Saturday, October 23, 2021

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by the Toronto Civic Light Opera Company

 You may have heard of this company before for their original musical adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, with music by the late James P. Doyle. The musical proved popular with audiences and has been revived several times over the years. (However, it has yet to make it outside of Canada, save for a two-man concert version that was performed by director Joe Cascone and his partner David Haines at OzCon International one year.)

However, that's not what this review is about.

The company was going to revive their production of Oz yet again when they had to cancel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they decided to make some Oz happen another way by producing an audio book production of the original book.

The resulting production is now available on an MP3CD. The format is a CD that contains audio as MP3 files burned onto it as a data track. There are some CD players that can handle them, or you can play them on modern home theater disc players, or you can use a computer with a disc drive to play them or copy the files to a device.

I was provided with a review copy, so thanks, Joe!

The runtime is about three hours and twenty minutes. This is shorter than many other unabridged versions. This all depends on the tempo of the reader, but in this case, it's not one reader. They have a cast performing the dialogue with Joe Cascone reading the rest of the book. Listeners of The Royal Podcast of Oz will be familiar with this style as we've done it for several L. Frank Baum stories. It offers a faster pace to the storytelling as the reader doesn't need to change their vocal performance, another performer leaps right in and takes care of the character's voice.

There's some who might bristle at calling this unabridged as the introduction and dedication are not included. It's not the only audio book version that omits these.

In addition to the fine vocal performances from the cast, the production uses classical music and sound effects to further liven up the production.

The result is a very pleasing production. Usually when I listen to audio books and podcasts, I turn up the speed a little. This time, it was an easy listen without doing that.

The CD features a booklet, a simple four-panel (one piece of paper, folded in half) with the front cover an adaptation of a promotional poster by Denslow, some text explaining the production, photos of the cast, and a track list. The back cover features a list of the music used and a cast list.

You can purchase a copy of the CD from eBay.

Friday, July 16, 2021

The Return of The Wonders of Oz

 People who've checked out the schedule for the virtual version of OzCon International this year will have noticed a new version of The Wonders of Oz as part of the program.

The Wonders of Oz was a a low budget fan documentary series I made over ten years ago. While the enthusiasm was evident, a lot about the production left quite a bit to be desired. So it was a goal of mine to revisit the concept and produce a new version.

I actually wrote the first draft of the new version's script in 2015. I had previously mentioned to other Oz fans and my filmmaker younger brother about producing a new version of the series.

The original version had many episodes, partly because YouTube didn't allow longer videos at the time, and because I was trying to cover as many versions of Oz as possible, from the early Oz silent films and plays to Wicked as a book and musical and other versions we'd seen in the twenty-first century. For the new version, I decided to reduce the number of episodes to three, the first being about the life of L. Frank Baum, the second celebrating the other authors of the Famous Forty Oz books and other Oz stories in literature, and the third would talk about how Oz has been retold in new formats over the years, keeping it alive in the public consciousness, making it an international cultural phenomenon.

Colin Ayres, who took over chairing OzCon in 2019, started The OzConnection YouTube channel as part of a long time plan to give the convention a YouTube presence. Given that we couldn't hold the convention in person last year, he used the situation to finally launch the channel to host video content for a virtual version of the convention. Afterward, he launched new series to keep content going throughout the year.

Finally, I floated the idea of a Wonders of Oz reboot to Colin and he said he'd like to have the first episode for this year's virtual convention. So I revisited the 2015 script and did some revisions. Colin had suggested Oz R. Chase to narrate, and he agreed. Rather than do it as audio only, we had him film himself. It's not a usual format, but in this case, it gave the new version a face, and allowed me, when editing, to cut back to him speaking when I didn't have many visuals on hand to layer over it.

I reached out to several people to provide commentary to use in the episode. However, I wound up with only three: Sam Milazzo, Erica Olivera and—the biggest commentator—Gita Morena, L. Frank Baum's great-granddaughter. In the end, the first episode clocks in at 31 minutes and 9 seconds. This new episode is about twice the length of the corresponding first two episodes of the original version, especially since the opening titles and end credits were much longer in the original.

I was puzzling over how to make the new version's opening titles. I explained the original version's look to Erica, using the original map of Oz from the Fairylogue and Radio Plays, and she suggested I use it again. There was a test version of the new titles I sent to Colin which was basically a slideshow of the credits. He suggested a more dynamic version which you can see in the new version. It was created by having two visual layers: the bottom layer would zoom in on the map while the top layer would have the titles.

During the original version of The Wonders of Oz's run, Scottish artist and singer Alan Cook approached me about doing a new version of the theme song. The original theme song was "Everywhere in Oz" from 1964's animated Return to Oz, however, since my use of it in the series, I've seen one other cover call it "The Wonders of Oz," which feels like a more fitting title. Alan's new version was a little more somber than the original, but felt very magical. He gave me two versions: a demo and a full version that went over three minutes. Both versions cut some lyrics from the original, but Alan wrote a totally new second verse for the full version.

In creating the new version of the series, there was no question which version of the song I was going to use, bringing Alan's version back. The opening titles use the opening instrumental of the demo, while during the credits, you hear the beginning of the lyrics. Perhaps when we get to the final episode of the new version, we can figure out a nice way to use the full version of the song.

I put all the remaining episodes of the old version as unlisted on YouTube to drive searches to the new version as it debuts. There's some elements from the old version I still like that I didn't replicate, such as a loving quote about Baum from Ray Bradbury and finding different songs to close out each episode. The original Baum biography episodes ended with a cover of "I'll Be There" by the Escape Club, intended to be a take on Baum's feelings to his wife. I don't think the intention came through, plus given how music can be a big copyright issue for YouTube, I'm being a little more careful about what songs I use this time.

The new version will be hosted exclusively on The OzConnection for a very good reason: there are many other videos talking more indepth about various aspects of Oz. This way, The Wonders of Oz can serve as a context for these other videos, even if they're not officially connected. For example, Disney's Oz projects will be touched on in episode 3, however, the OzConnection already has a video by Eric Shanower that explores Disney's history with Oz in further detail. If people want to learn more, they can see his video. As I explained to Colin, The Wonders of Oz can serve as a view of "the big picture" of Oz as a history, while other videos on the channel can zoom in on more specific stories.

So, one episode down, two to go. This is going to be fun!

Saturday, May 15, 2021

The Royal Podcast of Oz: L. Frank Baum's Birthday 2021

The Royal Podcast returns with two short stories and two poems read by L. Frank Baum fans! 

"How the Tin Woodman Became A Fire Hero" read by Erica Olivera

"Blow, Winds, Blow!" read by Sam Milazzo
"By the Candelabra's Glare" read by PJ Scott Blankenship
"The Dummy That Lived" read by Suren Oganessian
Music by Paul Tietjens for The Wizard of Oz Broadway extravaganza, piano rolls published by the Aeolian Company: "Rejoice, the Wizard is No Longer King!", "When We Get What's A Comin' To Us," "When You Love, Love, Love," "Just A Simple Girl From The Prarie," and "Phantom Patrol." 

Saturday, May 01, 2021

Finding Dorothy

There just isn't enough historical fiction around the origins of Oz. (That presents itself as fiction, anyway.) There's been a few attempts, but a couple years ago, we got Finding Dorothy, a book by Elizabeth Letts, who makes Maud Gage, later Maud Baum, the protagonist of her novel that switches between two time periods: her early life and meeting L. Frank Baum and the lead up to the publication of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; and taking an interest in the production of MGM's The Wizard of Oz.

The book is quite enjoyable. Letts' interpretation of Baum and his wife and mother-in-law vividly come to life on the page. She quite eagerly tells her story.

The big conceit of the story is that Maud has an idea of "taking care of Dorothy." The inspiration for Dorothy comes from a doll her niece Magdalena owns, which later becomes the name of an imaginary friend for the girl that she sends off with Frank and Maud as they head to Chicago. The implication is that Dorothy becomes the heroine of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Later, when MGM is making their film, Maud tries to consult on the film, though her help isn't enlisted. She at first believes that Judy Garland isn't right for the role of Dorothy, but after talking with the young actress and singer, she takes an interest in protecting her.

There's quite some creative liberty taken with facts. I was a little concerned when Finding Oz by Evan Schwartz was listed as a reference as it was quite speculative without saying so, and no works by Michael Patrick Hearn were mentioned. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is depicted as Frank Baum's first big hit, but no mention of Father Goose: His Book or W.W. Denslow by name are made. It's odd when The Dreamer of Oz acknowledged the importance of Father Goose to the origins of Oz better. To borrow a phrase, "Father Goose walked so Oz could run," as Baum redirected his royalties from Father Goose to help fund the production of Oz. In Letts' book, the matter is re-framed as the Baums needing to scrape up $200.

The matter of the origin of Dorothy is addressed in the afterword, where Letts rejects the idea that Dorothy Gage was the namesake of Dorothy Gale as "Little Bun Rabbit" from Mother Goose in Prose predates the birth of the little girl. However, this is a case where the concept of the book requires one to accept that Letts' concept for the origin of Dorothy as a character is true. So while I might disagree (mainly "more than one inspiration could be the case"), my being a stickler needed to take a break this time.

A very apparent bending of details, which Letts owns up to in her afterword, is the filming schedule of the MGM film. More or less, Maud's visits to the set are depicted as occurring chronologically, her first being to identify the coat that Frank Morgan wore as Professor Marvel on the set with his wagon. (Maud is actually unsure if it's actually Frank's, and personally, I think the story was cooked up by the publicity department. There's a late story twist, but I won't spoil it.) The Kansas scenes were actually filmed last in the film shoot. Later, she visits the set as Munchkinland scenes are filmed, and even later visiting during the Tin Man's introduction scene, but it's known to anyone who's had to debunk the "hanging man" urban legend that the Tin Man's cottage scenes were filmed before Munchkinland.

However, if one can put aside their nitpicking over historical details that had to be fudged to tell the story, it's a good story. The relationship of Frank and Maud has been overdue for a lovely romantic retelling, and getting more eyes on the origins of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz isn't a bad thing at all. So, Finding Dorothy is recommended, as long as you remember it's a well-done piece of historical fiction.

By the way, while I enjoyed the book, I remembered a clip from the Ripley's Believe it or Not! radio program in which Maud appeared to talk about the success of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, giving a little nod to "the motion picture." Hungry Tiger Press posted it online for all to enjoy, so if you haven't heard it yet, or haven't heard it in awhile, it's still up there.

Monday, April 19, 2021

OzBusters! Why Does Water Melt The Wicked Witch?


“You are a wicked creature!” cried Dorothy. “You have no right to take my shoe from me.”

“I shall keep it, just the same,” said the Witch, laughing at her, “and someday I shall get the other one from you, too.”

This made Dorothy so very angry that she picked up the bucket of water that stood near and dashed it over the Witch, wetting her from head to foot.

Instantly the wicked woman gave a loud cry of fear, and then, as Dorothy looked at her in wonder, the Witch began to shrink and fall away.

“See what you have done!” she screamed. “In a minute I shall melt away.”

“I’m very sorry, indeed,” said Dorothy, who was truly frightened to see the Witch actually melting away like brown sugar before her very eyes.

“Didn’t you know water would be the end of me?” asked the Witch, in a wailing, despairing voice.

“Of course not,” answered Dorothy. “How should I?”

“Well, in a few minutes I shall be all melted, and you will have the castle to yourself. I have been wicked in my day, but I never thought a little girl like you would ever be able to melt me and end my wicked deeds. Look out—here I go!”

With these words the Witch fell down in a brown, melted, shapeless mass and began to spread over the clean boards of the kitchen floor.

 In those words, L. Frank Baum described a unique death scene for a villain. But why does the Wicked Witch of the West "melt" when she's exposed to water?

Well, Oz is a magical world, right? Must just be what happens to wicked witches.

Well, or is it?

We don't meet a lot of other witches like the Wicked Witches of the East and West in Baum's books. The closest are Mombi and Blinkie and her cohorts from The Marvelous Land of Oz and The Scarecrow of Oz, respectively, who are described to be old women, just like those two. There's an unseen witch who Tommy Kwikstep assists who gives him a wish, but she never reappears. In The Tin Woodman of Oz and Glinda of Oz, we meet Yookoohoos and a Krumbic Witch, but these are described as being attractive witches.

I think the key thing is that Baum describes the Wicked Witches of the East and West as being very old. Shortly after the Wicked Witch of the East is killed by Dorothy's house, her body crumbles into dust to be blown away by the wind. When Toto bites the Wicked Witch of the West, she doesn't bleed as the book says that her blood is "dried up."

So, in the physics of Oz, it seems less like the Wicked Witch of the West "melted" and more like she absorbed the water and it's making her body break down. Which sounds like one awful way to go.

But is there anything greater behind this event?

It's a long held superstition that witches and other malevolent supernatural entities can't cross running water, which features in several stories in folklore around the world and pops up in Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow when Ichabod Crane believes he'll be safe once he crosses the bridge. A story in the Ozarks, where I live, concerns a monstrous wildcat who lives in a cave who chases a man on a wagon who sacrifices meat he'd had butchered in an attempt to slow it down. Once all the meat is gone, he finally crosses a creek, stopping the wildcat in its tracks.

However, there's an earlier connection to witches and water. This one is less folklore-y and more sad. During the Witch Trials in England and other European countries, a quick and easy way to get someone you didn't like killed was to accuse them of witchcraft. A number of people would confess as they'd been tortured and they decided they'd rather die than continue to be tortured.

There were a number of ways of execution, burned, hanged, pressed to death with stones. But one that's relevant to us was drowning the accused. If they sank, they weren't a witch. But if they floated, then they were a witch.

Charles McKay's Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds discusses at length the Witch Trials, and was recently abridged by Sam Harris into Witch: A Tale of Terror. The latter volume reveals that the belief was that water was holy, partly because it could be sanctified into holy water. Thus, it would reject a witch, forcing them to float on the surface.

Too bad they didn't just weigh them to see if they weighed the same as a duck...

Would Baum have been familiar with this? McKay's book is from 1841 so it's entirely possible that Baum may have read it. I wouldn't be surprised if his mother in law Matilda Joslyn Gage read it.

However, as I said, the idea that water can repel a witch occurs in many stories, so the "melting" of the Wicked Witch of the West is easily an evolution on this idea regardless of if Baum read the book.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Jay's thoughts on Nicole Kassell's Wonderful Wizard of Oz

 So, as Sam posted about yesterday, it's been announced that New Line Cinema has signed director Nicole Kassell to a new film adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

While I don't want to be a downer, first things first: we've heard of many, many Oz movies in the works over the years and only a very few have actually come out. So my anticipation is tempered.

I'm actually very glad to hear that a female director has been assigned to Oz given that with Dorothy's lead role and the strong influence of other female characters from Aunt Em to the Good Witch of the North to the Wicked Witches and Glinda, a female perspective would be refreshing.

It's also nice to hear that this is from New Line Cinema rather than Warner Brothers proper. New Line is a division of Warner Brothers, and they were the studio who funded and released The Lord of the Rings trilogy and later The Hobbit. And they also handled Shazam, one of the best DC Comics movies. (Come at me.) They have less of a reputation for interfering with a director's vision.

According to the articles released, this is going to be primarily an adaptation of the book rather than a direct remake of the MGM film. However, as New Line is part of the WarnerMedia family, which also includes Turner Entertainment—owners of the MGM movie—they will be able to borrow from it if they wish. I would hope that they can try to avoid copying the classic film as a new movie based on Oz is almost already at a disadvantage as that movie is so beloved, and I'd prefer to see what can be done differently. You already have the same basic story and many of the same characters, so further tying yourself to that version can make audiences think of that movie instead of just enjoying yours.

I'm sure even if they want to go closely for the book, we'll still be seeing a streamlined version of the story that may eliminate or combine some events from the book. And don't expect the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman or the Winged Monkeys to tell their backstories at great length. Unless they go the recent Warner trend of doing an HBO Max series set in Oz telling more tales of that world to tie in with the film. (Okay, Jay, back to what we KNOW is coming rather than getting excited over a hypothetical. They've announced similar series to tie in with the new The Batman and The Suicide Squad films.) What they do with the story is the main reason why I'll be excited to see the film.

I do have some fancasting ideas, though I doubt many of them would come to pass.

Dorothy should be cast younger than Judy Garland's version, rather more like Fairuza Balk in Return to Oz. I'd almost suggest Abby Ryder Fortson, who very capably played Cassie Lang in the first two Ant-Man movies, as she was able to turn in a really good performance. However, she's already aged since Ant-Man and the Wasp, and will be older before they'd begin shooting. But still, a capable child actress in that vein with a good director should be able to handle the role well.

I don't have many direct fancasts for Dorothy's friends, but a big suggestion I have is to cast them as young adults rather than Hollywood heavies or long-established talent as has been done often in the past. Dorothy's friends are seeking their way in the world, trying to figure out how they fit, which young adults can easily relate to.

That said, I have fancied the idea of John Barrowman as the Wizard. He has a lot of range and has recently been rocking his naturally white hair, and if they should ever follow up with the character's return in a potential sequel, he should still be quite ready for it.

I've also thought of Felicia Day for Glinda mainly because she's a lovely actress with red hair, but again, this isn't my movie, so if my particular picks aren't done (which is likely), it's fine, just means I'm seeing someone else's vision that didn't quite line up with mine. I hope I'll be able to appreciate it for what it is.

I will add that I hope they get a diverse cast for Oz. The story and subsequent series might have been created by a white, straight and cisgender male, and the original illustrators were quite the same, but that doesn't mean that the entire Land of Oz has to be white. Oz the Great and Powerful, for its flaws, embraced this, albeit that the principals were white. The Wiz is basically proof in action that you can retell the story with people of color.

So, as Hollywood continues down yet another yellow brick road, let's wish them good luck!

The Oz BOOK Movie???

A few hours ago it was announced that New Line Cinema was to have Nicole Kassell direct a new adaptation of L Frank Baum's book "the Wonderful Wizard of Oz", with this article spreading across the Oz groups on Facebook


Now, yes, it is still VERY EARLY days, so you will not much or any details of what the final film could be, how faithful it is, how long it may be, the production time or how different it will be to each of us and how we imagine it ... but for those of us who are book devotees, this has been long overdue.

Yes there have been other, more faithful adaptations of the book besides 1939, but those have been either foriegn productions or animated series mixed with elements from later books.  When you consider that other fantasy stories like "Alice('s Adventures) in Wonderland", "Peter Pan" and "Chronicles of Narnia" have been given big (blockbuster) movie treatments that are faithful to the original text (or even in Netflix series such as "Lemony Snickett", it really does seem unfair that Oz hasn't been properly given the book-series-to-life treatment ... and that is something that's missing.

It is good and, needless to say, Wonderful to be hearing news that sounds like it is going to be more book orientated and not giving the impression that it will be focusiong on something else like "Game of Thrones" of "wicked" or making it something that it isn't.

Speaking for myself, this is something I have dreamed about doing myself for the last 20 years ... and while I have started film-making and scriptwriting and am aware of the difference between page and screen (as well as stage), I am happy that a studio besides Disney or WB is considering giving The Book a feature length film treatment, how much that resembles "the Lord of the Rings" remains to be seen.

While I do not have any control or input in this matter, there are some things I would like to suggest that are absolutely vital:

* Silver Shoes and a YOUNG DOROTHY not a teenager or adolescent.  Youngest should be 6, or even 8-10, 12 at oldest.  But whether this becomes a series or not and remains a stand-alone, she is supposed to be and IS a little young girl.

It has also been said that Silver is a pure substance, used in mirrors, which would better demonstrate the innocence of Dorothy and her story.

* Casting the WIZARD Character: some excellent choices to consider could be Rowan Atkinson (my definitive choice), or Steve Carell or Patrick Stewart.

* GLINDA's HAIR must be RED, not Blonde or golden, RICH RED hair in ringlets - that is certainly something that is easy to do but always disregarded.

She could be played by Clair Danes, or Famke Jansen - as long as her long hair is rightfully red (to go nicely with her blue eyes and white gown and red palace).

* Not everything has to be CGI; James Ortiz proved that there is plenty puppetry could accomplish, so perhaps NLC could look at "Walking with Dinosaurs" and use puppetry for the Kalidahs and the Giant Spider ... we could even have an Animatronic Tin Woodman instead of a man in a (green/blue motion-capture / tin) suit.

* If you've read books of L Frank Baum, you'd see that the White City of 1893 was cited as the inspiration for the Emerald City ... and if you saw the reference photos, using that as a model for reference would definitely make the city look otherworldly, ethereal, beautifully detailed and timeless and free from somewhat-dated Retro style of the 30s.

* Of course the Good Witches wear white as Baum describes it being a witch colour, but if somehow they can have the Wicked Witches wear white and make it work for them, that would be really impressive!

* the WWW is supposed to be afraid of water, she avoids it, therefore she would be Dried Up (even her blood has done so) and would have to look old - funny enough, Baum never says she's an old lady until the end of the chapter after Dorothy has cleaned away her mess - she cannot and must not have green skin or be flying on a broomstick (cackling isn't necessary), because her fear of water makes constantly holding an umbrella valid ... I repeat, Wicked Witch of the West must be non-green, Old and Dried up (wrinkled in both senses).

* for whatever reason, past adaptations neglect to give the four corners of Oz their colours - Blue East, Yellow West, Purple North and Red South - it's not a difficult thing to do, rather it would add to the splendour and diversity of Oz as well as make the Emerald City center of Oz more prominent with the colour theme.

I'm hoping that we get more good news of this announcement soon, confirming the details of the source material and that, IF it is indeed going to be more focused on the book and historically accurate to the time it was originally written and set in, that it is successful enough to allow for the next and following Oz books to be given similar treatments as well.

While I am interested in seeing how this latest Oz film goes - and if it continues to be developed and hopefully released - I am most interested to see how the Kansas scene opens the film, as that first sequence has the least material described in the book, but should hopefully have plenty of American Farming history to be used as research.

I'm also hoping, I especially WISHING, that Angela Lansbury can play the Good Witch of the North!

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Podcast catchups!

 So, this year, we have no less than four new adaptations of The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus to enjoy.

First off is one I had a little hand in from The OzConnection, the YouTube channel of OzCon International. The OzConnection presents videos about Oz as well as other fun videos for Oz fans, many in connection with its Zoom hangouts that have served as a temporary substitute for Oz conventions. Some OzCon presentations have even been revived on The OzConnection as videos.

In this adaptation, Raymond Wohl—who previously presented a one man show about L. Frank Baum—prepared and performed a one-man abridgement of Baum's Santa Claus novel, now told through the POV of Claus himself. In the abridgement, however, the story of the Awgwas was dropped. My involvement was helping to promote it when it was streamed live over Zoom, as well as finding scans of the color plates from the Mary Cowles Clark illustrations, which are used to illustrate the story. Raymond Wohl makes for a jolly Santa Claus. The YouTube version is presented in six parts.

Another adaptation is through Lifeline on the Air's podcast, which adapts the story with a full cast, borrowing the adaptation angle taken in the Rankin-Bass adaptation with the Immortals' deliberations to grant Claus the Mantle of Immortality becoming the framing story. It also omits the Awgwas. The

One I haven't listened to yet is from The Empty Space, which offers their adaptation for $10. Listed as an "Audioventure," it seems the Awgwas here become the "Gorpoks."

Finally, Aron Toman released his adaptation of the story as part of The Chronicles of Oz in his Crossover Adventure Productions podcast. It's a largely faithful adaptation, hitting most of the highlights of the book's story, just now tying it closer to Oz. Just as we've come to expect from the first three seasons of The Chronicles of Oz, there's a few twists and turns to keep the purist guessing! There was one point where I expected one twist to happen, and wound up getting another one.

I did get involved with this one as I actually have a cameo in it! The link says who. There's also my dear OzCon friend Erica Olivera. It's a well-produced adaptation with a cinematic-worthy sound design and even features an original song.

In other podcast happenings, Tara and Em Kay of Down the Yellow Brick Pod have concluded their first season, as they read through The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, one chapter a week. The two are not Oz historians, but do turn to some good sources about the work and offer their own commentary on the story and W.W. Denslow's original illustration. Their energetic nature makes the podcast a delightful listen. I'd recommend it even to seasoned Oz fans as it may inspire them to think about Oz in ways they haven't before.

In addition to their commentary about the work, they talk to other Oz fans in special episodes, as well as present the monthly "Yellow Brick Crossroads" episodes in which they talk about their interactions with their listeners. A major way to interact is on their Instagram, in which they post several different illustrations, as well as offer recaps in their stories. They have also launched a Patreon page, which will offer more ways to interact in return for some cash to keep the podcast running. They'll launch their second season soon, which will look at musical adaptations of the story, especially the MGM film.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Readdressing L. Frank Baum and racism

 Some time back, I wrote a blog titled "Was L. Frank Baum a racist?" where I admittedly engaged in racism apologetics.

So let's address the issue again:

Was L. Frank Baum a racist?


Was his expression of racism allowed at the time because of the society he lived in?


Did that make it okay?


Many critics of Baum are aware of his editorials in which he suggested the military should exterminate the remaining members of the Sioux nation. Readers of his works outside of the Oz books are aware of many ethnic stereotypes in his works. A few of his works even use "the n-word." Baum relied on these to depict characters of color in his fiction, as did many other writers of his time. These reveal that while Baum was progressive in his views of gender and other areas, race was one where he was not so enlightened.

In the podcast Down the Yellow Brick Pod, hosts Tara and Em examined the Twinkle Tale "Bandit Jim Crow" with the lens of reading it as a cultural allegory, and it became a disturbing tale. As I listened to the episode, I noted that Baum wrote it during a period where he turned out a lot of work, including the first Aunt Jane's Nieces and Sam Steele books, but it doesn't speak well that he quickly turned out a piece that could be read as a negative allegory about African-American people in America.

Another character from Baum's works I thought of while thinking it over was Aunt Hyacinth from The Daring Twins, who is one of the "mammy" characters who turned up in pop culture for quite some time. Recently, another "mammy" was in the news: Aunt Jemima of the popular brand of pancake mixes and syrups. This led some people claim that people seeking to improve life for everyone in America had gone too far. (While the brand was criticized, when the intent to change the brand was announced, it wasn't a major outcry.) I, however, decided to read up on the stereotype the character originally represented and understand why the company might want to consider rebranding.

The "mammy" stereotype might seem to be a positive character: depending on when her story was set, she would be a slave or a hired servant who would be a dutiful and kind personage in the home who goes above and beyond in her duties to the family she serves. However, when we look at the character further, it gets bad: she is usually depicted as overweight and unattractive, her redeeming feature is the service she can offer the family. Even more disturbing is that "mammy" will care for her white master's children at the expense of her own family. When we remember that Hyacinth actually uses her own money to help care for the Daring family, we see this stereotype re-emerge, though Baum never tells us that Hyacinth has children. Still, she's serving her family at literally her own expense.

I do believe that Baum was attempting to depict a more accurate depiction of the American people in using non-white characters, however his use of stereotypes is troubling because stereotypes depict an inaccurate picture of people that are never accurate to life that inform and influence how these people are thought of. Stereotypes have played a role in our culture in America and we continue to deal with the harm they've caused to this day.

Hyacinth is just one character who reflects a stereotype in Baum's work. I'm not interested in listing all of Baum's characters who are problematic and explaining what's wrong with them because then we'd have quite a long blog and likely forget the main point. I just decided to bring up one character and discuss the problematic aspect of them to offer an example and challenge readers to think through what stereotypes come up in the works they enjoy and what is problematic about them.

Thus, I'm going to have to say it's important to acknowledge Baum's racist and problematic writings, and yes, they reflect how he himself thought. I don't believe we should "cancel" him over these. He has been dead for over a century. His family has acknowledged some of his most troubling work (the Sioux editorials, which targeted actual living people) and apologized. We need to acknowledge and recognize these problematic aspects of his work and learn to do better.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Audible's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Audio Drama

 If you look up Oz on Audible, you'll find a lot of options for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (or just The Wizard of Oz) from abridged to unabridged readings and various audio dramas.

Some years ago, Audible released an unabridged reading by Anne Hathaway as an Audible original. However, they've branched into audio dramas as well. It says Audible Studios is the publisher, so I don't know if it's a company they've put together or one that they fund or what. So now, there's also an audio drama version as an Audible original, which recently became one of the free titles for Audible subscribers to enjoy.

The cover credits Lydia West as Dorothy and Jim Broadbent as the Wizard. West is listed on Audible's page as being part of the UK drama TV show Years and Years, while Jim Broadbent should be familiar to many Oz fans who enjoy other fantasies as he played Professor Slughorn in the Harry Potter films and Professor Digory Kirke in the 2005 feature film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. (The Audible page lists him as appearing in The Iron Lady and Moulin Rouge.)

Oz has of course been adapted for audio drama several times. The BBC has adapted it twice, while there were quite a number of short adaptations on children's records, there's been multi-reader audio books that try to do a hybrid approach of audio book and drama, there was Classic Wizard of Oz, the Los Angeles Children's Museum adaptation from 2000, the Monterey Soundworks adaptation, the Big Finish adaptation, Colonial Radio Theater adapted it and the next five Oz books (with Patchwork Girl still reportedly on the way) and most recently, Crossover Adventure Productions' The Chronicles of Oz, which has adapted the first three Oz books in a free but welcome manner. So there's quite a few to compare it to as you're not wanting for choice of audio dramatizations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Probably those last two are my preferred audio adaptations that I've listened to the most.

So, there's this new version, which runs over four hours long. It pretty much captures each episode from the book with a lot of the dialogue left intact, sometimes being rewritten, sometimes embellished, but very often expanded.

And I do mean expanded. There's no narrator and the characters talk a lot. Way more than they should. The adaptation is by Paul Magrs, who's penned a number of Doctor Who audio dramas as well as his own original fiction. Characters will talk and talk and talk, dragging out scenes for far longer than they need to be.

One needs to remember with Oz that Baum loved the theater and was an actor himself, and much of the dialogue in the Oz books comes from the fact that he got how to have characters communicate. I'm not saying the dialogue in the books stand on their own, but when they're expanded outside of filling in information the narrator isn't saying, it begins to feel tedious.

The story starts right off with Dorothy telling Uncle Henry about the cyclone. Lydia West sounds like a grown woman trying to emulate Judy Garland a bit. (The actress is very private about her life, but believed to be in her mid to late 20s.) The actress is a woman of color, and Uncle Henry sounds like an African-American man, so perhaps this production attempts to make Dorothy and her family people of color, but when you're working in audio only, it can easily get lost. Dorothy's age is also hard to determine. The first slight mention has a Munchkin exaggerate and call her a woman, but she and other characters say that she is a little girl. She doesn't sound like one.

Many of the people of Oz speak with accents derived from the UK. I'm generally fine with this as Oz is another country. The Scarecrow sounds like he's either from north England or Scottish, while the Tin Woodman sounds like a London guy, while the Lion has a bit of Bert Lahr along with his British accent. Broadbent does well as the Wizard, while the Winged Monkeys sound like they're from Brooklyn.

This brings me back to the writing. Clearly, this is a UK-based production. However, Dorothy, our lead character, is supposed to be American. Generally, this is okay, but eventually, Dorothy refers to her friends as "you lot" and even says "sounds a treat" when she hears about having to take the trip to Glinda's. These are not phrases a Kansas girl would be saying.

In Oz, in a concession to the MGM film, it's described that Dorothy's house lands in a Munchkin City, and Dorothy is given Oz lore 101 not from the Good Witch of the North, but by the Munchkin Mayor, who gets a name: Harold. He mentions Lurline enchanting Oz and also Oz maps, with a joke making a deep cut about how Professor Woggle-Bug put the Munchkin Country on the wrong side of the map of Oz he created, but to make up for it, the Munchkins look at their maps upside down. This moment also leads to Dorothy wondering why Toto can't talk, and it's just assumed that he hasn't been in Oz long enough for the magic to catch up to him. (He winds up talking just before Dorothy returns home.) The Deadly Desert gets a lore change in that it makes you lose your memories before finally claiming your life.

I wondered if Harold was replacing Boq, but no, when Dorothy and Toto head down the Yellow Brick Road, they stop at Boq's house, meaning we have two very similar sounding scenes back to back. And both of these Munchkins just talk way too much. Get on with the story already!

When the Tin Woodman tells his story, moments from it are dramatized. Again, there's no need for this except to make this adaptation take even longer. There's no similar treatment for the Scarecrow or Winged Monkeys' story, so it's an uneven presentation.

An odd addition comes after the farmhouse where the travelers stay before reaching the Emerald City. Dorothy reveals the man's injured leg has actually been transformed into an octopus tentacle after he delivered a letter revealing bad news to the Wicked Witch of the West. This doesn't really add anything to the story, and there's no resolution of the man's transformed leg after she's destroyed.

Dorothy is immediately skeptical of the green glasses, with her almost rejecting them when she re-enters the city after defeating the Wicked Witch. Later, the Scarecrow says he'll outlaw them. Despite adding other characters, the green girl who works in the palace/Jellia Jamb is dropped entirely.

The Winged Monkeys basically tell Dorothy how the Golden Cap works when they capture her, and when they drop her off with the Wicked Witch, they ask the Witch to "leave a review." If this type of humor had been used throughout, it might've made the entire production better.

Later, the giant spider actually speaks. That's really all I have to say about the story adaptation without getting into minutia.

The music is nothing great, with some old style moments of violin music to indicate changing scenes or passage of time. Colonial Radio Theater's Jeffrey Gage and The Chronicles of Oz's Tony Diana wrote some really good music for those productions, so in comparison, this is quite lacking. The sound effects weren't bad, but nothing remarkable, either.

Overall, I wasn't a fan. I've heard worse, but I've heard much better.

If you need a way to kill four and a half hours and have a subscription to Audible, you can listen to it for free. Otherwise, they sell it for under $5 if you want to listen to it.