Monday, March 23, 2015

Volkov-thon: The Yellow Fog

On to the penultimate book in Volkov's series. It didn't matter that I'd read them out of order because Volkov wrote the books so that they could be read individually. Baum did the same thing, but they did them differently. Baum would just fill you in on the information you needed to know. Volkov, however, would tend to recap the entire series so far.

In The Yellow Fog, he at least has a nice reason for doing so. He opens thousands of years in the past, telling how the wizard Hurricap (who created Magic Land, pretty much Volkov's Lurline... noticing something?) battled the Witch Arachna, who was also a giantess. Upon victory, he put her in an enchanted sleep instead of killing her. The tribe of tiny gnomes (actual tiny little men, no relation to the Nomes we know from Oz) refreshes Arachna's clothes and a food supply and her magic flying carpet as she sleeps for five thousand years. They also keep a record of everything that is happening in Magic Land for her to read when she awakens.

In this way, I was kind of reminded of not a Baum book, but Rachel Cosgrove Payes' The Wicked Witch of Oz in which a witch awakens from a long, enchanted sleep. As Cosgrove wrote her book in the 1950s but it went unpublished until 1993, and Volkov's book came out in 1974, there is no chance of one inspiring the other.

As it happens, Arachna awakens one year after the events of The Fiery God of the Marrans and reads the record to get up to speed on Magic Land. So here is where Volkov takes two chapters to recap the entire series for people like me who began with this book.

After finishing the chronicle, Arachna decides to take over Magic Land, and she has the Nomes send for a henchman in her schemes: Urfin Jus!

Volkov goes back to Urfin and Guamoko's fates after their defeat in the previous book. There was nothing left for Urfin to do but return to his home in Munchkin Land, feeling defeated and sorry for himself, but along the way, the Munchkins open their doors to him, letting him have food and shelter. And so, touched by their kindness, Urfin begins to think about how he's been living. Returning home, he finds the plants he made his Powder of Life from respawned. He briefly considers building a new army, but then uproots the plants and destroys them and builds a new home elsewhere. He's done enough to the people of Magic Land who have repaid his foul behavior with kindness.

I was developing my book Outsiders from Oz when I first read The Yellow Fog and at the time, Ruggedo the ex-Nome King had not joined the story. I'd seen people compare Urfin to Ruggedo due to his repeated plots to conquer the Kingdom, so when I read these chapters, it gave me the idea not only to include Ruggedo, but also what to do for his character arc. I added some twists and Ruggedo's story is quite different from Urfin's, but it did prove my inspiration.

So, when the gnomes arrive to fetch Urfin to consult with Arachna (he gives them some gifts and carries them in a wheelbarrow to make the trip faster), he refuses to help her. She says that he will regret it and he leaves, noting that other gnomes fetched another potential henchman: Ruf Bilan. He had just awaken from drinking the Soporific Water and was being re-educated when the gnomes fetched him. Arachna has him learn his past life from the Record and he agrees to help her, assuring her that the people of Magic Land will swiftly surrender.

That is not the case. Word spreads quickly in Magic Land and all the people Arachna tries to conquer: the Marrans, the Winkies, the Emerald City, the Ore-Diggers and even the Munchkins are all able to repel her attempts at conquest. Oyho the Dragon even manages to rip off a piece of the Magic Carpet which Rujero uses as its own carpet.

So Arachna sets her next plan in motion: the Yellow Fog. This fog covers Blue Land, Violet Land, and the Emerald Kingdom, and at first seems to be harmless, but after some time, people begin coughing from its effects. But the doctors Robil and Boril discover that wearing raffaloo leaves over your mouth and nostrils will ease your breathing. Urfin Jus—who is brought to the Emerald Island after Strasheela discovers his reformation—also shows that the fog can be repelled with smoke.

Soon, the fog begins affecting vision as well, and everyone is required to wear glasses. Finally, the fog brings cold weather and snow—previously unknown to the people of Magic Land—and Strasheela sends Oyho and Faramant to fetch Annie and Tim to show them how to prepare for winter.

In Kansas, the mechanical mules have been helping John not only plow his own fields, but also that of his neighbors, increasing his income. At the time Oyho and Faramant arrive, Charlie Black has been visiting and Tim is interested in going to sea with the old sailor.

There is one bit that Tim quotes that kind of set me off: "Men are obliged to seek their fortunes in foreign climes, while it's the lot of the women to keep the home fires burning." This rather old-fashioned maxim does give us a little reminder about one of the differences between Volkov's Magic Land and Baum's Oz. Baum had women take lead roles. They're allowed to do as they please. However, Volkov's women are either villains, the rarely seen Villina and Stella, or simply assist the male characters. Even as Annie returns to Magic Land, it's really Charlie and Tim who lead the action.

Arriving in Magic Land, Strasheela and the Iron Woodman confer with Charlie on how to openly attack Arachna. They wind up building a giant mechanical man they call Tilly-Willy, and with his fierce, ugly face, is sure to frighten even the giant witch. Tilly-Willy comes to life after construction and begins to speak like Charlie. This giant will fight Arachna, and Tim will help sneak mice into her lair to devour her magic carpet to prevent a getaway. After a long, hard journey (many mice perish on the way), they manage to surprise Arachna with Tilly-Willy and destroy the carpet. In an amusing twist, the bits of the magic carpet allow the mice to fly away from the wildcats Arachna summons. Volkov mentions that they lost the power to fly and the magic carpets remnants were spread all over Magic Land. Those who know how digestive systems work realize what Volkov just said without actually saying it.

Little fun bit, in James Patrick Doyle's song "Pull Together" for his musical adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the Queen of the Field Mice sings "We can even learn to fly!" I can't help but mentally connect that verse and this scene in The Yellow Fog.

Annie goes to get Carfax the Eagle, who assists Tilly-Willy in his fight against Arachna, using his giant sword to break her club, and eventually pushing her over a cliff, where she perishes.

Charlie and Annie find the spell to lift the Yellow Fog in Arachna's magic book, and after the fog is gone, the book is burned to prevent anyone from using it again. The gnomes do not miss their old mistress and Strasheela tasks them with maintaining their record of the events of Magic Land. (So, this could be Volkov's take on the Book of Records.) The book wraps up with a celebration in the Emerald City as Oyho prepares to take Annie, Tim and Charlie back to Kansas.

The Yellow Fog is a good story on its own, and what I appreciated when I first read it was that Annie and her companions are not called to save Magic Land. The people of Magic Land were defying Arachna on their own and only called for them to learn how to survive during the Winter.

One little thing does bug me: why is such a huge disaster happening in the rest of Magic Land and Villina and Stella are just doing nothing? Volkov rarely used these characters after the first book, and in a contrast to Baum's books, Villina the Good Witch of the North gets more appearances in these books than Glinda's counterpart, Stella. Still, Ruf Bilan suggests that the Flying Monkeys could overpower Arachna. Did it occur to no one that calling on these two sorceresses might help?

Well, we have one more book. Then I can get on some proper Oz books I got recently.


Sam A M said...

For a Witch/Sorceress, Arachna looks very man-like in her face (particularly Native-American).

Anonymous said...

Or perhaps from the Asian Soviet eastern regions.