Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Craig's Bookshelf: The Magical Monarch of Mo (Part One)

In 1903 the Bobbs-Merrill Company began reissuing several of L. Frank Baum's children's fantasies. The New Wizard of Oz was the new title for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which was originally published in 1900 by the George M. Hill Company. Another title underwent a more radical change: A New Wonderland, published by R.H. Russell in 1900, became The Magical Monarch of Mo.

Although I've owned the book for years, I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I read Mo for the very first time less than a year ago. What a revelation! The whimsy and droll humor literally made me laugh out loud. It was a fresh and welcome reminder of Baum's genius for storytelling.

I recently took the opportunity to compare Mo and New Wonderland side by side. In addition to the title change, Baum made a few more alterations to the text. The most obvious change is that A New Wonderland takes place in the kingdom of "Phunnyland," whereas the latter book takes place in "Mo."
Many a Baum scholar has also noted that the name change was an obvious attempt to capitalize on the success of Wizard. Not only is Mo, like Oz, a monosyllabic word, but the structure of the title and alliteration of "Magical Monarch" clearly echoes "Wonderful Wizard."

The Magical Monarch of Mo is a shorter, thicker book than A New Wonderland, which surely was an effort to make it sit on the shelf uniform with Wizard. Bobbs-Merrill also changed the illustrations. For one thing it dropped the number of color plates from sixteen to twelve. Perhaps to compensate for the smaller number, the plates in Mo were printed in full color. One might argue that this was an improvement over the two-color versions in New Wonderland, although I happen to like the purple coloration of the original plates. Another change, which doubtless was an improvement, was the addition of numerous textual illustrations by Frank Ver Beck. Ver Beck's comical style perfectly complements the many absurd happenings in the story, such as when the Purple Dragon bites off the Magical Monarch's head. Imagine the scene - when the king returns home, the queen complains because she can't kiss her headless husband!

A New Wonderland is very hard to come by, but fortunately for collectors The Magical Monarch of Mo is easily acquired. What's more, it has its own unique publishing history, and there are multiple variants that can be fun to hunt for if one is so inclined. I'll take a closer look at some of these variants in the next installment of Craig's Bookshelf: The Magical Monarch of Mo (Part Two).


Marcus said...

Just going from memory here... but does that mean that the Dover edition reprinted the color plates from A New Wonderland? I seem to recall that they were the simple-colored ones, rather than more lavish.

Craig Noble said...

Good question, Marcus. I just checked my Dover edition. The plates appear to be the two-color plates from A New Wonderland, however, I counted only 15, and there should be 16. I think Dover may have dropped the frontispiece. The text illustrations appear to be from The Magical Monarch of Mo.