Friday, December 31, 2010

The Royal Podcast of Oz: 2011

As the Royal Podcast of Oz looks forward to going into its third year, Jared Davis and Sam Milazzo (and a little bit from Nathan DeHoff) announce their Ozzy plans for 2011, including Oz books, the Winkie Convention, the Royal Blog of Oz, videos, and the podcast itself.

As always, you can listen at the podcast site, or use the player below.

Life in a Jar

Cross-posted from Stratovania, with a few minor edits.

Turning back to the subject of jinn for a little while, today's topic is none other than the Red Jinn of Ev, one of Ruth Plumly Thompson's most noteworthy additions to the Oz series. The Jinn, who goes by the name Jinnicky, is also known as the Wizard of Ev, and he lives in a red glass castle on the shore of the Nonestic Ocean. His body is completely encased in a ginger jar, into which he can withdraw himself like a turtle, and he is an expert in red magic. Many of his spells involve jars and incense, and some of his magical items will only work at certain times of day. Inventions of his include a flying Jinrikisha that he uses to get around, and a pair of Looking Glasses that will take the wearer to whatever they're looking for.

The character is first introduced in Jack Pumpkinhead of Oz, in which he's a somewhat pivotal character, but not a particularly major one. Jack and Peter Brown find the Jinn's dinner bell, which will summon a slave with a tray of food whenever someone rings it. When his companions are swallowed up by a magic sack, Jack gets the idea to grab the slave as he dematerializes, and ends up at the red glass castle. In this book, the castle is described as being "on the edge of a green glass sea," with a beach that "was a gleaming stretch of glass splinters." The Jinn himself turns out to be a rather odd fellow, who laughs uncontrollably at the slightest provocation, but also has a terrible temper when disappointed. John R. Neill's illustration of the character makes him look very creepy.

The Jinn receives a brief mention in Pirates, but it's Purple Prince that really elevates him to the status of a major character, and also softens him considerably. He still has his exaggerated moods and a tendency to joke about everything, but he comes across as somewhat more of an overgrown spoiled child than the unpredictably bizarre character he had been in Jack Pumpkinhead. The beach on which his castle sits is no longer made up of glass splinters (my personal explanation is that the glass was the result of a magical experiment gone awry), and is clearly identified as being located in Ev. In this book, Randy and Kabumpo visit Jinnicky to seek his help in restoring the royal family of Pumperdink. He takes a liking to Randy immediately, and while he's initially bothered by Kabumpo's haughty manner, the two of them also become friends during their journey. It's also in this book that Jinnicky first meets Ozma and the Wizard of Oz, and becomes an ally of the former and a professional rival of the latter. He shows up at a party held by Ozma in Wishing Horse, and is one of the people sent to the bottom of Lightning Lake by King Skamperoo's spell. Neill also started drawing him with a much more pleasant appearance.

By the time of Silver Princess, Jinnicky is clearly a good guy. Well, at least that seems to be how Thompson wants her readers to think of him, but the actions in this book don't entirely support that, especially when examined from a modern viewpoint. Gludwig, the manager of Jinnicky's ruby mines, leads a rebellion of the Jinn's black slaves, getting Jinnicky himself out of the way by throwing him into the ocean. When the Jinn regains his throne, with the aid of Randy and Kabumpo, it's reported that his miners "were only too willing to return to the mines, for with Jinnicky back in power their hours were short, their wages high and each miner had his own cozy cottage and garden." Then why did they want to rebel in the first place? While a compelling plot (if one that starts rather late in the story), it comes uncomfortably close to a popular racist myth of the time (appearing, from what I've heard, in the film Birth of a Nation), which is that the American black slaves were HAPPY doing difficult manual labor for no pay, until outside agitators stirred them up.

When Jinnicky and his court return in Yankee, Thompson's last book to feature the Wizard of Ev, his staff is still largely black, but with no hint of their being slaves. Ginger, the boy who responds to the magic dinner bell, is now simply a bellboy. The Jinn also mentions that his country now has a "share and share alike" economy, with everyone sharing equally in the profits from the ruby mines (although Jinnicky himself still gets the most). Kind of odd that an American children's book from the Cold War era would present a communist system in a positive light, but I guess Thompson didn't roll with the punches in EVERY respect.

Despite his slave-keeping, Jinnicky is a favorite of many Oz fans (as he was of Thompson himself), and shows up from time to time in fan-written works. I understand that there was a book from the forties with the Jinn as the title character, but it's difficult to find, and I haven't read it (although I'd definitely like to). I have, however, read Robert Pattrick's origin story for Jinnicky, which appears in an Oziana from the seventies. This tale explains how, under the tutelage of Glinda, the jug-maker and minor magician Juggins becomes the great Wizard of Ev.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Don't Forget the Elephant!

Cross-posted from here, with some minor editing.

Really, I don't think it would be possible for anyone to forget the most famous pachyderm in Oz, the Elegant Elephant Kabumpo. He's quite possibly Ruth Plumly Thompson's most successful addition to the roster of Oz characters, and one of my favorites as well. He's a very well-defined character, being rather pompous, elitist, convinced of his own rightness, and quick to anger. At the same time, however, he's loyal to his friends, quick with a joke, and so wise that King Pompus, the ruler of his home kingdom of Pumperdink, trusts him more than any of his other advisors. He's been granted the title of Prince and Chancellor of the Realm, and is considered part of the Pumperdinkian royal family.

Kabumpo's origins aren't totally clear. We know that he's the only elephant in Pumperdink or any nearby kingdom (although not the only one in Oz; a few others are mentioned as early on as Wizard), and his first appearance (in Kabumpo in Oz; he's apparently such a prominent character that he received a book title right away) identifies him as a gift to Pompus from from a mysterious stranger at the christening of the King's son, Prince Pompadore. Later books, however, say that Kabumpo was a gift from a celebrated Blue Emperor. This discrepancy provides the main plot idea for Henry Blossom's Blue Emperor, in which the long-forgotten Emperor turns out to be both Pompus' brother and Ozma's grandfather.

The Elegant Elephant's starring roles often involve his being totally convinced of something, only to turn out to be wrong. He thinks that Ozma is the proper princess for Pompadore to marry (Kabumpo), that a dummy with the unfortunate name of Humpy is King Pastoria under enchantment (Lost King), that the Red Jinn lives in the Quadling Country (Purple Prince), and that Toby Bridlecull kidnapped Ozma (Forbidden Fountain). Nonetheless, his heart is in the right place, and he's been willing to put himself into undignified situations when he deems it necessary.

Since the pachyderm is such a popular character, he's appeared in several apocryphal Oz books. I've already mentioned Blue Emperor, and Magic Dishpan introduces his sister Kabina. This elephant isn't really characterized that well, and I've seen it suggested that the author originally just wanted to use Kabumpo himself, but changed it to be on the safe side of copyright. Still, the idea that Kabumpo has a sister with whom he still keeps in touch is interesting. I've considered the idea of King Pompus having his own sister (he already has one canonical and one non-canonical brother, so why not?), and maybe Kabina was a gift from the Blue Emperor to this sister. Kabina actually appears again in Chris Dulabone's Purloined Pachyderm, albeit in a minor role.

Randy Spandy Jack-A-Dandy

Cross-posted from here.

Ruth Plumly Thompson's Oz books are loaded with young princes, usually questing to save their kingdoms. These include Pompadore of Pumperdink, Tatters of Ragbad, Evered of Rash, Philador of the Ozure Isles, Tandy of Ozamaland, and our current subject, Randy of Regalia. Randy is actually the only one of these princes to serve as a protagonist in two different books, The Purple Prince of Oz and The Silver Princess in Oz. Near the end of the former, he is referred to by the full name of "Randywell Handywell Brandenburg Bompadoo," which is expanded in the latter to "Randywell, King Handywell of Brandenburg and Bompadoo." So what are Brandenburg and Bompadoo? There is, of course, a Brandenburg in Germany, but it's unlikely that Randy is the king of a place in the Great Outside World. In my own personal Oz imaginings, Brandenburg is the old name for Blankenburg, the city of invisible people from Lost King. After all, it presumably wasn't called Blankenburg until Queen Vanetta discovered the water of invisibility. Randy's mother came from there, so he maintains a family connection with the place. Maybe it's more likely that Brandenburg and Bompadoo are both parts of the Kingdom of Regalia itself, however. We're never told, so it's up for interpretation.

Anyway, when Randy shows up in Purple Prince, he wanders into Pumperdink and annoys King Pompus, but Kabumpo takes a liking to him and hires him as his personal attendant. We're not told anything about his background until much later in the book, but given the title and a chapter about halfway through about the Prince of Regalia having to pass seven tests, not to mention that pretty much EVERY Thompson character without an established background turns out to be royalty, the reveal really isn't a surprise. Purple Prince is the tale of how Randy, with help from Kabumpo and the Red Jinn, passes the necessary tests to become King of Regalia, and incidentally assists in saving Pumperdink from the wicked witch Faleero. He starts out the story in a rather sullen mood, but soon gets caught up in the adventure, showing his heroic qualities. He also has to constantly mediate between the strong personalities of his two companions. When we see him again in Silver Princess, he's bored with his royal duties, and longing for more adventures, even going so far as to want someone to punch him in the nose.

So how did someone so young end up becoming king? Well, his father decided to abdicate and become a hermit. It's never explained what happened to his mother, and while it's tempting to assume that her death is what led to the old king's drastic lifestyle change, we have to remember that death is nearly impossible in Oz. Regardless, his only relative with whom he's still in contact is his uncle, the Grand Duke Hoochafoo, known as Hoochafoo the Foolish to the people of Regalia.
The purple-bearded old man is rather stuffy, and a strong voice for tradition and ceremony, but he obviously cares for his nephew. When Hoochafoo suggests that Randy get married, the king's initial response is that he's too young, but he's married by the end of the book. Age can be a tricky matter in Oz, and Thompson fudges the numbers somewhat in determining how old the boy really is. When Kabumpo says Randy was "only about ten" when the two of them met, the young king states that he had been ten for "about four years" before that. Aging is a choice in Oz, at least in Thompson's concept of the land, and it seems that a lot of children decide to remain ten indefinitely. I suppose no one really wants to go through adolescence unless they really have to, but Randy might have aged a few years in order to deal with his new responsibilities and level the playing field with his uncle. Actually, come to think of it, if Hoochafoo was never in line for the throne, then he was presumably Randy's father's YOUNGER brother, raising the question of how old the former king was when Randy was born. Also, we're told that Hoochafoo "had once been married," but not what happened to his wife. Anyway, during the course of his travels in Silver Princess, Randy falls in love with an alien. No, really. Planetty, Princess of Anuther Planet, accidentally finds herself on Earth after a trip on a thunderbolt and meets up with Randy and Kabumpo. Thompson, who seems to have held more traditional views on gender roles than Baum, emphasizes how readily Planetty takes to domestic tasks, but she's also a capable adventurer, defending herself with a staff that can petrify enemies. They only know each other for a few days before marrying, which would probably spell disaster in real life (especially since, while Randy immediately develops a crush on Planetty, she seems to conflate her feelings for him with those of the colorful new world in general), but this IS a fairy tale. According to the end of the book, the King and Queen of Regalia divide their time between their home castle and adventuring journeys, and I get the impression that Planetty is a good companion for Randy in both parts of their lives.

Randy doesn't show up much in fan-written stories, or at least not the ones I've read. One exception is Jeff Freedman's Magic Dishpan, in which Randy and Planetty inexplicably seem to be rulers of the Gillikin Country. I suppose this could be because the rulers Thompson left in that position, Joe King and Queen Hyacinth, were (and are) still under copyright. Indeed, the book shows several signs of having been altered just to keep on the safe side of the copyright holders. Silver Princess is actually in the public domain, but Purple Prince isn't, so while Planetty appears for a significant role, Randy and Kabumpo are only alluded to. Planetty is, however, assisted by two suspiciously familiar new characters: the knight Sir Dynar and Kabumpo's sister Kabina. I don't have the book on hand right now, but I seem to recall one part in which Sir Dynar becomes jealous when an enchanted frog tries to get Planetty to kiss him. This would make more sense if he were her husband than merely her protector, unless she and Dynar have a Guinevere/Lancelot thing going on, but that would be somewhat out of place in an Oz book (and Magic Dishpan really seems geared toward an even younger audience than the Famous Forty). I get the impression that Sir Dynar initially WAS Randy, but was changed to avoid possible copyright trouble, and the editing job was a bit sloppy. Or maybe Dynar IS Randy, journeying incognito so no one knows he's a king (which, when his kingdom is under siege by an evil magician, might not be a bad plan).

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Oh... It's Christmas... Here... for two and a half more hours...

...and this is one of the few blogs that hasn't had a post today...

Well, hope you had a good Christmas!

Tomorrow, if all things work out, I'll be recording a quick podcast with Sam and maybe someone else... To be released before year's end.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Purple Prince of Oz

Remember Pumperdink? Remember Kabumpo? They first appeared back in Thompson's second Oz book, Kabumpo in Oz, in 1922, but since then, we've heard nothing of this little Gillikin Country, save Kabumpo making an appearance in the 1925 Oz book, The Lost King of Oz.

A boy named Randy wanders into Pumperdink and is taken before King Pompus as a vagabond. However, Kabumpo decides to make him his manservant. However, Randy and Kabumpo soon go from a member of the court to the rescuers of Pumperdink when Kettywig, Pompus' brother allies himself with Faleero, the aged fairy princess, to make the royal family of Pumperdink vanish and to take over the kingdom for themselves. A Soothsayer tells them to look for the Red Jinn, so Kabumpo heads for the Quadling Country.

Kabumpo and Randy bravely face many obstacles on their way, some quite memorable, like Nandywog, the little giant (who appears fierce, but is actually quite friendly), and some less than memorable. Finally, they find a guide post, who they ask where to find the Red Jinn. It points northwest, which Kabumpo is sure must be wrong, but when Randy asks it to take them to the Red Jinn, it sends them both flying through the air in true Thompson tradition!

Meanwhile, in the kingdom of Regalia, the new King's progress at proving his right to be royal is being tracked...

Randy and Kabumpo find themselves in the palace of Jinnicky, the Red Jinn of Ev. While we first saw the jolly Red Jinn back in Jack Pumpkinhead of Oz, but here, the character has become more developed. Jinnicky wears a red ginger jar and has many servants (all black... hmmm...) and a grand vizier named Alibabble. To be honest, Jinnicky is one of my favorite Thompson characters. (You may find out why soon...)

Jinnicky, upon hearing Kabumpo and Randy's story, immediately pledges his help. With help from Polychrome and the Rainbow, they cross the Deadly Desert, and head to Pumperdink, tackling more obstacles and little kingdoms along the way.

Meanwhile, in Pumperdink, Faleero has been making life miserable for everyone (including Kettywig), and finally General Quakes of the army makes the brave attempt to go to Glinda's palace in the south.

Jinnicky, Kabumpo, and Randy encounter Ozwoz, the Wonderful, a wozard, who has an army of wooden soldiers, one of which Jinnicky trades a never-emptying cookie jar for. (I wonder if Ozwoz's wooden soldiers were the inspiration for Alexander Volkov's Deadwood Oaks.) The trade turns out to be a wise one, for the soldier, Johnwahn, is able to seize Faleero and carry her far away. However, they lost the control of him and cannot make him stop. Ozma and the Wizard arrive, having been alerted by General Quakes.

Ozma and the Wizard begin restoring Pumperdink, while Jinnicky, Randy, and Kabumpo head to Faleero's home, hoping to find some clue to restore the Royal Family. As it is night, they start a fire to see by, only to discover the logs they are using are the Royal Family. But they're doing the right thing, as this is the way to restore people who have been changed into wood.

As they return to Pumperdink, Randy finds the controller and makes Johnwahn return with an unconscious Faleero. When she awakens, she flies away, never to be seen again. (For now...) Suddenly, visitors from Pumperdink, who call Randy their new king, as he has passed the seven tests required to be royal. He made three true friends in Kabumpo, Jinnicky, and the giant Nandywog. He served a strange king, Pompus, who was strange while enchanted. He saved Queen Pozy, he proved his bravery in battle, fought a fabulous monster, disenchanted not just one, but two princesses, Peg Amy and her daughter, and even prince Pompadore, and finally received from Jinnicky Johnwahn, a magical treasure. Kabumpo promises to visit, Jinnicky promising to come along.

The Purple Prince of Oz may just be one of Thompson's best. Aside from a dragging second chapter where Kabumpo retells Kabumpo in Oz, the story is exciting and fast paced. She also further develops Pumperdink and Kabumpo, and finally fleshes out the Red Jinn, who had been mentioned and made a cameo in the last two books. Even better, in Baum tradition, the villains, no matter how bad, are aptly punished, and everyone who they hurt restored and made happy again.

Sadly, though, when it came to Oz, Thompson had a very shallow well of ideas, and being required to write a book annually was beginning to take its toll on her. However, her awareness of this weakness became a strength, as some of her later stories vastly improved on the former, and The Purple Prince of Oz is one of the better examples.

Santa's Ho-Ho-Home Turf

Cross-posted from here.

When L. Frank Baum wrote about Santa Claus, he was describing a distinctly American figure, but one who was American by way of Europe. The fat, jolly, bearded man in the red suit who slid down chimneys to give gifts came largely from Dutch immigrants, with later elements added to the legend. I did some discussion of the development of the character here. And this is the Santa that Baum describes, although how he became fat isn't entirely clear. Surely Baum's Santa, who refused to hurt any living thing, would be a vegetarian? Then again, in a world where candy and milk-filled udders grow on trees, the difference between meat and vegetable can become rather blurred. Anyway, St. Nicholas was from what is now Turkey, and some attributes of the Santa character are thought to come from stories of Odin giving gifts. So was Baum's Santa European? Taken in and of itself, the book really doesn't tell us. It says that he was raised in the Forest of Burzee, then moved into the adjacent Laughing Valley of Hohaho. Not much description is given of the lands near the valley, but we do know that two noblemen in the area are the Lord of Lerd and the Baron Braun. These nobles forbid Santa Claus from entering their castles, and while the Lord of Lerd presumably relents after his daughter Bessie Blithesome pays a visit to Claus, the Baron never does. It isn't until his son inherits the barony that it is no longer the one place Santa isn't welcome. I wonder if the Baron Braun is related to the Burgermeister Meisterburger.

Anyway, late in the book, we're told that, as people spread out over the world, "Santa Claus found each year that his journeys must extend farther and farther from the Laughing Valley." In the same chapter, Baum writes, "By and by people made ships from the tree-trunks and crossed over oceans and built cities in far lands; but the oceans made little difference to the journeys of Santa Claus. His reindeer sped over the waters as swiftly as over land." Obviously there were people all over the world from well before Santa's time (whenever that was), but they presumably didn't all celebrate Christmas until European settlers arrived there. If this is an indication that Santa didn't cross any oceans prior to his old age and being granted immortality, then it seems like his most likely base of operations would be somewhere in Europe, Asia, or Africa. Then again, just because the mention of the reindeer crossing oceans didn't occur until then doesn't necessarily mean they didn't do it. So where is the Laughing Valley? Well, it's next to Burzee, the forest home of the Fairy Queen Lulea. I believe Santa Claus is the first story in which Baum mentions Burzee, but he uses it again in Queen Zixi of Ix, "The Runaway Shadows," and "Nelebel's Fairyland." The last of these places the fairy forest to the west of California, and "Runaway Shadows" indicates that it's not too far from the Kingdom of Thumbumbia. Finally, on the map in Tik-Tok of Oz, Burzee and the Laughing Valley are shown to be the southeast of Oz, just across the desert from the marvelous land. James E. Haff and Dick Martin, in their expanded version of this map, include Lerd and Thumbumbia as places near the forest and the valley, as well as some lands of unspecified location from the short stories "The Queen of Quok," "The Witchcraft of Mary-Marie," and "The King Who Changed His Mind." None of these lands appears to be especially magical; there's magic at work in all of these stories, but it appears to be the exception rather than the rule. These lands could be where Santa got his start, but although the land mass on which Oz is located is often identified as a continent, travel distances in the books suggest that it's really closer to the size of Ireland. Therefore, Santa presumably wasn't limited to this island even early in his career. I have to suspect Baum didn't really think through the ramifications of placing the Laughing Valley so close to Oz, but I suppose there's no reason why it couldn't work.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Nome Invasions

Cross-posted from here.

I've already discussed the constant invasion attempts of the former Nome King, but this time I'd like to take a closer look at the individual attempts. The first occurs in The Emerald City of Oz, in which King Roquat's goal is to regain the Magic Belt that had been taken from him by Dorothy, and get revenge on the Ozites. His subjects dig a tunnel under the Deadly Desert in order to reach the Land of Oz, and he and General Guph make uneasy allies of the Whimsies, Growleywogs, and Phanfasms. They plan to lay waste to Oz, but it just so happens that the tunnel ends right at the memory-erasing Forbidden Fountain, and the Scarecrow had the idea for Ozma to fill the tunnel with dust. So the invaders drink from the fountain and lose their memories, and Ozma sends them back home and closes up the tunnel. Well, at least that's what this book says. L. Frank Baum informs us that "Ozma used the Magic Belt to close up the tunnel, so that the earth underneath the desert sands became as solid as it was before the Nomes began to dig," yet the tunnel is back again in Jack Snow's Shaggy Man.

The next invasion attempt by the Nome occurs in Magic, and by this time his name is Ruggedo and he is no longer the king. He is merely wandering around Ev until he meets up with Kiki Aru, who knows a magic word of transformation. Ruggedo convinces Kiki to help him conquer Oz, claiming that he will return to his own kingdom once the Hyup is established as king, although we never know how sincere the Nome is in this claim. His idea is that he and Kiki should take the forms of animals, so that they would not be detected by Glinda's Great Book of Records. Wait, hold on a minute. When have we ever known the Book not to record the deeds of animals? In Rinkitink, Dorothy uses it to read about the adventures of Prince Inga and his companions, including Bilbil the goat. Later, in Ruth Plumly Thompson's Cowardly Lion, it mentions the title character. And even if Ruggedo were right about this, how would he know? Reports by spies? This element of the story never really worked for me, and it seems fairly integral to the plot, because otherwise why involve the animals of the Forest of Gugu at all? Wouldn't it have been quicker and easier to just fly to the Emerald City and transform everyone into inanimate objects? Instead, we get the complicated scheme of convincing the animals to rebel, with the intention of turning the people of Oz into beasts and the beasts into humans. They never get all that far in this plot, though, not only because of a lack of trust among the co-conspirators, but also because the Wizard of Oz overhears the Magic Word and takes down the troublemakers quite easily. We never do learn whether any of this made into into Glinda's Record Book.

That's it as far as Nome invasions in the Baum books, but Thompson returns to this idea several times. In Kabumpo, Ruggedo doesn't really have a plan, and is just haphazardly constructing secret passages and stealing things. When he discovers Glegg's Box of Mixed Magic, he experiments with it, but that only results in his ending up a giant with Ozma's palace stuck to his head. After he and the palace are both restored, the former Nome King is banished to a desert island. In Gnome King, he manages to escape it in a seaquake, regain the crown of the Nome Kingdom from Kaliko, and find a Flying Cloak of Invisibility that he uses to travel to the Emerald City. His plan is to steal the Magic Belt from Ozma, but as she is out of town when he arrives, he occupies his time tormenting her friends. When he finally does manage to take the Belt, Peter Brown hits him in the head with the Silence Stone, which just happened to have been in the same casket as the cloak. In both of these books, Ruggedo pretty much just uses materials that he comes across, and isn't as much of a planner as he was in his first two conquest attempts.

In Pirates, Ruggedo's scheme is a little more detailed. He finds an ally in Clocker, the Wise Man of Menankypoo, who provides advice and has access to various magical tools made by Kadj the Conjurer and his daughter Cinderbutton. He also raises a small army of pirates and Octagonese rebels, and trains them to fight. I do think, however, that Thompson kind of ran out of steam toward the end of the plot, as is not uncommon for her. Clocker has a Way-Word that lets the army cross the desert, and then they march to the Emerald City, and quickly conquer the peaceful inhabitants. Ruggedo then sneaks into the palace, steals the Magic Belt, and uses it to dispose of his army and transform a few of the Ozites. You'd think it wouldn't be that easy to sneak in after the pirates had just caused mayhem in the city. Ozma and her court are busy choosing a ruler for a new kingdom, however, and Thompson reports that the Nome was "hidden from view from some of the conjurer's magic." It would have been nice to get a little more detail on this point. The Clock Man uses the Standing-Stick to freeze everyone in the throne room in place, but is taken out of commission when Pigasus shows up and swallows his cuckoo bird. Ruggedo quickly grabs the Stick himself, but is stopped by Captain Salt, who bursts in and grabs him. I suppose this means the Stick only works on anyone in front of its bearer, but if that's the case, then couldn't anyone have done what the captain did? I don't think everyone in the palace was in the throne room at the time, so it seems like it could just as easily have been a random footman who saved the day. Or is there something in how Rug held the Stick that made it less effective? After all, Clocker was the one who really knew how it worked. It seems like a brief mention of this would have sufficed, but these books apparently received next to no editing.

The former Nome King makes one more canonical appearance, and that's in Handy Mandy. The Goat Girl inadvertently turns Ruggedo back from a jug, and he teams up with the Wizard of Wutz to steal Ozma's most powerful magic. As with some of these other attempts, the problem really comes in when the Nome argues with his partner, giving a protagonist (in this case Mandy herself) time to stop them. Rug and his allies not trusting each other is a constant theme in these stories. Even when they never actually have a chance to betray him, we're usually told that they want to. And it's not like the Nome isn't wise to this fact; he generally plans to betray them himself when he's met his goals. I suppose there's a theme here that, if you're not trustworthy yourself, you don't trust anyone else either. Then again, I think I'm fairly trustworthy and I don't really trust other people. I do think there's a clear point here, though; the "enemy of my enemy is my friend" idea never really works out, in real life any more than it does in books.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Meanwhile, on another podcast...

Fellow blogger Doug Wall has begun a podcast. Doug also reads our blog, and I even reviewed his RPG book Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond The Yellow Brick Road here.

In addition, he's appeared on our podcast three times. I interviewed him about his RPG project once, he voiced the Tin Woodman and the Woggle-Bug in last year's Christmas special, and he was the Judge in our production of Aunt 'Phroney's Boy.

ANYWAYS, now he has his own podcast! His first episode reviews another Oz-based RPG system, Oz: Dark and Terrible. I listened to it yesterday, and felt that, even though he does have a competing product, he gave it a very fair review.

So, go check it out!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Whether Pigs Have Wings

As per request, here's my post on Pigasus, cross-posted from here.

When Ruth Plumly Thompson introduced a flying pig into the Oz series, she wasn't being entirely original. The expression "when pigs fly" apparently dates back to an old Scottish proverb, and I've seen many images of winged pigs that have no known connection to Thompson or Oz. The Kids in the Hall even had a flying pig. I'm not sure whether Thompson was the first to refer to such a swine as Pigasus, but that was also the name of the pig that served as John Steinbeck's personal stamp, as well as the Yippies' 1968 presidential candidate (although that pig didn't have any wings). Pirates in Oz, the first Oz book to feature Pigasus, was published in 1931, but I know of no indication that the Yippies read it.

Anyway, though, while maybe not a unique creation, Pigasus is an Oz character whom I quite like. Thompson must have liked him as well, as he actually has a starring role in two of her books, unlike so many of her original characters who were pushed into the background after one significant part. Pigasus is a creation of the Red Jinn, although it's never entirely clear what that means. Did Jinnicky magically modify an existing pig? Was Pigasus the result of selective breeding? I suppose the Wizard of Ev doesn't want to give away all of his secrets. Regardless, Jinnicky gave the pig as a gift to the Duke of Dork. When Captain Salt's crew invaded the Duke's castle boat, Peter Brown traded a Bananny Goat for the flying swine, and Pigasus became part of the reluctant pirate crew. After flying Peter to the Emerald City in an attempt to thwart Ruggedo's latest invasion plan, Pigasus decides to remain there.

In addition to flying, Pigasus also has the magic power to make anyone riding him speak in simple rhyming verses. (Incidentally, an Oziana story by John Bell has the normally rhyming Scraps riding Pigasus and speaking in abstract free verse instead.) And while this ability isn't mentioned in Pirates, Wishing Horse establishes that he can also read the mind of anyone on his back. This power comes in handy when Dorothy is the only one who remembers Ozma after King Skamperoo's enchantment, and the two of them set out together to break the king's spell and restore their rightful ruler.

For what it's worth, I dressed up as Pigasus for the 1996 Munchkin Convention and the following Halloween, but I don't have any pictures handy.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Pirates in Oz

Thompson's book for 1931. The title: Pirates in Oz. The cover, a boy and a scruffy, bearded pirate on the rigging of a ship at sea. What does this indicate? Adventure! But will Thompson deliver?

So, where do we begin? Ruggedo, still mute from last time, has managed to leave Oz and is heading south along the Ev coastline. He comes across the the Land of Menankypoo, where he is made the dumb king, as he is mute, but also passes a series of tests pretending to be stupid.

As he explores, he finds a cave, with some magic tools, including a pond that restores his speech, and a Clocker, a Cuckoo Clock man that dispenses wise advice every fifteen minutes.

As Ruggedo is leaving the cave, Menankypoo is attacked by pirates. All the people are thrown into the sea. (They don't die, as Menankypoo is still part of fairyland.) Ruggedo and Clocker decide to enlist the pirates to help them conquer Oz. The pirates agree.

Meanwhile, King Ato, the king of the Octagon Isle, and Roger the Read Bird, receive two unexpected guests. The first is Captain Samuel Salt, who has been deserted by his pirate crew. Still, the appearance of his ship made all the other inhabitants of the Octagon Isle flee in a ship. The second guest is Peter, who got shipwrecked, and has found a flask marked simply "Do not open." Captain Salt decides to take Ato, Peter, and Roger as his new crew, and they set sail.

Along their journey, Captain Salt encounter strange and interesting islands. All of these are plenty of fun to read about, actually. Eventually, they add Pigasus, a winged pig, to the crew.

They arrive at Menankypoo, where they discover the Octagon Islanders arrived and joined the pirates, who are going to conquer Oz, as Clocker has devised a way to cross the desert. The flask accidentally opens, and it makes Captain Salt's ship fly. They use it to go to Oz, while Pigasus carries Peter to the Emerald City. They find Ruggedo has already captured the Magic Belt and is holding Ozma and her court at his mercy.

Pigasus and Peter go to attack Ruggedo, but he renders them motionless with a magic stick. The most good they do is Pigasus swallowing Clocker's cuckoo, rendering him unable to dispense advice.

Meanwhile, Roger theorizes that closing the flask will make the ship go back down, so they land in the Emerald City, and it is Captain Salt who grabs Ruggedo and Roger removes the Magic Belt and restores it to Ozma. She turns Ruggedo in a stone jug and restores everyone else, including the other pirates and the Octagon islanders, who he had turned into cobblestones.

The Octagon Islanders are all returned home, and all the pirates are turned into seagulls, Ozma explaining that this will allow them to enjoy the sea while being unable to harm anyone, and Clocker is rebuilt to have gentle intentions. Captain Salt is made Royal Discover and Explorer of Oz, who will claim new countries for Oz. Ato decides he will spend half his time serving as Captain Salt's cook. Meanwhile, Peter returns home.

Overall, Pirates in Oz is a fun story, introducing some lovable new characters. I actually found myself laughing aloud at Pigasus' introduction. Captain Salt is one of Thompson's better characters: he's a pirate who doesn't ruthlessly pillage, take prisoners, or even make people walk the plank. He's a good natured "bad guy."

My only concern is that now Thompson has had less harsh punishments for her villains, but now transforming them all seems a bit off for Ozma. Consider that Ozma spent her early years transformed. Furthermore, transformations do not reform character, and just dehumanizes the character, literally.

And we'll see a bit more of that...

Anyways, go ahead and give Pirates in Oz a read.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Peter vs. Speedy

Most of the young Americans who journeyed to Oz in L. Frank Baum's books were girls, with Button-Bright being the major exception. In Ruth Plumly Thompson's books, however, more American boys made their way into Oz. The first such was Bobbie Downs, renamed Bob Up by his companion Notta Bit More. He is a sad, solemn boy, raised in a Dickensian sort of orphanage that didn't even allow laughing. Like Notta, he's a bit over the top, so it's not too surprising that Thompson never used him in a major role after that. She does much better with her second American child character, Peter Brown. He appears in three of her books, and his last name actually isn't mentioned until the last of these. I've already said a bit about him in this post, but I really didn't go into much detail. I'm not sure we ever find out what happened to Peter's parents, but he lives with his grandfather in Philadelphia, Thompson's own hometown. He is an active, athletic kid, primarily interested in baseball, but also interested in other outdoor pursuits. He has been on camping trips, and knows how to milk a goat and prepare simple meals. Peter is quite concerned with how his peers view him, and has some typically masculine aspirations, being secretly excited at the prospect of being a Nome general and a pirate. While I'm not sure the jock stereotype existed in the twenties, and Peter doesn't come across as anti-intellectual (and he's read an Oz book before visiting the magical country), he still comes across as a little too typical-boyish for me to identify with him very much.

Right in the midst of the books with Peter as a protagonist comes another boy hero, known as Speedy. His real name is William, but his last name is never stated. He lives with his uncle, who appears to have been largely based on William J. Hammer, a friend of Thompson's father whom she called "Uncle Billy." In Speedy in Oz, it is revealed that Speedy's Uncle Billy's full name is William J. Harmstead, and that Speedy was named after him. Ruth Waara's Umbrella Island in Oz gives Speedy the last name Harmstead as well, while March Laumer calls him William Rapidan. Speedy's parents died while exploring the South Seas, so he is now in the custody of Uncle Billy, and dwelling in Garden City, Long Island. Like Peter, he is quite active, and in fact his nickname comes partially from his own skill at baseball. Uncle Billy is a scientist and inventor, however, and some of his intellectual interests seem to have rubbed off on his nephew. While Speedy finds paleontology a boring idea, he comes to temporarily serve as a wizard's assistant, a job that I'm not sure Peter would have wanted. When The Yellow Knight of Oz was up for discussion, J. L. Bell made another interesting observation, which is that Peter never really leaves his masculine comfort zone. His only female companion, aside from the Bananny Goat who is written out of the story rather quickly, is the somewhat tomboyish Scraps. Speedy, on the other hand, has female companions in both of his adventures, and he develops crushes on both of them. I suppose you could say Speedy is like Peter with stronger hormones, or something like that.

The fates of both boys remain up in the air, which I suppose is appropriate for Peter, who mentions more than once that he wants to be a pilot. This doesn't necessarily mean anything, though, as a lot of children have career aspirations that they don't actually see through when they grow up. As for Speedy, there's a strong hint at the end of his own book that he will eventually return to Umbrella Island and marry the princess, but there's no official confirmation that this ever came to pass. Assuming the two of them didn't relocate to Oz or elsewhere before the United States entered World War II, they're both of the right age to have served in the war. Speedy has its title character actually considering joining the Navy, but again, who knows whether this ever actually happened? I like to think that people who have visited Oz remain somehow connected to the land, so I doubt either character's fairyland adventures ended even if they did decide to remain in the Great Outside World and become adults.

So, since Thompson's American boy protagonists improved throughout her term as Royal Historian of Oz, does that hold true for the books she had published later? Unfortunately, not really. Tompy Terry from Yankee is a prodigy at both marching band AND sports, giving the impression of someone who is just too perfect. Enchanted Island's David Perry is pleasant enough, but we never really get that much of a sense of his character. He plays hockey and likes dogs better than cats, but those are minor details.

Friday, December 03, 2010

More Magic Sled!

If you haven't heard the latest podcast yet, I got some extra links!

David Maxine on the Hungry Tiger Press blog offers not only the complete text, but all the illustrations the story has ever had!

Here's my examination of the story from last year, when I went through all of the Santa Claus stories by the authors of the Famous Forty (and their adaptations).

The story "The Magic Sled" was selected very early on out of a small number of Oz-related Christmas short stories. Instead of sending out casting requests, Mike Conway was contacted to narrate again, and reprise the role of Santa Claus, the same task he'd had in last year's Christmas podcast.

I'd already thought of having one of my little brothers voice Bobby, and it happened to be my baby brother Daniel, who visited one day. His dialogue was recorded in less than ten minutes with only a couple re-takes.

I'd contacted Kim McFarland and another Oz author to voice Bobby's mother. Kim almost immediately recorded her lines and sent them to me. The other person was unsure of how to record, so when I informed them that Kim had already recorded, I graciously let them drop out.

The editing of the story was finished in a half hour, with my introduction and conclusion added, as well as a score behind it.

So, the podcast is up and ready for you to share this holiday season. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Good Knight, Everybody

Since I've been confirmed as a writer for this blog, I might as well write something, right? I've been making Oz posts on my LiveJournal and then my WordPress for some time now, and I feel like I'm running out of topics. Since Jared recently wrote about Yellow Knight, however, I feel it might not be a bad idea to revisit this post on Sir Hokus of Pokes that I made last year. I updated it a bit as well, and left out the parts on Ploppa. Let me know what you think of this idea.

Sir Hokus of Pokes is known by that name due to his spending several centuries imprisoned in the dull, sleepy city of Pokes. It's there that Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion find him during the events of The Royal Book of Oz, and help him to escape at long last. He's an impulsive old man, always wanting to go on a quest or slay a monster, and often looking at things through the lens of medieval romance. Sort of like Don Quixote, actually. Unlike seventeenth-century Spain, however, Oz actually has giants and dragons. They're just not quite what the good knight expects.

Sir Hokus is quickly accepted as part of Ozma's court, and makes at least token appearances in most of the first few Thompson Oz books. There are several references to his being seven centuries old, and strong hints that he originated in King Arthur's England. Arthur is generally thought to have lived in the sixth century or so if he existed at all, but this was some time prior to the era of knights in armor. Over the years, the Arthurian legend came to incorporate a lot of anachronistic material, and the castle with the Round Table and all that is probably much closer to the thirteenth century or so, which would make it about right for Hokus' seven centuries. It doesn't really matter in the end, however, as Yellow Knight reveals that the knight isn't from Merrie Olde England after all, but rather from a long-lost kingdom in the Winkie Country. The book confirms that Hokus is 700 years old, but the kingdoms of Corumbia and Corabia had only been enchanted for 500. The neighboring sultanate of Samandra is also said to have inhabitants who were up to seven centuries old, so some Oz scholars have taken this to mean that Ozites gained immortality sometime around the early thirteenth century. This doesn't really fit too well with other references throughout the series, however. Are we supposed to believe, for instance, that Nick Chopper's account of his life in Wizard, which includes his parents dying, spans 700 years? Also, would Prince Corum really have waited until he was 200 years old to leave his kingdom in search of a bride? Immortal or not, that's a little difficult to swallow. And why would Hokus not have remembered Oz and been surprised by the Cowardly Lion's talking when he was an Ozian native with a talking horse?

In addition to these questions, a lot of fans object to the ending of Yellow Knight because it essentially destroys the character of Sir Hokus. Is a handsome young knight in a familiar land anywhere near as interesting as a blustery old knight out of his element? Thompson obviously had fun writing Hokus, so why eliminate the character by giving him a happy ending? John R. Neill apparently felt the same way, because his books bring back the old Sir Hokus. Is this a continuity error? Well, not necessarily. Since Thompson seems to have thought of her books as occurring roughly one per year, that means about ten years passed in between Yellow Knight and Wonder City, which would be plenty of time for Corum to have aged back into his familiar appearance. Since aging is optional in Thompson's Oz, that would leave open the question as to why he wanted to, but maybe he didn't even think about it. After spending so many years as the aged knight, he might have naturally lapsed back into that role. And just because Neill's books never mention Marygolden doesn't mean she isn't still around. Interestingly, when Thompson returned to Oz with Yankee, she mentions Sir Hokus (not the Yellow Knight) as a resident of Ozma's palace. It looks like even she might have regretted changing him at the end of Yellow Knight.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Royal Podcast of Oz: The Magic Sled

For our Christmas episode, we present Jack Snow's short story The Magic Sled, a story about a little boy named Bobby who receives a sled for his birthday just before Christmas.

Narrated by Mike Conway, with the voice talents of Kim McFarland and Daniel Davis. Music by Kevin MacLeod.

As always, you can listen at the podcast site, or use the player below: