Monday, December 30, 2013

The Characters of Oz — The Shaggy Man

Dorothy was home in Kansas once more. By now, she was becoming very used to disappearing off to the Land of Oz for a week or two to visit her friends before returning to Kansas.

As she stepped downstairs this morning after breakfast, she noticed Toto pawing near the front door. Smiling at her little dog, she let him out and stepped into the fresh, morning sun, smelling the warm August breeze.

"Please, miss," said a voice from the road, "can you tell me the road to Butterfield?"

Dorothy looked over and saw a strange man by the road, looking at her. He had a shaggy beard and hair, and his clothes were a little tattered and hung from his body loosely, looking very shaggy. His boots had definitely seen better days. He chewed slowly on a piece of oat straw. He smiled warmly and his eyes looked very kind. And looking at him, Dorothy had to smile herself. Surely he would do her no harm.

"Oh yes," she replied; "I can tell you. But it isn't this road at all."

And that was how Dorothy began her fourth visit to Oz, as related by Baum in The Road to Oz. She attempted to help a new character that Baum only ever called the Shaggy Man find the way to Butterfield, only to get lost herself, and soon wound up journeying to Oz with a trio of new friends.

The Shaggy Man makes major appearances in three of the Famous Forty: The Road to Oz, Tik-Tok of Oz, and The Shaggy Man of Oz. He plays important secondary roles in The Patchwork Girl of Oz and to a lesser extent in The Emerald City of Oz and The Lost Princess of Oz.

As with many of Baum's characters, we know little of the Shaggy Man's backstory, but we do get a number of clues. Tik-Tok of Oz tells us that he has a brother who was a miner in Denver, Colorado. Perhaps this is their home town. Perhaps they were orphaned children who always lived on the street, but The Patchwork Girl of Oz says the Shaggy Man "knew how to telegraph a wireless reply," so it seems he's had some learned some leading technology. For whatever reason, he decided to live as a tramp. Baum depicts him as being quite well-traveled in the continental US.

Perhaps the reason for the Shaggy Man's tramping may be found in a line from The Road to Oz: "I don't want money, my dear... Money makes people proud and haughty. I don't want to be proud and haughty. All I want is to have people love me..."

Before we try to paint the Shaggy Man as a romancer, it is more likely Baum simply means that he wants to be friends with people. Unfortunately for the Shaggy Man, given that he seems to travel with only the clothes on his back and we don't know how often he got to bathe, he was probably not widely welcomed.

However, his fortune changed when he visited the town of Butterfield (possibly the one in Missouri) and discovered there a young woman who many men were attracted to. The Shaggy Man liked her as well, but thought it was odd that everyone was falling for the same woman. Somehow, he discovered her long line of suitors was due to a magical talisman called the Love Magnet, and realizing that this might help him make more friends, he stole it. After this, he noted that only one man was still attracted to the young woman and they seemed to be happy, so he moved on. He invented a story about how he got it from an eskimo in the Sandwich Islands who was eaten by a grizzly bear afterwards.

Sometime after this, he met Dorothy, asking her the road to Butterfield not to visit it, but to avoid it. He told her that a man there owed him fifteen cents, a debt he did not want repaid. Perhaps this was a lie and he was afraid of being asked about the Love Magnet.

Somehow, he and Dorothy wound up on a road in the southern borderlands of Oz, near a strange crossroads that branched off in seven directions. The Shaggy Man told Dorothy to pick the seventh one from which Dorothy began to count, and they were off on the road to Oz.

Along the way, they met Button-Bright and Polychrome, the Rainbow's daughter. During the trip to Oz, Shaggy was given a donkey's head by King Kik-a-bray of Dunkiton. Later, it was his cunning that let them escape the Scoodlers, and he used the Love Magnet to summon Johnny Dooit (who probably helped him in the past) to help them cross the Deadly Desert. In the Winkie Country, Dorothy and her friends found the Truth Pond, and after bathing in it, the Shaggy Man's head was restored.

However, the Shaggy Man realized a downside to the Truth Pond's magic: he could no longer lie. Thus, when Ozma asked him about the Love Magnet, he had to reveal his theft. However, Ozma decided to let him stay in Oz, and he let her hang the Love Magnet over the gates of the Emerald City. Shaggy was given a room at Ozma's palace, and a new wardrobe which was stylishly shaggy.

Perhaps it really shouldn't be counted as Oz canon, but Baum dedicated The Road to Oz to his first grandson, Joslyn Stanton Baum, and in the copy of the book he gave to the parents for his grandson, he wrote a tiny story about how Joslyn had been blessed by the people of Oz, including the Shaggy Man pressing the Love Magnet on the baby's brow.

The Shaggy Man joins Dorothy, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry and the other people on the grand tour of Oz in The Emerald City of Oz, but offers little except sneezing in the land of the Cuttenclips and offering some comments her and there. (In Walt Spouse's comics adaptation of the book, the Shaggy Man was removed entirely, the sneezing reassigned to Uncle Henry and no other harm to the story done.)

The Shaggy Man returns again in The Patchwork Girl of Oz, having become an experienced traveler in Oz. He rescues Ojo and his friends from the man-eating plants by the side of the road, and then leads them through other obstacles to the Emerald City. He gets to sing a song about the Land of Oz, but in the Emerald City, the story leaves him behind.

He features more prominently in Tik-Tok of Oz in which he discovers that the Nome King kidnapped his brother, Ozma sending him to Ev to ask the Nome King for his freedom, later sending Tik-Tok to assist him. They both wind up befriending Betsy Bobbin and Hank the Mule, and later accompany Queen Ann's army of conquest. After a number of difficulties (including a fall through a tube to the other side of the world and the Nome King turning the Shaggy Man into a bird briefly), Shaggy finally recovers his brother.

In The Lost Princess of Oz, these two set out in a search party to find Ozma, but their adventures remain—to my knowledge—unchronicled.

The Shaggy Man vanishes from the Oz books during Thompson's run. (Aside from the Wizard, Thompson used few of Baum's regular human male characters.) Jack Snow finally brought him back with his own book, The Shaggy Man of Oz. The Shaggy Man goes to Conjo's Island to get the Love Magnet fixed when it breaks. That night, after the Magnet is fixed, Conjo steals the Shaggy Man's means of returning home, leaving him to find his own way back to Oz with the clown Twiffle, and the captured twins Tom and Twink. Through the group's efforts (and help from their friend the King of the Fairy Beavers), they manage to reach Oz before Conjo can do any serious harm.

To me, the Shaggy Man was a little similar to the Wizard. Yes, he came from a rough American background, but there was much more to him than meets the eye. I had the idea that the Shaggy Man was actually a very smart man and once had the idea of writing him as a detective. I actually tried this in the "Ruby Ring of Oz" round robin tale, but a good idea ran into poor execution.

What I particularly like about the Shaggy Man is that he isn't a clearly good guy. Despite his somewhat shady start in The Road to Oz (leading a girl of 10 or 11 away from her home without her guardians), he turned out to have a heart of a gold. Even his theft of the Love Magnet turned out to be a good thing in helping the young woman finally find someone who truly loved her, not just someone attracted by the Love Magnet.

Speaking of which, was Baum on a Shakespeare kick with The Road to Oz? The Love Magnet is akin to the love flower of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and—like Bottom—Shaggy is given a donkey's head.

I think there's quite a bit more to the Shaggy Man than we know. Maybe some other Historians will tell us more. (And yes, I know about Queen Ann in Oz by my friends Eric Gjovaag and Karyl Carlson, but I won't spoil that one for you.)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Writing Oz: Making Sense Of It All

I must note that this blog—discussing writing further Oz stories—is based solely on my own experience writing a few Oz stories. Other writers and authors have likely had different experiences and view points. They are welcome to mention their own through the comments or their own mediums.
There's an old saying "Scratch an Oz fan, you get an Oz book." This is very accurate as most if not all Oz fans have come up with new stories about the Land of Oz.

But when someone creates a new short story or book about the Land of Oz or its characters, they have to figure out what rules to set for how they approach Baum's beloved world.

Baum rarely set up rules for how his world worked. In the first book, it became clear that animals could talk and just about anything could live in the Land of Oz. In The Emerald City of Oz, Baum establishes that no one dies in Oz and they have a communal economy. It wasn't until The Tin Woodman of Oz that Baum gave us a bit of backstory about the country's origin.

Thus, there is quite a lot of room open for interpretation.

Later books in the Famous Forty generally create new adventures, but on occasion, Ruth Plumly Thompson and Jack Snow either set a few new rules or attempted to clarify some backstory. However, as Thompson's work is mostly still protected by copyright, the modern writer of Oz stories generally ignores it so as to avoid any legal issues or decides that it hardly matters if Thompson's work doesn't quite match up with their own. (This is not to say that Thompson's work has been ignored: writers such as Paul Dana, Chris Dulabone, Nathan DeHoff and Marcus Mebes have liberally used characters appearing in Thompson's public domain books.)

In sorting out what is and isn't important to them, the issue of "canon" arises in the writer's mind. What, from the Oz books, is definitely history? Early on, it became clear to me that there was no reason why Little Wizard Stories of Oz and Baum's Oz-related fantasies (Queen Zixi of Ix, The Sea Fairies, Sky Island, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, Dot and Tot of Merryland, etc.) should not be considered canonical alongside Baum's fourteen novels. The messier issue is Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz and The Woggle-Bug Book. While these visits from Oz to America could have happened, Dorothy meeting her friends on her farm in Kansas and then Aunt Em and Uncle Henry being skeptical of her tales of Oz in The Emerald City of Oz proves problematic (not to mention that the first Queer Visitors story dates the entire series). Thus, although the writer might enjoy these tales and even take concepts from them (the Woggle-Bug's four arms and wings), they may decide not to count these canonical.

Recently, though, I have decided that there is no reason why all of Baum's works of fiction—fantasy, non-fantasy, pseudonymous, anonymous—could not all take place in the same world. However, unless there's a good excuse for a crossover, it's not really going to make much of a difference.

Sometimes, you might run into a continuity inconsistency. But don't let that get in the way of a good story! Maybe you can sort it or just decide which version you want to go with.

As seen in some of my blogs, I came up with a timeline for Baum's first several Oz books. The reign of the Wizard in my canon wound up being a brief ten years (versus the 20 or more other writers sometimes use). This was that if people in Oz were aging during the Wizard's reign, why was Ozma still rather young? Dorothy's first four visits to Oz occur within about three years, with her first trip to Oz being when she was eight and her moving to Oz at age eleven.

The writer also has to decide other elements: in The Chronicles of Narnia, trips to Narnia take up no time in "our world," but this is never inferred in the Oz books. One could interpret that Oz time runs longer or faster than the Great Outside World, but Baum's concept seems to be that the two run at the same time. (This is made clear when Ozma promises to look in on Dorothy at a certain time on a certain day, though one could say that Ozma is keeping track of Dorothy's time.) To me, anything other than what Baum indicated unnecessarily complicates Oz lore.

Another point is where is Oz located? Like Narnia, some like to have it so that it's in an entirely different world somehow unreachable by us except through rare, magical occurrences. Others say it's on another plane of existence or an alternate reality. I, myself, go with Baum's concept of a hidden country, likely in the South Pacific. (How people get there, I addressed in an earlier blog.) While this is my idea, I find it to be less cumbersome if this idea is not addressed in the text, though making up your mind about it may help in creating Oz stories.

Finally, there's backstories for the characters. Baum wasn't big on character development, but rather defined his characters. (There are some exceptions.)This has proved a boon for Oz writers as since the characters generally stay the same, they can set their story whenever they wish. However, it may be helpful to decide the backstory for certain Oz characters. Fortunately, Baum tells us the stories of the Wizard, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and Ozma. However, when deciding further details about these and other characters, that is when your imagination comes in. I'd figured out a backstory for the Cowardly Lion that I hadn't planned to write, but I eventually did anyway, and it became the award-winning "The Way of A Lion," now available in Oziana 2013. So sometimes figuring out the backstory of a character isn't just deciding your approach to a character, it can also sometimes lead to a good story!

All I'm saying here is that when you set out to write an Oz story, it's very helpful to have a complete vision of Oz in mind.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Adventures of Young Santa

Typically, every December, in some form or another, I write about L. Frank Baum's The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, but after running the Royal Blog of Oz for so long, I have trouble finding anything new to say about it. (Especially after 2009, when I examined the book, Baum's further Santa Claus stories, the adaptations, and any other Santa Claus tales by the Royal Historians, though I was unaware of Jack Snow's "The Animal's Christmas Tree" at the time.)

However, this year, I can finally look at one of the other adaptations I couldn't look at before: the 24-episode anime series 少年サンタの大冒険 (pronounced Shounen Santa no daibôken), translated to English as The Adventures of Young Santa. Some other Oz bloggers and fans and I were finally able to locate a very good copy of the anime in its original Japanese. It seems an English dub was made, but it's taken us long enough to find any version of the series at all!
Left to right: Necile, unidentified snow leopard and owl, reindeer
(Flossie or Glossie), bear, chipmunk, Claus, Blinkie, Shiegra, unidentified
rabbit and squirrel, other reindeer, Peter Knook
The version we managed to obtain appears to possibly be from the original masters. As the series aired in 1994, one would expect that it had been preserved on VHS and then transferred to DVD (which we got it on), but this shows no sign of being transferred from VHS, the picture quality being very clear and sharp. In addition, these are the complete episodes, with full opening and end titles on each episode, "next time" trailers, even tiny spots that were shown during commercial breaks to remind you what show you're watching.

Although my knowledge of Japanese is limited (like... nonexistent), I've still been able to pick up on what's going on. The plot is a highly expanded adaptation of what's in Baum's book, rather akin to Peter Jackson's version of The Hobbit. Ak, Zurline, Necile, Shiegra, Peter Knook, Flossie, Glossie and especially Blinkie are all present, but so are many new characters. An owl, bear, leopard, squirrels and rabbits join the Burzee cast, and a character named Mary is a close friend of Claus. I can't tell if she's a fairy, a Ryl, or another wood-nymph, though.

The difference between Claus and the Immortals of Burzee are actually made pretty clear in the opening credits: the Immortals can all fly, while Claus can only get around on his feet. A difference is made in the anime from Baum's text: the animals of Burzee can speak, and the Immortals can be seen by humans. (It is implied that Claus is an exception to that rule in Baum's book.)

As of right now, I've watched the first 14 episodes. Having heard about there being a battle over the Mantle of Immortality, I was under the impression that the Immortals and the Awgwas would figure very heavily in this series. However, it has mainly focused on Claus. Surprisingly early in the series, he leaves Burzee to build his own home closer to humanity, and a little girl named May becomes a frequent visitor. I was also very glad that shortly after this, there are less plots in which Claus' life is put in definite peril.

However, the presence of evil beings hasn't been absent. In the second episode, Mary is tending to flowers, but when Claus accidentally messes up her work, a being that is likely a Gadgol comes in. The Mantle of Immortality is glimpsed briefly in the first episode, so the writers of the series definitely had things all plotted out, even if plots are sometimes created from a sentence or two in the book.

In its expanded form, though, Baum's story is definitely still there, even if we have side stories where Claus meets a man who might be his father and a tale of a rich lad wanting to buy Blinkie from Claus.

Although one of the other bloggers is looking into a creation of a fan dub or an English subtitle, it is fun to watch these without any knowledge of what's being said and invent new dialogue on the spot. Last we knew, the opening and ending titles were uploaded to YouTube, but were later taken down due to a copyright claim from the owner, so if anything comes of this attempt to create a fan dub or subtitled version, it probably won't be there unfortunately.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Disney's Journey to Oz, part 4

Far back in the 1930s, Walt Disney dreamed of adapting The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It was not until 2005 that the Disney Company actually produced a film version of the story. However, they mixed one of Walt's fondest wishes with one of their newest acquisitions: Jim Henson's Muppets. The result was the TV movie The Muppets Wizard of Oz.

Jim Henson was also an Oz fan, and Oz references had popped up with the Muppets before: an Alice in Wonderland-inspired sketch with Brooke Shields on The Muppet Show went awry and ended with everyone singing "We're Off To See The Wizard!" A Wizard of Oz medley featured in The Muppets Go to the Movies, and the Muppet Babies episode "By The Book" featured an Oz segment. But that was before the Muppets had become owned by Walt Disney Pictures.

The Muppets had done literary adaptations before, with the heartfelt The Muppets Christmas Carol and the wacky Muppet Treasure Island. They were not a major property at the time, and Disney wanted to revitalize the brand, so Oz would become the new testing ground.

The TV movie opens in modern-day Kansas, where Dorothy (Ashanti) dreams of becoming a superstar, but currently, she's stuck working with Aunt Em (Queen Latifah) and Uncle Henry (David Alan Grier) in their diner. She misses an audition to work with the Muppets, but is able to give Kermit a CD. A tornado strikes the trailer park, and sends Dorothy and her pet prawn Toto to the Land of Oz, where Toto becomes a giant anthropomorphic prawn (Pepe the Prawn). Stepping out into Munchkinland, they meet the Munchkins (Rizzo the Rat and the other rats) and the Good Witch of the North, Tattypoo (Miss Piggy), who tells Dorothy that she landed on the Wicked Witch of the East (Miss Piggy).

Clad in the Witch of the East's silver Monolos, Dorothy and Pepe head down the Yellow Brick Road to meet the Wizard of Oz, who can help Dorothy become a star. Along the way, they meet the Scarecrow (Kermit the Frog), the Tin Thing (Gonzo), and the Cowardly Comedian Lion (Fozzie Bear). Facing the Kalidah critics (Statler and Waldorf) and the drowsy club Poppy Fields (where Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem play), Dorothy and her friends reach the Emerald City at last, where the Wizard sees them one by one in different forms. (Yes, he uses the ball of fire, a lovely lady, a dragon and a giant head, but he appears in these forms to the Scarecrow, Tin Thing, Lion and Dorothy in that order.) He tells them that he needs to bring them the Magic Eye of the Wicked Witch of the West (Miss Piggy).

The Wicked Witch, a diva herself, attacks Dorothy with the Flying Monkeys (a flying biker gang), and plans to televise Dorothy's execution on her reality show. Dorothy manages to kick her into a tub of water, which turns out to have non-purified water in it. (This version clarifies that the Witch only has a reaction to non-purified water.) She melts (though she claims she's getting skinnier at first, shrieking "I win! I win!"), and Dorothy takes the Magic Eye back to the Wizard, who she discovers is a fraud, an ex-tour bus driver from Hollywood (Jeffrey Tambor).

The Wizard uses his control over the media to give Dorothy's friends their gifts and have her sing on TV, but Dorothy realizes that this isn't what she wants after all, so she decides she wants to go home to Kansas. The Wizard instructs her to go see Glinda (Miss Piggy) in Munchkinland. Glinda tells her how to use the Silver Shoes to get home, which Dorothy does, Pepe electing to stay behind. Aunt Em tells Dorothy that she would be all right if Dorothy did become a star as long as her heart's in the right place, and Kermit arrives at the diner to ask Dorothy to join their tour, which she accepts.

The TV movie was not considered a success. Rather than reintroduce the Muppets for a new audience, the movie tried to update them with pop culture references and a little bit of risque humor, which, to this viewer, felt out of place for the Muppets and Oz in 2005. Luckily for the Muppets, a much better revival for them was finally pulled off in 2011.

Still, that Disney had made an Oz movie showed that the yellow brick road was yet beckoning to the company, even in the twenty-first century.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

'Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return' Gets a New Trailer (Updated)

Aaaand Lea Michele's name is spelled wrong...
It looks like Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return (formerly titled Dorothy of Oz) is finally on track, as it is still set to hit theaters on May 9, 2014. And we've got a brand new 'theatrical trailer' for the animated musical, via Yahoo! Movies...

Whoa, this is an underwhelming trailer! Is it an Oz movie? Yes. Does it look cute? Sure. Does it look like it can compete with theatrically-released animated movies today? No.

I can't imagine that an average moviegoer would be interested in seeing this movie after watching a trailer like this.

While I'm still rooting for the movie, I'm really disappointed with this trailer and it sort of blows my mind that $70 million was spent making this. The quality of the animation is subpar even when compared to modern Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon content, so much so that I was expecting to see an "Own it on DVD" title card at the end!

The trailer feels sloppy, rushed, and thrown together. There's an even an aspect ratio inconsistency in several different places (most noticeable at the 0:39 mark). At least Lea Michele's name is spelled correctly in the title card and credit block!

After seeing Disney's Oz The Great and Powerful and then the animated musical Frozen, I don't think that the general public will find this trailer appealing enough to watch the movie in theaters.

UPDATE: A producer has informed me that another, longer trailer for the film will be released in February. I'm hoping that I can say more positive things about the movie then!

Sunday, December 01, 2013

The 2013 Christmas Special podcast and other matters

As has been traditional, for the 2013 Royal Podcast of Oz Christmas episode, I present my own reading of "The Animals' Christmas Tree" by Jack Snow. You can also find the text here. You can listen and download at the podcast site or use the below player.

You may have noticed that the podcast slowed down during the second half of 2013. I will admit, this was because of some personal reasons that I don't wish to discuss here.

What I do want to discuss is the future of the podcast. Don't worry, I don't plan on ending it, but we had an obstacle.

The podcast has been hosted by Podbean since it began in 2009 and every month since, I paid a monthly fee of about $5 as part of the service plan. Right away, no, I'm not saying that this is a burden nor am I asking for donations (though if you ever want to, I wouldn't turn it down). In 2009, this plan allowed me to store 300MB of data a month, plenty and then some for our podcast's needs.

This has changed. A few months ago, Podbean changed their service plans and pricing. Their similarly priced plan now allows me only 100MB of data a month. (It was particularly frustrating that I was not notified of this change, only that my regularly scheduled payments weren't going through and they almost closed the podcast site because of it.) We export the podcasts at 128kbps. This is a little less than 1MB per minute. (A 53 minute podcast came in at 48.5MB.)

I have already discussed it with Sam, and future episodes of the "Movies of Oz" podcasts will be much shorter. We never were trying to create the definitive article on each film in those podcasts.

However, rather than think we have to end things, I'm a little more interested in revising the podcast format. I have considered that we could do a single, monthly podcast: report on a few bits of Oz news, have an interview, and briefly discuss an Oz movie. We'd still, of course, work in the Christmas and L. Frank Baum birthday specials and Winkie Con reports as separate episodes. The hopeful result would be a faster paced podcast. Perhaps working a little leaner could produce a better podcast.

The alternative would be to continue doing the episodes as we have been, just keeping our time and data usage constraints in mind.

Please let me know your thoughts in a comment or however else you'd like to contact me. I plan to relaunch the podcast in its shorter format (whether as abbreviated versions of its former style or the above "digest" version) in 2014.

Meantime, if you need a little more Christmas, over at my other blog, I've written up a number of blogs about adaptations of Babes in Toyland, and each one mentions how it has an Oz connection. These will be posted every other day through the 13th, and between each one is a vintage Toyland audio treasure. The first one is up right now!