Thursday, April 02, 2015

Volkov-thon: The Mystery of the Deserted Castle

And so we come to the final book. Volkov, like Baum, wrote Magic Land stories to his final days.

One thing we notice is that Volkov tended to make use of his old characters as much as possible, where Baum would have characters come in and go again and sometimes never return. This is not to say either is a problem, but it does speak of the differences of the two worlds: Magic Land feels smaller and more interconnected as a result (which is in its favor as it is hidden in America somewhere), while Oz feels larger and if a character doesn't reappear, it's more likely that they're just going about their lives and didn't get involved in this particular story.

The Mystery of the Deserted Castle opens not in Magic Land nor in Kansas but in outer space as the rocket ship Diavona from the planet Rameria heads to Belloria (Earth). Volkov explains quite a bit about the ship, Rameria, and the two races of the planet: the amiable, hard-working, inventive Arzaks and the lazy and cruel Menvits, who have the power to make the Arzaks forget their accomplishments and stay subservient.

Although Volkov takes his time to tell the story, it can be recapped briefly: the Diavona lands in Magic Land, outside the abandoned castle of the giant wizard Hurricap who had made Magic Land magic (kind of like Lurline, but not immortal). The newcomers take possession of the castle. Having the birds and gnomes spy on the newcomers as much as possible (some birds are killed when the Menvits fire their ray-guns), the people of Magic Land try to discover as much as possible from a safe distance. Also, Strasheela has the Magic Television set.

Urfin Jus, who became a gardener as well and had his regular food festivals interrupted by the newcomers, manages to sell his vegetables to the newcomers and get what information he can. The Menvits capture Mentaho (a former Underground King) and his wife as they learn the language and discover that the Arzak people who came with the Menvits are actually friendly. Furthermore, they discover that if the Arzaks are holding emeralds, they are immune to the psychic control of the Menvits. Mentaho lies to the Menvits about Magic Land to make the newcomers hesitant to openly attack, the main elaboration being that there are giants are all around. (The gnomes keep everyone else informed of what Mentaho says and Tilly-Willy walks around with different painted faces regularly.)

Because this is a Magic Land book, Annie and Tim are sent for by means of Oyho the Dragon, and Fred Canning joins them to help the people of Magic Land build a mine. However, they are hesitant to blow up the mine, and try to put Soporific Water into the Menvits' food instead, though it seems they might not have a choice as the Menvits are becoming frustrated with the repeated failures of their attempted attacks (thanks, eagles and Gingemma's black rocks!) and want to blow up the Emerald City and the rest of Magic Land before returning to Rameria. They also kidnap Annie to confirm what Mentaho said. (Thanks to the gnomes, she's in line with him.)

Luckily, the Soporific Water comes through the newly constructed pipes just in time, putting the Menvits to sleep and putting the Arzaks in charge, who get ready to head back to Rameria with plenty of emeralds in tow so they can fight against the Menvits' psychic powers. Oyho takes Annie, Tim and Fred back home.

Magic Land has definitely developed over the series. By this book, Strasheela has united so much of Magic Land and has such a good surveillance system that there was pretty much no need to call for Annie at all. Yes, she helped (Ramina and her mice are actually instrumental in bringing the Soporific Water to the castle, and Annie summoned them), but it's really pretty minor considering what else was being done.

One might well gape at using invaders from outer space in a book that was inspired by Oz, but may I remind you that Ruth Plumly Thompson's Ozoplaning with the Wizard of Oz and John R. Neill's The Wonder City of Oz also go beyond the stratosphere. In any case, Volkov doesn't make the invaders far too fantastic.

In any case, we've seen how you could take a concept like Oz and go in a different direction than Baum while not going overly dark or adult in theme. Although, Baum's feminist fairyland certainly becomes a patriarchal society here...

So, this wraps up Volkov's series. He died in 1977 before the book edition was published in 1982. However, Magic Land had captured the imagination of readers, and spinoff novels exist, just as they do with the original Oz series. Blystone has translated a series of books by Sergei Sukinhov, but I've yet to get those. But now that we've got these done, I think I can say that we'll be back to Magic Land someday.

All pictures in this series are by Leonid Vladimirsky. They—and more illustrations—can be found with the Russian texts of the series at

1 comment:

Вильгельм Беломестнов said...

I am from Russia myself and I've read all the six books. And, in my opinion, the 6th is dissapointing. The writing style, the plot devices - it just screams "Mary Sue". In fact, there's a speculation(close to being confirmed) that Volkov couldn't finish the book, so it was done by one of his colleauges.

Also important to note are the absulute stupidity and awful cliches when it comes to aliens in the story.

(and yes, this was pretty much a NORM for Russian sci-fi back in the day)

So, our "aliens" are supposed to be ADVANCED creatures from SPACE, that probably have a DIFFERENT CULTURE and TECHNOLOGY, that shouldn't resemble OURS in ANY WAY POSSIBLE, right?

Now, see for youself:
-Arrived on a ROCKET SPACESHIP (with a VERTICAL landing);
-Established a camp with TENTS (friggin' tourists)
-Write using INK and PAPER
-Play friggin' SOCCER and VOLEYBALL (FYI, on their own, no one told them anything)

In cas you still don't get it - they are an EXACT COPY of an AVERAGE RUSSIAN HUMAN BACK IN THE DAY.

This shit alone made me want to facepalm my brain into space....