Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Lost King of Oz

Okay... Some of you can probably guess how I'll feel about the conclusion of The Lost King of Oz, Thompson's Oz book for 1925. But we'll get to that...

We open in the kingdom of Kimballoo, where King Kinda Jolly reigns, and has brought his cook a goose he bought to cook for dinner. Except his cook happens to be Mombi, and the goose is actually Pajuka, the former Prime Minister of Oz under the old King, Pastoria, who, Mombi reveals, is not dead, but under an enchantment. Mombi decides to find Pastoria, so he can take the throne from Ozma, and will probably reward her for finding him. (Flaw in your logic, Mombi. You enchanted him in the first place.) Mombi has forgotten her magic, due to Glinda taking it from her back in The Marvelous Land of Oz, but she has learned new magic based solely on cooking.

So, Mombi, Pajuka, and a button-boy named Snip set out to find Pastoria. Along the way, Mombi uses her food-based magic to help them along, from raising a city of cats with baking powder, or walking over a body of water using gelatin. Finally, Mombi fears that Snip will betray them, and throws him down a well, where he finds the city of the Blanks (invisible people who only care about dress), and their tailor, Tora, who is visible and has "Butterfly ears" that he can send away so he can hear things elsewhere. With Snip's help, he escapes Blankenberg at last.

Meanwhile, Dorothy leaves the friends she made in the last book, and stumbles onto another Wish Way, and accidentally wishes herself back in America, where she finds and wishes to life a dummy dressed like a king that was being used in a movie, that she names Humpy. However, she finds herself growing to her proper age, and wishes herself and Humpy back in Oz, and finds herself a little girl again.

That's kind of weird. I'd always thought that while in Oz, your physical aging froze, so if you went outside of Oz, you would start off at the same age you were when you went to Oz, and then age normally. But then, Thompson does tend to go for the more fantastic.

Meanwhile, Ozma and members of her court receive a message telling them to "Go to Morrow today," which they confuse for "Go tomorrow today." (Tik-Tok worries about it until he runs down, despite being mechanical and emotionless... I'm going to say that Thompson got his character completely wrong.) They realize it means Morrow, Pastoria's old hunting lodge, and there, they find a cloak that will restore the Lost King of Oz.

Dorothy and Humpy escape the Back Talkers of Eht Kcab Sdoow by running backwards, get helped along by the Scooters, and meet with Snip and Tora, and are joined by Kabumpo. These five catch Mombi and Pajuka at the Emerald City. Trying to restore the King, who they think Humpy is, Mombi accidentally sinks the palace into the ground.

Meanwhile, Ozma and her court hurry back to the Emerald City, anticipating the return of Pastoria, although almost everyone realizes that if Pastoria takes the throne, they might not be allowed to stay in the Palace.

Snip uses Mombi's baking powder to raise the Palace, and Ozma and the court return, but the attempt to restore Humpy is a failure. However, when they try it on Tora, it works! Pajuka is also restored to human form.

Pastoria decides to abdicate and let Ozma remain as queen of Oz, and he opens a tailor shop in the Emerald City, with Pajuka and Snip helping him, and Humpy being his dress dummy.

Now for the big, bad, ending...

Ozma decides to kill Mombi.

There's no better way to put it. Since Thompson is sticking with the idea that water "melts" Wicked Witches, and Mombi is a Wicked Witch, she has Ozma order the Scarecrow and Sir Hokus to dunk her in a fountain, which they run off to do and return with only her shoes.

My interpretation of Oz canon would stipulate that Mombi could not have died this way. She was just a sorceress, and we were never told that she had "dried up," like we were the Wicked Witches of the East and West. That accounts for how a heavy object like Dorothy's house crushed one into dust, and water broke down and dissolved the molecules of the other. I assumed the gradual crumbling of the Wicked Witch of the East and the slow dissolution of the Wicked Witch of the West was because they had used magic to keep them alive, but when it met with a force that it could not contend with, it broke down slowly.

And frankly, what did Mombi do that was so bad as to earn her a death penalty? Yes, she had played a major role in upsetting the old monarchy of Oz, but this paved the way for Ozma in the end. And now, all the people who had been affected by this have been restored and live happily ever after.

Furthermore, Ozma did promise to care for Mombi in her old age, so why the change of heart?

If Thompson had just had Ozma keep Mombi under probation, this would have been a very nice Oz story. It is nice to let Ozma have a parent around, and the story, despite being a little shallow, is humorous. I think Dorothy's brief visit to Hollywood was meant to tie in with the fact that the 1925 Wizard of Oz film was released that year.

Overall, I'd say The Lost King of Oz is a good story. I just wish I could forget that part of the last chapter ever existed.

(Don't worry, Mombi. In my Oz, you faked it.)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Royal Website of Oz is up!

Hey! Remember the website I said I was going to build?

Well... It's up! It's a revamp of my old Dorothy & Ozma Productions website, but now it's The Royal Website of Oz! It even has an easy URL:

Comparing the sites, you can see that I actually redesigned it from scratch. I took out some of the gaudier design elements. While the website design still features white text on green, the green emerald pattern is gone. Some complained that caused eyestrain.

The podcast, blog, and other Oz sites I maintain are not moving to this site, but are being treated as external extensions of the site.

Most of the content of the site is the old site's content. A couple things were dropped. One of the additions that took a bit to work out is that the text adventure games I created are now available to play online through a PC emulator that works through Java.

Now, while all the pages work, the site is still partially under construction. The e-texts will be put into PDF files, the reference section is going to be expanded with more biographies, and lists of book reviews will actually be an index of reviews from the blog.

The Woggle-Bug Review, one feature from the old site that many visitors enjoyed, is being split into three pages, one for film and TV, one for stage, and one for audio productions. While the capsule reviews will remain, I want to build PDF "fact sheets" about each of them, entailing cast and crew and plot summary.

Anyways, at long last, we can ignore that old icky Tripod site! Long live the Royal Website of Oz!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Happy Birthday, Ozma!

In honor of Ozma's birthday (don't ask about her age), I put together this video. It's the Japanese song "RIZ-ZOAWD!" from the game of the same name, set to clips from the Russian Priklyucheniya v Izumrudnom Gorode, or "Adventures in the Emerald City."

Yes, I kind of combined the first two Oz stories, not showing the return to Kansas.

Because this series is Russian, some people have confused the first as an adaptation of Volshebnik Izumrudnovo Goroda (Alexsandr Volkov's rewriting of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. While the look is definitely inspired by that series' illustrations, this animated series went to the Baum books instead (the second story adapted was The Marvelous Land of Oz, and Volkov never introduced a character to take the role of Ozma), only incorporating a few elements from Volkov, such as Totoshka (Toto) talking. I was surprised to discover that Dorothy's name in the series was not Elli, but in fact Dolly. (And seemingly, that is the Nome King who you see in the video.)

And looking at it, I'm sure we all wish there was an English version. When Googling the series once, I was surprised to find some screen captures emblazoned with the logo "Journey to Oz," so it seems there was an English version planned at some point, but it never happened. There was also an adaptation of Ozma of Oz planned, but it also bit the dust.

From what I can tell, it seems the series was indeed being developed to be re-dubbed and released internationally, but unfortunately, no one was buying from Russia at the time. Apparently, there was high hopes for the Oz series to get picked up, but it fell through. It's too bad, as I think the animation is simply beautiful, reminding me of Max Fleischer and Walt Disney's studios.

Whatever, happy birthday, Ozma, and enjoy the video!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Transcriber Wanted!

If you didn't notice, I put a not exactly word-for-word transcription of the last podcast in the last posting, and the reason for that is because it interested a friend of mine who happens to be deaf. I took the time out to do it, but if anyone is interested in helping the information from the podcasts get out to more people through text, let me know. As I run the podcast from my own pocket, I can't afford to pay you. All I can do is give you the link to the podcast as soon as it is uploaded, so you'll actually get it before everyone else. (This, of course, will not be needed in story podcasts.)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Royal Podcast of Oz: An Interview With David Maxine

The Royal Podcast of Oz is pleased to present an interview with David Maxine, operator of Hungry Tiger Press! As always, you can listen and download at the podcast site, or listen below.

This was one of the easier podcasts to do, as it mainly required just amplifying David's audio (I had to do this one Skype-to-phone, instead of Skype-to-Skype, but it was very audible), and trimming out mainly extra silence. Thanks again, David!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Grampa in Oz

1924 brought about Thompson's fourth Oz book, Grampa in Oz. When I started reading this one, I smelled ... hash! No, even worse, RE-hash!

We open in the country of Ragbad, former supplier of clothes to all Oz, now in a terrible economic crisis. To make matters worse, the king loses his head in a storm! So, after trying replacement heads, the body must finally be restrained.

Prince Tatters and a soldier named Grampa (who has a "game leg," a box shaped like a leg that can open for him to keep things in) head out to not only find the King's head, but to find his fortune and marry a princess. ... Hold on a second... Is this sounding a little familiar to anyone?

Tatters and Grampa meet an iron rooster (originally part of a weathervane, he was brought to life by live lightning in the storm) named Bill, and, after escaping from bandits, find their way into Urtha's garden, where they find Urtha, a pretty maid (who Thompson cannot stop telling us how beautiful she is... we get it!) made of earth and flowers. Using magic medicine (something Thompson would bring up again later, and it does seem rather dangerous for a children's book to have characters liberally dosing on such substances, as a child might try to re-create the story), the travelers get shot out of a volcano into the Nonestic Ocean, slay a dragon, turn into crows, fly to Oz, and finally find the King's head in the clouds...

Meanwhile, Princess Pretty Good of Perhaps City has disappeared, and the prophet Abrog has seen that the princess will marry a monster with two heads in four days. Only one person in Perhaps City is brave enough to look for the princess, and that is the Forgetful Poet Percy Vere.

The Forgetful Poet was a column, featuring poems Thompson wrote for newspapers, so now the idea was made into an Oz character. So, a previous Thompson work was brought into Oz... ?

Percy winds up running into Dorothy, and they wind up on Monday Mountain, where they get caught by the washerwomen. They finally escape and meet Tatters, Grampa, and the rest. They head back to Perhaps City, where Abrog shows that Tatters is the monster (since he's carrying an extra head), and it's revealed that Urtha is really Princess Pretty Good, and Abrog is really the wicked magician Gorba!

Pretty Good is restored, Gorba is turned into a rat, and Pretty Good and Tatters marry, restoring prosperity to Ragbad.

Altogether, if it wasn't for the fact that Kabumpo in Oz came first, this might have been more bearable. But the plot of "Prince goes to find princess for good of kingdom, but she's missing and/or enchanted and the prince finds her but doesn't realize she's a princess until later" was already done. The things that Tatters must do echo Sir Hokus' ambitions from The Royal Book of Oz, and Urtha being a plant princes... Mangaboos and Ozga, anyone? (In that sense, Baum rehashed himself, but managed to use the characters very differently.)

In terms of chronology, Thompson has yet to impress me. Grampa in Oz is a series of wild, fantastical adventures with a rehashed plot. For me, it wasn't so satisfying.

From Sam: Although Thompson's books were never dramatized for the screen, some of the cover for this book did surprisingly make it into the background in the final scene of the animated musical (Thanksgiving/Christmas) special half-hour short "Dorothy in the Land of Oz".

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Cowardly Lion of Oz

I wonder if Thompson thought she was completing a trio with The Cowardly Lion of Oz. Baum had The Scarecrow of Oz, then later, The Tin Woodman of Oz, but that was it. Two of three books named after Dorothy's first three friends in Oz. Plus, this new Oz book was published in 1923.

I suppose The Cowardly Lion of Oz also has something akin to both of these books, but we'll get to that later.

The story opens in the Munchkin Kingdom of Mudge, where the Arab-ish people the Mudgers are forced to stay. And why? Because Glinda flew over in her swan chariot and unceremoniously dropped a book into Mudge, saying that if any of the Mudgers left Mudge (as they would rob and raid nearby people), they would lose their head, by order of Ozma.

... Oz is getting mean! Buckle up, kids, it gets meaner!

Mustafa, the King of Mudge, has taken to collecting lions, and has nine thousand, nine hundred, and ninety-nine and a half lions in his menagerie. (One lion got out of hand and got cut in two. The front half escaped.) Mustafa wants to increase his collection to ten thousand, and sets his sights on the famous Cowardly Lion, as he makes a handsome specimen. But how to get it when any Mudgers leaving Mudge will lose their heads?

Meanwhile, an orphanage takes all their children to the circus on a rainy day, and one of the clowns, called Notta Bit More, does a trick with one of the orphans, and makes up a nonsense rhyme:

Udger budger! You're a Mudger!
Udge budge! Go to Mudge!

To his surprise, the orphan vanishes into thin air. Startled and trying to discover what happened, Notta alters his rhyme:

Udger budger! I'm a Mudger!
Udge budge! Go to Mudge!

He vanishes, too, and finds himself... well, you know where now.

Notta introduces himself to orphan, Bobby Downs, who he decides to call Bob Up. Noting the city of Mudge, Notta decides to employ his rules of action:
  1. Disguise yourself.
  2. Be extremely polite.
  3. Joke about.
  4. Run!
So, Notta enters Mudge disguised as... a lion. And yes, Mustafa sees it and attempts to put Notta in with his other lions. Bob runs in and tells them they can't take the lion, because it's Notta.

"Not a what?"
"Not a lion!" That joke is going to get old really fast.

Anyways, Mustafa sends Notta and Bob to capture the Cowardly Lion for him, and if they don't, they will turn blue.

SO ... Notta and Bob head out, having a round of Thompson-esque misadventures, which while they are fun, are not quite so notable.

And in case you think this should have been Notta & Bob in Oz, in comes the Cowardly Lion, suddenly bemoaning his still being a coward, even though Ozma of Oz seemed to indicate that he had learned to live with it. Scraps suggests that he eats the bravest man in Oz, and somehow, the Lion thinks this is a good idea. So, he heads out to the Munchkin Country to find woodsmen, thinking they must be brave, but he can't after they welcome him warmly. (Okay, Thompson, I gotta admit, that little twist really was funny.) He meets up with Notta and Bob, who don't capture him, but intend to, so they can reach the Emerald City, and just maybe get sent home, out of Mustafa's grasp.

And now another series of misadventures, the most notable being on the skyle (a sky island) of Un, where they gain a new traveling companion, Nickadoodle the Snorer, a bird with a telephone beak. Attacking Uns are sent to Mudge.

Finally, the Lion confesses why he wanted to find the bravest man in Oz, and Notta and Bob reveal Mustafa's demands (turning them blue for a time), and the Lion agrees to help them out.

The story begins to climax when they fall from the stolen Flyaboutabus from Un, and fall into the clutches of a stone giant named Crunch, who takes a fancy to the Lion. They agree that Crunch and the Lion will go to Mudge, while Notta and Bob will go to the Emerald City.

In the Emerald City, Notta messes up royally by running up to Dorothy dressed as a witch. (Yep, it's cross dressing in Oz!) He is put on trial, but when Bob protests, the Wizard tests to see if Notta is a witch or not. Notta is encouraged to just be himself, as Thompson makes a good point by stating that all sorts of curious people are welcome in Oz.

Suddenly Glinda appears and hurries in (I actually thought Thompson's description of a trailing gown requiring a dozen maidens to carry it was a bit much) and says the Cowardly Lion is in trouble. Notta uses the chant to send them all to Mudge.

Crunch has let his new-found high ambitions slip and just wants to get to Mudge and get it over with so he can take the Lion for his own. He even carries the Lion the rest of the way, and the Lion goes to see Mustafa on his own, and Mustafa sends him to fight the other lions. It is at this time that the group from the Emerald City appears, just in time to see Crunch turn all the lions, even our own Cowardly Lion, to stone.

The Scarecrow advises that Crunch be de-animated, so he remains a stone statue in Mudge to remind Mustafa of his foolishness.

The stone Lion is brought back to the Emerald City, but the Wizard and Glinda cannot find a way to counter Crunch's magic (maybe you shouldn't have been so quick to de-animate him?). The Lion is placed in the palace gardens.

You know, didn't the Wizard learn a secret word of transformation that could have solved this? What was it? Oh, right: Pyrzqxgl. However, either it didn't work, or it has been ignored by Thompson, or the Wizard is keeping it a secret from Glinda. (I like to think the last one.)

Dorothy begins crying over her old friend, and it turns out the way to counter the stone magic is tears. So, everyone hurries out and sobs over the Cowardly Lion until he is revived.

Notta and Bob are given their own circus outside the Emerald City, and everyone lives happily ever...

... Wait, what about those stone lions and the half lion? Well, the half-lion is rejoined with its front by the Wizard (Notta and Bob met the front half on their travels), but the rest, it is said, Mustafa sold.

Wait ... So, in Oz, where animals are held in the same regard as humans, even when a way to revive the lions is found, these fierce yet otherwise innocent beasts are left as stone statues to be sold commercially? And why are things being sold in Oz when we were told there's no money in Oz back in The Road to Oz?

Admittedly, this was one of the Thompson books I was least impressed with. One fan even told me he stopped reading the Famous Forty with this one. As a clown, Notta doesn't really make me laugh. He does make for a nice action hero, though. Bob bounces between a cheerful adventurous boy and a whiny kid. (I imagined "It's not a ____, it's Notta!" in a really whiny voice. That's just how it sounded to me.) And also, we have some shocking deviations from what Baum had established.

So, what did I mean when I said it had something in common with The Scarecrow of Oz and The Tin Woodman of Oz? Well, like Scarecrow, the main focus is on two newcomers to Oz, a child and an adult, instead of the title character, who now both get to live in Oz on their first visit. Like Tin Woodman, the title character goes out a quest to resolve something, though the Tin Woodman's adventure was much more satisfying.

At least, unlike Button-Bright, Bob is introduced as being an orphan so he has no family to worry over his disappearance. But what about the orphanage guardian/supervisor who can't account for a missing child?

Anyways, folks, I didn't really enjoy The Cowardly Lion of Oz much. You might, you might not, give it a shot.

NOTE: Although Ruth Plumly Thompson's Oz book weren't adapted for the screen or stage, it has been said that Notta Bit More is one of the joyous citizens in the restored Emerald City during the Coronation Parade in Disney's "Return to Oz"; this seems unlikely - due to copyright circumstances - and could actually be a humanised version of Mr. Joker, the cracked Clown (here, not cracked in the least) from the Dainty China Country.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Building the Emerald City

See this? It's a cut and build Emerald City by Dick Martin, published by Dover Publications.

I bought one of these years ago when I was collecting Oz books. My baby brother Daniel saw it (I was still living with my parents at the time) and expressed interest in assembling it. I told him I'd buy another copy for us to cut up and put together.

That, however, didn't happen until after I'd moved out. However, he'd often mention it when he visited and look for it on my bookshelf.

When I went to Winkies, one of the activities was helping Karyl Carlson assemble one of these. I remembered Daniel and then realized his birthday wasn't far off.

Due to some concerns from doctors (he is a Type 1 diabetic) and actions by the state, Daniel is being placed under the guardianship of (and will later be adopted by) my eldest brother and his wife, who happen to live the next street over from me, so it's only a short walk away. And as it happened, this week, he's staying with them.

Daniel visited the day before his birthday, so I pulled the book off my shelf and gave it to him and told him sometime we would put it together... Together!

So, last night, I headed over there, and we engaged in two hours of cutting, gluing, taping, and talking. We managed to build five buildings that we put carefully on top of his bookshelf.

Since I have today off, I headed over again and we did a bit more...

All that's left now is the Palace... The big one! We'll have to find some time to do it...

Munchkin Autographed Posters

I just got contacted by about a couple of Wizard of Oz posters they're selling, signed by the Munchkin cast. There is one with just two signatures, and another with nine altogether. And there's also a photo gallery of the signing session. These are selling for $113 and $513, respectively, so if you want them, you might want to have those pennies saved...

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Bonus blog...

So, that Oz story I was working on? Mike Conway tweeted about a site called "I Write Like", and it asks for a sample of your work to analyze. I put it the first chapter of my Oz story, and here is my result:

I write like
L. Frank Baum

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Okay, now let's see what result I get when I have it analyze my latest blog...

I write like
L. Frank Baum

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

.... Okay...

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Kabumpo in Oz

Well, the readers ate up Thompson's disguised debut, and the next year in 1922, Thompson rolled out another Oz book. As it turned out, Kabumpo in Oz would feature many elements that Thompson would make her trademarks.

The story opens in the kingdom of Pumperdink, a little place Thompson had created in her earlier short stories. She took a page from Baum tying the locations in his non-Oz fantasies to Oz by making them borderlands, except Thompson actually placed Pumperdink in the Gillikin Country.

THOMPSON TRADEMARK: Oz is now full of tiny little kingdoms that were never there before.

As Prince Pompadore celebrates one of his eighteenth birthdays, his cake explodes, leaving a scroll warning that if he doesn't marry "the proper fairy princess" in a certain amount of time, Pumperdink will disappear. (How, exactly, is never explained.)

King Pompus (Seriously, Thompson? That's not even clever wordplay!) decrees Pompadore will marry the withered old fairy princess Faleero, but Kabumpo, the elegant elephant, is indignant at this pairing, and he and Pompadore run off to ask Ozma to marry him, thinking she would definitely do it to save Pumperdink.

THOMPSON TRADEMARK: The prince is after a princess.

As Pompadore and Kabumpo meet some of Thompson's fun characters and locations, we go to the Emerald City, where we discover the Water of Oblivion has worn off of Ruggedo, the ex-Nome King (except Thompson calls him the Gnome King), and he's burrowed under the Emerald City. (How exactly it just "wore off," I have no idea. Thompson doesn't explain, and Baum indicated it was a permanent removal.) He has carved away his history on rocks (including his life as Roquat), and stolen many items from the Emerald City, and resides with a rabbit named Wag, and Trot's wooden doll Peg Amy, that Cap'n Bill made from a tree. (For some reason, this required him to cut down the entire tree.)

THOMPSON TRADEMARK: Even if she's not messing with continuity, I'm still scratching my head over the details.

Ruggedo finds a box of magic tools marked "Glegg's Box of Mixed Magic," and we can already tell trouble is brewing. Heeding advice from the included Question Box, Ruggedo enlarges Peg Amy and Wag, and brings Peg to life. He also uses hair strengthener to make his hair go into very hard and sharp spikes, then when things get too crowded, he uses the enlarging magic on himself, making him a giant, with Ozma's palace on his head!

Meanwhile, Glinda reads that Ruggedo has something on his mind. When did the Book of Records become so cryptic?

Ruggedo heads to Ev, intending to take over the Nome Kingdom again, while Wag, Peg Amy, Glinda, Kabumpo, and Pompadore unite, and taking advantage of a live runaway country, follow Ruggedo to Ev.

Although Thompson uses her fun misadventures to stretch the story out a bit, it quickly breaks down to using the box of Mixed Magic to make Ruggedo go to sleep and sleep walk back to the Emerald City, where he is restored to his normal size, and the palace set back on its foundation.

Ozma refuses to marry Pompadore, and they ask the Question Box who the Proper Fairy Princess is, and are told that it is the Princess of Sun Top Mountain. So, Kabumpo, Pompadore, Peg Amy, and Wag head there and discover the Princess has been missing. Kabumpo's Magic Mirror reveals that Peg Amy is, in fact, the missing Princess, who had been turned into a tree, and then wound up becoming a doll when Cap'n Bill cut the tree down. This restores her, then the magician Glegg appears, but is subdued. Pompadore and Peg Amy marry, saving Pumperdink.

THOMPSON TRADEMARK: The princess wasn't that far off...

And now to punish our baddies! Ruggedo is sent on the Runaway Country to the Nonestic Ocean to live in exile. The odd thing about this is that Tik-Tok claims Ruggedo will never reform. Why is the emotionless clockwork man judging now?

THOMPSON TRADEMARK: Ruggedo is always, always, always bad.

As for Glegg, he is given some of his magic potion under suggestion from the Question Box, and this makes him explode. And no one bats an eye, in fact, the book ends with Scraps cheerfully sweeping up his ashes.

THOMPSON TRADEMARK: The bad guys get severely punished.

Altogether, Kabumpo in Oz is an enjoyable book, and it's far from bad. It's just that I can really see that Thompson did not completely understand why Baum did some of the things he did, which included giving even the villains a sort-of happy ending. (Unless they died...)

A lot of the new characters in the book are memorable. Pompadore is a nice leading boy hero, Peg is a great enchanted princess, and Kabumpo, even when he's haughty, is somehow lovable.

And why did I mark those trademarks? Because in the other three Thompson books I read recently, you will see them again.

"Wicked" Is What I Like Least!

This following Sam Milazzo Oz Blog is about "Wicked", the Musical and Gregory Maguire's book, the overall franchise and may contain SPOILERS and opinions that may not be agreed upon by some readers. These are not the opinions of Jared Davis, who related his own in this blog entry.

My Mum and I recently got the chance to see the musical "Wicked" at the Capitol Theatre, which had reached its Sydney showing and was ending at the later date of September 26.

Before I had seen this musical, I gave the book a read first. And I did not like it.

I have been told that Gregory Maguire is a good writer. I can believe that, but I refuse to believe such a good writer would write Oz in such a manner. Although legally a prequel to the Baum books, the green-skinned birth is clearly a foreshadowing to the MGM depiction, and mixed in with an allegory (personification characters of Good and Bad), language and issues involving discrimination or love or even misunderstanding, made it an un-enjoyable reading experience for me. Especially since there are sequels involved . . . none of which I will ever attempt to follow up on.

Fortunately the musical adaptation was, for me, much better than the book. I was interested in seeing how they'd adapt such a book for the stage. I will say I did enjoy it, the sets were great and the costumes were fantastic (and if I didn't bring my glasses it would have been harder to see). Sometimes the songs were outstanding, and even reached such a high note I was almost afraid if ear-bursting.

I don't like Wicked because...
  • It deals mainly with the MGM portrayal of Oz but in a less magical and certainly less-than-happy way of life.
  • The Wizard is depicted as a manipulative tyrant who doesn't see himself doing anything wrong.
  • In terms of language, Elphaba (as the WWWitch) even threatens to severely kick someone someWHERE!

What makes the Stage Musical Different from the Book? Here's some points... (Major Spoilers!)
  • It begins with the Winkies a moment just after the melting (Dorothy is mentioned by name towards the ending part overlapping with 'Wizard" and is silhouetted behind a screen when the death scenes arrives) and Glinda is asked about the Witch's life. We see Elphaba's parents and birth, and then we skip to the arrival at Shiz Academy and the meeting of the students.
  • Nessarose, who would become the Witch of the East, is born (prematurely) with crippled legs instead of armless.
  • Denslow's Hammer-Heads appear, but other than a dance in the Emerald City they do nothing for the plot.
  • We see Doctor Dillamond reappear in the Emerald City years later to which Elphaba realizes the Wizard's changing of Oz
  • The Grimmerie (a magic book) is shown and Madame Morrible is not hinted at being Mombi-related.
  • Act 1 ends with "Defying Gravity" where Elphaba escapes the Wizard's Emerald City visit (after she magically makes the first Winged Monkey) and Act 2 starts years later when everybody's older and Elphaba has now been in hiding.
  • Boq becomes the Tin Woodman, Fiyero becomes the Scarecrow (Mum actually pointed out to me how these two words rhyme) and it is revealed that the Wizard gave her mother the potion that made her birth green . . . therefore making him Elphaba's father!
  • Instead of Elphaba's son (yes, SON) joining Dorothy to the Wizard, Scarecrow/Fiyero lets Elphaba (hiding in a trap door where she 'melted' - ?) know that the coast is clear and the two leave Oz for a new life together.

Here's what I first said about the Broadway Musical on the International Wizard of Oz Club Forums the day after we saw it.

Yes this is a new story to Oz, but this is not the Oz that Baum started out, nor is it even close to the beloved vision of MGM - no matter how overly popular that one may be at times, at least MGM shows respect. I hate how this story (and now, series) uses Oz's characters, places and things in a way that shouldn't be so, when the author could (or should) have just made up new characters and places unrelated to Oz and made everybody happy. Had he done that, I wouldn't be so displeased with this reading.

I did enjoy the Wicked Musical, but I did not really enjoy the Wicked book (and probably would not enjoy the sequels), so I cannot stand this version of Oz.

And there is talk of a movie as well. This I am not keen on either. Yes when I saw the play I did get the idea of the artistry involved, and the interesting concept and design it could go through, and even I thought of some possibilities . . . but this would only divert further from Baum's true Oz, add more (unwanted variations) to the MGM universe and make a lot of Oz Purists very unhappy.

(Also, my blog title is derived from "Wicked Is What I Do", a song based on the original L. Frank Baum book, from a CD done by the Civic Light Opera Co.)

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Royal Book of Oz

L. Frank Baum was dead, and Reilly & Lee were looking for someone to carry on the Oz series. They finally selected Ruth Plumly Thompson, a small time children's writer who worked mainly for newspapers and magazines, though she had a few books published before taking up the Oz series.

Thompson was an Oz fan and was probably thrilled, flattered, and honored to be selected as the next "Royal Historian." And anyways, she needed the money to support her widowed mother and invalid sister.

It is probably thanks to Oz that Thompson is remembered or noted at all anymore. The sampling of her non-Oz work I've come across is delightful, humorous, and just good reading. I recommend checking it out sometime, maybe I'll even blog about it later. It might be interesting to wonder if Thompson could have made it as big without Oz, but we'll never know now.

I sometimes wonder if Thompson was upset over what happened with her first Oz book. On the cover, her name did not appear at all. Reilly & Lee, with the help of Maud Baum, were trying to create a cover story for Thompson continuing the Oz stories, claiming that The Royal Book of Oz was based on notes left by Baum. Further publicity claimed that Thompson was a friend or relative of Baum, when in fact, there was no truth to any of these claims: she had been contacted, taken the job, and wrote an entire Oz book on her own. To her credit, today most editions of the book have her listed as the author on the cover and title page. (An edition by Dover is the only exception.)

Ruth Plumly Thompson's first Oz book, "the Royal Book of Oz", was published in 1921, with John R Neill remaining as the Royal Illustrator of Oz.

The story opens with Professor Woggle-Bug deciding to list everyone's genealogy in a book he will call "The Royal Book of Oz." While he often exaggerates details, he completely snubs the Scarecrow, claiming he has no family tree to speak of. The Scarecrow is not pleased, but decides to go visit the closest thing he has to a "family tree": the pole Dorothy found him on.

The Scarecrow gets much more than he bargained for when he discovers there is actually a hole around the pole and he falls through to the Silver Island, a Chinese-like country (yes, the misconstrued ethnic stereotypes did not end with Baum!) that claims the Scarecrow is in fact their reincarnated ruler!

And we all stop and say... Huh? Well, Baum never explained exactly why the Scarecrow was alive, except in a silent film in which cornfield spirits bring him to life, and the first Oz play had Dorothy bring him to life with a magic ring. Apparently, Thompson wanted an answer and created her own. The Emperor Chang-Wang-Woe was turned into a crocus by an evil magician, which, after being cared for by his wife, grew into a bean pole with a piece of paper saying that the first thing that touched the pole would become the reincarnation of the Emperor, who would one day return and save his people. While the Scarecrow thinks this makes sense, and finally gives him a family, he has no memory of his previous life. Thompson maintains this theory throughout her Oz books.

Some Oz fans are okay with this, some aren't. I think the whole memory issue might show that the story isn't really as simple as Thompson seemed to make it. Perhaps something alive touched the pole and the spirit of the Emperor went into that, but left the life force, which brought the Scarecrow to life. I was thinking of writing this into a story, but have since decided against it. (Too bad, though. It could create a character with two developed personalities.)

Meanwhile, Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion decide to go visit the Scarecrow, and offer to "adopt" him as their family. However, they do not find him at home, so begin to head back to the Emerald City, and here comes another thing I have trouble believing with Thompson: they get lost.

Dorothy has visited her friends in the Winkie Country goodness knows how many times, and yet they get lost... REALLY lost. They eventually find the sleepy town of Pokes, and meet Sir Hokus, a knight errant who was cursed to remain in "the stupidest country out of the world." Breaking the laws of Pokes, the three manage to escape, and have many misadventures wandering around the Winkie Country. Sir Hokus defeats a candy giant, they visit Fix City, where the people stand still and let the furniture do all the moving about, and they meet the agreeable Comfortable Camel and his friend Doubtful Dromedary. Eventually, they stumble upon a stretch of land where all wishes are instantly granted, and Dorothy wishes them with the Scarecrow.

Meanwhile, the Scarecrow gets along with no one in Silver Island, not even his family (his grandsons flatly refuse to believe in Oz, not seeing it on maps), except Happy Toko, who he calls "Tappy Oko," sounding like "tapioca." Using a magic fan, he manages to save his people from the king of the Golden Island, but the glory goes to the reluctant army.

When the Scarecrow hears he is to be restored to his human, eighty-five year-old body, he wants to abdicate, but the people won't let him. However, when Dorothy and her friends appear on the scene, they help cause enough chaos to prevent the ceremony, turning the three princes into pigs and a weasel, and Sir Hokus slaying the Grand Gheewizard's dragon. The Scarecrow makes Tappy the king, and using Dorothy's new magic parasol the Scarecrow gave her, they fly out of the hole.

And now for a little bit more chaos to get the characters back to the Emerald City: Sir Hokus suddenly sprouts a vine out of his back after eating some beans that flies him through the air, Dorothy and the Scarecrow following with the parasol, and the beasts on foot. In the Emerald City, the vine is stopped and the Scarecrow is added respectfully to the Royal Book of Oz, and Sir Hokus pledges his services to Ozma.

Admittedly, I have trouble seeing how anyone could have thought this was a Baum story. His mark isn't there. Often, Baum's fantasy would have some underlying message, while Thompson seems to be more for fun, which isn't bad. Her lively, humorous chaotic scenes were her own touch to Oz, and make for some great reading.

I suppose The Royal Book of Oz wasn't the strongest beginning for Thompson. I'm not completely thrilled with her take on the Scarecrow's origin, but it is the only complete one in the Famous Forty. She gave us a good sampling of her humor, though her little visits to places, not even along the way from point A to point B like Baum's stories, could get a little odd. For most of her subplot, Dorothy just wanders around the Winkie Country. Even on my third reading, I almost felt like shouting "You've been here before! You shouldn't be so lost!"

Although the author for Oz was new, at least the pictures were still familiar, with John R Neill keeping his visionary pen attached to the writing of Oz. However his illustrations were not as lovely now as they were with Baum, especially in some of the colour plates, particularly the one with Dorothy alone. Sometimes the hair looked messier than usual and the characters were a bit more weary-looking, as though they were tired and exhausted.
(this paragraph is mainly from a recollection by me, Sam, as I once saw a paperback of this book in Books Kinokuniya when I first visited that bookstore, and certainly something like this art stands out against the lovelier illustrations of earlier years)

Anyways, like it or not, Thompson was the next officially appointed Royal Historian, and at the time, most readers were glad to have more Oz books to look forward to. How would Thompson follow up her debut? We'd see in the next year.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Updates, people!

For those of you who did not subscribe to the Winkie newsletter for my convention report, you can read that issue as a PDF here.

I'm considering doing the rest of the Famous Forty (and beyond) blogs out of sequence. Remember, I'm covering all Oz stories by the authors of the Famous Forty. Just now, here are the numbers of Oz books by them I own (not including Baum):

THOMPSON - Out of her 22 Oz books, I own 8.
NEILL - Of his 4, I have none yet.
SNOW - He wrote two Oz novels, neither of which I own, but I have Who's Who In Oz, and the "Best of the Baum Bugle" with his seemingly dropped Oz chapter "The Crystal People."
COSGROVE PAYES - I have the complete Cosgrove with her two novels, two Oz short stories for Oz-Story and the original version of the first chapter of The Hidden Valley of Oz.
THE MCGRAWS - I do not have Merry Go-Round in Oz, but I do have The Forbidden Fountain of Oz (thanks, kind donor!), The Rundelstone of Oz in its original printing from Oz-Story 6, and the story "The Magic Land."

And actually, thanks to another person who has helped me get these post-Baum Oz books who knows who they are. They just won't be named in public.

I've been puttering away at my Oz story with the editor, and we think we've finally got the first chapter to where we can leave it until the story's finished and it can be re-examined. I'm considering posting the first chapter from my original draft, but might wait until I have the story finished. Let me tell you, though, it's radically different from the current draft. The main plot element from the original version is very underplayed in the revision, though it will come back into prominence later.

The story will feature a split plot featuring the Wizard, Ozma, Button-Bright, and some other characters from Baum's works. I'm not referencing Thompson or the rest of the Famous Forty, simply because all the explaining would bog down my story. It could happen just before her Oz stories, or there could be some events that are not yet chronicled in between the Famous Forty and my story.

Okay... That everything? I think so... Later!