved to Arkansas, in the Ozark Mountains. (Finally! Baum takes it to my home area!) Twinkle is visiting, and they climb a mountain called Sugar Loaf Mountain. They find a locked door and key and enter, finding a land consisting entirely of sugar.

Baum notes that there are three types of people. People of white sugar seem to be in the highest class, a darker sugar makes up "more humble" citizens, while people of the darkest sugar seem to be of "less account," being servants.

The king of Sugar Loaf Mountain is courteous to the visitors, but a couple people in his court share daring secrets with Twinkle and Chubbins: Lord Cloy says he is not pure sugar, but only frosted. Princess Sakareen believes she is hollow. After a ride in a carriage and an accident, it is revealed that Cloy is actually made of a marshmallow-like substance, but Sakareen is not hollow. Cloy is disgraced.

Twinkle and Chubbins decide to leave (they are getting thirsty as there is no water in the kingdom), but after they are out, they realize they left the key inside: Sugar Loaf Mountain is now cut off from being discovered ever again.

This one offers some commentary on ethnic social class in the United States at the time. Baum refrains from actually depicting anyone negatively on the color of their sugar, and I felt that Cloy's disgrace was depicted negatively: he is shunned not because of his character but his constitution, which he can't help.

And of course, this story brings to mind the Candy Valley from Dot and Tot of Merryland, particularly Cloy's marshmallow construction.

While reading the series again recently, I couldn't help but think that they might make for a great basis for some animated shorts. Maybe someday, someone will.

The Twinkle Tales are some rather nicely written Baum tales, though I can think of other Baum stories I prefer, so I'm not quick to call them his best. Baum managed to differ enough from his regular style so the "Laura Bancroft" persona seems quite convincing. Overall, this is a great choice if you want Baum at his lightest.


Sam A M said...

I've only very few times heard of the saying "A rolling stone gathers no moss" . . . is THIS where the saying possibly came from?!

Jared said...

I'd say no as the story suggests it was an old phrase even back then.