Monday, January 31, 2011

Before the Umbrella

Cross-posted from Vovatia.

Much of the plot of Speedy in Oz takes place on Umbrella Island, a land that flies through the air under the power of a magical umbrella. We're told that this was not always the case, however. According to Waddy, the wizard who rigged up the umbrella in the first place, they'd only been flying for about seven years by the time of the story. In a country where people "go on for centuries," as stated later in the book (p. 154) by the royal counselor Kachewka, that must seem like no time at all. The flying has been pretty well ingrained in the culture, however, as demonstrated by the mentions of it in the national anthem. So what was the island like before being able to fly, and how did becoming airborne change it?

Waddy himself addresses these questions to some extent in his speech to the giant Loxo. The island's original location was "seventy leagues from the mainland of Ev," and close enough to Pingaree from Rinkitink to maintain regular trade with it. We're told at the beginning of Rinkitink that the pearl-rich island only trades with the Kingdom of Rinkitink, but I suppose this could have changed over time. Anyway, if you look at the map from the Tik-Tok endpapers, you'll notice that the Nonestic Ocean is only shown in one small corner, and Ruth Plumly Thompson seems to have initially made an effort to fit all new islands she introduced into that one bit of ocean. She decides to go off the map a bit by the time of Captain Salt, but was apparently still hoping to squeeze everything in when she wrote Speedy.

While still a sealocked nation, the main industry of the island was the raising of silkworms and manufacture of silk fabrics. The suggestion is that the climate was much like that of China, and the people dressed accordingly, in loose blouses and wide silk trousers, with braids in their hair. During the island's flights, however, Waddy introduced fauna from other lands and climes, leading to "rich and tropical" foliage. The wizard also planted the umbrella trees found all over the island, which makes me wonder whether it was even called Umbrella Island prior to the flight upgrade. For what it's worth, umbrella trees are also mentioned as growing in the blue forest in Ojo (see p. 147/ch. 8), and David Perry picks a parasol for his grandmother from one in the Winkie Country in Enchanted Island. Even if umbrella trees were only a recent introduction to Umbrella Island, however, a silk-producing country might still have been known for its parasols. Did Waddy use an umbrella as a means of locomotion because umbrellas were already popular on the island, or did the culture change to reflect the wizard's invention? Thompson and her characters never really tell us.

As for fauna, the pun-filled nature of the Ozian universe makes it pretty much necessary that Umbrella Island would have umbrella birds, which are actually native to Central and South America, but a Nonestic umbrella bird isn't necessarily the same as a mundane one. We're also told that the island is home to forty-six cows, thirty-seven sheep, twenty-two horses, a herd of goats, and a talking cat. John R. Neill's picture on p. 35 also shows a pig, a goose, a chicken, a squirrel, a frog, a dog, and a mouse. How many of these species are native to the country and how many were introduced from other lands is something else we don't really know. In the course of the story, Umbrella Island also acquires an animated dinosaur skeleton, but he's actually American (or, from his own perspective, Virtulan).

A Terrybubble State of Affairs

Cross-posted from my LiveJournal.

One character I see cropping up from time to time on lists of favorites is literally a living fossil. Terrybubble is, in fact, a fossilized dinosaur skeleton, with the bones fused together and animated by a geyser in Yellowstone National Park. He ended up on Umbrella Island in the company of Speedy, a scientist's nephew from Long Island who had been to Oz once before, in The Yellow Knight of Oz. He tries to be a pet for Speedy, and is basically a huge skeletal creature that acts like a dog. (Hey, maybe he's sort of the prototype for Dino from The Flintstones, although Terrybubble can talk.) His odd name comes from Speedy's attempt to say "terrible" after being shot into the air by the geyser.

It's not entirely clear what kind of dinosaur Terrybubble is supposed to be, and it's likely that Thompson didn't have any particular type in mind. He walks on his hind legs, but also has a long neck and fairly long arms. One actual species is mentioned in the text, however, and that's a megalosaurus, which ended Terrybubble's first life. The dinosaur says that their name for the predatory species was "mogerith" (or "mogger" for short), and that his home was the Valley of Virtula, perhaps located in or near modern Yellowstone. By his own admission, he was 400 years old when he died. One of his favorite activities is dythrambing, which involves bouncing around and spinning on his tail. I've heard that some scientists believe large dinosaurs weren't as slow and cumbersome as their size suggests, so perhaps Thompson was ahead of her time in making her own dinosaur creation so acrobatic.

It's interesting that, while dinosaurs have been considered cool by children for some time (I was certainly of that opinion in my own youth), Speedy initially comes across as quite bored at the prospect of seeing dinosaur bones. The book was published in 1934, and I suppose by this point dinosaurs were well enough known that Thompson could expect child readers to recognize one, but perhaps not as popular as they later would be.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mr. Mooj Rising

To continue with my old posts on characters from Ojo, here's Mooj, a magician and a clockmaker, who was known to turn people into clocks. I'm cross-posting this from here.

The King of Seebania describes Mooj as a wise man from the north, who worked his way into the good graces of his (the king's) father. Eventually, the magician instituted a coup d'etat, somehow doing away with the old king and locking up his brother and daughter-in-law in a dungeon. As for the heir to the throne, Ree Alla Bad, Mooj made him promise to stay away from Seebania, and just for good measure went ahead and pushed him off a cliff. His wife Isomere turned out to already be pregnant, however, and the old king's brother Stephen managed to bribe the guards and escape with the baby. And that baby was Dorothy, whom Stephen somehow managed to smuggle to Kansas. Just kidding. The baby was actually Ojo, and as Prince Stephen became afraid to talk unless absolutely necessary, he came to be known as Unc Nunkie, the Silent One. And now you know the rest of the story. Not all of it, though, because the plot of Ojo is set in motion when Mooj finds out about the boy, and sends a message to the criminal community of Oz saying that anyone bringing Ojo to him would receive a reward of 5000 bags of sapphires. He does manage to get his hands on the boy, but Ozma and the Wizard of Oz arrive to save him. Ozma then proceeds to turn the crafty clockmaker into a drop of water in the Nonestic Ocean, deeming him too dangerous to leave in a conscious form.

While Mooj is said to have gained the support of the Seebanian populace by way of magic, and he's seen in a crown and velvet mantle when Ozma and her companions confront him in Shamsbad, it doesn't appear that he does a whole lot to take advantage of his position as king. Instead, he spends most of his time in his hut on a lonely mountain peak, tending to his clock-making. This led to some suggestion during the discussion of Ojo on the Nonestica mailing list that his goal wasn't gaining possession of the throne so much as neutralizing Seebania as a regional power.

What makes Mooj particularly memorable is how Neill chose to draw him. Thompson describes him as "a bent and evil-looking old Munchkin," and says that he looks "ridiculous" in royal regalia. Neill, however, chose to depict his face as showing signs of his chosen profession, resulting in a truly creepy individual.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Beargombo Snufferbux

Since Jared recently reviewed both Ojo and Speedy, I might as well cross-post some of my old entries on characters in these books. This particular post, concerning Snufferbux, is an excerpt from here.

When Ojo is kidnapped by a band of gypsies, he meets a fellow prisoner, a bear who was lured into the gypsies' clutches with honey. (Winnie-the-Pooh had been published just seven years prior to Ojo, so I guess it's possible this was an intentional reference to Pooh's honey obsession, but I'm not sure how likely this is. I mean, bears really DO like honey, after all.) The roving band forced the bear, whom they called Rufus, to dance, beg, and play the accordion at fairs. When he befriends Ojo, he says that his real name is Snufforious Buxorious Blundorious Boroso, which Ojo decides to shorten to Snufferbux. Considering that his first three names look like they could be adjectives, I would think that simply "Boroso" would have also worked as a nickname, but what do I know about bear names? Besides, "Snufferbux" is a fun name to say, and seems somehow appropriate. Thompson presumably intended the similarity to "snuffbox," although there's no actual connection or pun there as far as I can tell. Broadly speaking, Snufferbux fits into the common Thompsonian mold of sarcastic and curmudgeonly but fiercely loyal animals, of which Kabumpo is the most frequently used example. Anyway, when he and Ojo end up traveling with a bandit chief called Realbad, the bear is quite eager to protect the boy from the outlaw, who has expressed a wish to turn Ojo over to the nasty magician Mooj for a large reward.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Speedy in Oz

Remember Speedy, the little boy who visited in The Yellow Knight of Oz? Well, Thompson had to bring him back, right? Yep, and he got his own book in 1934 to boot!

Speedy in Oz opens with Umbrella Island, an island kept afloat in the sky by a giant magic umbrella, hitting Loxo the Giant in the head. He is so angry that he demands that in return, he be given a child of his choice to lace to his boots for him, and picks out a "boy" close to the king, who is named Sizzeroo. The people manage to convince Loxo to give them three months to prepare the "boy" for his future life, but it was actually Princess Gureeda who was selected. (The same style of clothing is worn by all inhabitants, which John R. Neill draws as resembling pajamas, though Thompson compares them to stereotypical Chinese garb; Gureeda also wears a single braid in her hair, like men on Umbrella Island usually do.)

Over in the Great Outside World, Speedy, a former visitor to Oz, is helping his Uncle Billy in his work at an excavation dig, when they get to a complete dinosaur skeleton. Speedy convinces his uncle to put it together, but shortly afterward, a geyser erupts, carrying Speedy and the skeleton high into the air. At the same time, the dinosaur's bones are fused together, and it comes to life. Able to speak English, Speedy names it Terrybubble (when he mispronounces "terrible"), and Terrybubble manages to keep Speedy in his chest, and they land on Umbrella Island.

When one the King's advisers sees Speedy, he suggests that Speedy be given to Loxo instead of Gureeda, but Speedy finds a friend in Waddy, the Wizard of Umbrella Island, who makes him his apprentice. When Umbrella Island crash lands in between two warring islands, it is Speedy who saves the island from destruction by a water cannon that can sink islands.

Terrybubble overhears the plan to give Speedy to Loxo, so he takes both Speedy and Gureeda to Oz, unwittingly bringing them straight to Loxo's cave. When Waddy discovers the disappearance, they head to Oz to enlist Ozma's help. She, the Wizard, and the Scarecrow devise a solution that works best for everyone. They trick Loxo into eating a cake that makes him shrink to a human size. In a surprising turn for a Thompson villain, he decides to live peacefully from then on. (After all, he can lace his own boots now.)

Speedy returns home, but Waddy misses his apprentice, and Thompson says she feels sure that Speedy will one day return to Umbrella Island and marry Gureeda and become the next king. (A story she never told.)

Thompson said Speedy in Oz was her favorite of her Oz books. For me, it's not hard to see why. It boasts one of the tightest plots of her books. There are no extra countries the characters visit that do not play a role in the story. And there's no contradictions with Baum as his characters aren't used very much.

So, if there's one Thompson book you ever read, I heartily recommend Speedy in Oz.

Everything's Coming Up Ojo

In The Patchwork Girl of Oz, L. Frank Baum introduces his fourth boy protagonist to the Oz series, Ojo the Unlucky. He's not really a stereotypically boyish boy, but instead rather solemn and insecure, with a tendency to break out in tears more quickly than many of the girls. When we first see him, he's living in a small house in the middle of a blue forest with an old man called Unc Nunkie, nicknamed the Silent One because he hardly ever talks. When he does, he generally only says one word, and sometimes two if he has to. I remember reading that James Thurber hated the character, but he wasn't too fond of the series in general, aside from the first two books. When the two run out of food, they pay a visit to Unc's old friend, the crooked magician Dr. Pipt. An accident results in both Unc and the magician's wife Margolotte being turned to marble, and Ojo goes out on a search for the ingredients needed to restore them. When the story ends, Ojo and the restored Unc Nunkie are given a small house just outside the Emerald City, and Ojo loses the "un" from his nickname. We don't see him a whole lot in later books, but we are told that he and Button-Bright become close friends. Ruth Plumly Thompson gave Button-Bright only a few brief mentions, while Ojo and Unc Nunkie made minor appearances in Kabumpo and Jack Pumpkinhead. Eventually, however, she gave Ojo his own book, giving him a new adventure and exploring his back story. Not surprisingly for a Thompson Oz book, he and Unc both turn out to be long-lost princes. I have to say Ojo is one of my favorite Thompson books, despite its unfortunate stereotypes and occasional sloppiness, partially because the author builds on what we already know from Baum. In Patchwork Girl, we're given two enigmatic references to a royal background for Unc Nunkie. Pipt introduces him to the Glass Cat as "the descendant of the former kings of the Munchkins, before this country became a part of the Land of Oz," and a later passage says that he "might have been King of the Munchkins, had not his people united with all the other countries of Oz in acknowledging Ozma as their sole ruler." It's quite possible that Thompson would have made the two royal even without this precedent, but as it is, it meshes rather nicely.

To provide the basics of the back story (and this is, in case you haven't figured it out already, full of spoilers), Ojo's grandfather once ruled over the southern Munchkin Country, with help from his brother Prince Stephen. After Ozma takes the throne of Oz, the king relinquishes control of all territory outside his own country, Seebania. I already addressed the complicated issue of Munchkin monarchy in this post, but I suppose there's no reason Stephen couldn't have eventually been King of the Munchkins if Ozma hadn't come along to limit Munchkin power. As it turns out, however, the Seebanian king's wily counselor Mooj takes control of the kingdom, somehow doing away with the king (Thompson doesn't go into detail on this point), pushing his son off a cliff, and keeping his daughter-in-law and brother as prisoners. Stephen escapes with his great-nephew Ojo, and remains silent in order to protect the two of them from Mooj.

The names of Ojo's family are an interesting matter. While Baum named Ojo himself, it was Thompson who came up with the other names. In Ojo, we learn that his parents are named Ree Alla Bad and Isomere, and Unc Nunkie's real name is Stephen. Ree Alla Bad's father remains unnamed. While "ojo" is Spanish for "eye," I tend to think that wasn't on Baum's mind when he named the character. I don't recall him using very many names based on non-English words, and "Ojo" with the J pronounced in the English fashion is similar to the names of other Ozites, like Ugu and Wiljon from Lost Princess. That doesn't mean someone couldn't connect Ojo's name to the Spanish meaning, however; in fact, I'm kind of surprised March Laumer didn't do that, since he enjoyed multilingual puns. "Ree Alla Bad" is a rather unwieldy name, and comes across as vaguely Arabic-looking. I believe Aaron Adelman proposed the idea that "Bad" is Ozish for "son of," meaning Ojo's full name would be Ojo Ree Bad, and the former King of Seebania would have been named Alla (I suppose that means he likely wouldn't have been a Muslim). In Arabic, "bad" denotes a city (and indeed, the capital of Seebania is called Shamsbad), so another possible interpretation might be that Ojo's father is from a place called Alla Bad. As for Isomere, her name was presumably a play on "isomer," a chemical term. If you've read my short story "The Red Desert of Oz," I consider Isomere to be the sister of King Ketone Aldehyde, even though I couldn't figure out a way to work it into the story itself. And compared to these names, the ordinary "Stephen" seems out of place.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ojo of Oz

Thompson didn't really use many of Baum's human male characters. She of course had the Wizard, and Cap'n Bill got a passing mention. So, it comes as a bit of a surprise that her book for 1933 would focus on Ojo, the protagonist of Baum's The Patchwork Girl of Oz.

Ojo and Unc Nunkie are still living in their home just outside the Emerald City. Gypsies encamp outside and lure Ojo out, despite Unc Nunkie's warnings to stay away. Ojo is kidnapped, and quickly becomes friends with Snufferbox the dancing bear, and Realbad, the leader of the gypsies. Ojo is wanted by Mooj of Moojer Mountain in return for five thousand bags of sapphires. Finally, Ojo uses a silver whistle to summon a giant silver bird to blow away the other gypsies, and then himself and his friends to safety. And then, a series of misadventures, the most memorable being Realbad saving a kingdom of crystallized people from a frost dragon, only to refuse his reward so as not to be crystallized himself.

Meanwhile, ever notice how Thompson's alternating plots don't really stick to the same timeline? Ah, well... Meanwhile, Unc Nunkie tells Ozma about Ojo's disappearance, and Dorothy, Scraps, and the Cowardly Lion decide to look for him. They decide to use the Magic Picture and a Wishing Pill to give them a head start, when Scraps speaks too quickly and wishes them "in that grumpy forest this very minute!" A few misadventures, and they wind up meeting Mooj on Moojer Mountain.

Ozma, the Wizard, Unc Nunkie, and the Scarecrow go to Glinda's to see if the Book of Records has any information about Ojo, but it's being cryptic again...

MEANWHILE, back to the real story! After another series of adventures, Ojo and Snuffer become separated from Realbad in a land of unicorns. Deciding that they could easily find their way to the Emerald City from the top of a mountain, they get a lift from X. Pando, the Elevator Man, who will carry people to the top of the mountain, while his feet remain on the ground. (Thompson isn't clear if he flies up, and it's actually his shoes on the ground his pant legs stretching, or if his legs were elastic.) However, it turns out this is Moojer Mountain, and Mooj catches Ojo and "rewards" Snuffer with the promised sapphires, but Snuffer would rather have his friend back.

Realbad arrives on a unicorn and goes to face Mooj, who reveals that Realbad is Ojo's father, and Realbad himself is King of Seebania, but as he has broken his word, his wife and child will now be made to disappear. As Mooj hurries to Seebania, Ozma, the Wizard, Unc Nunkie, and the Scarecrow arrive on the scene. Dorothy's rescue party has been turned into clocks (they can all talk), so all hurry to Seebania, by means of the Wizard's flying pills, the enchanted clocks being carried.

In Seebania's capital of Shamsbad, Mooj is turned into a sparrow by Ozma, who then restores Dorothy and her friends. Realbad, or Rea Alla Bad, reveals how Mooj took over Seebania and attempted to kill Rea, who ran off with the gypsies. Unc Nunkie, speaking in full sentences, reveals how he took Ojo to raise him in solitude and safety. Rea's wife Isomere is restored to him, and they all go to celebrate in the old bandits' cave, before Rea and Isomere, along with Ojo and Unc Nunkie (who Thompson gives the sadly ordinary name "Stephen"), take the throne of Seebania.

Mooj's final punishment is one of the most outlandish in all the Oz books: he is transformed into a drop of water in the Nonestic Ocean. This is because he is too dangerous to leave in a conscious form, but it does seem a bit extreme. If, for any reason, Ozma undid this, could she retrieve that one drop of water? Why not transform him into an inanimate object? Or wipe his memory with the Water of Oblivion? Or even put him into an enchanted sleep or trance?

Anyways, is Ojo a good Oz book? Yeah, it's fun to read, but it did suffer from Thompson revealing royalty in a previously non-royal character, as we know already she was wont to do. Dorothy's rescue party, as fun as traveling with Scraps is, really adds little to the story.

Although Thompson didn't really tightly weave her stories together, it is when her characters are adventuring that she is at her strongest. And though she did get repetitive, for some reason, her stories were fun to read. And this book did have a bit of adventure!

So, go ahead, read Ojo of Oz for yourself!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Quick notice...

My computer burnt out on me again. Considering it's tax season, I've decided to wait to see what my tax refund will be and probably buy a new computer. This means that just about all Oz projects aside from the blog will be on hold until then. (Well, I can probably work on some more on my story, which I should have been storing in the DropBox folder.)

And speaking of the blog, I really need to get back to blogging about Thompson! Nathan and Sam have been carrying the blog mostly this month, so I need to get back in... So, why not now? Okay, I'll get back to that now.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Depicting Oz, Real-Life or Books

Having been off the internet for some unknown reason, and coming back from a little holiday in Melbourne with Mum, it's high time I got back in contributing to the Royal Blog of Oz.

(* Any incorrect titles or facts please let me know and I shall amend them immediately ASAP *)

Baum started writing Oz in 1899, and Denslow worked on the illustrations.

Ever since 1956, his superb introduction to the Fairyland of Oz has gone into Public Domain allowing many other artists - professional and almost so, Oz fans or not - to show their different, unique and often just as fanciful view of Oz, its places, items and characters.

It is debatable whether there are more books depicting 'Oz' than the films, or vice versa. Either way, we get an assortment of different visions, whether they are more akin to be original and unique, following the MGM look, or both.

I should like to talk here about what I believe works and what doesn't fit, referencing a few certain versions.

Cinematically, we have yet to receive an adaptation (and series) of Baum's book that faithfully and properly places Dorothy's home life in Kansas, 1899-1900 etc., with the hard working farm life of that era of America - before girls wore shirts and pants, before TVs, lots of radio stations, automobiles, cordless phones and the like - and Oz shown as a believable fairyland of various colours, strange animals and one-coloured locations.
We have MGM for America/the Musical-lovers during the War, THE WIZ for the African Americans, RETURN TO OZ for the 80s fantasy (both of which are Cult Classics), MUPPETS WIZARD OF OZ for the TV, TIN MAN for the modern audience . . . and, I suppose to a lesser extent, WICKED for the Adults. But we don't have an Oz for the BOOK FANS.

In some particular illustrations of the book, are the Japanese editions. Be it manga or book, I have occasionally seen Dorothy being depicted as a pretty girl with starry eyes, pink lips, lacey or frilly dresses, rosy cheeks and a cute dog. As good as she looks, this is not always correct. Her family is poor, struggling to make ends meet and not always having enough to comfort themselves. Since they work on a farm, Dorothy, and Aunt Em, would not have time or a good enough reason to put on make-up or very nice and colourful dresses when they have dirt to dig, fields to plow, clothes to wash and hang dry . . . and hurricanes. At times Aunt Em has been depicted as fat also, which might not always make sense if they can only afford one serving of food each meal. It's hard to understand how with minimal meal servings a farmer's wife can remain fat. Only Alice can wear the slightly more fancy attire because of her Victorian upbringing.

As for Oz, it is a fairyland and a world of fantasy, but it mustn't be confused with that of other strange worlds like Wonderland or too normal like a vast forest and/or valley with trees and rivers. Nor is it the epic landscape of, say, Middle Earth with its snowy mountains and marsh lands. I don't see Oz the type of fairyland to have giant mushrooms, trees with gnarly faces or plants with curly vines. It can have waterfalls, a giant hill of rocks (the Hammerheads), flowers in bushes and on vines around trees, but not feel like somewhere we've seen or read before (and can experience everyday). Since each section of that place has its own colour, I imagine the plants (flowers, leaves, maybe a few animals, trees) to have the appropriate colour to where they reside - but not the colour of the people's skin, tint of the sky or grass - The People in those regions of course would wear the same colours, but vary in shades, tones and other fabrications.

One place in particular would be a big discussion in design: the Emerald City! Now, it has been said that OZ (Oscar Zoroaster) designed and had the people build the green palace. Before coming to Oz, Oscar was in a traveling circus, so I believe his visiting the countries would be a good influence in his designs for the Emerald City, possibly combining any artistic or grand architectures before his stormy departure - I'm guessing Van Gogh, Gaudi, the French Castles, Hotels & other Royal Palaces and such but I could be wrong. But I'm sure he'd think back on and be interested on how to combine these major landmarks from his world.

As said before, I just came back from a holiday with Mum in Melbourne, where we stayed at the Hotel Windsor. And while walking through these halls, I could not help but think of this as a good model for the Emerald City, only taller and greener with more shine. I think the Emerald City would also benefit from having little gardens along the paths and streets next to seats and beside the lamps (which would be fire-lit?), not just buildings and marbled streets. I sometimes wondered if the shops inside the walls would include small cafes or tea rooms for eating, resting, leisure and conversations.

Of course people are allowed to show Oz in their own way as it is in Public Domain and should not have their imagination limited, but there also has to be a line to prevent any depictions from being unrecognizable or 'Un-Ozzy', and it helps to show how much respect you actually have for Oz, its author . . . and its purist fans.

I think I should like to go into more Oz Depiction Thoughts, in further blogs . . .

Till then, feel free to add your own depiction thoughts as comments below.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Making Life Out of Nothing at All

One thing for which Oz is known is its collection of magically animated beings. In that fairyland, anything from a scarecrow to a footstool to a painting can come to life, always with its own distinct personality. The first book introduces as to the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman, as well as a town of living china figurines. We're never told how the Scarecrow came to life, although Ruth Plumly Thompson took a crack at it in The Royal Book of Oz. And as you probably know by now, the Tin Woodman's origin is reminiscent of Theseus' Paradox, in that he was a flesh-and-blood person who gradually had all of his body parts replaced with tin, yet retained the same consciousness. L. Frank Baum reused that idea for the General of Phreex, a bit character in John Dough and the Cherub who lost various body parts in battle, and had replacements made of various substances. His head is now wax, his legs cork and basswood, and his arms rubber.

It's in Land that Baum first gives us a viable means for bringing lifeless matter to life, a magical compound known simply as the Powder of Life. Invented by a crooked magician named Dr. Pipt, this powder is responsible for animating the Glass Cat, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Sawhorse, the Gump, the Blue Bear Rug, the Patchwork Girl, and Victor Columbia Edison; not to mention numerous other characters in apocryphal stories. Also, in Cowardly Lion, the stone man Crunch says that the Wizard Wam brought him to life with powder from a shaker. Did Wam obtain this from Pipt, or did he create a similar powder? This powder also made its way into the Russian Magic Land books, in which Urfin Jus uses it to bring his army of Deadwood Oaks to life.

In Emerald City, we come across the Cuttenclips, live paper dolls made by Miss Cuttenclip, who had obtained living paper from Glinda. How the Sorceress had this paper in the first place isn't clear, considering that I don't think she's ever credited with animating anything else, but I'm sure Glinda has a lot of powers we don't know about. With most of the other small communities of normally inanimate objects, going back to the china people in Wizard, we're really not given any indication how they came to exist. Thompson continues that tradition, but also introduces a few more characters who were animated in somewhat more unorthodox ways. Bill the Weather-Cock claims that he came to life when he hit an electrical wire during a thunderstorm, which sounds rather unlikely even when I'm wearing my Suspension of Disbelief cap, but this explanation did come from an era when people thought electricity could do just about anything. Dorothy brings Humpy the dummy to life with some wishing sand from Wish Way. And perhaps the oddest of all is the statue Benny in Giant Horse. Here, we're told that the owner of a Boston thrift shop found a book in a second-hand coat (bought, as per narrative description, from "a dusky gentleman in Grant Street"), just happened to read from it in front of a statue in the park, and what he read brought to statue to life. There's an awful lot of coincidence involved there, and I think it might also be the only case of someone in the Oz books bringing an inanimate object to life simply through words, with no tools involved.

John R. Neill's books have so many objects showing signs of life that it kind of cheapens the idea. In a land where houses fight and shoes sing, a live scarecrow becomes much less interesting. There's never any explanation for this abundance of life, either. Snow's books tell us that both Princess Ozana and Conjo brought wooden people to life, but again don't explain how. It seems that there must be several ways to bring objects to life, but the fact that the Powder of Life is seen as so valuable must mean that access to them is difficult, even for more accomplished magic-workers.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Royal Podcast of Oz: An Interview With Susan Morse

This episode finds Jared Davis speaking with Susan Morse, who sang Dorothy's songs in the 1964 cartoon "Return to Oz."

Susan was only 12 when she recorded her four songs and had no idea the film was available on DVD. And surprisingly, it was Jared's own fan trailer that alerted her to its availability.

Susan not only recounts her work on "Return to Oz," but also of her career, which should prove of interest to many Oz fans.

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