Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Volkov-thon: The Fiery God of the Marrans

On to Book 4. Translator Peter Blystone noted that The Fiery God of the Marrans was Volkov's weakest in the series. Let's see what he meant.

Reminder that Volkov had previously prevented Ellie from returning to Magic Land by means of saying she wouldn't return, so how was the series going to continue?

Speaking of which, in the last blog, Sam commented that he hoped there would be an explanation as to why Ellie would not return to Magic Land. Commenter Marc Berezin (who also assisted Blystone on the recent editions of the translations) said that it seemed to be because Ellie was growing up. This seems to be accurate as Underground Kings had her parents put a lot of emphasis on her need to go to school and learn more about the world. This almost seems to be a concept lifted out of The Chronicles of Narnia, in which the Pevensie children are told they need to grow closer to their own world as they get older.

In The Fiery God of the Marrans, Volkov doesn't keep Ellie out of the picture, revealing that she studied to become a teacher after her final visit to Magic Land. He also reveals that while she having her third adventure, her mother gave birth to another daughter, Annie.

The early chapters mainly focus on the new designs of Urfin Jus after his famous defeat in the second book. He of course isn't happy about his defeat and wants to conquer the Emerald City again. After waiting for a new chance for years, he gets one when he hears about the Marrans from Carfax, the eagle he helps. He sends Eot Ling the wooden clown to investigate further.

The Marrans were introduced back in The Wizard of the Emerald City in place of the Hammerheads. The short people can jump high and far and are nicknamed the Leapers. They're also very good at throwing punches. They live in their mountain and have never used fire.

It just so happens that Urfin managed to get a hold of a spare cigarette lighter that Charlie Black had when he visited Magic Land, so he has Carfax carry him to the Marrans and with his ability to call forth a flame instantly, he gets them to hail him as a god. He teaches them to cook, then build nice houses. (The noble Carfax eventually realizes Urfin's deceitful game and leaves him.) Soon, he has an army ready to march on the Emerald City.

Meantime, Strasheela has busied himself with digging a deep trench around the Emerald City to turn it into an island. Aside from the wall, this adds extra protection to the city by stopping a Deadwood Oak-manned ferry should enemies attack. Stella the Good Witch sends him a small box with a frosted glass side that will show him whoever of whatever he wishes to see by chanting a rhyme and requesting what he wants to see. (The "magic television set" is Volkov's portable version of the Magic Picture.) However, it can only show him people and places in Magic Land.

When Urfin attacks the Emerald City, Strasheela and his forces put up a mighty effort, but the Marrans eventually break in and conquer the City. This leaves Kaggi-Karr at a loss as to what to do next.

In Kansas, Annie is about seven years old and is obsessed with Ellie's tales of Magic Land. Ellie even gives her the whistle that can summon Ramina. She shares her obsession with her friend Tim O'Kelly, and when Fred Canning sends them solar-powered mechanical mules named Hannibal and Caesar, they prepare to ride them all the way to Magic Land! Hannibal and Caesar begin speaking when they arrive in Magic Land, and I couldn't help but think of them as some combination of the Sawhorse and Tik-Tok. Also accompanying them is a puppy Totoshka fathered named Artoshka, or Arto for short.

After being helped into Magic Land proper by Carfax, Annie manages to rescue a talking fox who is the king of a community of foxes (basically, a less-anthropomorphized version of Foxville), who gives Annie a silver circlet with a ruby that will make her invisible. Arriving in Munchkin Land, Annie discovers what has befallen Strasheela and the Iron Woodcutter (who's also been locked away by Urfin), so she heads to the Emerald City, where using the circlet, Soporific Water from Underground Land and the whistle, manages to free Strasheela, the Iron Woodcutter and steal the Magic Television Set from Urfin. Then, they head west.

Urfin tells the Marrans that a group of them who were attacking Winkie Country were killed and their bodies cut up and fed to pigs. This spurs them to march to Winkie Country, but Strasheela's use of the Magic Television Set warned him and they do the most surprising way to counter the attack: they have a volleyball game with the supposedly slaughtered Marrans. The incoming Marrans see their supposed dead friends and relatives still alive and realize Urfin was lying to them this entire time and chase him away. Ellie and Tim return home on the mules.

Quite a few more things happened in the book as well, but my above summary gives you the most plot-important bits. The Fiery God of the Marrans works well to introduce Annie and open the door for further adventures, but unfortunately, so much time is spent setting up the siege on the Emerald City that the sudden and quick wrap up with the volleyball game feels quite dissatisfying. It's fun, but I would have preferred a little more of Urfin getting a comeuppance.

Volkov has an afterword where he mentions he considered having this book be the final one, but he wound up starting a fifth book. That was actually the first of the series I'd read, and it wound up having a bit of inspiration for my own Oz spin-off Outsiders from Oz. But just to be fair, I'm going to read it again.

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