Monday, February 23, 2015

Volkov-thon: Urfin Jus and his Wooden Soldiers

One difference between Baum and Volkov was that Baum would write his books and they'd be published as books. However, some of Volkov's books were published in serial form in papers or magazines first. And sometimes, even after book publication, they would be updated to be a little more in line with the later books.

The first sequel to The Wizard of the Emerald City appeared in 1963. Urfin Jus and his Wooden Soldiers was no clone of The Marvelous Land of Oz, but it does bear some nods to that book and later Oz books. It was also here that Volkov made his Magic Land stories very distinct from Baum's Oz books.

Unlike Wizard, we open not in Kansas, but back in Magic Land. Volkov would make use of what he'd already established and then build on that for a sequel. We actually go back in time to before Gingema was killed and meet an unsociable Munchkin joiner (a carpenter) named Urfin Jus who eventually became Gingema's trusted servant. He happened to be away when Ellie's house fell on her, but took some of her things when he discovered her fate. This included her owl, Guamokolatokint. (Urfin calls him "Guam" at first, but the owl insists on no less than "Guamoko.") The owl attempts to tell Urfin how to be a good sorcerer, but Urfin, though bitter, would rather not eat live mice and leeches.

One day, in his garden, Urfin finds a strange thorny plant that he eventually has to uproot and lets it burn in the sun. When it brings to life his bearskin rug (akin to the one from The Road to Oz), he realizes that the ashes of the plant make a Powder of Life. He then brings to life a toy clown and then stuffs the bearskin rug with sawdust, naming his new assistants Enta Ling and Topotun, respectively. Then, he decides to conquer Blue Land by building Wooden Soldiers he calls the Deadwood Oaks. The Munchkins—being peaceful farmers—are easily conquered.

Urfin increases his army and marches for the Emerald City. Luckily, Kaggi-Karr the Crow is able to inform Strasheela in time for him, Din Gior and Faramant to set up simple but effective defenses to keep Urfin out. However, Guamoko is able to convince Ruf Bilan, one of the Emerald City guards, to betray Strasheela and open the gates for Urfin and his army. Strasheela is easily imprisoned, and the Iron Woodman—who had been called to come assist his old friend—is also captured. Needing help, Strasheela and the Iron Woodman have Kaggi-Karr fly over the desert with a message on a leaf for Ellie.

This is one touch I enjoy. In Baum's books (and in fact, the entire Famous Forty), Dorothy or other people from the outside world are never called to Oz to help out. (Closest is The Road to Oz in which Dorothy is brought to fairyland so she can get to Ozma's birthday party.) This happens most in some fan-written stories and original sequels to the first story. (Dorothy of Oz/Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, I'm looking at you...) What can Dorothy do to save the day that the people of Oz can't? In Magic Land, it is specifically Ellie's ingenuity that they look to. And they only call for her when they've exhausted all other options.

Ellie, meanwhile, is enjoying the company of her uncle Charlie Black, who is a peg-legged sailor. (Cap'n Bill, anyone?) He believes her tales of Magic Land and when Kaggi-Karr arrives, he is the driving force in getting them on the way to Magic Land, which lies not too far from Ellie's home in Kansas, just over the mountains. (So... there are mountains and a desert in this version of Kansas. Got it.) They cross the desert on a wheeled boat. (Also a nod to The Road to Oz.)

During the crossing into Magic Land, Ellie, Charlie and Totoshka are stranded on black rocks in the desert. They appear to have been cursed by Gingema to keep outsiders from reaching Magic Land. Ellie finally sets Kaggi-Karr free from her cage and lets her fly to Magic Land. About six days later, they are on the brink of dying from starvation when the crow returns with some strangely nourishing grapes. This allows them to leave the rock and reach Magic Land at last. (Kaggi-Karr reveals that most of the time was spent finding Villina, who transported Kaggi-Karr to the vineyard.)

After meeting with the Courageous Lion, Ellie and her new band is successful in freeing the Munchkins by managing to tie up the Deadwood Oaks who were guarding the new ruler of Blue Land. Then they head to the Emerald City, where the Queen of the Field Mice, Ramina, shows them an underground passage through the land of the Ore-Diggers (we'll be back in future stories), which goes to the tower where Strasheela and the Iron Woodman are held captive. They are freed, along with Faramant and Din Gior, and they escape to Violet Land to free the Winkies before they try to dethrone Urfin himself.

With a duel between the Iron Woodman and Enkin Feld (Urfin's appointed ruler of Violet Land), the Winkies are freed once again, though the Iron Woodman is badly damaged, requiring a delay before they can march to the Emerald City, where Urfin finally exhausts his supply of powder on a poor batch of Deadwood Oaks. Using a cannon, the force of Deadwood Oaks in the Emerald City is soon defeated as flaming debris is shot at them.

With order restored, Urfin is sent back home to live among the Munchkins, letting him remember who he tried to harm. All other guilty parties get sentenced hard labor, and the remaining Deadwood Oaks are given new faces and become loyal to Strasheela. The book ends with Ellie, Uncle Charlie and Totoshka preparing to return home.

Volkov wasn't going to take long with Ellie's next adventure. But we already know that he wrote six books while Baum turned out fourteen novels and several short stories and related works. What would Volkov do?

Pictures are by Leonid Vladimirisky and can be found here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Delphi's Complete Works of L. Frank Baum e-book

I don't often review (or buy) e-books, but as I was looking to add digital versions of books in my library to my phone for convenience's sake (and also because I'm packing up my library), I came across one that sounds as if it needed some closer examination. Claiming to be the Complete Works of L. Frank Baum for $3 on Amazon or $4 on Google Play or direct from the publisher.

Well, what does the publisher say about the collection?
For the first time in print or digital publishing, Delphi Classics is proud to present the complete fictional works of master storyteller L. Frank Baum. This monumental eBook offers hundreds of beautiful illustrations, lost works, informative introductions and the usual Delphi bonus material.
How does that hold up? Well, here's the table of contents.

Wow, that's pretty impressive! And well, it does contain all of his novels. The best way to navigate is to go through this table of contents and each novel contains its own table of contents. Some of the ones I haven't seen in e-book form before do seem to have some typos. Here's what you don't get, though: A New Wonderland (The Magical Monarch of Mo before it was revised, it contained at least one different chapter), and the new ending chapters of Aunt Jane's Nieces in the Red Cross added for its 1918 revision.

But wait, aren't there more plays that Baum wrote that still exist? Yes, the script for Ozma of Oz (eventually revised and produced as The Tik-Tok Man of Oz) is actually already online and the script for The Woggle-Bug exists in the Library of Congress. There are also a number of shorter plays Scott Andrew Hutchins put on his now-offline (but Archived) site. So, this is a section that could be expanded. (Also, the complete script for The Uplift of Lucifer is out there.)

So, what about the short stories? They have two tables of contents, one chronological, one alphabetical. (There's also a similar one for the poems.)

So, it seems we're losing the introductions for Animal Fairy Tales and Mother Goose in Prose here. Strange. Also, the recently-discovered short story "John" (published in the Baum Bugle) doesn't appear. And, of course, "Chrome Yellow" doesn't appear. (You can't get that anywhere, thanks, Baum Trust.)

There is, however, one item that causes me some consternation. "The Queer Visitors from Oz." Does that title sound familiar? Well, as I'm the one who compiled that collection, it should. It's an import of an e-book made of my digital collection on an old version of my website. It has no table of contents and this means that The Woggle-Bug Book is included in this compilation twice. (I've since compiled a better version with a working table of contents in both HTML and EPUB. It is not online, though.) Even more strangely, some of my captions for pictures on my site made it into the text! Also, there's no note that I edited the "What Did The Woggle-Bug Say?" answers into the story.

Okay, so what about poems?

Well, that's pretty nice, though I know the next Baum Bugle will contain a never-before seen poem by Baum, so it's incomplete, but we can't quite call foul here since the publishers had no access to it before.

As for illustrations? No, the illustrations aren't complete. Not every book has illustrations, and not even all of the illustrated books have all the illustrations. The main point of e-books is retaining the text, and a complete set of images for all of Baum's work would result in a massive file.

Finally, perhaps songs would be out of the scope of an e-book collection, but I know, Baum had written many songs for plays and otherwise. While I imagine it wouldn't be ideal to include the sheet music, at least having the lyrics would have been nice.

Overall, though, while I've pointed out that this collection is not complete, it is still a massive selection of Baum's works in a fairly easy to access format. For only $3 or $4, I'd say what is there would make it ideal for anyone wanting to add Baum's works to their e-reader.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Volkov-thon: The Wizard of the Emerald City

If you've been a longtime reader of the blog, you've seen me mention Alexander Volkov's rewriting of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as Волшебник Изумрудного Города (Volshebnik Izumrudnogo Goroda), properly translated into English as The Wizard of the City of Emeralds. You may have seen me mention that Volkov wrote five original sequels to this first book, but I've never really discussed this series. That's because I hadn't read it all. However, my collection of translations by Peter Blystone is finally complete, so I can finally tell you all about it.

The Wizard of the Emerald City (as I call it) very much follows the storyline of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, though the opening chapter is quite different. Ellie lives in Kansas with her parents John and Anna and her little dog Totoshka. She has friends and family nearby, so Ellie's Kansas is not quite as lonely as Dorothy's. In an interesting aside, Anna reads Ellie a story about a magician, so Dorothy's remark that her female guardian told her that there were no more magicians or witches is not only retained, but displayed as well.

Then we cut over to the Magic Land, where in the Blue Land of the Munchkins, the Wicked Witch of the East Gingema is brewing up a new spell to wipe out all life on earth, save the few creatures she finds useful. This spell takes the form of a storm, and it is this storm that brings Elli's little house to the Magic Land, and right on Gingema.

The Good Witch of the North (Yellow Land), Villina, uses a magic book instead of a slate. She was informed of Gingema's evil spell and used her own magic to alter it so that instead of the intended mass extinction, it would only drop an abandoned house on Gingema. Well, a house that should have been abandoned. In order for Ellie to return home, Villina's magic book says that she must help three beings fulfill their fondest wishes.

Volkov added this to stress the importance of helping one another, but while it might be interesting to add this to the reason why Ellie may return home, I think Baum did better by having Dorothy assist the people she meets simply because she feels it is the right thing to do. Ellie seems to enjoy helping others anyway.

One little addition Volkov makes is that Totoshka begins talking as soon as he is addressed in Magic Land. He proves a happy, energetic character and is also the one who retrieves Gingema's Silver Shoes, which Ellie decides to wear right away because she was needing a new pair of shoes as it was.

The Scarecrow is called Strasheela by Volkov, and the crow who told him he needed brains returns in sequels and is called Kaggi-Karr. Volkov also changes the Tin Woodman into Iron and the Kalidahs become saber-tooth tigers that went extinct everywhere but Magic Land. Further naming changes include the Wizard: he is known as Goodwin, and he reveals that James Goodwin is his name. The Guardian of the Gates is named Faramant, the Soldier with the Green Whiskers is Din Gior, and the green girl is named Fleeta. The Wicked Witch of the West (Violet Land) is named Bastinda, and Glinda is now Stella of Rose Land in the south. Goodwin appears to the Scarecrow as a mermaid, while the descriptions of the great head and the beast differ from Baum's original a little. The Hammerheads are simply leaping men called Marrans who can throw heavy punches.

Volkov adds things as well. A badger tries to get in to the cottage Ellie sleeps in before she meets the Woodman and Strasheela scares it away. An ogre kidnaps Ellie before she meets the Lion, forcing Strasheela, Totoshka and the Iron Woodcutter to rescue her. Ellie discovers Bastinda's aversion to water and uses it to her advantage. Totoshka stays with the Lion when Bastinda has them captured. The Winkie cook Fregosa is persuaded by Ellie to re-evaluate Bastinda's threats and begins to believe that the Winkies can safely revolt against the Witch. However, Bastinda is killed before that can occur. (She leaves behind clothes and hair when she dies, grisly details Baum glossed over.)

Goodwin mentions he has a source of hydrogen, and after he leaves the Emerald City in his balloon, an eclipse occurs, leading them to believe Goodwin moved to the Sun. Baum's Fighting Trees and Dainty China Country are omitted for another river crossing that is more disastrous as it becomes a raging deluge that leaves the friends stranded for a few days and almost makes them lose the Golden Cap and Strasheela. Ellie also intends to give Strasheela the Golden Cap, realizing that he can use it after her turns, but it winds up going to Stella anyway.

When Ellie returns to Kansas, the ending goes on a little further to inform us that she told her story and that Totoshka had a promised fight with a neighboring dog, ending in a draw. Finally, Ellie went to the fair to get new shoes and happened to see a circus. And who happened to be in the circus but Goodwin himself!

Volkov writes in a later edition's afterword that his rewriting was in line with a bit of Russian culture, which was to befriend and help others. A woman once told me that she'd been in a group that distributed coloring pages and crayons to Russian children in a children's home, and when one child had been missed, the other children began to give them parts of their own gifts so they wouldn't go without. Of all the ways to reinterpret Oz, this take is quite welcome, since it actually feels Ozzy in its own way.

Yet, despite being very close to Baum's original, Volkov had made a new version of Oz called Magic Land that he would eventually expand upon. The first edition of Wizard was published in 1939, and a revised version was released in 1959. (Blystone's translation merges the two texts.) After the revision, Volkov would soon return to Magic Land with a story that had some nods to Oz, but was overall entirely his own.

(These pictures are by Leonid Vladimirsky and can be seen here.)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Characters of Oz — Kiki Aru

When Ozma restricted the practice of magic to only a few trusted individuals, there were notably some who ignored her ruling. However, one Munchkin named Bini Aru decided that even though he'd discovered a powerful charm of transformation, he would obey Ozma's word and stop using it and any other magic. However, he decided to record the magic word "pyrzqxgl" on the underside of a floorboard, just in case he might be permitted to use it again.

Well, Bini and his wife Mopsi happened to have a son named Kiki, and one day when his parents were away, Kiki happened to find that floorboard and discovered the secret it held. Being a cross and disagreeable Munchkin boy who wanted to see the world outside the settlement on top of the steep Mount Munch, Kiki quickly realized he could achieve his much-desired goal of seeing the world outside of his mountain home. Very soon, he memorized and mastered the magic word and flew off over the Deadly Desert to the Lands beyond Oz.

Kiki ventured through Hiland and Loland, then flew over Merryland, toured Noland and Ix, and finally arrived in Ev, where he wound up stealing money to pay for dinner and lodging. This caused him to be noticed by Ruggedo, the former Nome King. Discovering that the boy knew how to work transformations, Ruggedo quickly made him an ally and convinced him to help him return to Oz with intent to conquer.

Upon arriving in Oz, Kiki quickly realized that he was nothing more than a means to an end for Ruggedo's plot to make the animals of the Forest of Gugu revolt against Ozma and the human/humanoid people of Oz. Yet he kept dutifully performing transformations as he expected a reward eventually. In the shape of monkeys with lion's heads with eagle's wings and donkey's tails with gold balls at the end (these were dubbed Li-Mon-Eags), they nearly convinced King Gugu to help them attack Oz.

Until the Wizard and Dorothy happened to show up in the first. Kiki wound up panicking and made some hasty transformations, incapacitating everyone who seemed to be in his way, including turning Ruggedo into a goose and the Wizard into a fox.

Ruggedo managed to get Kiki to transform him back into a Li-Mon-Eag, but now the Nome was trying to discover the magic word for himself. However, before he could master it, the Wizard happened to be hiding in the same hollow tree that Kiki would say the word into, attempting to keep it a secret. After the Wizard managed to get the pronunciation down, he turned Kiki into a harmless mute hickory nut.

After a little while, Ozma had the Wizard restore Kiki to his true form, adding that he would be thirsty so he'd drink of the Water of Oblivion. He was unable to tell Ozma anything before he took a drink. They could tell from his clothes that he was a Munchkin, so Ozma decided to keep him in the Emerald City to give him a fresh, good start. And since Kiki's wickedness was based around being ignored, this should have proved to be an improvement in his character.

Except Kiki Aru is never mentioned again in the Famous Forty Oz books.

Kiki sticks out from Baum's other villains because he is not a wicked sorcerer, he is not an elemental being like the Nome King. He is a simple Munchkin boy. He doesn't like to play with neighbors or other Munchkins, but really, Kiki could be any child. He didn't even want to harm the Oz people. His first real crime—theft—was done from necessity. Perhaps if he had never met Ruggedo, he might have lived an odd but happy life outside of Oz. But after being taken in by the Nome and causing problems in Oz, one could see why Ozma needed to make him forget the magic word.

There is a story in Oziana titled "Much Ado About Kiki Aru" in which Bini Aru finds and claims his son. While I liked that part, if also explains why the Wizard never uses the magic word "pyrzxqxgl" again. While I admit that the Wizard knowing this word makes later stories less problematic (why didn't the Wizard transform the sunken city's support beams in Glinda of Oz?), I've found it fun to think that the word still works and the Wizard is just about the only one who knows it, and he uses this knowledge very sparingly.

Whether or not "Much Ado" is canon or not, I think it's safe to say that Kiki was eventually reunited with his parents. If Dorothy related the story to Mr. Baum, who wrote it as a story, then how did she know Kiki's name?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Bad Wizard

We have had no shortages of Oz reimaginings over the years, from A Barnstormer in Oz to Wicked to Tin Man. So, when the publishers of James Maxey's Bad Wizard asked me to review his new book, I was open to it, but not entirely sure it would bring anything new to the table.

The best way to think of Bad Wizard is akin to "Elseworlds" or "What If?", just instead of comics, it's the Oz books. Everything that happened in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is canon, and there are a number of references and scenarios inspired by the later books (particularly The Marvelous Land of Oz). Thus, anyone unfamiliar with those doesn't need to worry, while those who are can keep an eye out for Easter Eggs, if they can stand another reimagining.

Oscar Diggs, the new secretary of War for the United States, is a mysterious man indeed. The only one who seems to know what's going on is Dorothy Gale, journalist for The Kansas Ear. She mysteriously vanishes from place to place, collecting impossible information on Diggs that he keeps having to silence.

Now working for Diggs is Esau Benjou, a devoutly Christian man who helps his mother's ministry, whose sole reason for helping Diggs is the much-needed income for his family. Esau is quite familiar with mechanics, and it so happens that Diggs is building airships for the means of war. That's right, the Wizard of Oz is behind the development of zeppelins.

What does Diggs have in mind? He means to return to a mysterious land he believes is in the sky. A land that he and Dorothy only know of: Oz. And he means to rule it again, by force, if need be.

Nearly the first two thirds of the book are spent getting the characters together and finally bringing them to Oz. As often happens, when one is promised Oz but spends a lot of time in Kansas, the Kansas chapters feel rather dull. Not that a lot of exciting things don't happen in Kansas, but Oz is where the real adventure starts. (And for a tease, Ozma is in this book!)

A lot of lore about Oz is revealed. First is the ideas that Diggs has about Oz. Some of them might be right in Maxey's take on Baum's land, some don't appear to be correct. Then Dorothy learns new things about Oz from its inhabitants, including some surprising origins for the witches. There may be enough to go on for another book about Oz if Maxey so chooses.

Maxey's writing style is rather nice. I only felt a little bored during the Kansas chapters because I wanted Oz, not because it was badly written. The story flows pretty nicely, often taking the Baum-like approach of switching between plots with each chapter.

Despite being an Oz reimagining for adults, Maxey doesn't use a lot of profanity and crude suggestions. There are suggestions of sex (Dorothy is onboard a zeppelin and Diggs tells her that she shouldn't go out to the crew because they're men who've only been around men lately...), characters smoke and drink, and there is a lot of death. (Maxey makes it clear that people only die in Oz due to violent deaths.)

Overall, if you're interested in alternate versions of Oz, I'd recommend this one.