Monday, April 30, 2012

Oz Time Goes By

When trying to come up with a comprehensive timeline for the Oz series, such as the Royal Timeline of Oz, the main problem actually comes in with the first few books.

It's a popular idea that the books take place around when they were published, or maybe a year or two before, and for the most part the evidence supports this. With the earlier books, though, it's trickier.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published in 1899 and The Emerald City of Oz in 1910, yet Dorothy is still only ten or eleven at the time of the latter. So it's pretty much necessary to condense the number of years over which these books take place, although exactly how can't be determined for certain. I've seen it suggested that Emerald City could take place as early as 1903, although most chronologists choose a somewhat later date. The earthquake in which Dorothy is caught in Dorothy and the Wizard is almost certainly based on a real one that hit San Francisco in 1906, but we're not specifically told that it IS this quake, and I find it rather unlikely that six years had passed between Wizard and DotWiz.

To further complicate matters, there are several books that take place during the period in which Dorothy was still living in Kansas, probably mostly due to copyright reasons. Most of these stories take place over only a few days, but whether or not someone accepts them can affect how long it was between Dorothy's first visit to Oz and her finally deciding to live there. Tyler Jones proposed that Dorothy's aging could have been slowed by her time in Oz, but I'm not so keen on that idea.

In addition to Dorothy, we also have Button-Bright, who first visits Oz when quite young in Road, and is still younger than Trot when he moves there in Scarecrow. Since Trot claims to be ten in Giant Horse, it's likely that Button-Bright is nine years old at the most. Six years passed in between the publication of these two books, which means it might be helpful to condense the years between them as well, albeit not as much as with the earlier books.

Rinkitink is also an interesting case, as it's based on an earlier manuscript, but with references added to fit it into its designated place in the series. J.L. Bell proposed the idea that the Nome King in Rinkitink might actually be Ruggedo, which would necessitate pushing this one back to before Tik-Tok. This would mean disregarding King Rinkitink's song about Hank the Mule, as Hank doesn't come to the Emerald City until the end of Tik-Tok, but that's hardly a significant part of the story. Still, I generally prefer keeping Rinkitink as the tenth book in the series, and just figuring there was some other reason why Kaliko was acting out of character.

As far as the Ruth Plumly Thompson books go, 1930's Yellow Knight has Speedy thinking of Charles Lindbergh, who made his famous flight in May 1927. As such, the story probably doesn't take place any earlier than 1928. I usually like to think of her books as taking place the year before they were published, but there could be a problem here as well.

Dorothy Maryott's essay on Silver Princess says that Thompson began writing it in February 1937, and the story takes place in May of an unspecified year. So wouldn't it have had to have taken place in 1936 at the latest, in order for it to be history when Thompson wrote it? I think there's plenty of wiggle room here, though. Sure, the authors presented themselves as historians, but this can't be taken TOO seriously. Some more recent authors, particularly Chris Dulabone, have taken to actually writing the year in which a book takes place within the story, which is helpful to those of us who want to keep timelines straight, but comes across as a bit weird when the characters themselves use the AD system of years. In that way, I prefer Melody Grandy's books, which tend to date everything from the beginning of Ozma's reign. There's no specific date for this that's agreed upon either, but 1902 is a popular supposition.

In Other Lands Than Ours

L. Frank Baum and his wife Maud took a trip overseas in 1906. During their trip, they kept pen and paper handy, Frank working on a few books while Maud would write home about their trip.

These days, it might be difficult for us to realize how a letter might get circulated since such things have become far more personal. Think of it like an e-mail you'd send to your family, except you send it to one family member and have them send it around. These days, you'd either blog or expect them to keep up with your trip on Twitter or Facebook.

And that is what Maud's letters were: a lot like blogs about her trip overseas: nothing notable and not an item of serious study, but her personal experience and thoughts on what she'd seen.

Apparently, the family was so taken with Maud's delightful letters they wanted to keep them, but upon returning home, Frank had a better idea than splitting the letters up among the family: he collected them all, did some minor editing, and included his photographs and privately printed In Other Lands Than Ours, so family members could have all the letters in a very dignified form.

As I said, Maud writes mainly about her experience. It's been noted her information about what she saw overseas isn't entirely accurate, either by her mis-remembering or mis-hearing information, or the tour information was more interested in good stories for tourists than being accurate.

This trip is important for Baum scholars as it influenced a number of Baum's work: The Last Egyptian, The Boy Fortune Hunters in Egypt, Aunt Jane's Nieces Abroad, Daughters of Destiny, and it's also likely he picked up a bit of inspiration that he later molded into characters and places in the Oz books. To have a first hand account of the trip is a great aid.

It also gives a peek into the patriotism Baum and his wife shared, later imparted into characters in The Boy Fortune Hunters and Aunt Jane's Nieces series. There are also a few little bits about Frank himself, he was generally ignorant of the old masters of art, saying "he can tell one old master from another as soon as he reads the name on the frame," and his opinion of an opera they attend is pretty poor.

The edition I have is a new edition by Pumpernickel Pickle with a completely new design. The book had been previously been reproduced as a photo-facsimile by Scholar's Facsimiles and Reprints, but it is now out of print and used copies cost upwards of $40 while the Pumpernickel Pickle one, being print on demand, is a brand new copy for $23. As I type, an original edition is on eBay, and has already passed $200 in bidding. (Still a week left, so it could go pretty high.) I understand that the original and Scholar's edition has the photos at a larger size and thus, clearer, but I'm all right with this one.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Tin Castle of Oz

There are many types of Oz books now that fan written books are out there. The Tin Castle of Oz is a very different type of Oz book.

The story is told in flashback and explains how the Tin Castle of the Tin Woodman was built.

While fine tinsmiths are at work, the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow joined by a Winkie boy named Gelh to go to the Munchkin Forest to collect used cocoons made by the tintipillars when they turn into tinselflies. These cocoons can be unraveled into thread, then woven into cloth to make comfortable tin cushions and beds for the castle.

Meanwhile, tinsmith Timorous has designed a model for the Castle, one of three, and he's anxious to know which one the Tin Woodman will pick, and he sets out to find the Tin Woodman to get a decision so work can begin on the castle as soon as possible.

Peter Schulenberg introduces a whimsical cast of new characters. Aside from Gelh and Timorous, there is also Mort, a man made of yellow bricks who maintains the yellow brick road, giant friendly mosquitoes, a rubber rabbit named Rupart, talking Lanif trees, the tintipillars, and a rat named Packey Rat.

As whimsical and fun as the story is, I didn't feel so into the story as I did with other stories: the reason being there is no threat presented to the characters. There is no villain, just a variety of problems for them to solve, which they do, usually ahead of time, or the answer unveils itself. It's not that it's bad, but it flows too smoothly with no friction between anyone, so there's little to grasp the reader's attention. Or at least, mine. I did feel some of the problems encountered could have been rearranged for a better suspense, but as it is, the book is out and there's no changing it now.

So, if you want a story explaining how the Tin Woodman got his Castle, here you go. It's a fun, sweet story, but not very exciting.

Get your copy from Tails of the Cowardly Lion and Friends.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Technically, it's Oz

Okay, earlier this week I reviewed The Dinamonster of Oz and complained that Kenneth Baum underestimated his father's creation in stating that the people of Oz ignored chemistry, electricity, and "modern science" in favor of magic. I stand by that.

In The Patchwork Girl of Oz, the Shaggy Man sings that "magic is a science." Now, "science" is kind of a broad term, really. Generally, it means a study of how certain things work. Already, you're likely seeing that Baum's studious Glinda and the Wizard are both examples of scientists if you consider magic a science.

Chemistry is a more scientifically advanced version of what was once called alchemy, which was considered magic. In The Patchwork Girl of Oz, we discover that some plants (seven leaf clovers) and even parts of animals (the Woozy's hairs and a wing of a yellow butterfly) contain magical elements. The thing to remember is that Dr. Pipt was still using an old form of magic, while Glinda has a remedy ready that does not require these specific ingredients. Apparently, Glinda's magic is much more advanced, meaning there have been some developments in magic in Oz.

In Glinda of Oz, we come across an advanced case of traditional science merged with magic in the submerged Skeezer City. Glinda, the Wizard, Ozma, and Dorothy discover that Queen Coo-ee-oh's magic sets into motion the machinery that raises and sinks the island and launches the submarine boats. This is accomplished through two old forms of magic: a magic word and a burning of a magic substance. Magic is science in Oz and it can operate technology. Magic words and substances react with the machines and make them operate, like electricity.

Baum also suggests the possibility of electric lights in Oz. He wisely doesn't come out and say "The lights were electric," but many homes and the Emerald City seem to be well-lit. In The Annotated Wizard of Oz, Michael Patrick Hearn suggests an electric light "as bright as the sun" may light the Wizard's throne room. Neill and Denslow do not show electric lights or any apparatus to turn them on or off, but in addition, few candles or lanterns are seen.

In Tik-Tok of Oz, Quox is given an electric light on his tail and one of the Ladies of Light is Electra, who represents electric lights. It is made perfectly clear here that electricity—and thus advancing technology—is part of this fairyland.

In The Road to Oz, we can see telephone lines outside of Jack Pumpkinhead's house, and in The Emerald City of Oz, a telephone is by Ozma in one picture. These are Neill's touches and not Baum's, but in Tik-Tok of Oz, Ozma and the Shaggy Man use small handheld devices to speak to each other while Ozma is in the Emerald City and the Shaggy Man is just above the Nome King's dominions. Not only does Oz have a phone service, it also has cell phones.

So, Oz wasn't keeping up with America's technology, it was actually far ahead of it.

Now, why doesn't this technology come into play in the Oz stories? Why can't Trot and Cap'n Bill whip out their cell phones when they're stuck on the Island of the Magic Flower and call Glinda or Ozma for help?

I think I have a very simple answer: the technology is there, but no one wants it.

If you view Oz as a whole history, now taking into account the entire Famous Forty, Thompson and Neill give us two big advancements in technology: the Ozoplanes and the Scalawagons. Oz has space ships and luxury cars. Ignoring changes in authors, by The Wonder City of Oz, an Ozoplane is grounded and being used as a (secondary?) home by Jack Pumpkinhead in the Emerald City. As soon as Lucky Bucky in Oz, use of Scalawagons seems to have dropped. And let's not forget what Shaggy, Ojo, Bungle, and the Woozy thought about Dr. Pipt's phonograph machine!

Why? Simply, the people of Oz prefer a simpler way of life, even if it does mean more work for them. Remember that these people don't die, so they got all the time in the world to kill and be set in their ways. Yes, a luxury Scalawagon might be more convenient, but it's not as much fun as adventuring down the yellow brick road. And frankly, the Ozoplanes seemed to have brought more trouble than good, likely shooting down their continued use.

I wouldn't be surprised if Oz has supercomputers and Ozma could keep an eye on what people say about her on the internet, but who wants the internet when you live in Oz?

So, was Baum's Oz ignorant of "modern science?" I say no. Magic is infused in their way of developing science and technology and the people in Oz are likely far ahead of us when it comes to technology, but a significant difference between Oz and America is that the people of Oz just are not interested in technology. Maybe someone who needs a special piece of equipment will be open to assistance, but most people just don't care about it. They have two good hands to work with, and that's what they feel like they need.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Forgotten Forest of Oz - Treasury Edition

And IDW releases The Forgotten Forest of Oz once more! Let's see... if we count all versions of Adventures of Oz as one printing, and then Little Adventures in Oz as another, this would be the third time.

From what it sounds like, they were reissuing graphic novels in an oversize "Treasury Edition" format. By oversize, I mean a little over 13 inches tall. That's a big book!

When Shanower was approached to have one of his Oz graphic novels reprinted in this format, he chose The Forgotten Forest of Oz, his favorite of his five graphic novels.

We've talked about Forgotten Forest before, in full spoilery detail, here. But for those who haven't read it before and don't want to be spoiled, but are interested, here's a shorter summary from my little review of the Little Adventures in Oz collections:
  • Wood Nymph Nelanthe is banished from the Forest of Burzee for kissing a mortal man. The King of the Trolls befriends her and makes her his queen, and she helps him plan an attack on Burzee. However, she wishes she could just forget and has her giant bat Nightshade steal some of the Water of Oblivion. When Nightshade accidentally brings back Dorothy and Toto, can our friends from Oz (including the Scarecrow and the Sawhorse) escape to warn the Forest of Burzee in time?
 I really enjoy this one, though while Shanower may find it his favorite, I think The Ice King of Oz rivals it as my favorite of his five. But, no matter. The story is well-done with some excellently developed characters and the artwork is superb as ever.

Of course, the oversize format allows you to enjoy the details of Shanower's artwork even more than before, though the large size might make you think twice before you take it to read somewhere other than home. (Particularly if you have the Little Adventures in Oz books.)

As for additional material, all the pictures that appeared for the story in the now out of print Adventures in Oz collection are reproduced here and then some. The front cover is completely new to this edition, while on the back is the cover representing the story first used for Little Adventures in Oz Vol. 2. The original edition's front cover is reproduced right after the story, so all three covers the story has had are present. The inside front cover shows the Scarecrow on the Yellow Brick Road, while the inside back cover is a biography of Shanower and a couple photos.

There are more character designs and preliminary art not found in Adventures in Oz and Shanower wrote a completely new appendix to go along with it. Also, when we get to the original ending, there is a third page that was not included in the original version. I won't spoil what happens on it, but it does answer a question I had about the story, though I did consider it an insignificant detail.

Just about the only negative thing to say is that there's a picture of Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow and the Sawhorse by the Forbidden Fountain after the story, and the picture quality is extremely soft. This is most noticeable on the writing on the fountain. Not sure what happened there, but that's a really minor niggle.

Overall, it's a nice new edition. There are likely Oz fans who already have three versions (original, Adventures, and Little Adventures) and they might balk at buying the same story yet again. Part of what hooked me was the price of only $10. That and Hungry Tiger Press was offering a limited bookplate with it for the first 100 customers, so why not?

Here's mine. I'm a little proud of ordering early in the morning two weeks ago now. Plus, Eric Shanower sketched a knotty-looking Sawhorse in my copy for me.

Get your copy from Hungry Tiger Press.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Dinamonster of Oz

In 1941, Kenneth Gage Baum, L. Frank Baum's fourth son, sent a manuscript to Reilly & Lee for an Oz book. It wasn't rejected, per se, but they decided not to publish it. Probably because they didn't want to drop John R. Neill as writer of the Oz series. They did consider the Baum name a possible selling point, but likely the immediate value was not impressive given they'd recently concluded 19 moderately successful years with Thompson.

Finally, in 1991, it was published, thanks to Kenneth's daughter, granddaughter, and Chris Dulabone, who published it under his Buckethead Enterprises of Oz imprint.

The Nome King has made a Dinamonster to invade Oz: a mechanical giant with cranes for arms, a three-story office building for a head, and trapdoors in its feet to capture people with. And its first Ozzy prisoners: Dorothy, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion.

Inside the Dinamonster, they meet a boy from Omaha named Tripp who has a rocket plane he built with his dad. He manages to use the plane to get to Oz to get help.

In Oz, Glinda and the Scarecrow join Tripp as they head back across the desert (which isn't deadly anymore... umm...) to rescue the captive Ozians. But, even if they can, can they stop the Dinamonster and the Nomes once and for all?

To be honest, this isn't a bad Oz story. But I do have to wonder: how familiar were Baum's sons with their father's work? Not only is the desert around Oz just a desert, the Magic Picture has been replaced with a telescope, and Ozma's on a retreat, and once she returns, I realized she was acting just like Glinda, and Glinda was acting just like Ozma.

An even bigger underestimation of his father's creation occurs in Kenneth claiming the people of Oz ignore "modern science," electricity, and chemistry in favor of magic. In the original Mr. Baum's work, Ozma, the Wizard, Glinda, and many other magic workers do all of these combined into one art, and, in fact, seem to be ahead of the Outside World, but the people of Oz seem to prefer a simpler way of life. (Probably something to do with immortality. They're set in their ways.) Blatantly saying they've been ignorant of it and saying they need to adopt it is just so un-Ozzy.

Tripp's a good, strong boy character, but he felt a lot like Speedy, who I would have preferred, though that would have been impossible.

Overall, I can see why Reilly & Lee said it would need work. A lot of the errors I pointed out could have been fixed and the story would have been intact. (Though given the editors they had on staff, I wouldn't have held my breath.) Kenneth does keep a good pace, but the inaccuracies are glaring, and the focus on introducing "modern science" to Oz bogs the story down because it is not needed.

Wait... Is it just me or is the idea of a mechanical giant invading a country reminding anyone of The Magical Monarch of Mo?

It's worthwhile reading for a curious story from the Baum family. The book edition, though, has a problem with footnotes added to attempt to explain the glaring inaccuracies. I think it would have been better if an editor had been brought on to correct the inaccuracies, or have them noted elsewhere, or not noted at all.

Dorothy Gita Morena provides illustrations, but as whimsical as they are, there are far too few.

The book is still available from Chris Dulabone for $10.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Box of Robbers - first pictures

Victor (Luke Seymour) stretches after confinement, much
to the surprise of Martha (McKenzie Lewis), in an outtake.
 My little brother Arthur was over here and we began editing his short film based on L. Frank Baum's "The Box of Robbers."

We didn't finish due to my video editor suddenly refusing to work, but he was sure he could finish editing it in class tomorrow.

He informed me that part of the assignment was that the film needed to be five minutes long, so he's going to create two different cuts: one short one for the assignment, and a longer one he'll release on YouTube. He's also expressed interest in a behind-the-scenes video featuring a lot of outtakes.
Victor (Luke), Luigi (Zach Robertson), and Beni (Zach Weber)
are surprised to discover they aren't in Italy anymore...

Just be warned about that, the cast is entirely composed of teenagers. Those are some rowdy bandits, as I've seen just by looking over the footage...

Arthur adapted the story very faithfully, though given he couldn't make it a period piece, he did a fine job of placing it in modern times.

I did ask about the possibility of putting it on DVD, but Arthur regrets that selling DVDs to Baum film collectors will not be possible because he used a camera from OTC, a state-funded college, meaning he can't sell footage shot with tax-funded cameras. (I did suggest the DVDs be sold at cost, and he said he'd ask.) He'd like to do commentary for it, since it's his first attempt at a seriously-done short film.

Finally, I made a suggestion as to when Arthur would put the full version on YouTube, and when I explained my suggestion, he agreed: May 15, 2012.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Aunt Jane's Nieces in the Red Cross

And now for the last Aunt Jane's Nieces book. It's been fun going over one of L. Frank Baum's non-fantasy series, and maybe I'll do it again soon.

I have two copies of Aunt Jane's Nieces in the Red Cross. The one you see in the above photo on the left is from 1915, as based on a gift inscription inside. The one on the right is from about 1918. It is still from Reilly & Britton, who would become Reilly & Lee shortly afterward.

The 1915 version was the first vintage Aunt Jane's Nieces book I bought as I found it for sale online for only $5, and it is worth so much more. Not only does it have its dustjacket, but the cover is also clean and the pages have barely yellowed. I noticed a spot where it looked like the page cracked somehow, but that was it. Very minimal damage and age has been quite kind to it! If I ever sold my Baum collection, I could bet on this one being a big seller. (No, I'm NOT interested in selling.)

The 1918 version hasn't been so lucky. The cover is quite dingy, the pages have yellowed, and the inner half of the front endpaper is missing.

So, why do I have two copies? We'll get to that.

The book finds A. (okay, they actually call him "Ajo," short for A. Jones) and Maud Stanton coming to visit Patsy, Beth, and Uncle John in their New York home. Maud is taking leave from her acting to serve in the Red Cross tending to those injured the war overseas, and Ajo is going to use his yacht, the Arabella, as a hospital ship. They convince Patsy, Beth, and Uncle John to join them.

Time for some history: in 1914, about the time Baum would have been writing the book, other countries were at war with Germany. The United States of America was hesitant to get involved, in fact, we didn't join the fight until 1917, making this war that we ignored overseas World War I.

Uncle John is hesitant to get involved. Quite possibly one of the best exchanges of dialogue in Baum's work occurs in this book:
"Foreigners," said Uncle John weakly.
"Human beings," said the boy.
 Right there, Baum makes his stance clear: it doesn't matter if these people are American or Belgian or French or German: they are people and that's why they deserve help.

A skilled but disfigured surgeon called Dr. Gys joins the company. They stock up on medical supplies and after getting the proper documentation, head overseas to serve with the Red Cross for what will be three months.

Baum makes a rare anti-drug statement through Dr. Gys when Beth praises the effects of morphine for patients:
"Morphine," he replied, "has destroyed more people than it has saved. You play with fire when you feed it to anyone, under any circumstances. Nevertheless, I believe in its value on an expedition of this sort, and that is why I loaded up on the stuff. Let me advise you never to tell a patient that we are administering morphine. The result is all that he is concerned with and it is better he should not know what has relieved him."
During their time overseas, they are aided by a Belgian they call Maurie who says he's been separated from his wife and children because of the war. However, they discover his wife and her two children during their time overseas and she claims he's a scoundrel and spy. They don't believe her until one night he disappears with a German prisoner of war who was being treated on the ship, which causes them to fall out of favor with the local authorities.

Patsy helps a seemingly fatally-wounded soldier find his missing wife, and Dr. Gys makes a surgical experiment and manages to help the man recover.

Dr. Gys himself claims to be cowardly and wants to redeem himself. A few times, he has acted boldly and rashly around the soldiers. However, he knows he is of more service tending the ill and wounded and helping death come easily to those he cannot save. However, he makes no secret that he longs to die and be rid of his disfigured body.

Baum doesn't lighten up at all in this story: this is war. This isn't funny. This isn't happy. The tone is keenly felt throughout the book.

Finally, one day they are stationed just outside a battlefield and Patsy and Dr. Gys are trying to help a wounded man back to the ship when a piece of shrapnel kills Dr. Gys. Having had enough of the war, realizing more help will be coming from other countries, and noting they have lost their most valuable asset in Dr. Gys, they decide to return home.

That ending was all right for the neutral America in 1915, but when America entered the war in 1917, it smacked of poor taste. Basically, war was viewed as a wasteful thing, and the girls were simply commended for being unselfish in a matter that shouldn't have concerned them.

Not only was America involved with World War I in 1917, Baum's family was involved as two of his sons were serving in the war. The ending of the book was now no longer relevant, and it furthermore dated it, meaning sales of future copies would be low.

So, Baum revised the ending. That is why I have two copies: these are the two different versions. Tip for collectors, the first version has 20 chapters, while the second has 24 and the copyright page lists copyrights for both 1915 and 1918. Any version published by Reilly & Lee would be the later version.

The new version seems to have been released silently and it was not a big reissue. The only changes in front matter are the copyright page and the table of contents which looks cramped compared with past books. I didn't compare the books fully, but if there were any text edits before chapter 20, they were done very carefully so few new plates needed to be prepared, because all the paging is exactly the same.

The story is the same as before, until they arrive at the battlefield where Dr. Gys met his end in the original version. Here, instead of Patsy trying to get to a fallen soldier, they see a cameraman boldly taking footage of the war. A shell lands near him, ruining his camera and injuring him badly. Dr. Gys braves the field and recovers the cameraman and his film.

The cameraman is named Charlie Holmes and used to work with Maud in her movie studio. However, his injuries require him to have an arm amputated. He puts the best face he can on it.

Uncle John thinks Dr. Gys is being too rash and bold and putting many of them in unnecessary danger. Ajo thinks Uncle John is still against helping the wounded, but the old man is thinking nothing of the sort:
"No, said he, "we won't go home. We'll merely behave ourselves. I wasn't much interested in this venture at first, but the sacred mission on which we have embarked has grown upon me day by day; I am beginning to understand the horrors of war as I never imagined they could exist, and I thank God that we have had the opportunity to save so many brave men from suffering and perhaps death. I was drawn into this enterprise against my wish, as you will remember, but now that I'm in it, I mean to stay in it! My duty is here, in these stricken countries devastated by German cruelty, and I'm glad to be able to furnish brains and money to mitigate the suffering this inhuman war is causing to the poor soldiers and sailors who do their duty and ask no questions, but are crushed between the millstones of national diplomacy. They are my brothers, and, please God, I'll stand by them to the end. If you want to go home, Jones, take your ship and go. If any of the rest of you care to desert, go—now or whenever you please. But understand this: John Merrick is on the job just as long as he can be of use to his fellow creatures."
Applause for Mr. Baum there.

They continue their work and soon borrow a second skilled surgeon named Godrayal, who considers Gys to be lacking in skill. (Godrayal is credited with replacing a man's leg with that of another.) One day, while working on the fields, Gys is injured and is only semi-conscious. Godrayal not only operates on him, but attempts to restore his features from his old disfigurement. And, to the surprise of all, the experiment is successful and a very handsome Gys is the result.

The book tells us they were serving in the war yet, Maud and Charlie Holmes getting engaged to each other, and Beth soon falls in love with Dr. Gys and they are engaged as well. As almost a footnote, we are informed Patsy and Ajo begin to fall in love as well, and it is just as well that Uncle John "lost" Patsy to a husband last as she was his favorite. And then: THE END.

Aunt Jane's Nieces in the Red Cross was the final book in the series, despite it being one of the best selling series for Baum and Reilly & Britton. Given the serious tone and how the girls put aside their playful nature and work hard, further adventures would only feel like steps backward for the characters. In the revised version, even Uncle John has finally "grown up."

Being struck by how mature Baum could be after reading so many of his juveniles and all his adult novels, this one was really sobering and I'm putting it forward as one of Baum's best books. The character development over the series isn't the smoothest or the best, but here, Baum proved he could make his characters mature and stay in character. This was quite an accomplishment for any writer and Baum handled it well, even though I suspect his failing health and stress over his family in the war were a huge factor in the revision.

Oddly enough, it is the 1915 edition's text that comes up online these days and used in the poorly-done print on demand editions. Those may be typeset well and may be well-bound, but they do not include the original pictures and few use the original cover pictures. That was why when I decided to collect the series, I went for old editions. And I feel sure that insisting on older editions taught me quite a bit about the series' history.

Edith Van Dyne would continue with the new Mary Louise series, the first five of which are by Baum. (I think I have heard the fifth might be largely rewritten.) After Baum's death, this series was continued briefly. However, I don't own all of these yet. I'm keeping an eye out, though.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Royal Podcast of Oz: Rankin-Bass in Oz

Sam and Jared discuss the very 60s treatment given to Baum's stories and characters with Rankin-Bass' Tales of the Wizard of Oz and the Return to Oz special. Get ready to sing along!

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

   
   
   
   
   
   

   
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Weekly Update: 'Dorothy of Oz' Trailer

Wait, what? There's an actual trailer for 'Dorothy of Oz'? You heard right... ET Online has a sneak peek at the first trailer for the animated musical, and... it looks nice actually! Watch it below...




Other than that, the 'Dorothy and the Witches of Oz' movie has a couple more reviews; and they're both very positive! Read them here and here. Meanwhile, the 'Witches of Oz' mini-series cut has been getting some pretty bad reviews that I won't link to here...

A Facebook page for the sequel to 'Dorothy and the Witches of Oz' has launched on Facebook as well... check that out here.

That's it for now, kiddos...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West

Okay, there are now three issues out of this new take on Oz. Dorothy is a cowgirl who goes by "Gale" with a black horse named Toto and ruby spurs and guns she's picked up in this western wasteland known as Oz.

Gale is helped out by a tough old man who's nicknamed "Tin Man," and she helps free a timid lion from a saloon. She also meets an enigmatic native-American-looking girl who seems to be made of straw somehow.

Traveling to the big city to see the Wizard isn't easy, with many obstacles winking and nodding to Baum's original story, and we get Kalidahs and a surprise reference to The Patchwork Girl of Oz. It also doesn't help Gale that she's being tracked by a Wicked Witch.

A big complaint I've had with comics lately is too little story per issue, and it's felt keenly in the first two issues. The story has many nice set pieces, but the actual plot makes little development until issue three, the current, which finally kicks into gear and moves along at a rapid-fire pace.

I'll stick around for the remaining three issues. This take on Oz is unique and enjoyable, and the artwork is lovely. There's also a lot of variant covers for each issue, and they've confirmed that there will be a trade paperback for those who'd rather not collect individual issues or for the completist. And it seems that they'll put some extra content in there as well.

Well, let's see how this goes. We've got another lovely time with Oz comics with Marvel's series, the Dorothy of Oz prequel series, and this one, too.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Aunt Jane's Nieces Out West

On to the penultimate Aunt Jane's Nieces book. My copy is in good shape, but it's definitely not a first edition. An advertisement lists the entire series, and it also lacks a frontispiece. I found it on Google Books, though.

Out West might make you think "Cowboys!" "Mountains!" "Horses!"

Nope. In fact, if you ask me, the book should have been called Aunt Jane's Nieces in Hollywood.

Beth and Patsy are spending the winter in Hollywood with Uncle John, and are noting the booming film industry.

We know Baum was very much interested in the film industry, and in fact, this is the book for 1914, when he spent a lot of time working with the Oz Film Manufacturing Company, so likely the book drew from a lot of the research into film Baum had done into creating, manufacturing, and distributing of motion pictures.

While attending a premiere of a film that Beth and Patsy accidentally guest-starred in, they meet another set of Aunt Jane's nieces: Maud and Flo Stanton, nieces of Jane Montrose, who cares for the two girls who have become popular movie stars. Soon, they all become fast friends (Louise and Arthur rejoin the company, Inez and baby Jane making a fleeting cameo) and enjoy each other's company.

While visiting a beach, Patsy spots a young man drowning, and thanks to Maud's swimming and Arthur's quick use of a boat, they manage to save him.

The group quickly draws the young man into their company: he is a sickly fellow named A. Jones (the A. meaning nothing at all), who says he is from an island named Sangoa. His parents are dead and he is their sole heir. However, being ill, he is very careful of his diet: all his dietician allows him to eat are regular wafers, which are providing him with little nutrition.

Patsy being Patsy decides to take A.'s life into her own hands again and forces him to eat a solid meal. This does wonders and he soon realizes he actually can stomach normal food.

A. proves enigmatic. He's not very forthcoming with his life. He's rich, and he says it is because Sangoa has a thriving pearl industry. And surprisingly, he holds a lot of sway with Maud and Flo's manager.

Beth and Patsy come up with an idea to produce films for children and have theaters designed for them. A. offers to back the project. However, these plans seem to meet an early demise as a detective arrives and claims A. is actually Jack Andrews, an international pearl thief! Uncle John, Arthur, the Nieces, and the movie starlets cannot believe this claim, but soon A. is put under arrest and they have to scramble to find the truth of A.'s life and prove his innocence!

Once again, Baum uses his regular pacing for non-fairy tales: build a cast of characters, engage them, add a mystery, and throw in an exciting climax. Well, if it isn't broke, don't fix it...

Baum writes very well on the subjects of making films and pearls. It seems he definitely researched his subjects carefully and made them sound much more authentic. Though, really, the film industry has certainly changed since 1914 as Baum's story reveals.

Also, Baum blatantly draws from his life in naming the starlets. "Maud" was the name of his wife, of course, and "Stanton" was his mother's maiden name, which he later gave to his son Robert as a middle name, and used in his pseudonym Schuyler Staunton. It is Roger S. Baum's middle name.

I've more or less given up hope of seeing Mumbles or Myrtle again in this series... Boy, did I think wrong when I read Aunt Jane's Nieces and Uncle John.

One more book left, and it's going to be an odd one to look at. It's an L. Frank Baum book with two different endings.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Coming soon!

So, remember when I told you how I shared Oz and Baum with my younger siblings?

Well, I mentioned my little brother Arthur was a fledgling cartoonist and filmmaker. The latter being that he's studying at OTC (a local college) on how to make films.

A recent assignment he had was to select a short story and adapt it for film. He asked me, so I suggested L. Frank Baum's "The Suicide of Kiaros," and he fell in love with it. However, he later came back and told me it had to be a children's story.

So, I reminded him of the stories I'd retell to him, Gen, and Daniel when we still lived together with mom and dad, specifically "The Box of Robbers" and "The Magic Bon Bons" from Baum's American Fairy Tales.

After looking it over, he selected "The Box of Robbers." He quickly wrote a script and worked out 85 shots to tell the story in.

And today on Facebook, he posted this photo:

"Is that the set?" I commented.

"Yup," he replied.

He's the guy on the left.

I guess production's underway. He's explained that they couldn't set it quite in the proper time period and he made some other allowances for the small cast and fairly nonexistent budget, but overall, it will be Baum's little story.

I'm looking forward to it.

He'd still like to take a shot at "The Suicide of Kiaros," though.

Urban Oz

As I'm sure you know, if only from the MGM movie, the Emerald City is the capital of the Land of Oz. It's also the only real city in the country. Sure, there are other places with "city" in the names, but they'd all be small towns by our standards. The Munchkin capital, the Sapphire City, has only around 1000 inhabitants, and I suspect most of the rest have less. The city of the Skeezers has a population of a mere hundred. The Emerald City, as per The Emerald City of Oz and The Gnome King of Oz boasts a population of 57,318, and I doubt it's changed much since then. While officially built by the Wizard of Oz, he doesn't appear to have worked totally from nothing. According to Pajuka in Lost King, Pastoria had a palace where the Emerald City now stands. My guess is that whatever settlement was there was largely destroyed by the Wicked Witches, and the Wizard had his subjects build on the ruins. It's definitely a planned city, rather than one that grew up gradually, and there's a high wall around it with four gates. One odd detail revealed in Wonderful Wizard is that it only appears green when inhabitants and visitors wear green glasses, but when the glasses are abandoned in later books, there's no indication that its color was diminished. Emerald City tells us, "The Emerald City is built all of beautiful marbles in which are set a profusion of emeralds, every one exquisitely cut and of very great size. There are other jewels used in the decorations inside the houses and palaces, such as rubies, diamonds, sapphires, amethysts and turquoises. But in the streets and upon the outside of the buildings only emeralds appear, from which circumstance the place is named the Emerald City of Oz." Was the city redecorated during Ozma's reign, or what? We don't know. Another oddity regarding the city is that it wasn't until John R. Neill took over as Royal Historian that any of the streets were named. Neill chose primarily alliterative names related to food: Strawberry Street (a street name I've occasionally come across in our own mundane world), Banana Boulevard, Doughnut Drive, Celery Street, Apple Alley, and Pumpkin Place. An old Baum Bugle article included a diagram of the city based largely on Neill's text and drawings, but while I do have the article somewhere, it's not readily available at the moment.

The most popular image of the Emerald City is the one in the movie, but I've never been particularly satisfied with how it came out. Actually, I like the pictures of the capital in the distance, which maintain the domed houses that L. Frank Baum says are the norm in Oz. What I'm not so keen on are the scenes that take place inside the city, which indeed make it look green and richly decorated, but it comes off as more like one building than a whole city. The one building that the cast visits other than the palace is the Wash and Brush-Up Company, which looks like a room. And when Dorothy and her friends are waiting outside the palace, they use a carpet to simulate a royal robe for the Cowardly Lion during his "King of the Forest" number. Unless there's an awards ceremony going on, how often do you see carpets outdoors?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Aunt Jane's Nieces on the Ranch

"Keep an eye on Aunt Jane's Nieces for me, and if they try to leave the ranch... I don't know what you can do."

That was what I told my brother earlier this week when I'd taken my copy of Aunt Jane's Nieces on the Ranch out with us when we went out for dinner. I had to go to the bathroom, so I left the book with him with that warning.

When I got back, he told me Louise tried to leave. Hmm...

Anyway, you can see my copy there, and the front cover picture has gotten some wear over the years. (I actually ran it through Photoshop before posting, so my book actually doesn't look that bright.) If we go by the advertisement again, it could be an original edition, but the frontispiece is missing. However, I have a scan of that from when it was inserted into a late edition of Aunt Jane's Nieces.

And now for the story, probably one of Baum's least complex for the series. (Not that the stories were complex, it's just... never mind.)

It must be at least 14 months since the last book, because Louise has a five-month old baby and is now living with Arthur in a newly-bought ranch in California. Uncle John yearns to see the baby, who is named Jane, and decides to head out to California once again with Louise, Beth, and the Major. Upon hearing the baby was cured from congestion with a home remedy by a Mexican nurse named Inez, Uncle John hires a trained nurse named Mildred Travers to assist in caring for Baby Jane.

Louise is thrilled to have her guests and welcomes Mildred, though Inez is not happy to share duty. In fact, Inez suspects Mildred of being a witch! She told Inez how to open a secret room to store the milk in, and how else would she have known if she didn't have magical powers?

One day, Louise, Arthur, Uncle John, the Major, Beth, and Patsy leave Jane in the care of the two nurses to meet some neighbors. But when they come back home, baby and nurses are gone! None of the other servants saw them leave, but they are not there.

A few desperate scenarios are thought of. Maybe one nurse ran off with the baby and was pursued by the other. Maybe one nurse murdered the other and ran off with the baby. Maybe they're in cahoots!

Fortunately, none of those are true. The truth is, all three are alive and well and nearer than anyone at the ranch may suspect! And the key to this mystery lies in the secret identity of Mildred Travers.

Baum handles Mexicans in this book, unfortunately spelling out a stereotypical dialect for them. (Inez pronounces "Mildred" as "Meeldred.") He also refutes the idea that Mexicans are dishonest and lazy, despite having the long-term servant Miguel often depicted as sleepy. However, he does introduce the idea that they are not perfect: Inez wants to kill Mildred when she suspects her of being a witch, and Miguel has a secret he's hiding. Baum reminds us that the Nieces weren't always such nice people in the beginning, so there is the idea that "yes, Mexicans aren't perfect, but neither are Americans," but for some reason, flawed characters of other ethnic groups get a really bad rap.

I said this wasn't complex. It's pretty straightforward with a small cast of characters, compared to some of the other Aunt Jane's Nieces books. The wonderful thing about Baum is that when he focuses a core group on a task (like the rescue party in Glinda of Oz), it can get really exciting! And when he has a large cast doing many things, it is more like a wonderful romp. This one falls into the former category, and I love reading this type of Baum story.

Two more books left!

Friday, April 13, 2012

What to write now?

So, Outsiders from Oz has been out for over a month now. It hasn't been selling quickly, I must admit. Hopefully people are just waiting for reviews to come in and the option to purchase it on Amazon. (Though Amazon eats up over half of the markup.)

I don't plan to do a "sequel" to Outsiders with the same characters and a similar premise. However, those that have read the book know that at the end a couple mysterious characters pop up that may or may not be followed up on later. I do plan on telling their story. However, the book will be very different from Outsiders. I'm trying to plan it as a book of short stories connected only by the lead characters, kind of like The Magical Monarch of Mo. It'll be fun because the idea I have in mind will allow the characters to go anywhere and get caught up in just about any situation.

My take on Princess Truella of Mo from Outsiders will join the Royal Explorers of Oz in the second volume of that series, expected this summer. However, I'm really not quite as involved in Royal Explorers as the author credits might have you think. I helped a lot in the conceptual process, but when it comes to writing, it's mainly on Marcus and Jeff.

While I took some liberty in the first book, tossing out the first chapter and rewriting it, my work on the second book is much more minimal. Basically, I went through and made sure Marcus and Jeff were treating "my" characters right. (I've adopted Bobo and Truella.) My writing is less than two sentences in that book, because it's a cracking good story and there wasn't much to add by the time I got around to it. If you weren't satisfied with the first one, the second book is going to make up for that. I really look forward to taking a look at the third one!

I have a story idea I think I'll write before attempting the follow-up to Outsiders: it's a sequel to Dot and Tot of Merryland, a short story that catches up with "Dot" and "Tot" 18 years after their journey in Merryland and we see what kind of people they've become.

As for other writing, I submitted an essay to the next Winkie Convention program book. In the past, spare copies have been sold before and after the Convention, so if you're not going, you could still get a copy. Maybe. And even if you're not going, you might want to consider contributing something to the program book yourself.

Also, keep an eye out for Oziana as I understand work I've submitted will be included in the next two issues, the first coming out later this year.

... I'm everywhere, aren't I?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Do Come Orphan On Again

Is there any significant narrative reason for Dorothy to be an orphan living with her aunt and uncle? It's often the case that someone not living with their parents leads to a later reveal, about how they're the child of a god, royalty, great wizards, or a Dark Lord of the Sith. While we do see this motif used in the Oz books, as with Tip/Ozma and a whole bunch of Ruth Plumly Thompson's characters, no such information is forthcoming about Dorothy. In fact, all we learn about her parents appears in a single statement in The Emerald City of Oz: "As for Uncle Henry, he thought his little niece merely a dreamer, as her dead mother had been." So Henry knew her mother, but we don't know whether he was related to her or to Dorothy's father. Another literary reason for someone living with people other than biological parents is based on the idea that people don't provide the same kind of love for kids they didn't contribute in creating. Some people even seem to believe this in real life, which I think is hogwash, but it can be a convenient shorthand in fiction. Caretakers who aren't parents can be well-meaning but misguided (Luke Skywalker's Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru), abusive (the Dursleys in the Harry Potter series), or even downright vindictive (Vasilisa's stepmother in the Russian fairy tale). It seems to me that L. Frank Baum originally presented Dorothy's caretakers in the well-meaning but distant category, as suggested in the description in Wonderful Wizard:

When Aunt Em came there to live she was a young, pretty wife. The sun and wind had changed her, too. They had taken the sparkle from her eyes and left them a sober gray; they had taken the red from her cheeks and lips, and they were gray also. She was thin and gaunt, and never smiled now. When Dorothy, who was an orphan, first came to her, Aunt Em had been so startled by the child's laughter that she would scream and press her hand upon her heart whenever Dorothy's merry voice reached her ears; and she still looked at the little girl with wonder that she could find anything to laugh at.

Uncle Henry never laughed. He worked hard from morning till night and did not know what joy was. He was gray also, from his long beard to his rough boots, and he looked stern and solemn, and rarely spoke.


Dorothy initially appears to be closer to Em, as evidenced by her telling the Silver Shoes, "Take me home to Aunt Em!" When we see her again in Ozma,however, she's making a journey to Australia with Uncle Henry, and it looks like this brought the two of them closer together.

In later books, being an orphan is often a way for a character to come to live in Oz without leaving loved ones behind, as it is for Bob Up in Thompson's Cowardly Lion and Robin Brown in the McGraws' Merry Go Round. On the other hand, Speedy is described as an orphan and Peter Brown appears to be one as well, but they both have relatives they're loath to leave (an uncle in the former case and a grandfather in the latter). Trot and Button-Bright are weird in this respect, as they are both implied to come from two-parent households (well, Trot's father is away at sea, but apparently still alive), yet still come to Oz to live with no apparent consideration taken for grieving parents. And we know nothing at all about the parents or relatives of Betsy Bobbin or Jenny Jump. This is probably due to the fact that both were originally conceived of as adults (Betsy in the play on which Tik-Tok was based and Jenny in John R. Neill's original Wonder City manuscript), but how hard would it have been to have inserted a reference or two to their caretakers?

Two More Wizards

Okay, these will be the last story records I'm looking at in awhile because I'm not aware of any more records I want to get too soon and the weather is starting to warm up, and in Missouri, it can get hot. And since I have these records sent to me and they usually arrive on days I work, they sit outside for a bit, and I don't want to take the risk of them warping.

First off is Art Carney reading a short adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. This recording was re-released many times in a variety of forms. My copy is a regular 33rpm record with a reading of the classic Poky Little Puppy, the song "Little Fat Policeman," and a really short story and song about "Brave Cowboy Bill." Art Carney is only on the Oz track.

And take a look at the producer: Golden Records. Yep, here's their Wizard of Oz, though their Wizard of Oz Returns really dwarfs this one.

My copy's sleeve is pretty badly beaten up, in that it is no longer a sleeve, but two pieces of cardboard. Lovely.

This Wizard runs eight minutes, and licensed four songs from the MGM movie: "Over the Rainbow," "We're Off To See The Wizard," "Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead," and "The Merry Old Land of Oz."

Art Carney's retelling takes on a less linear style to the story. It introduces Dorothy and says she'd like to visit other countries, spurring a bouncy "Over the Rainbow." It then tells us how the tornado took Dorothy to Oz, and then says she met all sorts of strange people, like the Wicked Witches, and the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion, and we are told what they wanted. Then we're told about the Wizard, and that gives us "We're Off To See The Wizard."

In the Emerald City, we're given "The Merry Old Land of Oz," which has the expanded opening with "There's a garden spot I'm told..." We are told the Wizard sees them one at a time and tasks them to kill the Wicked Witch of the West, which is said to be difficult, but all it took was a bucket of water because "the Witch was made of brown sugar." This spurs "Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead."

Then the story wraps up with an explanation that the Wizard granted their wishes, Dorothy's needing the help of a magical pair of silver slippers. And when Dorothy's home, there's a reprise of "Over the Rainbow."

Overall, not a very special version. Short and sweet, some nice takes on the songs, but I wouldn't recommend this one unless you're a completist. There isn't a voice cast, just Art telling the story and people singing the songs.

The other record has also been re-released many times. It's a retelling by Peter Pan Records and was released as a readalong with a 45 rpm record, though the book was reillustrated a few times and the opening was changed out. (I found a version online introduced by Barney the Book Bear, but when I played my copy, it was a deep, grandfatherly voice calling himself a Peter Pan storyteller. Maybe the one I found online was from a cassette version.) 
It was also released as a lead feature on a 33rpm without gaps for page turns. I found a nice transfer of that on YouTube, so you can actually go there and give it a listen.

The story runs 5 and a half minutes in the non-readalong form and uses a small cast for the principal characters and a small chorus. There are three original and very short songs, the lyrics of which are in the book.

The story opens with the song "We're On Our Way," then we are introduced to Dorothy, but we are told that her trip to Oz happens when she's walking home (from school, maybe?) when she sees a tornado and runs into a nearby house. (The illustration, however, shows Aunt Em inside.) And we know what happens with the house...

In Oz, there is no Wicked Witch of the East, and the Munchkins greet her with the song "We're A Happy Bunch Of Munchkins." The Munchkins then direct her to the Emerald City, and inbetween meeting her friends, the "We're On Our Way" song is reprised.

The Emerald City is reached with no mishap, and the Wizard, a man in a crown, tasks them to destroy the Wicked Witch of the West, who immediately sends her Winged Monkeys to capture Dorothy and her friends. Dorothy's friends are kept in a cell, while Dorothy is made to work, singing the song, "Somewhere."

Hearing Dorothy's song, the Witch threatens her, forcing Toto to bite the Witch, making the Witch strike Toto, making Dorothy throw the water on the Witch.  She melts, leaving behind the Silver Shoes.

The Wizard says this adventure proves that the Scarecrow has a brain, the Tin Woodman has a heart, and the Lion has courage. And that's a cop-out, since they were in a cell the whole time, making that the biggest flaw in this program. Surely they could have had the Wizard present them with the actual things, since this is just audio.

The Wizard tells Dorothy to use the Silver Shoes, which she instantly does, sending her home, the chorus ending with a musical flourish: "And that's the wonderful story of the wonderful wizard of Oz!"

I actually like the little songs, though they've been criticized as derivative of the MGM movie's songs. It's easy to match up "We're On Our Way" with "Off To See the Wizard," "Somewhere" with "Over the Rainbow," and "We're A Happy Bunch Of Munchkins" with "We Welcome You To Munchkinland," but they did a nice job with the songs nonetheless.

The story adaptation was very basic but suitable, though the "you had what you needed all along" bit doesn't work if Dorothy's friends can't get a chance to show that they do.

Did some of these record producers just have an aversion to Good Witches? They omitted them in both of these and the Snagglepuss album.

So, overall, this one is worth picking up in some form, especially since you can probably find it for a pretty cheap price.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Nathan's Review of Marvel Comics' Ozma of Oz

Ozma of Oz, by L. Frank Baum, adapted by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young - The third of the Marvel Comics versions of the Oz books continues the trend of the first two, with a script quite faithful to the book, and drawings not much like John R. Neill's at all. Young's somewhat deformed style works pretty well on what Baum himself probably would have called "grotesques." When rendering a character who's said to be traditionally beautiful, however, the result is often somewhat odd. His Princess Langwidere bears an odd resemblance to Divine, which I can appreciate on its own level, but isn't much like the character is described in the book. I do quite like Young's Nome King, who really isn't that different from Neill's aside from having somewhat more cartoonish expressions, but his other Nomes didn't sit too well with me. If they weren't gray, I'd think they were supposed to be some sort of vegetable people. Other interesting touches are that the Nome King's Chief Steward is specifically identified as Kaliko, and that Omby Amby has his long green beard. I suppose these were done to somewhat ease the transition in between books, since Eric is coming at this project with the gift of hindsight that Baum obviously didn't have.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Aunt Jane's Nieces on Vacation

Looking over my collection of Aunt Jane's Nieces books, I find it interesting to look at how my books have aged.

The book at hand, Aunt Jane's Nieces on Vacation, has aged rather well, aside from a nasty smudge on the corner on the front corner.

Using the advertisement just before the title page, this could be a first edition, as the titles are listed up to this book.
And there's also a gift inscription from someone's Aunt May to her niece May for Christmas, 1913, meaning that this copy cannot have been printed after 1913.

What strikes me is how white the pages are. However, this can depend on a number of factors.

First off, paper stock. For the early runs, they used nice stock for printing, but as the reprints began to happen, eventually the paper stock is changed to something pulpier that doesn't age as well.

My copy of Aunt Jane's Nieces Abroad, for example, has the correct frontispiece, a front cover image, and the fancy stamping. However, it's a Reilly & Lee edition, and has paper I handled gingerly while reading the book, because it felt brittle. In addition, some of the latter Reilly & Lee books I bought that I later gave to the Club for auctions had much the same type of paper. It's just business, if a book stays in print, it must be cost-effective.

Another is handling. As I mentioned, aside from the stain on the cover, the book is very clean. In fact, it's the nicest cover in my reading so far, with a notable cream color. (For some reason when I scan these, it takes on a light red tint. Perhaps the scanner light is revealing the color of the boards the cloth covers.) If a book has been taken care of properly and not exposed to the elements, it can stay in good condition for a long time.

Also, I have read that your choice of bookshelves can play a part. Wooden bookshelves are actually not the best, unless they've been treated properly. Acids from the wood can react with the paper in the book and make it age faster. A good lacquer can help prevent this, but for me, I prefer a metal shelf or plastic tubs.

And now I should get to this book!

The nieces are back in Millville! And this time, Louise and Arthur are in the group. Myrtle, Mr. Jones, and Mumbles are not mentioned at all. It was typical of Baum not to go over characters who weren't in the story, but I did wonder why Patsy didn't bring her dog Mumbles along.

The nieces take it into their heads to start a daily newspaper for Millville: The Millville Daily Tribune. Uncle John funds the project, and eventually, the girls begin their paper in a little storage shed behind the hardware store in Millville. They hire a Bohemian girl artist named Hetty from New York, whose rough ways contrast sharply with the nieces.

Trouble arises soon as some employees begin to leave, and a man named Thursday Smith is hired as the paper begins to shave off extra costs. However, the people working at the electric mill don't like Mr. Smith and want him gone and make trouble for the paper.

Thursday proves an interesting character: he can only remember his life from a point about two years before he arrived in Millville, when he found himself in a ditch in the country. He has been unsuccessful in discovering his past life, so he has attempted to start over fresh. Uncle John, however, is interested and hires detective Fogerty to discover who Thursday was.

It's here Baum really draws from his life. Millville seems to be a stripped down version of Aberdeen, South Dakota, where Baum lived and ran a weekly newspaper for a time. Hetty seems to be based on W. W. Denslow, except her rougher spots get polished.

One little part from the book, according to Baum family tradition, was lifted directly from his life. While announcing a social event, the daughter of an unsavory farmer is described as having a "roughish" smile when the word "roguish" was intended. The farmer swears revenge at Arthur, who is the editor in chief in name only, and someone suggests they duel. As they step out into the street and start walking away at paces, Arthur KEEPS walking, until he is stopped and told the farmer is doing the same thing. He turns back and fires a few shots, looking like the hero.

However, I do have to note that stories in the Baum family traditions have proved questionable over the years. Perhaps there is some basis in fact, but Baum was known for exaggerating details to make a good story.

Additional humor arises as a couple old acquaintances from Millville submit amateur entries to the paper, but Baum brings more pressing matters to the forefront. The Tribune, he reminds us, is not a cost-effective paper. And as lofty as the nieces' intentions are, they can't run it forever, and the troublesome folk at the mill, helped by a crooked politician who wanted the paper's support for re-election but was turned down. The staff of the Tribune is eventually stripped down to just Hetty and Thursday. And who is Thursday, anyway?

So, can the Tribune keep going daily, or will it meet a premature demise before the Nieces have to pack up and go back to New York?

Aunt Jane's Nieces on Vacation was odd in the case that it's called a vacation, but they start a business which they actively take part in. But it was a good read. And, yes, you can guess a neat ending occurs, though on the penultimate page, Baum suddenly gives the ending a twist, something I've never seen him do before.

I got the next couple days off, and I normally read on the way to and from work, so who knows what I'll read next. I'm already thinking about what I should save to read on the trip to Winkies in four months, and I know I won't want to be carting around my Aunt Jane's Nieces books halfway across the country. I'm also thinking I should get back to reading my supply of Oziana. I've only read the first issue, the 1990 issue, and the most recent since 2006 and the one from 2003. I don't want to take Oziana on that long trip, either...

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Comics!

I got three comics this week.
  • Dorothy of Oz: The Prequel #1
 The Jester arrives at the Wicked Witch of the West's castle and takes control of the flying monkeys. And then sends them to capture the mayor of Munchkinland, who he turns into a puppet. And the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion begin planning their defense.

I had assumed the prequel comic at Wondercon was the beginning of this, but this is a new comic entirely, and has even less story in more pages. I hope they do something interesting in the remaining three issues, or it looks like a case of lather, rinse, repeat. The art's pretty nice, though.

Eric Shanower does the covers, and as much as I love his art, I am not a fan of the character designs. So, surprisingly, I now have least-favorite Shanower Oz art... (I guess it had to happen.)

Overall, if this series is supposed to get me excited about the movie, it's not doing it.
  • The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles: Book One
Here's one that might have been worth waiting for in this form. This miniseries was released on an irregular annual basis. Thus, keeping track of the story was pretty difficult.

The artwork is amazing, though, using an extremely realistic look to reinterpret the original illustrations of John R. Neill and John Tenniel. Dorothy, however, definitely owes a bit of a nod to Judy Garland.

For some reason, everyone who has come to Oz to live from America has decided to return. Somehow, an adult Dorothy meets an adult Alice and are roommates with other girls. (One of them being based on Susan from The Chronicles of Narnia.)

A new Wicked Witch has arisen in Oz and is taking all the magic and using the Nomes in a plot to ... resurrect Uncle Henry? The Witch takes over the Emerald City and throws Ozma in a dungeon. Ruggedo goes to Wonderland to summon the Jabberwock and take it to Oz, which will briefly take it through America as well.

So, Dorothy and Alice are led by the Wizard to Oz (in a nod to Thompson, Dorothy becomes a little girl in Oz) and have to discover how to foil the witch's scheme once and for all.

I'm not a huge fan of Oz and Wonderland crossovers. To me, Oz is a fairy kingdom, while Wonderland is a little girl's dream. Keep these fantasies separate. Besides, why do you need the Jabberwock when Baum already gave us the Rak? The characters are nicely kept in character, though, and it's an interesting enough story to keep you reading, but I cannot accept it as Oz canon in any terms.

Book Two will be coming out next month, collecting the spin-off series The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles: Jack and Cat Tales, which I wish I'd known earlier as I bought some of the issues but couldn't find the first one for sale. Guess I got more fodder for the Winkie Swap Meet...
  • Betty and Veronica Storybook
I remember when we heard that the Betty and Veronica Digest #188 would feature the story "There's No Place Like Riverdale!", an Archie Comics take off on The Wizard of Oz. However, I couldn't find a copy for sale anywhere. But recently, someone brought this graphic novel to my attention that featured it as the third of four stories, all taking off of fantasy tales.

Although the book is featured in the beginning and the graphic novel mentions the original Baum book, this story is clearly influenced by the MGM movie.

Betty, looking for things to put in a yard sale, gets hit on the head after beginning to re-read the book. Her house is then carried off by a tornado to Oz, where a Munchkin greets her (the rest are on strike) as does the Good Witch of the North. After she gives Betty the Ruby Sneakers, the Wicked Witch of the East arrives and demands them, but the Good Witch (and several other witches) drive her away.

Betty sets off to the Emerald City, being joined by a Scarecrow who wants a brain (Archie), a Tin Man who wants a new stomach (Jughead) and a Lion who wants a new mirror (Reggie). They wind up going to the Wicked Witch's castle, except here the story takes some very fun—and very Archie—twists.

Their takes on Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella are very humorous as well, but their take on Alice is very unlike the original story, but still fun. Overall, if you missed the original version, this would be a good second chance to get "There's No Place Like Riverdale!" along with some other stories I'm sure Oz fans would enjoy as well.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The Wonder Book

The Wonder Book by Ruth Plumly Thompson is quite possibly the only book written by an Oz author to have a title very similar to an already published book, A Wonder Book by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

I actually attempted to read Hawthorne's Wonder Book. All it contained were retellings of classic myths, and eventually, I couldn't finish it.

However, Thompson's Wonder Book is quite different. It is largely composed of a lot of her work for the Philadelphia Public Ledger's children's page. There are stories, poems, riddles, party plans, scripts for short plays, and even profiles of real people.

Some stories are long and break off and are continued later. The first, Marvelous Travels on a Wish, was recently printed by itself by Hungry Tiger Press as The Wish Express, restored to its original length from the newspaper version, as Thompson had edited her stories.

Thompson was great in short form! And she was quite original, too! Although she had some serial stories (such as a series about a little girl who talked to the dishes as she washed them and put them away), she wasn't repetitious, at least, not in the selection in The Wonder Book.

Here were some of my favorites:
  • Marvelous Travels on a Wish A little boy named Berens wishes he was SOMEONE ELSE and SOMEWHERE ELSE, and the Dissatisfied Bug bites him and takes him aboard the Wish, where he meets many unusual characters and visits many strange places before becoming Someone Else. But is Someone Else's life really any better?
  • The One-Legged Giant A giant loses a leg and is left near a town, helpless. Can the townsfolk do something about him before he eats them out of house and home?
  • The Supposyville Poems Supposyville is a little kingdom with odd quirks and a funny little king, and the wise man, Solomon Tremendous Wise, who offers advice to the king, and invents many inventions. One such invention is his mechanical maid, Handy Mandy, definitely a forerunner to a certain Oz character, though not the same character. Supposyville itself feels like a predecessors for all those little places in Oz she created.
  • A Cup and Saucer Conversation A little girl named Betsy discovers the china dishes can talk to her as she washes them. This is continued for several stories. It's fun because Thompson deftly imagines what life as a dish would be like.
  • Strange Story of a Green Camel What's a green camel to do? Well, when he meets some little elves ready to give him a wish, he must consider his options.
  • The Princess Who Slept Thirty Years When a wizard is mad at a king, he declares the newborn princess will sleep for thirty years. It almost seems like a twist on Sleeping Beauty, and it may well be, but Thompson delivers an excellent little twist at the end.
  • The Giant Who Did Not Believe In People When a giant doesn't believe in people, and thus becomes quite dangerous, the Fairy Queen decides to cast a spell to convince him otherwise.
  • The Tale of Terry Tommy Turtle A story with a little moral: a candy-making turtle learns a lesson about putting wealth before safety. It doesn't have a happy ending.
  • The Secret of the Magic Word Shades of The Magic of Oz! Except, this story was published the year before Baum's penultimate Oz book. A naughty little boy learns a magic word that allows him to transform himself. Also a story with an unhappy ending with a moral.
Thompson's fun to read and the book proves a delight, especially when read at a leisurely pace.

Thanks, Ruth Plumly Thompson, for giving us a Wonder Book that is truly wonderful!

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Outsiders and Zoops

Outsiders from Oz, by Jared Davis - It's always a bit tricky reviewing a book by someone you know personally, but in the Oz community this can be difficult to avoid. I did quite like the book, which was an adventure of mostly familiar Oz characters in lands outside Oz itself. It was also a follow-up to The Magical Monarch of Mo, particularly the story about King Scowleyow and the Cast-Iron Man. I know Button-Bright is one of Jared's favorite characters, and while some stories make him primarily a nuisance (recall the part in Glinda of Oz where Glinda has to stop the journey to Skeezer Lake to save the boy from wild animals), this book gives him a chance to shine. We also see the reformation of Ruggedo, something not unique to this story, but handled well. L. Frank Baum himself tried to reform the old Nome King a few times, but kept bringing him back as a villain anyway.

One character in Outsiders who deserves particular note is Lola the Zoop. The Zoop was actually a creature who appeared in a few of Baum's silent films, but never made it into the books. It's sort of ape-like, but with a tail like a kangaroo. It's quite possible that it was just a costume someone working on the movies happened to find, and Baum called it a Zoop. The title cards to The Patchwork Girl of Oz and The Magic Cloak of Oz refer to it as "the lonesome Zoop." In Outsiders, Jared gives some background to Zoops, making them residents of Orkland and very skilled diggers.

Monday, April 02, 2012

The Royal Podcast of Oz: A Chat With Doug Greene

Jared talks with International Wizard of Oz Club charter member Doug Greene.

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

   
   
   
   
   
   

   
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Shadows of the Emerald City

Shadows of the Emerald City, edited by J.W. Schnarr - This is a collection of Oz-themed horror stories by various authors. They vary in quality, but many of them show clear knowledge of the original Oz books on the part of the writers, which is good. As might be expected, there are several pieces dealing with the Wicked Witches, and the Tin Woodman gets his share of starring roles as well. Who knew a heartless metal man with an axe could inspire horror stories? I'm not going to review every story in here, but I will mention some of my favorites.

"Pumpkinhead," by Rajan Khanna - A companion Jack Pumpkinhead made but had to put down comes back for revenge, leading to strange goings-on in the pumpkin patch.

"A Heart Is Judged," by Kevin G. Summers - This prequel to the first Oz book offers a possible background for Dorothy. It doesn't match up entirely with what we know from the books (for instance, it indicates Uncle Henry never knew Dorothy's mother, while The Emerald City of Oz says he did), but it picks up on many details while still maintaining a dark tone. I'm not entirely sure what I think of the Wicked Witch of the East's castle containing a tapestry depicting Princess Langwidere performing fellatio on the Nome King, but it works in context. I just don't think I'd actually want to see it. The Crooked Magician and Pigasus are both here. Well, not THE Pigasus, but A Pigasus, with rhyming powers intact. There's also an origin story for the Scarecrow.

"Mr. Yoop's Soup," by Michael D. Turner - This was actually the first story from this collection that I came across, as I found a sample of it after Googling Mr. Yoop. It sticks to the rules established by L. Frank Baum while also being nothing like Baum would have written. The main theme is the downside of how Ozites remain alive even when chopped into pieces, with Mr. Yoop escaping from his cage and eating parts of Munchkins. The Munchkin wrestler Zeb fought in Dorothy and the Wizard makes a return appearance.

"One Wicked Day," by Frank Dutkiewicz - While this story is based more on the MGM movie, including as it does the Lollipop Guild and the the ding-dong song, it's definitely worth a mention due to its amusing satire. It presents the Munchkins as cannibals, and deals with different kinds of tyranny. In this take on Oz, the Good Witch of the North isn't as good as she makes herself out to be, and indeed has quite a bit in common with Josef Stalin and his ilk.

"The Fuddles of Oz," by Mari Ness - You might know Mari from her recent comprehensive reviews of the Oz books, and here she shows her knowledge of more obscure Oz characters by focusing on the Fuddles from Emerald City. As with "Mr. Yoop's Soup," the tale deals with a downside to one of Baum's whimsical ideas, in this case a whole town of people who scatter themselves into pieces when anyone comes near.

I have to say that, as someone who's generally not too keen on the darker, bleaker Oz stories, I did enjoy this collection. I think it's largely because most of these writers clearly "got" Oz, and worked with what Baum told us instead of going off and totally redefining everything. I suppose you could say the better parts of this volume were Baum-affirming rather than Baum-denying. It's sort of the opposite of Todd MacFarlane's dark Oz stuff, as he's gone on record as saying he hated the original story. There's some good humor in the book, too, if mostly a bit on the black side.