Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Shanowerthon! — The Giant Garden of Oz

Way back when I was re-reading the Oz books in the early 2000s (how the time has flown!), I put all of L. Frank Baum's Oz books on hold at the library, and also asked about any titles by Eric Shanower, fondly remembering his Oz graphic novels.

I remember calling them by phone (some of the librarians could identify me by the sound of my voice), and they listed the five graphic novels and a book called The Giant Garden of Oz. At this time, I didn't know Eric had done anything with Oz outside of the graphic novels, so I assumed it was a sixth that hadn't been listed on the previous five books.

When the book arrived at the library and I picked it up, I was surprised to see that it looked like a fairly normal novel. "Oh, cool!" I thought, "It's a really long one like one of those books of manga." Then I opened it up.

It was a regular prose and picture Oz book, but by Eric Shanower.

I discovered later that this was part of a wave of new Oz fiction published by Books of Wonder. Peter Glassman approached many Oz fans about publishing new Oz books. Along with Eric Shanower were books by Eric Gjovaag and Karyl Carlson, Bill Campell and Irwin Terry, Donald Abbot, Robin Hess, David Hulan and others. I have yet to get all of these books.

The story of The Giant Garden of Oz finds Dorothy (accompanied by Toto and Billina) going to visit Aunt Em and Uncle Henry on a new farm they've moved to. It's not a farm just like the one back in Kansas, because while Aunt Em and Uncle Henry can work it and grow crops, they also have magical conveniences to help them do their work much more easily. Also, the animals on the farm can talk, making that part easier.
Things are going well on the farm, but the next morning, they discover that the vegetable garden out front has grown to an enormous size, preventing them from easily leaving the farm. Dorothy, Billina and Toto head out alone to get to the Emerald City for help.

What I found impressive is that most would have just had the garden get bigger, but Eric thinks it out logically: the vegetables have grown larger, so they're all squeezed together, a row of carrots even upsetting the house.

Journeying away from the farm, Toto and Billina mysteriously disappear, along with the basket containing Dorothy's food for the trip. Dorothy has to continue on alone. Along the way, she is joined by Imogene, a cow who gives different kinds of milk and other dairy products based on her moods. (A pretty exciting day yields whipped cream, for instance.) They soon run into the Wizard, who has taken up ballooning again.

I rather liked that theme that Uncle Henry and Aunt Em and the Wizard were picking up on their American occupations that they'd previously failed at. As Dorothy explains, "In a land where no one grows older and no one can ever die, I've got all the time in the world."

And yes, Imogene is based on Dorothy's pet cow that replaced Toto in the 1903 Wizard of Oz musical extravaganza. Shanower's Imogene is a very different character, however.

Dorothy, Imogene and the Wizard try to save Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, Billina, and Toto, but are beset by a storm and giant moles who pull Dorothy and Imogene underground for a rather spooky experience! And that's not even the biggest thing to happen! (Pun quite intended.)

As I said, Eric takes a very logical and reasonable approach to magic and how things in Oz work. Even though the story has been criticized for having a rather dark tone, at no point does it feel like Eric is being unfaithful to the world that Baum created. Oz, as Baum wrote it, can be a scary place, and Eric embraces it. The Oz characters feel like fully three-dimensional characters, particularly Dorothy, as Eric often tells us what she's thinking. All of this well-done storytelling has led to me actually calling it one of my favorite non-Famous Forty Oz books, a point even Eric has wondered at.

I bought my own copy of Giant Garden eventually and have read it a few times over the years, making sure not to enjoy it too often. I once began to read it in 2011, as I was heading to the Winkie Convention and had it with me for Eric to sign. I wound up not finishing it due to the other Oz books I'd picked up then, but he did autograph it for me!

 Books of Wonder no longer lists The Giant Garden of Oz on their website, so it is currently out of print. But it can be found for a reasonable price on many used book sites.

1 comment:

Nathan said...

I believe I recently saw at least one copy of Giant Garden in the physical Books of Wonder store in Manhattan.