Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Little Wizard Stories of Oz

It's no use; no use at all. The children won't let me stop telling tales of the Land of Oz. I know lots of other stories, and I hope to tell them, some time or another; but just now my loving tyrants won't allow me. They cry: "Oz—Oz! more about Oz, Mr. Baum!" and what can I do but obey their commands?

While Baum wrote that in 1908 opening the introduction of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, it really struck true by the end of 1912. The two "Trot" books, The Sea Fairies and Sky Island, proved not be catching on as much as Baum had hoped. There was only one option: return to Oz.

Most Oz fans know that the next Oz novel was The Patchwork Girl of Oz in 1913, but until very recently, it was not widely known that Baum also wrote six short stories that were printed as booklets, entitled The Little Wizard Stories. The next year, they were collected in a book entitled Little Wizard Stories of Oz.

  • The Cowardly Lion And The Hungry Tiger is the first story in the book. While Ozma is away from the throne room, her two massive feline bodyguards talk over their fondest desires: the Hungry Tiger yet wants a fat baby, and the Cowardly Lion determines to prove his strength and ferocity by ripping someone to pieces. They head out and get a chance, but Baum proves whimsically that these beasts have been tamed.
  • Next, Little Dorothy and Toto go wandering and meet the dangerous Crinklink, who enslaves Dorothy and threatens to whip her soundly should she break any of the dishes she washes. Toto, however, tries to save the day before the two wanderers discover Crinklink's true nature.
  • In Tiktok and the Nome King, Tik-Tok (that's how I spell it!) goes to the Nome King for a tune-up, but the Metal Monarch proves less than cheerful, and soon regrets his actions.
  • Ozma and the Little Wizard head out to visit some of the people of Oz, and try to use magic to relieve some of Ozma's people from the annoyances of Imp Olite, Imp Ertinent, and Imp Udent.
  • Ozma recruits Jack Pumpkinhead and the Sawhorse to rescue some children lost in the woods, but discovers they have been imprisoned by mischievous squirrels.
  • Finally, when The Scarecrow and Tin Woodman go boating, the Tin Woodman happens to rock the boat and fall out. Can a man of straw, even with wonderful brains, save his best friend?

Anyone expecting a deep story with a clever plot should not look to this book, but if you want six Oz stories that can be read quickly and in any order, this is your book! And, after The Emerald City of Oz, they could occur at any time. (Except Tiktok and the Nome King would occur before Tik-Tok of Oz.)

So, this is Baum's Oz at its lightest, and it works well. Out of all these stories, only two of these small adventures do not include the Wizard: the Cowardly Lion and the Hungry Tiger and TikTok and the Nome King. Also of note is how John R Neill now illustrates Toto with more, and black, hair as described before. But now the in-universe question remains, how did Baum get these stories?

Monday, May 24, 2010

The importance of an editor

I've said it before, I'll say it again: if you're writing an Oz story, or any story, get an editor on board.

Remember sometime back when I said I was puttering away with my own Oz story? Well, after sending the first several chapters to a proofreader I lined up, I asked him if he thought I'd got the characters right. He held nothing back in telling me that were parts of my story that just didn't flow right.

As I have now started re-writing, I'll tell you that part of it involved Jellia Jamb finding an item that got lost about the time of The Road to Oz. The proofreader felt that after I had described Jellia as being responsible and dexterous, it was not in keeping with her character to have her miss something for over presumably a century. (I never specified when the story took place, but some readers might see it that way.)

But instead of just telling me that these points were no good, he suggested ways to improve character and plot development. In fact, it was his suggestion that I combine my ideas for two Oz novellas: one in which Button-Bright and the Wizard have an adventure, and another in which Ozma and the Scarecrow have one. According to the current plan, the Scarecrow will not journey with Ozma, but instead take part in something that might be interesting to look into in a chapter.

Anyways, sometimes starting over is a good thing, especially when you got someone on board who knows what they're talking about.

And no, I'm not going to tell you when to expect this story, or who will illustrate it, and I'll tell you right now, I don't think it would make a great movie. All I want to do is write an Oz story that will be fun to read. Oz books should be fun, and if you get so caught up in Oz, it's not fun anymore, you might as well quit.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Emerald City of Oz

Six novels about Oz. Something Baum never intended was happening at last. However, even with pseudonymous works and the endless possibilities of fantasy, Baum felt Oz was too limiting to his talents, yet it was his most popular work. In The Road to Oz, he attempted to make his Oz readers aware of his other work, by having the main characters from those books appear as guests at Ozma's birthday party. If anything, he probably hoped this would warm his readers up to the idea of him writing non-Oz stories. In 1910, the next book to complete his plan would be published, The Emerald City of Oz.

Unlike the previous Oz books that would open with one of our heroes, Baum instead opened with the villain. The Nome King is back, and he's still furious that Dorothy and Ozma took his Magic Belt, and rescued the Royal Family of Ev, back in Ozma of Oz. Yes, of the four Oz books that Baum was contractually obligated to write, he bookended them with the same villain, the second appearance leading from the first, because now the Nome King decides to get his revenge: invade Oz.

Now we catch up with Dorothy and her family. Baum reveals that though Uncle Henry is a good farmer, he has been unable to pay off mortgages to the bank. What were these for? For rebuilding a house, and paying for a trip to Australia. Yes, Baum tied in little things he'd written in previous stories to create a big problem for his leading heroine. Finally, the bank threatens foreclosure, and Aunt Em and Uncle Henry tell Dorothy of their troubles, that they will soon have to move,and the whole family will have to get jobs to support themselves, though they will try to continue Dorothy's education.

Dorothy realizes that there is an easier solution, so she assures her aunt and uncle that she will go to Oz when Ozma looks in on her next and speak to her. Although Aunt Em and Uncle Henry are skeptical of Dorothy's belief in Oz, they tell her that it is all right if she doesn't return this time.

In Oz, Dorothy (who has brought Toto, too) fills in Ozma about Uncle Henry's trouble, and reminds Ozma that she has been offered to stay in Oz, but the only reason why she turned down the offer was her loyalty to her family. Now, she tells Ozma, she is only willing to stay if Aunt Em and Uncle Henry are allowed to come as well. As it turns out, Ozma never needed any persuasion. (I almost wonder why Ozma never extended the offer before.)

When rooms are prepared for Dorothy's family, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry are brought to Oz without warning. (It seems Eureka's transportation didn't occur until later, or perhaps, as a fan-written story states, she was already in Oz.) Em and Henry feel like the proverbial square peg in a round hole, but Ozma and Dorothy do everything they can to make them feel comfortable.

Meanwhile, the Nome King is plotting how to conquer Oz. His General of his armies claims it is impossible: Ozma is too powerful, and Billina has been hatching eggs, meaning that Oz has a large supply of eggs. (Though in the book, they claim Billina was the first chicken in Oz, ignoring a quick mention of a rooster and a hen in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, so apparently, Billina has been hatching eggs asexually, which is pretty weird...) The Nome King doesn't like what he hears, so going by the rule of "Don't nobody bring me no bad news," he has the General "thrown away." He summons for other Nomes to be the new General, but when he doesn't like what the first says, he has the unfortunate Nome sliced into thin slices and fed to seven-headed dogs. (If you feel sorry for the Nomes, possibly the other Nomes didn't carry out the sentence.)

The Nome King finds a new General in Guph (another homophone name describing something about the character!), who proposes that the Nomes tunnel to the Emerald City and begin a surprise attack. Because of the Nomes' fear of eggs, Guph tells the King he will round up allies while the Nomes dig.

Despite the more minor inconsistencies, we have to stop and admire that Baum wove this tale of the Nome King plotting revenge. We already saw that he tied in an event all the way from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to Aunt Em and Uncle Henry's trouble. When he really put his mind to it, Baum could tie together wonderful plots, however, he also had many other stories he was working on, so such occurrences became rare.

Unlike Zeb, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry attempt to adjust to living in a fairyland, including a hilarious scene in which Aunt Em tries to overpower the Cowardly Lion with her stare. Dorothy feels her Aunt and Uncle are becoming restless, and miss doing manual labor, so Ozma decides to assign them some light jobs to do, but while she is deciding, Dorothy may take them on a tour of Oz.

The tour begins at the Woggle-Bug's college, where the Woggle-Bug uses pills to have the students quickly digest their knowledge and they can just focus on sports. While you'd think the Woggle-Bug would want his students to learn like he did, but maybe he's decided that enjoying life is more important. After all, who cheers at a spelling bee?

The first visit is to the Cuttenclips, live paper dolls made from magic paper. Then, it's on to Fuddlecumjig, where the people, when disturbed, fall to pieces and must be re-assembled like a jigsaw puzzle. Uncle Henry and Aunt Em have fun reassembling a few of the citizens, including Grandmother Gnit, who gets to work on making a new pair of mittens for the Kangaroo who had lost them, and fears getting its paws sunburned. Then, using magic he learned from Glinda, the Wizard makes handkerchiefs into tents for the party to camp under. (Wait, what happened to the safest wizards are humbugs?)

Meanwhile, Guph has been meeting allies. He manages to get the Whimsies, strong burly men with tiny heads. Guph promises that the Nome King will give them normal-sized heads when they reclaim the Magic Belt. After crossing the frustrating Ripple Land, he wins over the Growleywogs, lanky strong wild men, by promising them Oz people for slaves. And finally, he goes to the Mountain of Phantastico and wins the dreaded Phanfasms, who pledge their aid simply for the joy of making people unhappy. However, the Phanfasms plan to turn on the Nomes when Oz is conquered.

Guph returns to the Nome King, who is astounded at the apparent success, and feels assured they will be successful. Dang, Baum, you better find some way to stop them, right?

While Dorothy's group rests, they are approached by a zebra and a soft-shell crab who are arguing over whether there is more land or water. The group tells them what most authorities say: there is more water than land. (At least, on the surface of the earth.)

The next morning, Dorothy, Toto, and Billina go to look for a new path to follow, when they are captured by an army of spoons, who take them to Utensia, where they are put on trial, until King Kleaver realizes they haven't done anything and lets them go. (Baum filled that part full of puns!)

Dorothy leaves Utensia and finds a signpost that points to Bunbury and Bunnybury. Bunbury proves to be a town of live baked goods, who offer Dorothy some of their unwanted items for food, but when Toto and Billina start acting up, they are forced to leave. Only Dorothy is allowed in Bunnybury, a city for rabbits to live in. (She must shrink to get in, though.) The King of Bunnybury feels his life is unbearable and wants Dorothy to convince Glinda to relieve him of his duties as King, until he realizes how many benefits of royalty he'll miss.

After Dorothy leaves Bunnybury, she rejoins her group, and they continue to Rigmarole Town, where people talk on and on in the driest manner. Then onto Flutterbudget Center, where people worry themselves crazy over the slightest things, even things that haven't happened yet.

All in all, the chapters entailing Dorothy's trip through the odd settlements of the Quadling Country bring to mind the odd creatures from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. No real plot building here, just whimsical, fun visits.

While Dorothy has been out traveling, Ozma happens to think of the Nome King and asks to see him in the Magic Picture. She immediately discovers the Nome King's plans. Now, Ozma, you're going to get your army assembled, right?

Bad news travels fast. When Dorothy makes her next stop, at the home of the Tin Woodman, he tells them that the Nome King will be invading Oz, so they start planning what to do. Dorothy thinks they might move to Kansas, pay off the farm with a few emeralds, while the Tin Woodman offers to work to support Ozma. (How quickly the Tin Woodman thinks of moving to Kansas might be interpreted to be a reason for having the Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz stories as canonical.)

Along the way back to the Emerald City, they pick up the Scarecrow and Jack Pumpkinhead, and they all go to try to help Ozma...

...who has flatly refused to fight the Nome King. And she's not interested in moving to Kansas and leaving her people behind. She shows Dorothy and her group the scene in the Magic Picture, where they overhear the information about the Nome King's allies as well. Ozma has deduced the tunnel will come up in her gardens, right by the forbidden fountain. When the Scarecrow hears why the fountain is forbidden, he comes up with an idea that might just save Oz without violence.

Based on this book alone, many accuse Baum of being a pacifist. I'm not exactly sure. We have a little girl on the throne, whose army isn't even designed to fight. What else would happen? Anyways, if you read some of Baum's non-fantasy books, you'll quickly see that he was not a pacifist, but decided to present an alternate solution to fighting in his book, possibly to get the message to children that there are alternatives to violence.

The next morning, all rise early to join the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, Jack Pumpkinhead, and Tik-Tok in their lonely vigil beside the fountain. The Growleywogs, Whimsies, Phanfasms, and Nomes emerge... and run for the forbidden fountain, and all drink. After that, they look stupified, for the water in the fountain makes one forget everything they had never known, down to their own identity. Using the Magic Belt, Ozma had made the tunnel very dusty, so by the time the enemies emerged, they would jump at clear, fresh water to clear their throats.

Ozma sends the Nomes marching back and transports the other enemies home with the Magic Belt, and closes up the tunnel. Tik-Tok, however, points out that this just proves, that even surrounded by the Deadly Desert, Oz is not safe. Ozma takes this to heart and determines to consult with Glinda.

Glinda says the only solution is to put an invisible barrier all around Oz, rendering it invisible from the outside. When Dorothy and Ozma agree to this, Glinda reveals she already did so. (Hmmm? Acting before commanded, Glinda?)

The book ends with a bittersweet notice that because Oz has been cut off from the rest of the world, and that Baum's correspondent, Dorothy, is in Oz, there will be no more Oz stories. Baum assures his readers that they will live happily ever after.

Even when Baum turned out a less-than perfect Oz story, it still felt satisfying. He could turn out a very good plot, and though some might think The Emerald City of Oz drags with Dorothy's Alice-like farewell journey through Oz, when you consider that he set up a Doomsday Clock for Oz, even on a re-read, you get to those last chapters, waiting that bit of anti-climax that lets you know everything would be all right.

But even though Oz would be cut off from the rest of the world, did that really mean there would be no more stories about it? Baum hoped so, but as we'll soon discover, his readers didn't.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Road to Oz and other news

I finished my re-read of The Road to Oz. However, last year, I wrote a number of blogs about the book on it's centenary, and the new characters introduced in it, and the books that it tied to Oz. Looking back at it, there's not really anything I can think of adding (except a bit about a blog I said I'd write, but might as well tie into a later book analysis).

So, since there's no new blog, might as well give you some links:
The Road to Oz - The Road Less Traveled?
John R. Neill - An Appreciation - Volume 1
Characters introduced in this book
The Shaggy Man

In other news, my Oz fan fiction site, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Writer's World, has been overhauled with new features and design, as well as simpler registration, if you're not a spambot. I removed the restriction for new users to be approved before they could post threads, so you just register and get to writing, just how I wanted it to be in the first place. (But if you are registered, make some posts, because we want to clear the user list of fake users, and may have to wipe off anyone who hasn't posted.)

And if you've not heard the new podcast for L. Frank Baum's birthday yet... Go get it now!

L. Frank Baum's Birthday Podcast

For L. Frank Baum's 154 birthday, we present a multi-voice reading of Aunt 'Phroney's Boy, one of his lesser-known short stories. Featuring performances by Mike Conway, Zach Allen, Karyl Carlson, Doug Wall, and Eric Gjovaag. The podcast can be listened to on the podcast site, or the player below.

Though this podcast took awhile to get together, with most of the cast recording independently, and one of the others being a Skype virgin, as well as the hours of editing, I think it worked well. I thought Zach was effective as the boy, who treats a woman (who is just a little better than a stranger to him) to a fine time. Karyl was amazing as Aunt 'Phroney (though the quality of her recording wasn't quite on level with the rest), capturing the voice of the character brilliantly, and Mike is a great storyteller. Doug and Eric also gave excellent performances, though they had smaller roles than the others.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Indie Oz is amazing!

Remember sometime back when I said that costs of making a really good-looking movie were lower due to readily available HD-ready cameras and a wide variety of video editing software? Well, some people are out there with independent Oz projects, proving me absolutely right.

Within one week, I've watched two short films by Oz fans. First up is The Wheeler of Oz by Metro City Films. The film follows the story of Maliphet, a discontent Wheeler who longs to just be accepted. He heads to Oz to look for a friend, but a terrible accident proves to be the key to his surprising future. At 11.5 minutes, I can't say much more without spoiling it. Using a mix of real photography, costumes, set design, and CGI, it's a visual delight. Maliphet's costume brings to mind Disney's Return to Oz, and the director has mentioned that Pons Maar, the head Wheeler from that movie, offered advice on making the wheels work correctly.

The Wheeler of Oz will be screened at a variety of film festivals, but if you can't make it to one of those, he also sells the film on DVD for $10 (shipping included).

Another film is a 23-minute adaptation of the Tin Woodman's tragic origin from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from Whitestone Motion Pictures. Although Baum nuts like me might get put off by no references from The Tin Woodman of Oz, it quickly draws the viewer in, and hits an emotional high note.

I could not find out if the film will be shown at film festivals, but it is available for free viewing at Vimeo, so here it is, below.

Heartless: The Story of the Tin Man from Brandon McCormick on Vimeo.

Finally, we've been seeing progress on an independent adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from Barnyard Films. The writer has given us a lot of feedback and answered many questions fans have had, and what we've seen so far looks quite promising. Here's a video in which they show how they will pull off the Scarecrow in their film:

Because these films are independent, they don't need to pander to certain demographics, and the two short films I saw feel very Ozzy indeed, maybe moreso than anything a major studio has released. Keep up the great work, people!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz

One thing Oz fans tend to forget about Baum's stories is that there are things he didn't write about. In Ozma of Oz, we left Dorothy and Uncle Henry in Australia, but when Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, the Oz book for 1908, opens, Dorothy is heading to Hugson's Ranch from San Francisco. Whatever happened in Australia and San Francisco was left completely unrevealed. What Oz fans forget to do is think that sometimes, occurrences in Oz happened in between stories as well. (Okay, some have remembered this, and have written some great in between stories.) So, sometimes, details revealed in one story might not match another one.

Dorothy is riding a train to Hugson's Siding, and the train is running late due to an earthquake. Oz fans have speculated which earthquake in history it could be, and there was a well-researched article in The Baum Bugle that suggests it could have happened quite a bit further back in the past that most Oz fans would guess, but I think Baum intended it to be a fairly recent occurrence for his contemporary readers, yet entirely fictional.

It is extremely early in the morning when the train arrives at Dorothy's stop, and she gets out and finds her ride: a boy asleep in a buggy drawn by a tired old horse. Dorothy wakes the boy who proves to be her second cousin Zeb. He explains that his uncle, Bill Hugson, married Aunt Em's sister. (This bit also supports my theory that Dorothy must be related by blood to Uncle Henry.) The horse is named Jim, and Dorothy has with her, in a bird cage, a white kitten named Eureka that she found. (In later Oz books, the kitten became permanently pink, with no real explanation.)

As they head to Hugson's ranch, more tremors of the earthquake are felt, until the ground opens up beneath the buggy, and all fall into the earth. As they fall through the earth, it is, at first, terrifying, but quickly, the descent becomes slow. (Alice, anyone?) They see that inside the Earth is a country where the houses are made of glass, and six multi-colored suns shine. (These lights make things seem a different color, and it is because of this light that Eureka appears as pink.)

Dorothy and company land at last on top of a glass house. (Wait... Something's coming to me...) They notice a man in a house opposite the one they're on, and see him walk off the edge, and walking through the air to the street. With a bit of experimentation, our friends discover they can also walk in air. (Baum later gives the reason that they must be near the center of the earth, and gravity has less effect there. As smaller planets have less gravity, this may bear some weight. However, to say for sure, we'd need to find a hollow in the earth that deep down.)

Upon descent, the strange people of the land confront them with emotionless voices and faces, calling themselves Mangaboos. They ask if they caused a "rain of stones," damaging the houses and injuring the people. Of course Dorothy and Zeb deny responsibility, but they are taken to the home of Gwig the Sorcerer, who suggests they are responsible for the stones, then tells the Prince that although he had previously said there would be no more "rains of stones," claiming that this was a "Rain of People-and-Horse-and-Buggy," accompanied by stones.

Yeah, we get it, Gwig, you're a phony. And speaking of phonies, the Mangaboos notice something else falling from above: a man in a hot-air balloon. Yep, it's the Wizard, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The Prince of the Mangaboos asks Gwig why another person has come from the sky, but Gwig humbugs that he said "people," and the Wizard is just a person. Seeing this, the Wizard claims a wizard is better than a sorcerer, to which Gwig challenges him to feats of magic. Gwig makes music sound, while the Wizard seems to pull nine tiny piglets out of nowhere. Gwig then makes the Wizard gradually become unable to breathe, and to combat this, the Wizard joins together many knives to create a sword, and uses it to slice Gwig in half.

Yes, the Wizard just killed someone.

And you thought Oz books were squeaky clean books for kids...

When we are told the grisly details, we discover the Mangaboos are not human: they are vegetable. They grow on vines and bushes and are picked when they become ripe, and when they die, must be "planted" to grow new bushes. Thus, the sliced halves of Gwig look like a sliced potato. The Mangaboos are rather creepy, no emotion, looking human, but are something else all together.

Dorothy, the Wizard, and Zeb are taken to the planting grounds, where they see the Royal Bush of the Mangaboos, noticing a princess who appears to be ripe. Willing to guess that the Prince is delaying her harvest, thus extending his reign, Dorothy and the Wizard pick the Princess, who takes the throne. The Prince had intended to kill them. With the Princess, she might be kinder, or will have to be made aware of the strangers in her land, but in any case, they're buying some extra time.

The Wizard soon reveals to his friends that his trick with the piglets was sleight of hand, and the piglets were obtained from the island of Teenty-Weent. (However, that would also change.) Eureka automatically wishes to eat one of the piglets (because, like all of Baum's fairylands, now the animals can talk), but Dorothy and the Wizard will not let her. (Later, Jim even threatens to eat Eureka should she do such a thing.)

The Wizard takes Gwig's old home as his own, but is soon confronted by the Princess of the Mangaboos. The Mangaboos cannot tolerate other people living with them, and as they do not believe there is a way to leave, they feel the only answer is to kill the invaders. However, the Wizard pulls a trick to keep himself and his friends alive for awhile at least: he sets a fire on the ground and says any Mangaboos who spoke untruthfully against them will be withered instantly. The Princess sends some of her advisers into the fire, and they are all withered and must be planted right away. She agrees not to harm the Wizard or the children, but asks that the animals be disposed of. The Wizard, however, manages to protect the animals.

However, one night (as the suns cannot move, night is only specified by when the people sleep), the sleepless Mangaboos kidnap the animals and force them into a hole in a mountainside. Jim fights and Eureka claws, but in the end, they are forced into the mountain anyways. Eureka manages to escape to wake the Wizard, Dorothy, and Zeb, but when they go to rescue Jim and the piglets, the Mangaboos seal them all into the mountain.

You realize what just happened? People who lived in glass houses just threw stones.

Deciding to continue traveling than waiting for death to take them, the Wizard and his friends continue into the hole and discover it's a tunnel. It leads them up to another country, in another plateau of this underground world. While gravity has now been restored and there are no more multicolored suns, just a single one, they find it to be a more natural-looking place, except they cannot see any living thing.

The Wizard feeds a peach-like fruit to the piglets and discovers to his horror that it made them invisible. He gathers up the invisible piglets as they venture to a farmhouse, where they find an invisible family sitting down to dinner, which the Wizard and friends are invited to join.

The family fills the travelers in: this is the Valley of Voe, and everyone is invisible because they eat the peach-like dama fruit. The main reason is because wild, vicious bears roam the valley, and they also eat dama fruit, so being invisible offers a fighting chance to survive against the bears. (Yes, you're either invisible, or you will almost certainly die.) The travelers decide against eating the fruit and to try their luck at escaping the valley, in a similar way that they escaped the Mangaboos: Pyramid Mountain sits on the other side of Voe, and leads to the country of the Gargoyles.

As the travelers journey across the valley, they rest beside a river when they are warned by an invisible person that the bears are near. The person shows them a leaf that, once rubbed on the soles of their feet, will allow them to walk on water. The charm also seems to work on the buggy wheels, but before everyone can fully escape, the bears attack Jim, and he gets a few scratches, but the Wizard manages to use his collapsible sword to kill one of the bears.

The travelers hurry to Pyramid Mountain, walking on the water as much as possible. Inside the Mountain is a winding staircase that they all must walk up. About halfway up, they see an opening, and looking through see a black sea with flames shooting out of it, giant fierce-looking birds flying around, and on their level, Cloud Fairies, who must be akin to other sky fairies we'll meet in later Oz books. I can't figure out what country they're looking at, though it seems uninhabited. Is it Baum's own take on Hell?

Now we come to an odd part of the book: inside this cavern lives the Braided Man of Pyramid Mountain, who got there by accident when he stacked a lot of post-holes up together and fell through. He also makes rustles for silk dresses and flutters for flags, which he gives to the Wizard and Dorothy in return for a hair ribbon. Really, this scene is weird. The travelers have been going from one peril to another, and then we suddenly get a character who makes non-material objects? Seriously, I was trying to write this into a script, and wound up crossing out the whole page and wrote NO GOOD on it. Yes, the Braided Man was fun, but he felt really out of place.

Moving on... The country of the Gargoyles, at the top of Pyramid Mountain, is completely made of wood, down to the grass and pebbles. Even the Gargoyles are made of wood. Remembering that the people in Voe told them the Gargoyles hate noise, the Wizard uses his revolvers (what did he have that for I wonder?) and sword to try to fight, but eventually, the travelers are conquered and imprisoned.

The prison proves to be the top of a tall building with no windows or doors. However, Eureka discovers she can cling to the wood and climbs down to the city and observes the Gargoyles. She reports that the Gargoyles unhook their wings before they sleep, and the Wizard deduces that the magic power of flight must be in the wings, so if they could get some, they could fly away. Zeb makes a rope ladder with Jim's harness and quietly steals many wings that the Wizard uses to attack to Jim and the buggy, enabling them to fly away.

Well, Pegasus it sure ain't...

Anyways, the Gargoyles wake and see them escaping, so the ones with wings still make chase. The travelers reach the mountain at this end just in time, the Wizard unhooking the wings and setting them on fire, making the remark that no one will miss the Gargoyles if the fire spreads and burns the entire country. (Genocide?)

In the cave, they discover some dragonettes, baby dragons left by their mother as she hunts for food. After a humorous yet grim conversation, the travelers continue to find a dead end, apparently very close to the earth's surface.

And it is at this moment that Dorothy remembers that Ozma promised that every day at 3PM, Dorothy will be seen in the Magic Picture, Dorothy having only to make an unspecified signal with her hand to be brought to Oz.

And all Oz fans shout "WHY DIDN'T YOU THINK OF THAT BEFORE, DOROTHY?" And actually, in Ozma of Oz, it was stated that this would actually occur on Saturday morning. David Hulan mentioned in a recent Baum Bugle that if this had been left as it was introduced, it would have made more sense, and given a bit of urgency to the story: the travelers just needing to stay together and alive until Saturday. I tend to agree, especially as the 3 o'clock timing makes no difference in subsequent Oz stories.

Well, the travelers are brought to Oz, and... well, isn't the Wizard going to answer for his crime in abducting Ozma and giving her to Mombi? The answer... no. In fact, he is no longer guilty of it somehow. Ozma tells him a completely different story of how the witches took over Oz and how she wound up with Mombi. There's been a number of stories trying to rectify the two stories, all making our Wizard innocent, as he was unaware that he was doing wrong, or that the Wizard who met with Mombi was actually a different Wizard altogether, and that Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkle Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs was actually the second Wizard of Oz. If this is to believed, which I think, if handled right, it makes a nice theory, I guess Ozma and Glinda found out after Ozma's restoration.

So, as the Wizard is no longer the ruler, he is offered a new home in Oz, which he accepts, taking a position in the court as a Wizard, Ozma noting that a humbug Wizard is the safest there is. During the pomp and parade, the Wizard makes a gift of one of the piglets (who became visible after leaving Voe) to Ozma as her own pet.

Jim has a bit of a rivalry with the Sawhorse, he thinking he is superior, while the Sawhorse admires Jim in every way. The two have a race, and while the Sawhorse wins, Jim kicks him, damaging the Sawhorse, and is quickly pounced on by the Hungry Tiger with the warning that none of their friends must be attacked in their presence, proving that Ozma does have a good bodyguard! However, Jim feels indignant, and Zeb sympathizes with his horse.

One day, Ozma calls for Jellia (who the Wizard recognized, making her likely the green servant girl from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) to bring her pet piglet. When Jellia returns and says she failed to find it and that Eureka was seen leaving the room, they can only assume Eureka has finally sated her desire to eat one of the piglets. Eureka neither confesses or denies the crime, so she is to be put on trial. The Wizard, not wanting to have Dorothy upset over losing Eureka, gives the Tin Woodman, Eureka's defense attorney, one of the other piglets to substitute for it, forging evidence to clear Eureka's name.

The trial ensues very humorously, but eventually concludes with the verdict that Eureka is guilty. When the Tin Woodman produces the replacement piglet, claiming it is the missing one, Eureka is cleared of all charges, but the kitten refuses to be free unless the Wizard can produce eight piglets, and noting that Ozma's piglet had an emerald collar. The trick being exposed, Eureka finally explains that though she intended to eat the piglet, it ran and fell into a vase in Ozma's room, where it remains. The piglet is recovered, and Eureka claims that she didn't tell anyone of her innocence because it would have spoiled the fun.

Soon, Dorothy sees in the Magic Picture that Uncle Henry has returned home at last and is mourning with Aunt Em over the loss of Dorothy, so she feels she must return. Zeb and Jim feel out of place in Oz (fairyland isn't for everyone, it seems), and ask to go home as well. Ozma returns them all to their homes.

Really, Baum was at his best when he wrote stories of peril and adventure. While the Braided Man, the Dragonettes, Jim's rivalry with the Sawhorse, and Eureka's trial are all funny and great reading, they fall flat and almost feel out of place with the rest of the book.

And what is up with all the contradictions? While some can be explained away, the fact is that Baum did leave some glaring continuity errors unanswered. Even my "things happened in between stories" argument can only last so long.

But all the same, Oz fans love this and all of Baum's Oz books, grimness, uneven storytelling, and continuity errors. It proves that despite having problems, a good story can still shine.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Ozma of Oz

Well, Reilly and Britton had done it again: they'd convinced Baum to write another Oz book. And not just another Oz book, but at least four. The first of these was released in 1907, Ozma of Oz.

The story opens with Dorothy and Uncle Henry at sea, and it's a stormy night. Baum explains that the long years of working on the farm have taken their toll on Uncle Henry's health, and they're heading to Australia to rest and recuperate.

I've been curious as to what exactly Uncle Henry's condition was. Furthermore, I'd like to imagine the doctor recommended hiring a nurse to see to Uncle Henry, but they'd opted for Dorothy to go instead, as they would only need to pay her fare. I estimate that she'd be about 10 at this time, and while that would seem young for someone to care for an ailing elderly man, Dorothy is consistently depicted as being very mature for her age, in practical matters.

Another thing: this was the first time Dorothy had been illustrated by John R. Neill, except for a cameo on a mural in the Tin Woodman's palace in The Marvelous Land of Oz. In that mural, and in W.W. Denslow's illustrations for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, she is depicted with thick braids. Denslow's coloring for her hair is usually interpreted as brown (subsequent interpretations of Dorothy such as the 1902 musical and the 1939 movie musical might be a factor), though I think it looks more like red. Neill, however, has Dorothy with a blonde bob. While the change in hair color could be anyone's guess (aside from different illustrator, different publisher), I came up with the idea that Uncle Henry noticed how out of style Dorothy's hair was on their way to the port, and let her get her hair cut and styled. Or maybe Dorothy met a new friend on the ship who cut her hair for her... (Hmmm... Now who else was illustrated by Neill who had a bob?)

Anyways, this stormy evening, Dorothy can't find Uncle Henry and goes on deck to look for him, when she gets washed overboard. Desperately, she hangs onto a chicken coop that also blew off the ship (sadly, Baum even notes that a number of chickens met an unfortunate end because of this) and climbs inside. Eventually, the storm subsides, and she falls asleep.

...Anyone notice how similar that is to the cyclone in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz?

Dorothy is awakened by a chicken clucking as it lays an egg. To her surprise, the chicken, named Bill, can talk and notes they are not far from land. When Dorothy notes that Bill is a female chicken, a hen, she decides to feminize the name Bill by making it "Billina," and thus one of the book's most entertaining characters is introduced. (And Baum is actually in top form here...)

It's no surprise Baum would introduce a talking chicken, given that he raised chickens, and his first published book, The Book of the Hamburgs, was about raising them. And Baum never makes his talking animals anthropomorphic, but keeps them in the character of what kind of animal they are, with the exception of the Cowardly Lion and Hungry Tiger, who have ridiculous inferiority complexes, with the Lion misunderstanding what courage really is, and the Tiger waiting for the meal that will permanently sate his hunger.

As Dorothy and Billina land, they notice letters in the sand reading "Beware The Wheelers." (Are these letters dug into the sand, or what?) As their clothes and feathers dry, Billina finds a golden key. Dorothy goes to look for food, and finds two trees that bear paper lunch boxes and tin dinner pails filled with food. She gets one of each, and has a lunch, before they encounter the Wheelers, men with wheels instead of hands and feet, and thus roll on all fours. Dorothy and Billina escape them on a rock, where the hen finds a path that leads to a locked cave. The golden key Billina found unlocks the cave, and inside, they find a man made of copper.

Tiktok (or Tik-Tok, the spelling varied in the books), once wound with a key (I thought Disney's Return to Oz improved on the idea by making the keys and his instructions attached to him), tells his story, that he was owned by the cruel King of Ev, Evoldo, who sold his wife and children to the Nome King in exchange for a long life. Afterward, Evoldo regretted his action, and having failed to bargain with the Nome King, locked Tiktok away and threw the key into the sea. Regretting this, he jumps in after it and drowns. (Evoldo, a life ended by regret.) Tiktok now dedicates himself to serving Dorothy, as she freed him.

Tiktok's first bit of service is getting rid of the Wheelers by beating them with Dorothy's dinner pail. He manages to capture the leader, who is forced to lead them to the city of Evna, to meet Princess Langwidere, the acting ruler of Ev.

Langwidere is a lazy princess (the first part of her name is a homophone of "languid," though I've never been able to decide if the name means "languid ear" or "languid dear"), and she has thirty heads she can change out for her own, each with a different personality. (Baum never tells us if Langwidere was born with these, if there are thirty headless or dead women somewhere, or if they came from somewhere else altogether. A suggestion I made for this is being worked into a story someone's working on.) When Langwidere fancies Dorothy's head, Dorothy promptly refuses, Langwidere locks Dorothy in a tower, puts Billina in her hen house, and as Tiktok has wound down, she leaves him where he is, letting him be more ornamental than useful. (Now where did I get that term?)

As Dorothy looks out of her prison, she notices the Land of Ev borders the Deadly Desert that separates her from the Land of Oz. To her surprise, she sees movement on the desert, and soon makes it out as Princess Ozma on a magic carpet that rolls out in front of her procession. Ozma rides in a chariot pulled by the Lion and Tiger, while the Scarecrow on the Sawhorse follows, and the Tin Woodman leads an army of twenty-six officers and one private, who proves to be Omby Amby, the soldier with the green whiskers from the previous Oz books. (He made good on his word to cut off his beard to disguise himself to trick Jinjur's army, as mentioned in the last book, a surprising bit of continuity from Baum.)

As the procession arrives at the palace Dorothy calls for her old friends to save her, and as they were going to visit Langwidere anyways, Ozma agrees. Langwidere happily releases Dorothy to Ozma when she hears that Ozma intends to free the Queen of Ev and her children, so Langwidere will be free of her duties. Dorothy winds Tiktok and frees Billina (who, in a brilliant metaphor of feminism, has beaten the rooster of the hen house in a fight), then a council is held about Evoldo's bargain with Roquat of the Rocks, the Nome King, and what must be done to free the Royal Family of Ev. All they can do is go to the Nome King and either bargain or fight.

The procession heads towards the Nome Kingdom, the Magic Carpet serving as a bridge over a gap they encounter, but a greater danger lies in an mechanical giant who hammers the ground, blocking off access to the Nome King's palace. (Tiktok admires the giant, noting that the creators of the giant also made him.) However, some quick bounding and running by the Lion, Tiger, and Sawhorse all manage to carry the party across, one at a time, as the giant raises the hammer.

Finally, they reach a dead end where they are laughed at by almost invisible rock fairies, and Ozma demands the Nome King to appear. Tiktok reminds Ozma that the Nome King does not answer to Ozma, so she requests that the Nome King appear, to no avail. When Tiktok suggests Ozma pleads to see him, she flatly refuses, and Dorothy instead politely asks the Nome King to see them, which causes an entry to appear in the rock. (For the titular character, you're getting shown up quite a bit, Ozma.)

The Nome King seems to be an amiable and cheerful fellow, but refuses to simply surrender the Royal Family of Ev, revealing that he transformed them into ornaments and knick-knacks to decorate his palace. Ozma offers to replace the ornaments, up to ten times what the Nome King would lose, or else they will fight the Nome King. He shows Ozma his own immense army, far outnumbering their own twenty-seven soldiers, so the Nome King offers to let them take a gamble: each member of the party can go into the ornament rooms, one at a time, and make eleven guesses as to the enchanted objects. However, if all guesses prove to be failures, the guesser will also be transformed into an ornament. However, the next guesser may have one more than the previous, giving them one chance to find each transformed person.

Ozma decides to accept, thinking she would surely pick one out of eleven correctly, and goes first. However, she discovers the ornament rooms are immense and full of ornaments, and all of her guesses prove to be failures. The Tin Woodman and the army follow suit, but all fail. Meanwhile, the Nome King provides refreshments for those waiting, and Billina wanders off. After Omby Amby fails, the Nome King decides to go to bed and continue the next day, and has Dorothy, the Scarecrow, Tiktok, the Lion, and the Tiger sent to rooms. Dorothy, however, notices that she cannot find Billina.

Billina, however, has made herself cozy under the Nome King's throne, where she hears the Chief Steward (later named Kaliko) chide the Nome King for making the Royal Family of Ev the only purple ornaments in his collection, and the people of Oz the only green ones. He even mentions that if he had the Magic Belt, he would make a better king. The Nome King scoffs at this criticism and goes to bed, revealing he plans to make Dorothy a gray ornament, and the Scarecrow and Tiktok solid gold.

The next day, Tiktok is the first to go, but his action winds down before he can make his last guess. Dorothy is sent to wind him, let him make his last guess, then make her own guesses. After Tiktok fails, one of Dorothy's guesses proves successful, as she disenchants Evring, one of the princes of Ev. This means even if she doesn't make another correct choice, she will not be transformed, and Evring is free.

While Dorothy is going about this, Billina lays an egg under the Nome King's throne. He is outraged, claiming that all eggs are poison to Nomes, as they belong only to the outside world. (This has been a matter of much debate to Oz fans, some theorizing that it is not really true, some taking it to where even human ova would be fatal, or other extremities. Baum never settled on exactly how an egg would kill a Nome.) The Scarecrow offers to remove it, as he also carries Billina's daily egg from the previous day, but Billina tells him not to touch it unless she is allowed to have a round at the Nome King's guessing game. The Nome King agrees, thinking he will be rid of Billina.

The Scarecrow takes his turn after the rest of Dorothy's guesses prove unsuccessful, and also fails. Billina takes her turn, and using the information she overheard, manages to restore the rest of the Royal Family of Ev, Ozma, the Army, the Scarecrow, and Tiktok. However, she cannot find the Tin Woodman. They decide to confront the Nome King about his unfair gambles, but find his army ready to attack.

Using Billina's eggs, the Scarecrow manages to blind the Nome King, and Billina tells Dorothy to take the Magic Belt. As the Nome King finds himself powerless, he panics, and is forced to listen to Ozma's demands. He searches the ornament rooms himself but cannot find the Tin Woodman. They decide to leave the Nome King, since he seems to be in earnest, but as they leave, he makes his army attack, but Dorothy uses the Magic Belt to transform the front row of soldiers into eggs. (It always struck me as hard luck for the transformed Nomes, since they were just following orders. Maybe we can assume that Dorothy restored them when they were a safe distance away.)

The giant with the hammer proves no obstacle, as the Magic Belt halts it. On the way back to Evna, Evring produces a green tin whistle he'd found in the Ornament Rooms, which proves to be the transformation of the Tin Woodman, who is quickly restored.

Peace is quickly restored to Ev, as Prince Evardo takes the throne, as he is the eldest of Evoldo's sons, and Ozma and her company are rewarded for their efforts. Soon, they return to Oz to a banquet, where Omby Amby is promoted to Captain General, for at least trying to fight the Nomes. (This promotion is oddly the wisest thing Ozma does in the book.)

After spending "several very happy weeks" in Oz, Dorothy discovers Ozma's Magic Picture and asks to see Uncle Henry, who is obviously concerned over Dorothy's apparent loss at sea. Going to Glinda to ask how Dorothy is to return to Uncle Henry in Australia, Glinda reveals the Magic Belt can send Dorothy home, but if Dorothy uses it, it will be lost, like the Silver Shoes from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Instead, Dorothy lets Ozma use the Magic Belt to send to Uncle Henry, Billina opting to stay in Oz, and Tiktok being turned over to Ozma's keeping.

Ozma wishes Dorothy back to Uncle Henry. The story ends with Dorothy explaining her survival to Uncle Henry, and promising to take care of him until he gets better. Uncle Henry assures her that having her back, he's better already.

We might want to ask, who is the heroine of the story? Is it Ozma? Yes, it was her idea to free the Royal Family of Ev, thus making permanent peace with that country, but aside from being the diplomat, she doesn't do much in the way of heroics. Is it Dorothy? Maybe. It is Dorothy who moves the story along and who we mostly focus on. But if you want the character who is responsible for saving the day, it would have to be Billina.

The story also introduces the Nome King, one of the most popular villains in the Oz books. Yes, even the Wicked Witch of the West isn't quite as popular (except the MGM and Wicked incarnations). He at first seems amiable and agreeable, but is actually quite devious and can be quite dangerous when angry. In fact, Baum almost bookended the ... But we'll get to that in a later blog. Let's just say he's not going to take this defeat lying down. He is best summed up as I heard a different character described: "He'd politely ask you to tea, then bite your head off."

Ozma of Oz is one of the Oz books that are often pegged as a favorite. And it's not hard to see why. After all, Baum writes his best here, as well as retaining his humor: the character who saves the day is not the beautiful Princess Ozma, nor our daring Dorothy, but a chicken. Baum keeps his characters in top form, creates a landmark villain, and tellss a top-notch story.

And he not only does here what he did with The Marvelous Land of Oz, but better as well. Dorothy is back, she has a new friend or two - who have qualities and characters that are entirely different to one another but also entertaining and appropriate - while exploring a new land and its equally strange inhabitants, gets reunited with her old friends, meets a new threat, manages to help out in his defeat, save an enchanted kingdom and arrange a way to come back to Oz when she wishes while also returning to her despaired family. These points, like those mentioned in The Marvelous Land of Oz, were also key story elements in the plot of Disney's Return to Oz, and thus, finally wrote what felt like a satisfying follow up to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.