Monday, March 09, 2015

Volkov-thon: The Seven Underground Kings

On to book 3! I hadn't read this one before, but I'd seen the stop-motion adaptation of it, but now that I've read the book, I can tell that that was a very abbreviated version of this story.

Now, one thing Volkov did quite differently from Baum was setting up a backstory. In Baum's books, things are there, and why they're there isn't always explored.

At the start of The Seven Underground Kings, Volkov takes us back to the Land of the Underground Ore-Diggers, explaining why these people live underground. They have seven brothers for kings, and they each one rule one month in turn and each king has his own court. This was very draining on the resources of the Underground Land until they discovered the Soporific Water, which makes someone enter a sleep for a time and when they awaken, they have to be reeducated on who they are. (Basically, Volkov's take on the Water of Oblivion.) The Kings agree that to ease the burden on the kingdom, they and their courts will use the water and sleep in between their reigns.

This system works fine until the close of Urfin Jus and his Wooden Soldiers. The traitor Ruf Bilan fled underground, and while doing so, accidentally damaged the spring the Soporific Water came from, preventing them from using it. Over the months that follow, the Kings and their courts awaken and become a burden on the people again. The Kings finally have to decide to dismiss most of their courts and have one shared court.

Back in Kansas, Ellie goes to school for some months after her last return from Magic Land, before being invited to spend time with her cousin Fred Canning, who prides himself on his adventures until he hears Ellie's tales of Magic Land. The two decide to go visit a cave with Totoshka, but are trapped by a rockslide. They travel underground for many days, nearly starving, until they find Underground Land.

Upon seeing Ellie, Ruf Bilan calls her a powerful fairy and suggests she restore the spring of the Soporific Water before she can leave. Ellie objects since she's just a little girl, but the king sides with Ruf. They are able to send Totoshka to the surface, to Munchkin Country, where he's able to get the word out that Ellie is in Underground Land and being held prisoner. Strasheela plans to attack Underground Land until they get Fred out to Munchkin Country and to the Emerald City to explain the full details. This lets the mechanic Lestar decide that it would be a better idea to find the source of Soporific Water and set up a pump

So it is that Strasheela, the Iron Woodman, the Courageous Lion, Lestar and a regiment of Deadwood Oaks arrive in Underground Land with many gifts. While Lestar works on the pump, Ellie's friends begin to suffer from the damp, requiring Strasheela to stay near a forge (but not too close!) to stay dry, the Iron Woodman to stay in a tank of oil to prevent himself from rusting away, and the Lion has to continually consume medicine for his cold as the Deadwood Oaks begin to swell.

As they hit the water, they discover its vapor can send people to sleep as well, unless they're wearing diamonds. The Kings begin to plot against the each other, wanting to put all the others to sleep so they can rule continually. So the timekeeper Rujero decides that maybe the time of having Seven Kings needs to come to an end, and Strasheela suggests that all the kings and their courts be put to sleep, and instead of reeducating them back into their old lives, to send them into being contributing members of society who will work to keep Underground Land from starving again, and Rujero will move from timekeeper (who kept an eye on the hourglasses to measure when the Kings' time would be up) to the new, single King of Underground Land. This measure is agreed to and they manage to expose all the kings and their courts to the water at the same time.

After the Kings are reeducated, the end of Underground Land arrives. It is decided that it would be best if the Underground people didn't stay underground and move to the surface. They agree to this, though given that many of them are used to living with low light, they will need to adjust to living in the sunlight.

Ellie calls Ramina, the Queen of the Field Mice, who tells her that she can see into the future and that Ellie will not be returning to Magic Land. Ellie says a tearful goodbye to her friends, wanting to hide from them the notion that she won't be back, even though the Iron Woodman feels it in his heart. She, Totoshka and Fred are carried back to Kansas by Oyho the Dragon from Underground Land.
Here we see Volkov fully branching into his own stories. Is the existence of an underground kingdom inspired by the Nome Kingdom? Maybe. The Soporific Water is certainly based on the Water of Oblivion, but its abilities to put people to sleep is an invention of Volkov, as is the idea that with a little reeducation, the people exposed to the water can regain a sense of who they were.

More importantly, Volkov was able to put an end to Ellie's adventures and send her home, while Baum had Dorothy move to Oz. Yet the stories of Magic Land were not concluded. Volkov wrote three more books in his series, so how would they continue?


Sam A M said...

I hope they actually give a reason of why Elli can't return to Magic Land ... this book or another.

Anonymous said...

I think she was getting too old.