Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Characters of Oz — Blinkie

There were, at one time, many wicked witches in the land of Oz. Some seem to have been more wicked and more powerful than others. It seems, though, that Glinda and the Good Witch of the North put them away or stripped them of their power. The worst were defeated when Dorothy arrived in Oz.

So the question that arises is what's up with Blinkie?

Blinkie appears to be a small-time Wicked Witch who lives in Jinxland and terrorizes the populace with at least three anonymous witches who can turn into beautiful maidens when performing witchcraft. Blinkie's three friends can also fly on broomsticks. Blinkie may act on her own or be hired to do a job.

Blinkie is missing an eye, wearing an eyepatch. This similarity had caused some fans to think she may be a revived or reconstituted Wicked Witch of the West. I personally don't think so as there is little connection aside from that. Perhaps trading in an eye can get a Witch special powers.

Blinkie is actually based on an amalgamation of the Wicked Witch of the West and Mombi from Baum's 1914 film His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz. The witch in that film was named Mombi but looked like Denslow's Wicked Witch of the West. Like the Wicked Witch, she enslaved Dorothy to do chores for her, and like Mombi, pursues Dorothy when she runs away. Her fate, however, is entirely original to the film. The Tin Woodman chops her head off and the Wizard traps her in a can and shrinks it. At the end, she appears to be let go after she restores her victims from earlier in the film.

Blinkie was asked by King Krewl to freeze the heart of Princess Gloria so she wouldn't love Pon the gardener's boy. She did so, and also turned Cap'n Bill into a grasshopper with a wooden leg. For this, the Scarecrow punishes her by shrinking her to a tiny size and taking away her powers once she restores her victims.

To be honest, Baum could have replaced Blinkie with Mombi (having brushed up on witchcraft again) if he had been so inclined. However, he let his former villain remain the villain of only one book.

This leaves me with a question: why didn't Glinda do something about Blinkie? In The Scarecrow of Oz, it seems clear that Glinda has known about Blinkie's activities for a while and only sends the Scarecrow to take care of her when Blinkie begins to abuse people from the outside world. In books outside the Famous Forty (but generally considered canonical), Glinda seems to have put two Wicked Witches in the Quadling Country into enchanted sleeps in The Wicked Witch of Oz by Rachel Cosgrove Payes and The Enchanted Apples of Oz by Eric Shanower. Why is Glinda vigilant about these witches but not Blinkie? Why doesn't she go to  Jinxland herself?

Thinking about this, one idea comes up. Maybe Glinda can't go to Jinxland. Or rather, she's not welcome there. Is King Krewl the first king of Jinxland to value Blinkie's services? Perhaps Glinda did try and was forbidden to go back to Jinxland. She makes it clear that by this, she washes her hands of anything that may happen to the people of Jinxland. As pointed out, she only seems to send the Scarecrow once people from outside Jinxland are involved.

Why do you think?

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Oz Movies That Could Have Been

We've gotten some Oz movies in the past couple of years, most notably Oz the Great and Powerful and Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, but there are several projects that almost were...

In 2002, Warner Bros. announced it was developing Surrender Dorothy with Drew Barrymore set to direct from a screenplay by Zach Helm (Stranger Than Fiction). It was planned as a modern Earth-centric film similar to The Witches of Oz and Once Upon A Time that would have followed Dorothy's granddaughter, possibly played by Barrymore, learning to use the Ruby Slippers to defeat a new wicked witch. It was briefly revived in 2010, but never made it out of development.

In 2003, Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer (Pirates of the Carribean) greenlit a film based on a video game that American McGee (Alice: The Madness Returns) was developing. The live-action film, simply titled Oz, would have been the first in a trilogy, and would serve as a prequel of sorts, focusing on a "reluctant male hero" instead of Dorothy. Kevin and Dan Hageman (The Lego Movie) wrote the first draft, which was rewritten by an unhappy McGee. The video game was never released, and the film was cancelled due to unknown "creative differences" with Disney. A couple of action figures were made, and pop up on eBay every now and then. 

In 2007, Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow announced that they were in development on Oz: The Return to Emerald City, a modern but family-friendly sequel to the 1939 film that would've focused on Dorothy's granddaughter returning to Oz to stop the witch Mombi from destroying magic. The screenplay was written in 2008 by Josh Olson (A History of Violence), and leaked online in 2010.

In 2008, Dark Oz, based on the long-running Caliber Comics series, was optioned by Pras Michel, who briefly intended to produce and star in the first in a planned trilogy. Pearry Teo (The Gene Generation) was soon attached to direct from a screenplay by Aaron Denenberg. Teo and Michel dropped out by 2009, and Denenberg adapted his screenplay into a novel titled Dark Oz: Of Courage and Witchcraft. Framelight Productions acquired the rights to the project in early 2010, but the film never made it past development. 

In late 2008, John Boorman (Zardoz) signed on to direct a CGI adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that was to be produced by French studio Action Synthese, with Ron Mita (Robots) and Jim McClain (S.WA.T.) serving as screenwriters. Though an animation test and several pieces of concept art were completed, Boorman confirmed in 2011 that the project fell apart due to lack of funding. You can see the animation test here.

In 2009, Vanguard Animation, the studio behind Happily N'Ever After and Space Chimps, snapped up the rights to Oz Wars, penned by Robert Moreland and Athena Gam. It was planned as an edgy, action-packed stop-motion/CGI hybrid film, and in late 2010, Mark Johnson (Corpse Bride) signed on to direct. The film never made it into production, but the script and some artwork were leaked online at some point.

In early 2010, Warner Bros. set Darren Lemke (Shrek Forever After) to pen the screenplay for Oz, a faithful live-action adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz intended to be the the first in a series of films, a la Harry Potter. The film was being developed by New Line Cinema and Wyck Godfrey at Temple Hill Entertainment, the studio behind the Twilight films. It's my understanding that the screenplay was never completed, and that the project was thrown out rather quickly.

In mid-2010, a mysterious teaser consisting of test footage for Oz, directed by brothers Michael and Mark Polish (Twin Falls Idaho), appeared online. Some media outlets reported that MGM was behind the film, while others dismissed the whole thing as a hoax. The teaser was removed from YouTube by the end of the year, and if the project was ever truly alive in the first place, it was seemingly dead at this point.

In late 2010, with Disney already in pre-production on Oz the Great and Powerful, Warner Bros. tried one last time to get an Oz project off the ground; this time, a straightforward remake of the 1939 film. The studio approached Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) to direct, but Zemeckis declined and thankfully, the studio did not approach anyone else to take on the daunting task of remaking the most beloved film of all time.

In 2011, Gigiapix Studios began developing OZ3D, a comedic animated musical from Starz Animation Toronto/Arc Productions, and the creative team behind Gnomeo and Juliet. Rob Silvestri was attached direct from a screenplay by Connor Pritchard (Workaholics). The film made it into pre-production, with concept artwork appearing around the internet over the next year. But in 2013, all work on the project came to a scandalous halt, as Gigapix was sued for $1.2 million and the producers were arrested for investment fraud.

Time will tell if Oz the Great and Powerful 2 and the Legends of Oz sequels, The Oz Odyssey and The Green Star of Oz, will one day be added to this list... 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Characters of Oz — Trot and Cap'n Bill

Of all the characters in this series, Trot and Cap'n Bill were two that took a little deciding on when to cover them. They first appeared in the Oz series in 1915, in the book The Scarecrow of Oz. But Baum writes in his introduction that readers requested that they be "admitted to the Land of Oz," so readers in 1915 knew who they were. However, to a novice reader reading the Baum books for the first time chronologically, these two are strangers.

Trot and Cap'n Bill had actually been introduced in 1911 in the book The Sea Fairies. Mayre "Trot" Griffiths lives with her mother, who boards Bill Wheedles, a retired peg-legged sailor who cares for Trot, serving as a surrogate father as her actual father is often away at sea. Trot is a curious but strongly opinionated little girl, while Cap'n Bill is a grizzled old sun-tanned sailor who fears only what he can't defend Trot from.

The two go exploring together, and the plot of The Sea Fairies finds them being turned into mer-people so they can visit with the mermaids and the sea creatures. They become friends with the mermaids and King Anko, the great Sea Serpent. Trot is even given a ring to summon the mermaids when she needs help near the water.

To attempt to boost sales, Baum's much more substantial sequel, Sky Island, brought in Button-Bright and Polychrome from The Road to Oz, tying the series to the Oz books. Button-Bright arrives via a flying Magic Umbrella to Trot and Cap'n Bill's home. He visits with them and shows them how the Umbrella works. By accident, it takes them to an island in the Sky, where they are made prisoner by the Boolooroo of the Blues. Finally, they escape to the Pink side of the Island, where they are almost executed until Polychrome arrives in the nick of time to save them, using a law that makes Trot the new queen of the Pinkies. With the help of the Pinkies and a little magic, the Blues are conquered, making Trot the "boss." After recovering the Umbrella, Trot, Cap'n Bill and Button-Bright return to Trot's home in California.

The series was not selling as well as the Oz books, forcing Baum to produce The Patchwork Girl of Oz for 1913. Reilly & Britton, the publishers, suggested that Baum alternate between Oz and Trot's adventures, but Baum decided to only produce Oz books. Yet it seems Baum's non-Oz fantasies had its fans, spurring him to make Trot the third and final little girl to visit and stay in the Land of Oz.

There's some debate as to whether or not The Scarecrow of Oz was a revised third Trot book. Oz proper doesn't appear in the story for several chapters, but the book finds Trot and Cap'n Bill being sent underground by a whirlpool. If The Sea Fairies represented the element of water, and Sky Island represented the element of air, did Scarecrow represent the element of earth?

Yet a counter argument rises in that The Sea Fairies and Sky Island take their time to get the story started, while Scarecrow begins with Trot and Cap'n Bill rowing out into the water and being caught in a whirlpool. Yet it is possible that Baum revised the opening and chopped off an opening chapter or two.

Whatever the case, The Scarecrow of Oz finds Trot and Cap'n Bill going underground thanks to a whirlpool and arriving on an island inhabited by a pessimistic old man. With the help of Flipper the Ork, they fly away to the Valley of Mo, and from there meet Button-Bright again, and then fly over the desert to the Land of Oz, unfortunately arriving in Jinxland. King Krewl has Cap'n Bill transformed into a grasshopper while Trot is left to wander around Jinxland. The Scarecrow intervenes and defeats King Krewl and Blinkie the Witch with the help of the Orks, and then escorts Trot and Cap'n Bill to Glinda's palace.

Trot then becomes the third girl from America to live with Ozma in the palace, joining Dorothy and the Wizard's search party to find Ozma in The Lost Princess of Oz. However, she and Cap'n Bill have another adventure in The Magic of Oz as they try to get a magic flower for Ozma's birthday. They have a couple close shaves on the way, and need the Wizard's help to finish the task.

John R. Neill was a little loose about Trot's hair color. She almost looks like Dorothy in some Scarecrow pictures, but seemingly, the generally accepted hair colors by fans of the books are that Dorothy is blonde, Ozma is a brunette, Betsy has auburn hair, and Trot has black. (Remember, generally accepted. Anyone wishing to change this up for their own work or ideas is welcome to.)

Trot and Cap'n Bill generally play minor roles in the rest of the Famous Forty Oz books. Cap'n Bill makes Trot a wooden doll from a tree that princess Peg Amy was transformed into, which is stolen, enlarged, and brought to life by Ruggedo in Kabumpo in Oz, before she is restored to her original form. In The Giant Horse of Oz, looking for a maiden to satisfy Quiberon, Trot is kidnapped by Akbad. She escapes with Benny and the Scarecrow, who were carried away. In the Famous Forty + book The Wicked Witch of Oz, the Witch Singra accidentally turns Trot into a piece of cheese when she meant to do it to Dorothy. (She is, of course, restored by story's end.)

Outside of the Famous Forty, Trot has had more adventures. In the late Marc Haas' The Medicine Man of Oz, many of the Giant Horse crew reunites for a new adventure, including Trot. Eric Shanower originally conceived The Enchanted Apples of Oz as a Trot and Cap'n Bill tale, and later cowrote Trot of Oz with Glenn Ingersoll. Finally, David Tai offers a Trot who is a little more impetuous than her Famous Forty appearances to give her a more distinctive personality. So far, David's only published story with Trot is in Oziana 2008 in "Executive Decisions." He's written more stories that await publication, however, many of which have his take on Betsy and Trot bouncing off of each other.
Scans from The Scarecrow of Oz courtesy Marcus Mebes

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

The Characters of Oz — Betsy Bobbin and Hank the Mule

So, picture this scene, a stormy night at sea. A young girl is washed overboard, but manages to keep afloat on a piece of flotsam and jetsam with a barnyard animal companion. Soon she washes up near the Land of Ev.

And that's how Betsy Bobbin made her entrance into the world of Oz! ... Except that it's exactly like Dorothy's arrival in Ozma of Oz. And if you remember the last Characters blog, you can likely guess the reason.

Betsy originated from The Tik-Tok Man of Oz musical, which was primarily based on Ozma of Oz. Dorothy could not be used as the stage rights to her character were tied up with The Wizard of Oz extravaganza. So, she was replaced with a character named Betsy Bobbin. A mule named Hank served as a comic companion, like Imogene the calf in Wizard. He also replaced Billina.

Thus, Betsy has often been ignored for other characters after Tik-Tok of Oz and widely considered to be Dorothy with a name swap.

To add insult to injury, poor Betsy gets less to do in Tik-Tok than Dorothy did in Ozma. After arriving in the Rose Kingdom, she's joined by the Shaggy Man, who helps her free Ozga, the Rose Princess. (Mirroring some of the action from Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz.) After finding Tik-Tok and falling in with the Army of Oogaboo, Betsy is mainly lost in the action as she tags along and falls down the Hollow Tube. Baum does follow her night with the Famous Fellowship of Fairies, which is just about the least plot-relevant chapter. After scaring Ruggedo by requesting eggs, Kaliko puts Betsy and Hank in his private room, where they sit out the rest of the action. Later, Betsy helps search for the Shaggy Man's brother and offers to kiss him.

Betsy appears to be an orphan. We may presume she was traveling with her family in the ship, which caught fire and sank. She seems strangely remorseless if that's the case. Perhaps she was already an orphan and was being sent to overseas relatives. She says she and Hank have nowhere to go, despite indicating that she lived in Oklahoma before. As a result, Ozma gives into Dorothy's request and brings Betsy and Hank to the Emerald City, so Dorothy can have a new girl friend.

Hank is a pretty typical mule, and doesn't speak throughout the adventure of Tik-Tok of Oz. Only when he arrives in the Emerald City does he begin to speak and believes Betsy to be the loveliest girl, while the Lion and Tiger believe it to be Dorothy, and the Sawhorse sticks up for Ozma to have this title. Ozma then rebukes all three for pitting friends against one another.

Betsy and Hank join Dorothy and the Wizard's search party in The Lost Princess of Oz, while Betsy winds up having an adventure in the kingdoms of Ev in The Hungry Tiger of Oz.

Once again I'll break with restricting mentions to the Famous Forty and bring up the Oz stories of David Tai, who gave Betsy a differing personality from Dorothy and the other girl who would soon be introduced to the Oz series. So far, he's only published one story featuring Betsy, in Oziana 2008. "Executive Decisions" sees Betsy take a practical, reasonable approach to her world view, in a contrast to Dorothy's high tolerance.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

What I'm doing at Winkies

So, the Winkie Convention is a little over a month away! And yes, I'm going. Sam is not, unless he's been a sneaky guy and tricked us again.

This is Winkie Con #50, and it is going to be HUGE. All of the three-day convention tickets (which includes the exclusive evening programming) sold out, but passes can still be purchased for daytime activities.

The program is jam-packed this year, and they've posted an interactive schedule online. I'm still trying to figure out everything I want to try to attend!

I'm also taking part in the convention. As winner of the Standard Quiz last year, I'm presenting it this year. In addition, I got invited to take part in a couple of the programs. As "Oz and Ends" compiler for The Baum Bugle, I'm joining editor in chief Craig Noble for a discussion about what we do for the Baum Bugle and some hints about the future.

Also, John Bell, Paul Dana and I are going to be having a panel about the boy heroes of Oz that Baum created, such as Button-Bright, Ojo, and possibly others such as Woot the Wanderer, Inga, Zeb, and maybe Tip.

Paul and I will be manning a table with another author, offering Oz books for sale. This year, I'll have a Winkie Con exclusive: a picture book edition of The Way of a Lion, the short story I wrote that won the Fred Otto Award for best fiction last year. It was also printed in Oziana 2013, but this edition contains several lovely illustrations by Sam Milazzo that were not in Oziana. In addition, some of the pictures are not the same ones used in Oziana. Sam put additional touches on some, and completely redrew at least one. This is the only time this book will be available in this format. Any leftover copies will be available after Winkies via PayPal payment. Supplies will be limited and sold only on a first come, first served basis. No pre-payment or holds.

Also, Winkies will have a new feature this year: a video room that will show many Oz video offerings from over the years, from a new color-tinted version of the 1910 Wonderful Wizard of Oz silent film mastered from a 1080p enlargement, to an exclusive new trailer for Barnyard Studios' L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Also included is a print of Steve Stanchfield's new restoration of the 1933 Wizard of Oz cartoon (available on his upcoming Blu-Ray/DVD set Technicolor Dreams and Black and White Nightmares) and Rob Roy MacVeigh's Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz slideshow. There will also be many Oz music videos and song performances, as well as some longer pieces, such as selections from The Oz Kids series, Shirley Temple's The Land of Oz, Dorothy Meets Ozma of Oz, and some other surprises as well! If you just want to kick back at the convention for a moment, the video room will hopefully offer some entertaining options.

And there's the costume contest, show and tell, the auction, and a special one-night revival of The Tik-Tok Man of Oz. And of course, you'll get to meet some amazing Oz fans and make some new friends. See you there!

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Wonderment and Joy; Heartaches and Nightmares

In L. Frank Baum's famous introduction to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, he writes "the time has come for a series of newer 'wonder tales' in which the stereotyped genie, dwarf and fairy are eliminated, together with all the horrible and blood-curdling incidents devised by their authors to point a fearsome moral to each tale."

Those familiar with fairy tales point to the works of Hans Christian Andersen and the original version "Little Red Riding Hood," in which Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother are both devoured by the Wolf with no hope of rescue; or "The Little Mermaid," in which the title character commits suicide after not being able to fulfill her dreams. Yet another case is in Andersen's "The Red Shoes," in which a vain child gets fancy red shoes that become cursed, making her dance continually until she chops off her own feet.

To be sure, in his work, Baum still moralizes. Most notably, most of the stories in his American Fairy Tales from 1901 each contain a moral. And many of these are often humorous rather than having a deep point. In "The Box of Robbers," the moral is to leave such things alone, because the main character has to return items downstairs. "The Glass Dog" teases that there might be a moral, but the narrator cannot consult with the Wizard to discover it. The most poignant moral is in "The Wonderful Pump," in which a farmer and his wife are blessed with a great store of money, but squander it and have the rest of it stolen.

In contrast to Andersen and other fairy tales, Baum doesn't have to give a character a grisly end to point out his moral. Likely the closest he got was the story "The Tiger's Eye," which was published posthumously. Other pseudonymous or work for adults do have bloodshed, but Baum was working outside of his target audience for Oz.

However, there is more in Wizard's introduction that lobbies criticism at Baum: "...the story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was written solely to please children of today. It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out."

People criticize this because the book does contain what might be called "nightmare fuel." The Scarecrow and Tin Woodman kill several animals, to say nothing of the Kalidahs, the Fighting Trees, the Winged Monkeys, or the Wicked Witch of the West.

However there is an overlooked element to this, and it affected the entire composition of the text. Aside from the first, no chapter in the book ends with the characters in peril, save the Wicked Witch chapter which ends with the Tin Woodman and Scarecrow lost and disassembled. Baum even tells us about the Winged Monkeys, which should dispel any trepidation a child would have about them.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was written with children as its target audience, and they would not be reading the entire book all at once. To prevent nightmares, the dangers in Oz are usually introduced and dealt with in the same chapter, leaving Dorothy and her friends in relative safety. As Baum wrote in By the Candelabra's Glare:
                                Who's afraid?

Ev'ry Giant now is dead—
Jack has cut off ev'ry head.

Ev'ry Goblin, known of old,
Perished years ago, I'm told.

Ev'ry Witch, on broomstick riding,
Has been burned or is in hiding.

Every Dragon, seeking gore,
Died an age ago—or more.

Ev'ry horrid Bogie Man
Lives in far-off Yucatan.

Burglars dare not venture near
When they know that papa's here.

Lions now you only see
Caged in the menagerie.

And the Grizzly Bear can't hug
When he's made into a rug—

                                Who's Afraid?

This is why the book is episodic: it was arranged that way on purpose.

I do not believe that Baum kept this ideal for very long. In fact, it may have been the influence of W.W. Denslow, who Baum was partnering with on the first Oz book. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz systematically eliminates all dangers. Dot and Tot of Merryland—their next and final collaboration—had a complete lack of them.

After parting ways with Denslow, Baum quickly drifted from this method of eliminating horrors so soon. Critics have noted more linear narratives in his later Oz books. Often the villain is rendered harmless by story's end, but in these stories, no longer writing bedtime episodes, Baum was able to craft the entire book around these villains.

Denslow also wrote and illustrated his own picture books without Baum, and it's notable that Denslow's Humpty Dumpty features the title character being hard boiled to avoid easy breakage. His Mother Goose often sanitizes harsher elements of the classic rhymes (the Little Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe "kissed them all sweetly" instead of "whipping" her charges "soundly"). His own take on The Three Bears sweetens the story so much that it is nearly unrecognizable. I've seen more examples, but I'm just pointing out ones you can read for yourself right away.

So, I suggest that this dedication to making stories that would never frighten children was more of Denslow's concept than Baum's. If they had stuck together, Baum would have turned out some very different tales. But we can see that Baum quickly departed from this structure. In The Master Key, we have peril, as we do in the Awgwa episode of The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus and more adventure in The Enchanted Island of Yew, even though most dangers are worked through easily in those tales.

Many fans prefer Ozma of Oz to The Marvelous Land of Oz for a true sequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and it's easy to see why. The highly focused plot and suspense over the rescue of the Royal Family of Ev make an excellent plot. It's clear that after Baum's second Oz book, he was ready to just write some ripping good stories. Take Queen Zixi of Ix and John Dough and the Cherub, with the threats of the Roly-Rogues and Ali Dubh.

Baum would never go over-the-top gruesome in his tales. Yes, he suggests some nasty situations, but doesn't dwell on them. Famously, he allowed his publisher to excise a chapter from The Patchwork Girl of Oz in which is discovered a garden where plants grow people for their food, and that was his limit.

I personally believe that while Baum knew his limits, he quickly left behind the idea that his stories shouldn't contain anything disagreeable. That was what made them so enjoyable. To a young reader, a happy fairyland is not a lot of fun without a scary situation for the characters to face. If Ozma had whisked Dorothy and her friends to Oz at the beginning of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, it would not be as satisfying as after they had faced the Mangaboos, the Invisible Bears and the Wooden Gargoyles.

When Baum was writing The Little Wizard Stories, the publisher was concerned about a couple of tales. Toto originally killed Krinklink, and Baum altered the ending. But in the case of the Nome King believing Tik-Tok to be a ghost, Baum refused to rewrite to a gentler form: he knew his young readers would understand the story.

The characters must earn or defend their wonderment and joy, and sometimes, they have heartaches and nightmares. But eventually, they come out on the other side, just fine once again.