Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Land of Stories

It's not often I talk about non-Oz books on this blog. When I do, they have some connection to Oz, usually their author or illustrator. In this case, I initially had no intention to write about this series on this blog. But, well, when the latest volume has the Emerald City, the Tin Woodman and the Yellow Brick Road on the front cover, you gotta reconsider, right?

The series at hand is The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer, who is popular for playing Kurt Hummel on the TV series Glee. However, he branched out into writing with a screenplay titled Struck By Lightning and later got it produced, and also went into publishing with a novel adaptation of the screenplay as well as the series at hand.

I happened to pick up the first book in the series, The Wishing Spell, a couple years ago on a whim. The book follows the adventures of twins Alex and Conner Bailey (fraternal, Alex is a girl, Conner is a boy) as they discover the book of fairy tales their grandmother gave them contains a portal to the world where those classic fairy tales actually took place. In the first book, they go searching for the ingredients to perform the Wishing Spell so they can return home, except they're not the only ones as Snow White's evil stepmother is also searching for the ingredients.

The second book, The Enchantress Returns, finds the twins returning to the Land of Stories (often just called the fairy tale world) as their mother has been kidnapped by the Enchantress who cursed Sleeping Beauty. Their adventures lead them to build the Wand of Wonderment to defeat their nemesis. One chapter of note to Oz fans features Alex being knocked unconscious and in her delirium, she meets and speaks to heroines of her favorite stories: Alice from Alice in Wonderland, Wendy Darling from Peter Pan, in a case of copyright evasion, Lucy Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia, and of course, Dorothy Gale from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

The third book, A Grimm Warning, finds Alex training to succeed Cinderella's fairy godmother as Conner is on a trip to Germany to hear some recently unearthed stories by the Brothers Grimm. The first two are stories from the fairy tale world that Conner had written down and presented for school assignments, but the third, he realizes, is a warning for the fairy tale world, and one of the best parts of the series finds Conner and his friend Bree and his new friend Emmerich hopping from Germany to England to Monte Carlo back to Germany to find a way back to the fairy tale world.

One of Napoleon's armies was attempting to march to the fairy tale world, but were fooled by the Brothers Grimm into a portal that was inactive. However, the portal is now active, and an army of thousands is arriving in the fairy tale world. With only a little time, the fairy tale kingdom must muster its forces to fight the invaders and a threat they haven't faced in centuries: a dragon.

This brings us to the fourth and latest volume, Beyond the Kingdoms, in which Alex and Conner are hot on the trail of the Masked Man who helped the army in the previous book. They discover he is now forming his own formidable army from fiction. A potion created by Cinderella's fairy godmother allows people to enter the worlds described in works of literature.

And yes, the first book they have to enter is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. They manage to get to a slightly different part of Oz and have the Tin Woodman join them as they hurry to stop the Masked Man from meeting the Wicked Witch of the West. However, things aren't going to be quite so easy. Their journeys will also lead them to meet Peter Pan, the Queen of Hearts, Merlin and Robin Hood.

Since Colfer's take on Oz is supposed to be them actually entering the book, he has his work cut out for him sticking to Baum's world. (So note, they don't actually go to Oz and mess up the story, they enter a realization of the book.) Colfer wisely limits his character use to just the Tin Woodman and Wicked Witch (with brief appearances by Dorothy and her family early in), and sticks to character quite well, actually. The Wicked Witch doesn't make much of an appearance, but Colfer describes her in a manner matching W.W. Denslow's pictures.

Colfer's writing style is quite enjoyable. His biggest strength is characterization, having a wide array of characters in his books. There's the lively Mother Goose, who has a wide variety of acquaintances when she visited "the Otherworld" (our world, as C.S. Lewis would call it) and enjoys a supply of "bubbly" with her giant goose Lester. There's renegade Goldilocks and her love Jack (who once climbed a beanstalk) and Queen Red Riding Hood who enjoys pretty dresses and high culture. And there's Froggy, who is seemingly based on a popular fairy tale, but also seems to owe a little wink and nod to a more obscure Oz character, the Frogman. And that's just some of the major characters in the series!

There also seems to be an overarching plot in the series, but to discuss that further might drop too many spoilers. It might be coming to a head at the end of Beyond the Kingdoms, or else we might be in for a huge twist.

Overall, I'm really enjoying the series and would recommend it to any Oz fan who might want to try some more recent fantasy series aimed at today's youth. (And, y'know, Chris, if you ever wanted to write an actual Oz book... we wouldn't say no...)

1 comment:

Paul Dana said...

Thanks for posting this, Jay! I didn't know these books existed. Fairy tale worlds seem to have been sprouting up all over the place for the past few years, filled with dizzying crossovers and reimagined characters. My personal fave is the Fables comic series by Willingham. Have you sampled it?