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.


Anonymous said...

Volkov must have been inspired by ROAD TO OZ. Besides a bear rug brought to life by the Powder and the Sand Boat, there is a community of intelligent foxes in his later FIERY GOD OF THE MARRANS.


Sam A M said...

You get more of a sense that Oz/Dorothy's friends and the people are calling her back in the Movie Novel "Return to Oz", than the film itself ...

Вильгельм Беломестнов said...

Всем привет из России!
Thought I might share some fun stuff with you guys.

Did you know that there have been some speculation and scandals about the main antagonist of this book when it was published?

See, in his diary Volkov wrote that the surname Jus means "Jealous" (probably inspired by this very word in particular).

However, "Urfin Jus" sounds a lot like "Orphan Jews", and a lot of people saw his appearance as a caricature impression of a Jew (especially the big nose and overall gloominess). As you can guess, some people were not amused by this.

But there's another theory. It speculates that Urfin was actually inspired by Hitler. See for yourself:

-He is very sullen and gloomy;

-Demanded people to obey him (since childhood);

-Trained long and hard in front of a mirror to get rid of his munching habbit (as done by any politician)

-Went into total militarism, seized power in his home country, followed with territorial expansion;

-During the trial over Urfin, when they asked Lan Pirot (the commander of Urfin's armies) if he admits his guilt, he answers that he's "innocent and was just following orders" (Otto Adolf Eichmann, anyone?).

Also, about the Wooden Soldiers:
They are called "Дуболомы" (Dubolomy, plural) which translates as "men who break oaks", but also has a meaning of "very strong, but have no brain to back it up". As it was discovered later, their fierce faces was what made them violent, so by carving them new, frendly faces they turned them into nice, hard-working fellas.

Anonymous said...

Thus they could've been named Deadwood Oafs, that would've retained the original "strong but stupid" vibe.