Saturday, July 30, 2011

Shanowerthon! The Enchanted Apples of Oz

Well, the final illustrator of the FF+ who also wrote Oz stories is Eric Shanower. (Wait, what about Rob Roy MacVeigh? Did he write Oz stories? ... The Oz Project says "No." ... Wait, he did do a short story in Oziana 1989! I own that! ... We'll get to that soon.)

Shanower also has the distinction of being the only illustrator who's worked on the original illustrations for FF+ books who is still very much alive. (At least he looked like it when I met him at the Winkie Convention earlier this month.) But he is also the only one who wrote and illustrated Oz stories before his FF+ work.

Shanower is a cartoonist by trade, and studied at The Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, and has done many freelance projects for comic publishers. Even when it's not Oz, his drawings of lifelike people are simply amazing.

Shanower's first published Oz work was actually in the 1976 Oziana, and, he notes, heavily rewritten by the  editor. I don't have Oziana 1976 on hand, though... At any rate, his first big Oz publication was The Enchanted Apples of Oz in 1986. It had begun as an idea for an Oz-based comic book series for First Comics, and the original draft featured Trot and Cap'n Bill. However, at the time, Trot and Cap'n Bill's appearances were still protected by copyright. And anyway, Rick Oliver, editor at First Comics, wanted to do graphic novels instead.

Thus, a little series of five Oz graphic novels began, each one featuring Dorothy and the Scarecrow as lead characters. Throughout these graphic novels, and indeed, all of Shanower's Oz art done in his regular style, he used John R. Neill's designs first, and W.W. Denslow's if he had drawn a character Shanower was using that Neill hadn't drawn. Simply, when you take Neill's designs and Shanower's art style, it's an amazing piece of art. Oz fans have called Shanower's work the best since John R. Neill, that it's as good, or even suggesting it surpasses Neill. Shanower commented on this praise:
That's a very flattering statement, but I'm not sure it's actually the case. Neill, of course, is the man. He had a much better facility for illustration than I do. He ignored the rules of perspective quite often, and it's pretty obvious he got somewhat bored with Oz after a few books, but when he was doing his best work, Oz or otherwise, he was glorious. So being compared with Neill is very nice and a little uncomfortable for me.
On the other hand though, with Enchanted Apples, Shanower proved he could spin a tale. Now, keep in mind that this is the comics medium, Shanower's stories are more straightforward than some Oz books. He rarely had alternating plots like many Oz books, and didn't make use of the side-misadventures that help lengthen the page count of so many books.

I was very young when I first saw one of Shanower's graphic novels. It wasn't this one, but although I saw it listed on the back, I never tried to see if the library had it too, because I just found the library's catalog too daunting. Shortly after, my Oz collection was discarded and I lost interest, but when I got back into Oz a number of years later, I read all of Shanower's work the library had right alongside L. Frank Baum's Oz books. I didn't seek out to buy all the individual graphic novels, as when I started to build my collection, a collection of Shanower's graphic novels called Adventures in Oz had been announced. (More on that later.) However, thanks to, I do have the original version as well.

And now let's look at the story...

Dorothy, the Scarecrow and Billina are walking along the Yellow Brick Road, when suddenly a castle appears before them. They approach it and find it is the home of Valynn, a woman who tends the Enchanted Apple Tree of Oz. The Enchanted Apples must remain on the tree for Oz to maintain its magic. Up until now, she has been in Limbo for many years, because a man named Bortag threatened to steal the apples. Finally tiring of the loneliness of Limbo, she decided that Bortag is probably no longer a threat and returned to Oz.

Dorothy decides she and Valynn will go to the Emerald City to tell Ozma of Valynn's plight, and the Scarecrow and Billina are left to watch the tree. Unfortunately, while they are gone, Bortag arrives on a flying swordfish named Drox and steals several apples, along with Billina. (She was attempting to scare him away, but he threw her in a sack and let other apples hit her.)

In the Emerald City, Ozma, Valynn, and Dorothy check the Magic Picture to see the Enchanted Apple Tree. Valynn is horrified to see what has happened, and they watch Bortag fly far to the south of Oz, where he uses an apple to awaken the Wicked Witch of the South!

This is not Singra, the Wicked Witch of Rachel Cosgrove Payes' The Wicked Witch of Oz (which Shanower would illustrate later), but Shanower himself offered an explanation to there being two Wicked Witches of the South in an article in the Winter 2001 Baum Bugle.
Which one can rightfully claim the title of the Wicked Witch of the South?

My answer is simple: they both can. My idea is that they are sisters who practice the same occupation but who have hated each other for many years—along the lines of Ann Landers and Abby Van Buren. These two witches are rivals, each claiming to be the Wicked Witch of the South and hating each other so much that each denies the existence of the other.
The Wicked Witch heads right to the Enchanted Apple Tree, and using the Magic Belt, Ozma, Dorothy, and Valynn head back to the castle themselves.

Bortag begins to walk sullenly to the Deadly Desert, while Billina begins to scold him for letting the Witch go. She convinces Drox and Bortag to go back to the Enchanted Apple Tree to try to stop the Witch, while Bortag explains why he freed her. He's from a town called Glun where everyone is ugly, but he wasn't ugly enough to be accepted into their society, so he tried to learn magic to get revenge, but all his spells somehow resulted in the creation of a potato. (At least he didn't have to go hungry!) Finally, he gave up and went to the Deadly Desert to commit suicide by walking into it.

Near the Desert's edge, he found a hut where the Wicked Witch was in an enchanted sleep. Noting her ugliness, he thought she might prove a kindred spirit. This is what made him decide to get at least one Enchanted Apple to waken her with. So he sneaked into Valynn's palace, but she managed to catch him before he could pick one. After making false threats at Valynn, she goes to Limbo. Still, Bortag vowed that he would someday get an Enchanted Apple.

One day, Drox landed outside the hut, almost dried to death after having flown over the Deady Desert. Bortag nurses Drox back to health, and Drox says that without ocean water, he'll never be strong enough to return to the Nonestic Ocean.

After Bortag finishes his story, Billina suddenly can't speak anymore, and Bortag realizes that thanks to him, Oz really is losing its magic.

At Valynn's castle, Ozma, Dorothy, and Valynn arrive and hurry to the garden, where the Witch compels the Scarecrow to take the Magic Belt from Dorothy and give it to her. (The Belt, Ozma explained, is not affected by Oz magic, since it isn't from Oz.) As the Witch begins to pick a silver apple that ensures Valynn's guardianship of the tree, Valynn starts at her, but the Witch turns her into a statue. Ozma is soon turned into marble and Dorothy into wood.

Bortag arrives and has Drox hook the Magic Belt with his sword-like nose. While this gets the belt off the Witch, it carries her by her feet. The Witch turns Drox into a gray cloud, and she, Bortag, and the Magic Belt fall to earth on top of the Scarecrow, who just came out of his trance. Bortag manages to put on the Belt and turns the Witch into stone. He then uses the Belt to restore Drox, the Scarecrow, Ozma, Valynn, and Dorothy, but then leaves on Drox with the Belt.

Back in the Emerald City, things aren't going well. The Magic of Oz is still weakening, even with some of the apples on the tree. Suddenly, the Scarecrow loses his life and falls over. Just then, Omby Amby announces Bortag and Drox. Bortag is returning the Belt. He took it because he thought it could give him what he wanted, but all he wanted was a true friend, and that's what he already has in Drox.

Ozma uses the Magic Belt to return to Valynn and then uses it to restore the Apple Tree to how it was before Bortag stole the apples. This restores the Magic of Oz full force, and the Scarecrow and Billina instantly recover. Then, Ozma creates a barrier around the tree so that no one except Valynn may touch it. Finally, Ozma grants Bortag's request: to send Drox and himself to a home by the Nonestic Ocean.

As I said, the plot is very straightforward and not very long. Since the graphic novel was still an exciting new format for comics, Shanower didn't try to start up a story arc that would continue through other volumes. For the format, it works quite well. Shanower stays very true to Baum's characters and manages to develop  Valynn, Bortag and Drox very well. I just wish we could have found out more about that Wicked Witch.

Some people don't like the idea that the Magic of Oz is dependent on the safety of an apple tree. I suppose I'm all right with it. I guess it does bring to mind the story of Adam and Eve from the Bible, in which the first man and woman are told they may eat from any tree but one, and the forbidden fruit has since been depicted as an apple. Some Oz fans might not like the Biblical parallel, others might, and some just might not care. It's also worth noting that apples play a big role in mythology as well. If one wants to view Oz as a mythology, then Shanower's apples are not a far cry.

One thing you might notice in Shanower's stories are themes. Here, Ozma spells out one of them to Bortag at the end: "It doesn't matter how the world sees you—it's who you are inside that counts." As readers, we detest Bortag at the beginning, because we think he's the bad guy. Then, we feel sympathy for him when he explains his story. And finally, in his showdown with the Witch, we cheer him on! Another theme, also spelled out at the end by Ozma, is the recurring Ozian theme of contentedness: "I do know that when one's heart is content, true happiness is never far away."

Something I wasn't aware of was the dating of the story. In The Baum Bugle's review of Adventures in Oz, it says that Enchanted Apples occurs during the "several very happy weeks" Dorothy spends in Oz at the end of Ozma of Oz. However, in the revised version of Enchanted Apples in Adventures, that can no longer be the case.

"Revised?" Yes. Rather than do a straight reprint, IDW comics had Shanower on board for their new edition and he oversaw how the art would look in the new collected edition, sometimes changing it to how he wanted it to look, and sometimes revising the art. Thanks to advances in printing technology, the colors are much richer and vibrant in Adventures, while the original edition's colors look a bit faded, sometimes dark (this is most notable in skin tones). Comparing the art, there aren't major differences save one, which we'll show below.
Copyright Eric Shanower
Copyright Eric Shanower
In the original version, Omby Amby's beard is absent, while in Adventures, it's back. Small detail it may be, it actually changes the dating of the story. In The Marvelous Land of Oz, Omby Amby, going as the Soldier with the Green Whiskers, says, "I shall disguise myself by cutting off my lovely green whiskers." In Ozma of Oz, he has been given the position of private in Ozma's army and does not have his whiskers. At the end of the book, he is promoted. In Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, this exchange occurs:
"And the people will not willingly part with her," added a tall soldier in a Captain-General's uniform.

The Wizard turned to look at him.

"Did you not wear green whiskers at one time?" he asked.

"Yes," said the soldier; "but I shaved them off long ago, and since then I have risen from a private to be the Chief General of the Royal Armies."
Omby Amby's whiskers have not grown back until The Patchwork Girl of Oz, meaning the revised version of Enchanted Apples must take place shortly before or after the events of that book.

I wondered at this change and thought about asking Shanower about it at Winkies, but then a thought struck me: not all of Baum's Oz books were public domain in 1986. That accounts for the odd placement. I suppose Shanower didn't want to do that at first, and that is why he restored Omby Amby's beard in the revision.

The Enchanted Apples of Oz was received warmly by Oz fans, and First Comics, the publishers, would go on to print three more of Shanower's Oz graphic novels.

Buy The Enchanted Apples of Oz (original edition)
Buy Adventures in Oz (hardcover)
Buy Adventures in Oz (paperback)
Buy Little Adventures in Oz Vol. 1 (reduced size reprint)

Sam prepared other comparison pictures to show the differences between the original edition of The Enchanted Apples of Oz and the revised version in Adventures in Oz. All images are copyright of Eric Shanower and are used only for the purpose of review.

Because people keep assuming it...

... I will not be at the National Convention in Banner Elk. And, to my knowledge, neither will the rest of the blog team.

I'd love to be one of those people who can say, "Oz convention? THERE!" But I'm not. Not yet, anyway...

Friday, July 29, 2011

Oz Update

@MeganHiltyOL on Twitter shared an HD video of the Dorothy of Oz panel at Comic-Con in San Diego. Watch that here.

Perez Hilton has leaked a song that was previewed at the Dorothy of Oz panel. The song, "When the World Turns Upside Down", was played over a montage of clips from the film. You can listen to that here.

Oz: The Great and Powerful has officially begun filming in Detroit, Michigan. Read the press release from Walt Disney Pictures here.

BJ Entertainment is working on an indie movie based on Donald Abott's book, How the Wizard Came to Oz. Read a little more about that here.

L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz will be presenting footage from the film at the IWOC convention in Banner Elk, North Carolina. Check out the flyer for that here. If you're attending, I'd say that's definitely something you should check out.

Speaking of which, the Royal Blog of Oz will be debuting an exclusive still from the footage shown at Banner Elk! That should be coming up here in a week or two.

Jared will be interviewing Leigh Scott on the Royal Podcast of Oz next week about his upcoming film, The Witches of Oz. You can submit questions on the Podcast's new Twitter, @RoyalPodcastOz, or at the new FaceBook page.

In the next couple weeks, I will be sharing an interview with Sasha Jackson, who plays Ilsa in The Witches of Oz.

A lot of things to look forward to here on the blog!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Here we go again!

I already started my saving, and the 2012 Winkie Convention will be July 27-29! It's too early to book a flight, but better get in gear! Because considering we'll have a special focus on Sky Island, flying would be appropriate.

And I'm doing the standard quiz next year, and I've already started picking some good questions. It will be mainly Sky Island, but some knowledge of the Oz books will be called upon. For example, one points out that Sky Island features a ________ in which ______ are ______ to _____!

So, get a copy of Sky Island, or load a free e-text to your e-reader, or listen to an audio book, or watch the... oh, they didn't make a movie. (You probably wouldn't have gotten away with that much knowledge, anyway.)

Sam is not committing to return next year. Not yet, anyway... However, he did say that if he did, he probably wouldn't travel the same way that he did this year. I plan to use different transport as well, but we'll see how that works out.

Information about the 48th Annual Winkie Convention is still being decided on, but I'd advise you keep an eye on this page.

The Ozmapolitan of Oz

W.W. Denslow wrote Oz-ish stories, John R. Neill wrote four Oz books, Frank Kramer and Dirk Gringhuis just illustrated, and what of Dick Martin?

Dick Martin was born in the same city as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: Chicago. He was a lifelong fan of Oz and inspired by John R. Neill's artwork, he went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. To say he was very active in the International Wizard of Oz Club is an understatement. He was the go-to guy for art, and we've already noted he illustrated Merry Go Round in Oz, Yankee in Oz, The Enchanted Island of Oz, and The Forbidden Fountain of Oz, as well as a wide variety of other books for the Club and other Oz-related publications. He also served as the Club's president, vice president, editor of The Baum Bugle, as well as serving in many, many other roles.

As for solo work, the Club published his An Oz Sketchbook and An Oz Picture Gallery. Dover Publications published his three Oz cut-and-make books, Cut and Assemble the Emerald City of Oz, Cut and Assemble the Wizard of Oz Toy Theater, and Cut and Make Wizard of Oz Masks. He also worked with James Hanff on creating the International Wizard of Oz Club's Oz map, which most fans consider the definitive map of Oz. He also co-authored The Oz Scrapbook with David Greene, a book that looked through the history of Oz in print, screen, and stage.

So, is it any wonder that he wrote an Oz book, too? The Ozmapolitan of Oz was published in 1986. That's right, it's as old as I am.

The story begins as Dorothy finds a boy named Septimius (or Tim) working at the Ozmapolitan, the royal newspaper of Oz, and a Mifket named Jinx who assists him as a "Printer's Devil." Tim is determined to "make good" on his own. To bring exciting news to the Ozmapolitan to get more subscribers, Tim, Jinx, Dorothy, and Eureka set out on an expedition.

Now begins a series of disjointed misadventures, reminding us of Thompson. Fortune cookies from Skipper Sally tell our adventurers to look for a fat chance, a blue moon, and a silent melody. Yeah, definitely a few shades of Thompson here...

A family of artists paint portraits of the expedition in "modern art," the problem being, they're impressionist painters and have a loose style, and their subjects become a match of their portraits, which is quite uncomfortable for our heroes. Fortunately, after that experience comes their fat chance: a man named Fat Chance who fixes them up with Muddle's Miracle Mixture, and also drops them off at the Tin Woodman's palace. However, the Tin Emperor is missing, along with the Scarecrow. Now there's a secondary plot!

At night, Eureka spies Tim telling off a crow that calls itself a royal watch bird. She declines to tell Dorothy about it, deciding to see if this will actually pose a threat to the group.

The next morning, Tim and Jinx have made a skiff they call The Princess Dorothy, which they use to travel down the same river the Tin Woodman and Scarecrow were boating on when last seen. Along their way they get caught in Game Preserve, where they are forced to play a giant board game until they break the spinner, and then they head into a cavern where they meet a very behind-the-times inventor who has just invented the Wheel. Further in the cavern, they find a Tyranicus Terrificus, a dinosaur-ish creature who gets fooled into thinking our heroes are no good to eat.

Further in the cavern, they find the Silent Melody: a river fairy named Melody who has been frozen in a block of ice. They manage to move her away from the rest of the frozen area, which thaws her.

Further down the way, Eureka finally tells Dorothy about what she saw Tim do, presuming Tim is a spy. Tim assures Dorothy that he has been telling her the truth, but he hasn't been at liberty to tell her everything. Shortly after this, they lose The Princess Dorothy, and Eureka sets off on her own in a basket. The rest follow the stream by foot, until they come to a place where it branches off into four ways. Luckily for them, Eureka has found the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman and returns. And the boat the famous Ozian pair are riding in is named The Blue Moon.

Returning with them, Melody and the river fairies subdue the Tyranicus Terrificus by taking it to be frozen. Then the travelers visit Melody's Water Palace before returning to the Emerald City, where Ozma reveals Tim is Prince Septimius of Septentria, and he has proved himself UNfit to take the throne, simply because he doesn't want to! The King of Septentria doesn't do anything, but Tim wants to work and do something with himself. And he doesn't intend this expedition for The Ozmapolitan to be the last.

To be sure, The Ozmapolitan of Oz isn't the most exciting Oz story. In fact, I'd definitely say it owes a lot to Thompson rather than Baum. I see shades of The Purple Prince of Oz with Tim's story. But Martin's writing style is very different. The misadventures the travelers go through are tied closer to the plot than in Thompson's work, even though Martin writes in a perfectly good explanation for going all out in them. (Of course, considering he wanted to produce fewer illustrations for these Club-published books, that may be another factor.) And he has fun with wordplay and other concepts that make his story fun to read. (There's a scene where Tim tells a phony story to Dorothy that is simply hilarious.)

Anyway, The Ozmapolitan of Oz is definitely a good story and deserves to be read. It's one I'd recommend.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


I seem to be running out of ideas for Oz posts. Then again, I've thought that before, and was usually able to come up with something. I considered doing something about the Ice King, due to the similarity between his story and that of the Snow Queen, but it turns out I already did. Then I thought of John Dough and the Cherub, which I've addressed before, but I don't think I've said much about the titular cherub. When L. Frank Baum first started writing the story for serialization, the magazine editor insisted he add a child protagonist to accompany the gingerbread man, so he introduced Chick the Cherub. Chick is not actually a cherub, but is cherubic in the more modern sense. The child is famous for being the world's first Incubator Baby, and indeed speaks as if the incubator itself was its parent. The name Chick derives from the fact that incubators are typically used for...well, I think you can figure that one out yourself. The main gimmick with Chick, however, is that it's never stated whether the Cherub is a boy or a girl, and the white unisex pajamas and sandals the child wears don't provide any clue. When the book first came out, there was a contest to determine Chick's gender. I don't think the contest results exist anymore, but what I've heard is that there were two winners, one arguing that Chick was male and the other female. That sounds about right.

As far as the Incubator Baby's personality goes, it (yeah, I know it's awkward to call a human "it," but I can't think of any better way, and apparently neither could Baum) is quite laid back and easy-going, not really too concerned about where it is at any given time. Chick speaks in modern slang of the time, and when possible eats only oatmeal and cream. The child can also be sassy at times, however, and is the only one who has no fear of talking back to the Kinglet of Phreex. John Dough and the Cherub leave the Isle of Phreex in a flying machine to escape from Ali Dubh, who wants to eat the gingerbread man. After a series of adventures, they arrive in the twin kingdoms of Hiland and Loland, of which John becomes king. Chick promptly appoints itself Head Booleywag, which the Baby defines as "the one that rules the ruler." In Who's Who in Oz, Jack Snow further defines a Booleywag as sort of a cross between a prime minister and a court jester. At the end of the book, Baum explains what happens to the characters in later years, which was pretty typical of his non-Oz fantasies of the time. It's rather odd here, though, as much of the rest of the story implies that it takes place around the time it was written. The last sentence of the tale reads, "But, curiously enough, the Records fail to state whether the Head Booleywag was a man or a woman," implying Chick grew up. When the Incubator Baby reappears in The Road to Oz, however, it's still a child.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Mike's Intro and Review: The Undead World of Oz

Hello, Ozites! As Jared mention before heading off, I am Mike Conway, known on YouTube as Mikelo. I am an Oz fan. Seriously. I live and breathe Oz. I have read the books time and again and they never get old for me. When I started playing Dungeons & Dragons, my thoughts did turn to how to use such a medium with Oz. As of the time of my writing this, my RPG, Heroes of Oz, nears completion.

As Jared mentioned, I've always had "alternative" ideas about Oz, never being content to stay with the safe tried and true status quo that L. Frank Baum left behind when he died. I get a kick out of things that some Oz fans rail against, such as the Oz Squad comics. What can I say? I like shake-ups. This has, you can bet, gotten me in trouble with a few Oz fans.

That said, though, I am still a bit of a purist at heart. I don't like "remakes" or "new takes" or "new spins." I saw a comic once with Dorothy as an adult goth who hated her aunt and uncle. I never read past the first issue. When I read an Oz story, I want to see a story with Baum's Dorothy used as a foundation. If she's different in some way, I want to know why. If Oz is different, what happened to it?

I'd rather keep the same thing as what came before, but build on it, or just view it through a different lens. The book I'm going to review here, The Undead World of Oz, is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz with Zombies added to the mix. And yes, it is cool.

There has been a trend of late to add horror or sci-fi elements to classical (public domain) stories. It started with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It gave a fresh new perspective on the story, and new view through a different lens. It's the same story with the same characters and romance, but there is now zombies and martial arts in it.

This lead to an explosion of zombie-added value in classic fiction. Some good, some bad, as with everything. Heck, I pondered doing the same with Oz, but then Ryan C. Thomas beat me to it. I'm glad he did, too. I think he did a good job.

Undead World of Oz is the same story with the same Kansas and the same Oz, but it's been given a darker taint. Thomas starts from the get go by taking Kansas from the dull and gray place it was to a dry and cracked world of creepy. It's not that Dorothy and her family are poor. They are starving. Aunt Em may not be a zombie, but she does act a little like one, which creeps Dorothy out.

When the house gets lifted by the cyclone, and Dorothy looks through the trap door down, she sees a dead body that the cyclone unearthed  from a shallow grave. Yes, this sets the tone for this new and dangerous Oz.

Upon getting to Oz, we learn that the Wicked Witch of the East cast a spell over Oz to make sure that the Munchkins knew they were her slaves, not even being able to escape her in the grave. So the dead of Oz didn't stay dead long.

The story continues with the same plot as the original story, but there are times when the characters have to take on the undead. Dorothy is fortunately able to defend herself, as she is given a magic gun by a Munchkin farmer. This saves her bacon throughout the story, even against non-zombies.

This was something I thought was particularly interesting. Zombies aren't the only things Dorothy and company have to face. Apparently pulling from Tolkien and Rowling, Dorothy does battle with a giant spider twice in the story. While unnecessary, I thought it was a neat addition.

The fun thing is, by the end of the book, Dorothy is battle weary and, since she's packing heat, she just blows away one of the Oz monsters from the original book. I don't blame her. She's been through the wringer and now these stupid and ugly things want to mess with her? I actually cheered (and that wasn't a good idea, since I was at work).

I think that Ryan Thomas must really be an Oz fan, since there are nods to other parts of Oz fandom, especially the MGM movie. Fighting zombies, your shoes aren't going to stay clean, for instance.

Even though the book does retain its happy ending, there is a part that suggests that the horror may not be over for Dorothy. This is perfect in the tradition of horror storytelling. Never leave them entirely safe.

My only real problem with the story is that Thomas tries a little too hard to fit zombies into the story. The Tin Woodman wasn't cutting wood when he was paralyzed with rust, for instance. He was fighting zombies. I could see it, but it was a little much. There's also place where the beginning of a chapter wasn't modified properly from the original.

I was originally hoping for a continuation of the books. I'd love to see Ozma dealing with the undead in a land where death has no hold. Still, Undead World of Oz is a lot of fun and is definitely founded in the original story. It's not a retake or anything like that, but it's a new vision that's faithful to the original. I readily give it four-and-a-half stars out of five.

And now back to your regularly scheduled Oz. Blessings and brains. ;-)

I Smell a Rat

Cross-posted from here.

Now is as good a time as any to get around to Rachel Cosgrove's most prominent addition to the Oz canon, a character apparently considered by some to be the series' equivalent of Jar Jar Binks. Or maybe he's more like Poochie, what with his frequent usage of "cool" slang (early fifties slang, in his case, especially the term "kiddo"). I refer, of course, to that giant white rat Percy the Personality Kid, who makes his first appearance in The Hidden Valley of Oz.

Like other oversized animal characters in the Oz books, Percy has a history that involves a certain amount of magic. When Jonathan Manley, better known as Jam, plans to take an expedition using the kite he just built, he takes a few animals from his father's laboratory. When the wind blows him to Oz, he arrives there in the company of two guinea pigs and a white rat, all of whom begin talking in the fairyland. The guinea pigs are named Pinny and Gig, and have the annoying cartoon twin habit of finishing each others' sentences. They are written out pretty soon, as Jam leaves them with a Gillikin family. Percy the Rat, however, remains Jam's companion throughout his adventure, and a magic muffin from the Hidden Valley makes him grow to ten times his original size (although I would assume that's approximate, not exact). The rat is quite vocal and active, and often finds a way out of dangerous situations. Rachel, who had experience as a biologist, said she put in a rat character largely because they're intelligent animals, and Percy is indeed quite clever. I think it's more his attitude and speech patterns that make people dislike him.

When Eric Shanower illustrated Rachel's other Oz book, The Wicked Witch of Oz, he hit on another reason why people weren't too keen on Percy, which is the way Dirk Gringhuis drew him. In order to improve on this, Eric used a real rat as a model, and did indeed come up with a more attractive depiction. It also helps that there's a little more variety to Percy's slang in the text, so he comes across as a better character overall. Rachel also used him as the main character in her short story "Percy and the Shrinking Violet." For the most part, Percy doesn't appear in stories other than those written by Rachel herself, but Ray Powell apparently ignored the copyright and gave him a small but significant role in The Raggedys in Oz. In order to stir up some excitement, he frees Ruggedo from his enchantment, and is punished by being sent back to the United States to live as an ordinary rat. The version of Raggedys I read was a slightly edited one, in which Percy is forgiven, which really strikes me as more appropriate for an Oz story anyway. But the fact that Powell wanted to get rid of Percy in the first place just goes to show how unpopular he is with some Oz fans. On the other hand, he's fairly well-liked by others. I can't say I mind him, but he's not a favorite of mine either.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Oz rocks the Eisners again!

Last year, Eric Shanower and Skottie Young's adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz won "Best Publication for Kids" and "Best Limited Series" at the Eisner awards.

This year, their Marvelous Land of Oz adaptation was nominated for "Best Adaptation from Another Work" and Skottie Young received the "Best Penciller/Inker" nomination for the Eisners.

Last night, they won both.

Do I sense a trend emerging? Maybe their Ozma of Oz will rock next year's Eisner's awards.

To celebrate, I'm going to hit a comics shop to see if they have Ozma of Oz #8, because there are no other comics I want that would justify the cost of shipping! (Dang SLG, not putting Royal Historian of Oz #5 in a print copy...)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Den in (and out of) Oz

So, I went over John R. Neill's Oz stories last month. But guess what? His predecessor, W.W. Denslow also wrote Oz stories about the Oz characters. Quite simply, he and Baum had joint ownership over The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. He had the legal right to use the characters, and Baum, while quite upset that he had made such an arrangement, could do nothing about it. (Thanks for the reminder, Eric.)

A series of newspaper stories, similar to Baum's Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz, began in 1904, written by Denslow. It was entitled Denslow's Scarecrow and Tin-Man.

The first entry was somewhat promising. It was entitled "Dorothy's Christmas Tree." Set sometime during Dorothy's first visit to Oz (seemingly just after the Wizard left, or perhaps one of the days he refused to see them after destroying the Wicked Witch), it is Christmas, and Dorothy is sad not to be spending it at home in Kansas, so the Scarecrow and Tin Man decide to do what they can to ensure a merry Christmas for their friend. (I've already chosen this as the story for the Christmas 2011 podcast, so I won't say much more.)

Dorothy doesn't appear in the later stories, so we may presume Denslow set these after her return. Only the second tells of further merry misadventures in Oz (they go ice skating with the most disastrous results), while the third finds them wanting to visit Fifth Avenue, and so the merry misadventures go to plain old Earth in the remaining tales.

The fourth and fifth tales, "About Town" and "Recaptured" were collected into a picture book, The Scarecrow and Tin-Man. Taking a bit of a turn from the rest of the series, the Scarecrow and Tin Man run away from a theater. Yes, seemingly, we went from the characters in Oz to the characters in the Wizard of Oz musical extravaganza. They cause a lot of trouble and eventually are captured by the police and made to work in the theater again.

In later tales, which resume the story of the characters from Oz (including, to a lesser extent, the Cowardly Lion), the misadventures head to the Ocean, then Bermuda. Their ship is wrecked, and they wind up in Yucatan, after saving the crew. Then, they arrive in New Orleans and take a train out west, where they are captured by Indians and rescued by cowboys before they arrive at the Flower Festival in California, where the series ends.

In these stories, the characters from Oz are quite silly and seem to have trouble knowing right from wrong, and are often chased for wrongdoings. The stories are not that great, either. "Dorothy's Christmas Tree" has the strongest plot of the bunch, and then the complexity of plots began to decrease. In fact, the last five newspaper pages are mostly illustration. That's what Denslow did best, and his writing confirms it. While Baum often tried to be funny, most notably in The Marvelous Land of Oz, Denslow relies on forced jokes and slapstick humor. (A woman notes that the Tin Man has a "hard face.")

The series lay in obscurity for many years. Hungry Tiger Press reprinted most of the stories in Oz-Story Magazine, and later, the complete series as a single book edition. When Sunday Press published Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz, they also included all of Denslow's newspaper stories as well, allowing people to see them in their original form.

Thus, Denslow's small, silly, and very odd contribution to Oz is available today. Just don't expect too much from it!

Although he and Baum had parted ways, Denslow provided some new illustrations for later editions of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. He designed many of the sets and costumes for the Wizard of Oz musical extravaganza and later, designed a wallpaper frieze featuring characters from the musical accompanied by verses that told an erratic retelling of the musical's plot. (It's estimated to be from 1910, so the details were likely hazy in his mind.) Aside from the Oz characters sometimes appearing in his other work, that was the extent of his connection with Oz.

Denslow, although born the same year as Baum, did not share the same bittersweet happy ending that the Royal Historian of Oz had. His success as a children's writer was very brief and by no means reached the same significance of Baum's later work. All three of Denslow's marriages ended in divorces, and his career took a nosedive. He died of pneumonia in 1915.

It is thanks to Denslow's work on Oz that he is remembered and his work has been sought out. Sadly, it was because of his own ego (and Baum's) that he parted company with Baum, which seems to have been a great mistake on his part. Yet history flowed the way it did, and we cannot know what might have happened had the two creators of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz put their differences aside and focused on working together.

Weekly Oz Update

The Witches of Oz will be airing on Syfy in the Netherlands on August 16th. Keep an eye on this link for more details.

Sony will release the Dorothy of Oz soundtrack next year, but the songs will be unveiled at Comic-Con. Read all about that here. Note: Lea Michele will NOT be attending, contrary to some reports.

Follow The Witches of Oz on Twitter.

Follow Clayton Spinney's director's blog while you're at it.

Next week, I will be interviewing Sasha Jackson from The Witches of Oz on her role in the film! I'm not sure if that will be instead of the weekly update or not; depending on if there's anything worth updating about. I expect there will be, what with Comic-Con going on this weekend, and Oz: The Great and Powerful filming soon.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I've Got A Loverly Bunch Of Bugles

One of the highlights at the Winkie Convention that wasn't on the program was the International Wizard of Oz Club's Warehouse Blowout Sale.

From what I heard last year, the Club's gotten a lot of overstock over the years, and with switching to a new order fulfillment company, it would really help if they didn't have so much to move. Especially a lot back issues of The Baum Bugle and Oziana. I think I heard that the new company won't handle them.

I heard that the sale will be repeated at the Banner Elk Convention next month. Back issues of The Baum Bugle and Oziana were just 25 cents, paperback books were $1, and hardcovers were $2. They had a number of Thompson and Snow Oz books at Winkies, so if you're going and have been interested in some of the other Famous Forty, here's your chance to get them for CHEAP!

They weren't selling some of the more recent books they've published, such as The Wicked Witch of Oz, The Hidden Valley of Oz, The Hidden Prince of Oz, and just about anything published in the last 10 years or so. (Aside from back issues of The Baum Bugle and Oziana.) I'd suppose these books are more in demand than the ones they were selling off. (They had several of the old oversize paperbacks they reprinted as standard Oz books.) I did want to pick up Sissajig and Other Surprises, but didn't expect it to be in the sale, and I wouldn't mind getting a hardcover of The Ozmapolitan of Oz.

Anyways, I went to that sale and picked up every issue of The Baum Bugle and Oziana that I knew I didn't have.

And then the day after I got home, I got a complete set of The Baum Bugle back issues from 1990-2000. So, I have LOTS of Baum Bugles to read...

And no real place to store them.

... How do you organize your Baum Bugles? I mean, counting what I've picked up over the years and my own membership with the Club, I believe I have the complete run from 2004 to the present.

I really got to sort these out...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Royal Podcast of Oz: The 2011 Winkie Convention

Jared and Sam meet up LIVE to give you the run down of the 2011 Winkie Convention in Pacific Grove, California.

And, without clearance from anyone else, they are unable to have any guests...

The Winkie Convention on Facebook
The Winkie Newsletter
The Winkie Website

Listen to or download the podcast at the podcast site, or use the player below.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Famous Forty +

So, I completed my blogging about "The Famous Forty +" as I call it. The reading took a lot less time than the blogging, which I started in April, 2010, and finished yesterday.

Throughout this, I gained a new respect for the other authors who wrote the Famous Forty. Baum was always a big focus on the Royal Blog of Oz, but now I've looked into the lives of the others, and while I don't completely feel I understand all their reasons for writing Oz the way they did, I definitely wouldn't put them down.

I did discover after writing certain blogs that I missed some bits I didn't know at the time of writing. For example, Jack Snow was good friends with International Wizard of Oz Club founder Justin Schiller, and Justin's family invited him along to see the MGM Wizard of Oz film when it was re-released in 1955. It was also the first time Justin saw the film. So, although Snow still had no idea of how much his work would be appreciated, he did have many in the Oz community who looked up to him.

Now, we know the Famous Forty was just the base of what has evolved. People have written their own Oz stories since very early on. (A story by a couple of children called Invisible Inzi of Oz appeared in the magazine A Child's Garden for Cheerful and Happy Homes in 1926.) These stories continue to this day, and even I wrote one. I continue to keep an eye open for the best of these. (Sometimes I don't always find the best, though.)

Quite soon, I'll be looking at some Oz stories that have some close ties to the Famous Forty, but I don't consider them FF+.

But, to mark my completing this series of blogs, here's an index. I didn't cover Baum's A Short, Short Oz Story, since it doesn't bear much on Oz continuity and was just written as a dedication. I did cover some of Thompson's other Oz work, but it is not listed separately on this list, which only lists books and short stories, an exception being An Oz Book. (There will be some developments about it soon, I understand.)

I also discovered I had picked up Oziana 1990, which contained a chapter of Eloise McGraw's abandoned Oz book, revised as a mainly standalone tale. There's not much else to say about it, so I'm including a brief description in the Rundelstone blog.

Anyways, here's my list of the FF+, I hope you've enjoyed or will enjoy my blogs about them.

L. Frank Baum
Ruth Plumly Thompson
John R. Neill
Jack Snow
Rachel Cosgrove Payes
Eloise McGraw and Lauren McGraw

Bother the Law!

Cross-posted from here.

While Oz is, in many ways, a utopian land, I have to say that its legal system appears to be rather a mess. It is an absolute monarchy, which means Ozma can technically make and enforce whatever laws she likes, but much of the time she doesn't even try to be unbiased. In The Tin Woodman of Oz, we're told that the only law in Oz is "behave yourself," but that isn't exactly in line with Patchwork Girl, in which we learn that both practicing magic without a license and picking six-leafed clovers are both illegal. I would have to say that "behave yourself" is more of a symbolic law than an actual one.

We see two trials in Ozma's court during the course of the series, one in Dorothy and the Wizard and one in Patchwork Girl. The former is the trial of Eureka the Kitten for murder of Ozma's own pet piglet, yet Ozma herself serves as judge. We are told that "the people of that Land were generally so well-behaved that there was not a single lawyer amongst them, and it had been years since any Ruler had sat in judgment upon an offender of the law." Since there are no full-time lawyers (well, we later learn there are some in small communities like Utensia and Bookville, but they don't have much bearing on the subject), the ruler appoints the Wogglebug as Public Accuser and the Tin Woodman as Eureka's defender. Both do a pretty terrible job. There's also a jury, which is apparently required by law predating Ozma's reign to include at least nine members, but all of the jurors the princess chooses are personally acquainted with both her and Eureka. When they reach a verdict, it has little if anything to do with the arguments put forth by either temporary lawyer. The kitten is declared guilty, but is let off when it turns out the piglet is still alive after all, even though she did intend to eat it.

In Patchwork Girl, Ojo is put on trial for picking a six-leafed clover. Ozma is once again the judge, but there's no sign of a jury. In the equivalent scene in the silent film version, however, there is indeed a jury, made up of the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow, the Braided Man, a Hopper, a Horner, and a Tottenhot. This trial seems to be more to scare Ojo into behaving than to actually prove his guilt, since Ozma and the Wizard of Oz already know that the Munchkin boy picked the clover, and the Patchwork Girl hid it in a vase. The ruler lets Scraps try to defend Ojo, then has the Wizard reveal the clover to everyone present. The boy admits to having committed the crime, and Ozma forgives him.

We don't see much, if any, of the Ozian justice system in action after this. Even when Mombi is executed in Lost King, it appears to be without a trial. Maybe one takes place offstage, but Ruth Plumly Thompson never seemed to have any interest in describing such matters. In her Oz books, Ozma's courtiers sometimes help her to dispense justice, but there's no indication of a formal system for doing so. Edward Einhorn does include a trial in Living House, however, this time with the Scarecrow serving as both accuser and defender. Apparently, even after all these years, the Ozian justice system is still very unusual.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Ozoplanes, Trains, and Scalawagons

Cross-posted from here.

Oz seems to have been intentionally created as a place without much reliable transportation. The railroads that were common in Baum's time and the automobiles that were gaining in popularity in his lifetime were nowhere to be seen (well, yet, anyway; more on that later). Even horses are pretty uncommon, so most transportation is by foot, or sometimes on the back of a friendly animal, or by magic. Conveyances do become a bit more common as the series progresses, however, and here are some of the more significant ones:

Ozma's Chariot - Drawn by the Cowardly Lion and Hungry Tiger, the Royal Ruler of Oz rides in this golden vehicle on special occasions. It first appears in Ozma of Oz, and shows up periodically in later books.

Red Wagon - This open wagon, drawn by the Sawhorse, is such an integral part of the series that it seems kind of weird that it doesn't appear until the sixth book in the series, Emerald City. At least, I don't remember it in the first five volumes. In Ozma, the Sawhorse conveys Ozma and Dorothy to Glinda's palace in "a pretty green and pink phaeton."

Glinda's Chariot - I can't quite recall when we first see this aerial chariot, drawn by either swans or storks depending on the book, but it might be Lost Princess. Regardless, it makes a lot of appearances in later books, being the Sorceress' main method of transportation. In Land, Glinda rides to the Emerald City in a palanquin carried by twelve servants, but I think Baum considered the bird-drawn chariot a more appropriate conveyance for the Queen of the Quadlings.

Autodragons - Even as early as Lost Princess, Oz did have some mechanical vehicles. It's just that they were limited to an out-of-the-way area. In the dull city of Thi, these mechanical dragons plod along the streets, pulling chariots that play marching music as they run.

Submarines - Another fairly modern invention that has a place in a small community in Oz, Queen Coo-ee-oh created and controlled these boats with her krumbic witchcraft. Since she's now a diamond swan, the submarines might well not be in use anymore.

Flyaboutabus - Continuing the same basic theme as the last two, this goose-shaped, button-controlled flying vehicle once belonged to the King of Un, an unpleasant island in the sky above Oz. Notta Bit More, Bob Up, and the Cowardly Lion use it to escape from Un, and end up wrecking it on a day star after the Imperial Squawmos smashes all but one of the buttons (the "up" button) with a giant spoon.

Footpath - In the Thompson books, Oz is positively littered with roads and pieces of landscape that carry people throughout the land, usually as a plot device to get characters into strange new places. It's not usually clear exactly how these malicious roads and such come to be (the result of stray magic, perhaps?), but this Footpath with feet is the creation and property of the Wizard of Oz, who must occasionally be as bad a punster as the Woggle-Bug. It has a mind of its own, and the Wizard usually ties it up when not in use, to keep it out of mischief. It will take you wherever you want to go, based on written instructions on a notepad, but not always in the most comfortable way.

Jinrikisha - The main conveyance of the Red Jinn of Ev, this is basically a flying rickshaw. While first mentioned in Jack Pumpkinhead, we don't see it in use until Wishing Horse, and get the most thorough look at it in Yankee. In fact, the latter has Tompy and Yankee riding it to the United States.

Parade Vehicles - In Wishing Horse, characters from all over Oz come to the Emerald City for a celebration in honor of the first Americans to arrive in the country, and many different sorts of vehicles are mentioned. The royal family of the Munchkins rides in a chariot drawn by a blue dragon. The Ragbadians have a "shabby but comfortable open coach." King Ato has an Octagon Chariot drawn by eight horses (despite the fact that the next book, Captain Salt, suggests that Ato could not have been present at this time). The King and Queen of Seebania have a silver coach, but the most interesting to me is Tik-Tok's "mechanical handcar, which he operated himself." There's a vehicle I would have liked to see again, and might end up using myself in a future story.

Wutz's Transit System - Travel through the caverns of the Silver Mountain was accomplished by means of a roller-coaster-like ride that shot up and down through the various parts of the cave kingdom. Since Ozma moves the people's dwellings to the outside of the mountain at the end of Handy Mandy, this system might no longer be in use, but I think it would be interesting to see used elsewhere in Oz.

Ozoplanes - The first (but not the last) Ozian vehicles important enough to have a book named after them, these airplanes were an invention of the Wizard of Oz. They need no runway, as they are launched into their air by means of balloons that fill with a magic gas lighter than helium. Once in the air, the earliest ones (the Ozpril and Oztober) are controlled by means of buttons, but we see one with levers in Wonder City. The planes have many interesting and useful features, including the ability to automatically produce maps of their flight routes. In Ozoplaning, several Ozites use these planes to visit a kingdom in the stratosphere (which is, incidentally, where the title of my journal comes from). Wonder City has Jack Pumpkinhead living in a decommissioned but still functional Ozoplane, which is used to fly to a chocolate star.

Ozcalator - A moving road designed by the Wizard and built by a Quadling named Oz Q. Later. Its only appearance in the series is in Wonder City, in a segment likely not written by John R. Neill himself.

Scalawagons - By 1941, Neill apparently felt that it was time for Oz to have widespread use of automobiles. The book Scalawagons has the Wizard building cars known as, well, Scalawagons, which are at least partially sentient, and run on motor fluid from peli-cans. Copyright law probably prevented later Oz authors from using these vehicles, but there's a good chance they wouldn't have wanted to use them anyway. Not only do the cars make Oz less quaint, but they also make travel in the country too easy, preventing a lot of potential plots. I once wrote a story in which the Wizard decided to un-make the Scalawagons, but the people I told about it didn't seem to like the idea of totally destroying conscious things. So instead, I adopted someone else's idea (I forget who came up with it) of giving the Scalawagons their own island in the Nonestic Ocean instead.

Spoolicle - Neill occasionally drew the Patchwork Girl riding on a bicycle with spool wheels, and his last Oz manuscript, Runaway, finally brings this vehicle into the text. It's Scraps's favorite means of transportation, and the design is credited to Jack Pumpkinhead, who must be smarter in some ways than most folks give him credit for.

Airmobile - The last entry on this list is the only one created by Jack Snow, but it's one of my favorite ideas. It's a sort of car with gravity resistor plates, which allow it to travel through the air with ease. The trouble comes when the Shaggy Man and his companions run into Hightown, a city in the sky above Ev where there is no gravity. The Airmobile won't work there, and pushing it back to an area with gravity results in its being lost in the air.

Ozopolis is Oz!

I'm way behind in reviewing this...

Are you tired of almost every Oz comic that isn't an adaptation of the books being some dark, revisionist take on Oz that uses characters based on Baum's characters that don't really act like them? And then it's full of a million wink and nods to the MGM fans? Who probably aren't even reading it?

Try Ozopolis. It's an independently published comic.

Ozopolis debuted at the 2010 San Diego Comic Con with the first issue. This year, issue #2 is out and is already available. Writer Kirk Kushin had them available at the Winkie Convention.

Kushin writes Ozopolis, and the art is by Gonzalo Martinez. The artwork is presented in black and white, but each issue has a painted cover by Sylwia Smerl.

Newcomers to Ozopolis might be taken aback by the covers, actually. Oz looks like Oz, but Dorothy's wearing Converse. And a few other things John R. Neill never tried.

Worry not. There are completely in character reasons for this. Inside issue #1, you open to find the Wizard and the Woozy, in classic Neill design, putting on a performance for the people of the Emerald City. Writer Kirk Kushin explained that Ozma and Dorothy, still being young, would update their wardrobes, at least, in his take on Oz. The Wizard and Glinda, being set in their ways, would not.

Technological advances have entered Kushin's Oz, but it has not changed the characters at all. Dorothy isn't going to play Farmville rather than go on an adventure. (Although, Kushin's Oz didn't show any computers, so that's a bit much to say, but you get the idea.)

So, as issue #1 begins, the Field Mice seek Ozma's help. They have been continually attacked by "Phantom Wildcats" despite efforts to foil them. Ozma sends Tik-Tok, the Sawhorse, and the Glass Cat to help the field mice. It's up to our three old Oz friends to find out who's behind the Phantom Wildcats and put a stop to it.

Issue #2 introduces more of our favorite Oz characters, Trot, Cap'n Bill, Scraps, and the Scarecrow, all with new Ozopolis designs and costumes. Dorothy's old house is being made a museum, so it's being fixed up. However, when a tornado whips up around it, can anyone save Dorothy from this impending disaster? Also, Trot spots what seems to be a witch!

Each issue contains a self-contained story, but it forms part of a larger story arc that has yet to be completed. Frankly, I look forward to it continuing and building up over time.

Ozopolis has remained true to the spirit of Baum's Oz with brand new adventures and a contemporary redesign. This is a great way to do new Oz stories as comics! I really hope we get many more issues and the series picks up!

Visit the official site.
Buy issues 1 and 2
Join Ozopolis on Facebook

The Rundelstone of Oz

Eloise McGraw tried writing a third Oz book in the mid 1980s, but it wasn't coming together well, so she gave it up and said that she was done writing Oz books. (Again.) Some of her attempt at a third Oz book appeared in the Club's 1990 edition of Oziana, a magazine featuring new Oz stories by Club members.

This little piece, titled only "Chapter Three," follows the misadventures of the Flittermouse from Merry Go Round in Oz as he flies alone to the Emerald City to visit Robin and Merry. He gets caught a number of times before running into an old friend.

Fast forward to 1999, and the guys at Hungry Tiger Press were planning the final issue of Oz-Story Magazine. They wanted to make it a big, special issue, and so they contacted Eloise about writing a short piece for it. Eloise instead decided she'd come up with a short story. She turned to her discarded ideas from The Forbidden Fountain of Oz, about the live marionettes and Slyddwyn, and went from there. Eventually, her short story turned into a new Oz book, and Hungry Tiger Press was only too glad to make it a star feature in Oz-Story with Eric Shanower illustrating.

Lauren did help with the writing  of The Rundelstone of Oz, but this time, she took the silent role of editor. Eloise's name appears solo on the story.

Eloise did see her final Oz book in print in 2000, but she died that year at age 84, due to complications of cancer. (The Hungry Tiger Press crew was aware of this, which is why they had not initially asked for much.) Due to the overwhelming response to the story, the next year, her last Oz book was reissued as a standalone book, with more illustrations by Eric Shanower making the book almost as lavish as The Wicked Witch of Oz, and an introduction by Lauren Lynn McGraw.

The story opens with Ozma having tea with some ladies in waiting, including Lady Pernilda, a prim, chubby Gillikin dignitary. When she mentions that she hasn't heard from her family in a long time, Ozma tells her they can check the Magic Picture if she ever gets too concerned.

The story shifts to the Troopadours, a performing troupe of live marionettes led by a man called Maestroissimo Furioso, arriving in Whitherwood Town. A tiny performance arouses the interest of the locals, and Slyddwyn of Whitherway castle offers to let them have a grand performance at his home. However, just after the performance, something strange happens, and everything around Poco, one of the Troopadours, vanishes and goes dark.

The next thing Poco knows, he appears to be a cuckoo of a cuckoo clock, before he suddenly resumes his regular form. Slyddwyn tells him he's been missing for weeks and the Troopadours left him behind, and offers him the job of major-domo. Poco accepts, hoping he will someday find and rejoin his old friends.

Despite Slyddwn's varying moods, Poco finds life at Whitherway Castle not to be too bad. His work is easy and he makes a friend in Rolly, a boy who brings mushrooms and watercress to the castle every couple days. But things begin to rouse his suspicions when a "foreign fella" comes to the front door to sell muffins, and mentions a rundelstone and that Slyddwyn would end up as a purple hedgehog. Then Rolly confirms that it was only a day or so between the performance at Whitherway and when Poco began working as a major-domo. Something mysterious and magical is going on, and given his own apparent transformation, Poco cannot help but suspect that the other Troopadours and the Maestroissimo are still around, transformed into other shapes. In fact, certain things around the castle remind him of his old friends.

The "foreign fella" returns, disguised as an herb lady. This time, Poco asks him to explain. He's really named Shmodda, and the missing Rundelstone keeps the sun rising and setting in his home country of Fyordi-Zik, but since one of the other spell-binders left with it, Slyddwyn now has the rundelstone, and there are only five days before the sun sets in Fyordi-Zik forever. Poco has three days to find the rundelstone, restore his friends, not let Slyddwyn know what he's doing, and then surrender the stone to Shmodda.

It takes most of that time for Poco to find the stone, and then trick Slyddwyn into using it so he can observe and learn how to use it himself. The night of the third day, Poco begins to break the enchantments on the Troopadours. Rolly joins them and helps them discover that the rabbits in a wooden hutch are actually the donkeys and the Troopadours' wagon. Deciding to punish Slyddwyn for his trickery, they discover he's locked himself into a tower.

Shmodda arrives, ready to take the stone. The Troopadours manage to convince him to help them with Slyddwyn, who suggests that the missing spell-caster is an empty suit of clothes, except that Slyddwyn has many of those, and it would be too much trouble to decide which one he would be.

And now Ozma, Dorothy, the Wizard, Lady Pernilda, and the Cowardly Lion arrive to put things right. Whitherway Castle is the home of Pernilda's family, and they seem to be missing as well. Slyddwyn is her cousin. Also, Ozma assures Shmodda that Glinda and the Wizard are finding a way to keep the sun rising and setting in Fyordi-Zik without the need of spell-stones, since unauthorized magic is illegal and dangerous in the wrong hands. (Example: Slyddwyn.) However, as Poco is only trying to set things right, they allow him to finish disenchanting Slyddwyn's victims, under their supervision, of course.

Eventually, Lady Pernilda's family, the missing spell-caster, and even the Maestroissimo are disenchanted, and it turns out the Maestroissimo is Rolly's father, and he joins the Troopadoours as they continue on their travels. Slyddwyn is no longer a threat without his magic, and Shmodda returns home.

The Rundelstone of Oz is not a very complex story. In fact, it plays out very easily, once Slyddwyn's deceptions are seen through. It is a little similar to Ozma of Oz and The Yellow Knight of Oz in that the plot mainly revolves around breaking transformations. Like Ozma and unlike Yellow Knight, there are consequences for trying to disenchant the wrong thing. But like Yellow Knight, an object is required to break the transformations, and the ones doing the disenchanting are careful enough to avoid making a mistake.

Poco (I wonder if his name was inspired by Pinocchio) is a good lead character, though I couldn't imagine him leading a different story. He is faithful to his friends, and very friendly to others, like Rolly and, once he stops listening to Slyddwyn, Shmodda.

Eloise definitely had fun with characters with long names in this story (I didn't tell you the longer names, read the book on your own for those!), similar to a couple of my favorite Baum characters. With the transformations, she gets to play around with people's identities based on certain traits. This makes for fun reading as well, something Oz writers sometimes forget: Oz should be fun to read!

The Rundelstone of Oz isn't the strongest Oz story, but it is a good one, a worthy successor to the McGraws' earlier Oz books, and also, what is at present the final entry in what I call "The Famous Forty +." The only living Royal Historian whose work was published by Reilly & Lee is Lauren Lynn McGraw, and she doesn't seem very interested in writing a story, Oz or otherwise. Unless a long-lost manuscript turns up or Lauren does turn out another Oz story, the Famous Forty + ends with Rundelstone.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Forbidden Fountain of Oz

So, Eloise and Lauren (now going by Lauren Lynn McGraw, as she had been divorced) were at it again, writing a new Oz story to be published by the International Wizard of Oz Club and illustrated by Dick Martin.

Merry Go Round in Oz had focused on many new characters, with the classic Oz characters taking a secondary role. This was because Eloise was being very cautious on how to approach such well-established characters, calling these characters "puppets." This time around, likely due to the warm reception of Merry Go Round, the older Oz characters would play a larger role.

In writing their new story, they had many new ideas, but some just didn't seem to work within the context of the story. One that the two writers remembered well was a traveling troupe of live marionettes (eat your heart out, Pinocchio) and a wicked magician named Slyddwyn.

The Forbidden Fountain of Oz was published in 1980 in a uniform edition with Yankee in Oz and The Enchanted Island of Oz, meaning yes, it was another oversize but thin paperback. (The Oz Club now offers a smaller hardcover edition that looks more like an Oz book, and this is the one I own now, though I did trade an older paperback edition for it.)

Forbidden Fountain finds a girl named Emeralda Ozgood getting ready to sell limeade so she can earn money to spend at the Clover Fair.

Yes, the Oz of the McGraws now contains money. As it turns out, Eloise did work out an explanation of how it fit in with Baum saying there was no money in Oz, and she did write it in a footnote that was asked to be removed. She later revealed the footnote at a Winkie Convention. A transcript of her talk (and an audio recording) is available online, courtesy of David Maxine, but with all respect to him, I'm going to quote. (I do highly recommend listening to or reading the entire thing, or both, as it contains quite a bit of information about the McGraws' take on Oz and how Eloise wrote. And anyway, it's difficult to find a recording of any other Royal Historian.)
The money in Oz is rather complex. There are two copper coins, the tiny fardledink and the triangle-shaped squit; five silver coins, the quingle, the quant, the ozzo, the fang and the jeedle; and the gold piozter, which has Ozma's profile on one side and the Royal Crown on the other. To give you some idea of the relative values: three fardle-dinks make a squit, six squits equal a quingle, two quingles make a quant, and three quants an ozzo. There are two ozzos in a jang and five in a jeedle. The piozter is worth ten jeedles. However most people in Oz care little about getting rich, and enjoy using all these coins mainly because they're so pretty. If you are squitless and need to buy something, they will usually make you a present of it.
That explanation works for me!

Emeralda makes limeade on the spot using her mother's best pitcher and, accidentally, water from the Fountain of Oblivion. As it turns out, Ozma is her first (and thankfully only) customer. Ozma goes to her garden before she drinks the limeade, and then prompty loses her memory, forgetting who she is and where she is. A butterfly calls her Poppy, so she assumes that must be her name.

Poppy is soon joined by a white lamb named Lambert (the other lambs in his flock are varying shades of purple) and gets new clothes from an old woman. However, they are boy's clothes, and when fully dressed, Ozma, er..., Poppy just about passes for a boy. The only piece of her old clothing she keeps is the Magic Belt, which she feels sure isn't hers.

Back in the Emerald City, it isn't long before Ozma's absence is noted. When the Magic Picture is consulted, it only shows some insects buzzing around. Kabumpo feels sure Ozma must have been kidnapped, so search parties go out. Kabumpo decides to search on his own in the Gillikin Country.

The reason why the Magic Picture showed insects was because Poppy and Lambert drank from Camouflage Creek and it made them blend in with their surroundings, and at the time, they were glitterbugs. Later they change into birds, rabbits, and deer. Finally, they resume their own forms and are about to be robbed by a highwayman when he sees they are a girl and a lamb. This is so discourteous, he refuses to rob them and hearing they are lost, invites them to his cave.

The highwayman introduces himself as Toby Bridecull, and he is attempting to follow in his father's footsteps, but isn't finding the life of a highwayman to his liking. He also has a Suggestion Box that suggests the next course of action, based on the current circumstances, or a drop of oil for itself. They decide they will join some gypsies that Toby declined to join a short time ago.

Toby proves to be an able protector, leading Poppy and Lambert past a dangerous purple wolf, but he's not able to protect them from a gooey lake!

Kabumpo's search takes him to the town of the Wyndups, where the mechanic Clockwise runs everything. Clockwise intends to convert Kabumpo into a clockwork animal, but the elegant elephant of Pumperdink escapes, but soon finds himself in a gooey lake, along with Toby, Poppy, and Lambert. They are in a Bubblegum Gozzer, but manage to escape it with some effort.

The Suggestion Box says that it is an "Auspicious day for surprises," which will soon come. Fortunately for our travelers, they find Pristinia, where everything that isn't clean is cleaned. This gets everyone completely free of the bubblegum that was stuck to them in the gozzer. But they must leave, much to the Pristinians' dismay. (They can't imagine why anyone would risk getting the least bit dirty.)

Along their journey, they come across a Truth Teller who had fallen into the Truth Pond, and the McGraws get to build on that a little: if you lie after having bathed in the Truth Pond, your ears turn bright green. However, when they go to rest, Kabumpo overhears Poppy complaining that her hair never got to dry before her hat was put back on her by Toby, and removing it, Kabumpo recognizes her as Ozma, and decides that she must have been enchanted and kidnapped by Toby!

Kabumpo decides to go back to the Emerald City, but takes a roundabout course so they will not realize what he's doing. (This leads them on a few more merry misadventures.) But when they run into the Truth Teller again, he reveals that they are going south, away from Pumperdink, Kabumpo hurries back, keeping Toby in his trunk. Poppy is dropped off in Ozma's room.

Jack Pumpkinhead recognizes Poppy as Tip at first, and Ozma's memory begins to come back to her, but when Kabumpo publicly calls Toby a villain, Ozma protests his innocence. Emeralda was found by the Wizard as the last person to have seen Ozma and he discovers the recipe of her limeade. However, the Suggestion Box suggests the Magic Belt be used to restore Ozma's memory, which it does.

Toby is made Ozma's bodyguard, and Lambert becomes the latest addition to the Royal Menagerie. Kabumpo's efforts to find Ozma are celebrated in a big party.

And so ends the McGraw's second Oz book. I feel that this time the European influence isn't as heavy, as it only comes in with Toby, and his character is nuanced enough to feel Ozzy: a highwayman who doesn't feel like being a highwayman. Lambert also has an Ozzy trait: he wants to be a colored lamb like the rest of his flock. Unlike other characters like the Cowardly Lion or the Hungry Tiger, he doesn't get over this longing. At the story's end, he is delighted with a bottle of food coloring and hopes Ozma will grant his wish to be eternally green. (Ozma hopes he will change his mind.)

Also, I love the plot. Ozma having her memory wiped makes for a good plot and allows the character to do things she wouldn't ordinarily do. She isn't quite as strong as Tip was back in The Marvelous Land of Oz, but nonetheless, her character is interesting enough to carry the plot.

Kabumpo is a surprising addition to the plot, having been absent since Thompson's own books. He is a very strong character and very much in character, in trying to do the right thing, but remain elegant, but letting his preconceptions get in the way of the actual solution to the problem. In fact, Eloise later admitted that he seemed more "alive" than her original characters in the story. Forbidden Fountain is dedicated to the memory of Ruth Plumly Thompson, and it was wonderful to see someone using one of her characters in a new Oz story at last. (Since Snow, almost all Oz books only used Baum's characters, aside from Thompson's own later books.)

As for the reception of Forbidden Fountain, Oz fans were very glad to have a new Oz story, and it seems the McGraws were pleased to present one. But would they ever come up with another one? Eloise McGraw's Oz stories were only a very small part of her literary output. But she did have some story ideas for Oz that hadn't made it into her first two books. Maybe something could come of this? Time would tell!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Jenny, You're Barely Immortal

Cross-posted from here.

While John R. Neill was easily the worst plotter of the six authors who contributed to what's come to be known as the Famous Forty, he did create some fascinating characters. Considering how often she appeared, his favorite might well have been Jenny Jump, a half-fairy girl from New Jersey. The Jenny Jump Mountain and State Forest are located in the northwestern part of the state, near Neill's own home in Flanders, and folk etymology says that they were named after a girl named Jenny who jumped in order to escape from one or more pursuing Minsi Indians. It's not entirely clear whether Neill intended this Jenny to be the same as his own character, but I believe his original Wonder City manuscript referred to her living in the mountains for a long time, and trying to charge rent to the fairies who lived there. In the published version, however, she's only fifteen when the story begins, and seemingly living alone (although I suppose it's possible her parents or guardians were just out at the time). She captures a leprechaun trying to steal her pepper-cheese, and he turns out to be her fairy godfather. I believe Neill originally called him Psychopompus, a variation on the term used for those who led the dead from this world to the next (the association of Odin with Hermes/Mercury was apparently because both gods served as psychopomps). While Jenny doesn't die, she does enter a new world after meeting the leprechaun, making his name appropriate. The book's editor, apparently fearing that a name like "Psychopompus" would be difficult to pronounce, changed it to "Siko Pompus," which brings to mind King Pompus of Pumperdink from Ruth Plumly Thompson's Oz books. But there's also a Neill drawing referring to the character as "Sico," so perhaps it went through several different spellings before the book was published.

Anyway, Jenny wishes for the leprechaun to turn her into a fairy, but due to a technicality, he stops after making her only HALF-fairy. Well, not exactly half. She gains heightened awareness in one eye and both ears, extra dexterity and other powers in eight of her fingers, and the power to launch herself into the air using one of her feet. She also breathes fire when she's angry, although it's never entirely clear whether this is due to a fairy mouth. She flies to Oz, where she befriends a Munchkin boy named Number Nine (his parents gave their children numbers for names), and takes advantage of his fondness for her in order to boss him around. Using a magical Turn-Style that she finds in a ruined house, she sets up a style shop in the Emerald City. She becomes rather popular, but her temper continues to cause trouble. In order to combat this, the Wizard of Oz makes her grow younger, losing her fairy powers (although I've heard that her reverse aging in the original manuscript was NOT the Wizard's doing, or at least not specifically attributed to him). When that fails, the Wizard physically removes her anger, envy, and ambition. That's what happens in the published book, anyway. I believe this lobotomy was not included in Neill's original manuscript, in which she learns how to better control her more negative traits on her own, but it is somewhat in character for the Wizard. After all, he replaced the Glass Cat's pink brains with transparent ones in order to make her more humble. She has the pink ones back in Magic, however, suggesting that messing with her mind might have been a failed experiment. And I like to think that much the same was the case with Jenny, who doesn't seem entirely free of anger and ambition in later books. Regardless, Ozma makes Jenny a Duchess, and Siko restores her fairy powers in the form of various odds and ends. And that's basically how she remains in Neill's other books.

Merry Go Round in Oz

Lots of writers loved the Oz books, and no exception was Eloise Jarvis McGraw. She and her children read the Oz books together, and by the 1960s, she was an established author with such books as Moccasin Trail, Mara, Daughter of the Nile, and The Golden Goblet under her belt. These books proved popular with readers, librarians and publishers.

From what I gather, while reading a John R. Neill book (who wants to bet it was Scalawagons?), Eloise felt she could write a better Oz story, and she began writing one, with her daughter Lauren McGraw Wagner (at least it was then!) helping come up with story ideas and helping her edit and organize her ideas so well, Lauren was given co-author credit when the book was submitted to Reilly & Lee.

Merry Go Round in Oz was released in 1963 as the fortieth Oz book published by Reilly & Lee (they had since published their own edition of The Wizard of Oz). Dick Martin came in as illustrator, having done a lot of original Oz artwork for the International Wizard of Oz Club, so really, no one else was seemingly as suited to the task.

Merry Go Round was uniform with a reprint series of Baum's Oz books that are called "the white editions" by Oz fans, due to the white spines and cover borders. The Oz books of Thompson, Neill, Snow, and Cosgrove were not released in these editions. Given the wide availability of the white editions, it would appear they sold well, but the sales of Merry Go Round were not impressive and likely sent the message that Baum's original 14 novels were the best loved Oz books, and so the other 26 Oz books were not reprinted and began to become difficult to find. In fact, a first edition of Merry Go Round is actually the rarest first edition Famous Forty book, despite being the newest. (I was outbid on one just last Saturday at an auction.)

The story finds young Robin Brown (any relation to Thompson's Peter Brown?) going to a carnival with his large foster family, who often neglect and ignore him. He heads straight for the merry go round, where the ticketmaster encourages him to pull a ring and get a "free ride!" A free ride indeed, because when he does so, the merry go round horse, Robin and the ring tear off of the merry go round and fly off to Oz!

Already, I'm seeing the influence of Thompson on this plot.

In Oz, Peter finds the horse has come to life (because it's Oz) and he names her Merry Go Round. Hearing from some of the local wildlife that they are in Oz, they decide to head for the Emerald City, but not before they are caught by a bunch of fox hunters in a country called View Halloo.

Wait... Isn't fox hunting just a bit too British for an American fairy tale?

Just wait...

Meanwhile, in another (but not too far off) part of Oz, the tiny kingdom of Halidom discovers the final of the three circlets is now missing. The first circlet, which the king would wear on his head, gave the people wisdom. It rolled into a rabbit hole. The third circlet, which was worn like a ring, gave the people skill in crafting things. A bird flew off with it. The second circlet, which has mysteriously vanished, gave the people strength, and without it, no one feels like doing anything. Prince Gules decides to head out on a quest to recover the three circlets, and with him is his squire Fess, the Flittermouse (a winged mouse, not a bat), Fred the steed (his cousin was a Destrier!), and the fairy Unicorn.

Robin and Merry quickly get quite enough of View Halloo and depart by Merry jumping over the fence. Then they head toward the Emerald City, meeting a very Ozzy ferryman who tells them more about Ozma and that she can send Robin home and make Merry into a real horse.

Gules and Fess head through Sign Here, which is a place full of signs. But they find an oracle giving them cryptic messages about how to find the circlets. The first is disguised, the second will be found by the humblest of the party, and the third is in the hand of a "future king" and will be found in a roundabout way.

More European type fairy tale, this time even more extreme than Thompson, as well as the prophecies that were sometimes in her stories. (The Purple Prince of Oz springs to mind.) I suspect the McGraws of being Thompson fans... Now, where are our old Oz friends?

Well, we find them in chapter ten! Dorothy suggests they have an Easter party, and Ozma agrees. An egg hunt will be the main event, so Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion go to the Easter Bunny (who lives in the Munchkin Country) to get some eggs. While the Easter Bunny is busy, he manages to supply Dorothy with enough eggs for the party, and also gives her a gift for Ozma: a sugar egg with a gold band around it that shows his cavern when you look inside.

However, Dorothy and the Lion have trouble finding their way out and instead run into Prince Gules and his party. They decide to join forces.

Robin and Merry find themselves in Roundabout (a round city full of round people), where Roundelay, the sphere-seer, announces Robin as the new king due to a prophecy. (Yes, another one.)

Dorothy is made a prisoner of the Land of Good Children, but thanks to some surprising quick thinking by Prince Gules, they rescue her and escape, discovering the first circlet is the gold band around the sugar egg for Ozma. Dorothy lets them have it, of course, deciding that it can easily be replaced, and Ozma would understand the circumstances.

Gules' company find Roundabout and meet Robin, Merry, and Roundelay, who is recognized as a peddler who had been seen in Halidom. Sure enough, the people talk about "the shining symbol" of Roundabout, which Gules realizes must be one of the circlets. Roundelay has put at the top of a winding staircase, protected by a machine that would make retrieval impossible for anyone climbing it. But the Flittermouse proves "the humblest" by flying up and getting it himself. The extra strength allows them to escape Roundabout and return to Halidom in the valley of Pax-on-Argent.

It is discovered that Sir Greves worked with Roundelay to steal the second circlet, and for that crime, he must be banished. The third circlet, it is discovered, was the ring that Robin pulled that brought him to Oz. It just looked brass.

Ozma arrives on the scene, congratulating Gules on completing his quest, and since Sir Greves is sorry for his action, he is made king of Roundabout, since he's a round fellow himself. (He helped steal the circlet in return for a delicious recipe that will help Roundabout.) And rather than be sent home, Robin is allowed to stay in Oz, while Merry is now content to be a live merry go round horse rather than a real one.

As I said, a lot of the McGraws' new touches to Oz feel European and British and a little out of place for an Oz story. A lot of the story is reminiscent of Thompson's stories. Merry's desire to be a real horse eventually turning into contentment with her current state brings to mind Benny in The Giant Horse of Oz. The plot itself reminds us a little of The Hungry Tiger of Oz, though the plot feels tighter than that book. (Eloise mentioned that she got an angry letter from an Oz fan practically accusing her of plagiarism from that book and Rinkitink in Oz. She commented that while she did see the similarity with Hungry Tiger, it was not intentional and that with a long-running series, it was bound to happen.)

All together, Merry Go Round in Oz is a very fun book that is easy to like, but it doesn't feel extremely Ozzy with all the European influence. Yes, Thompson was guilty of such as well, and even Baum had some traditional style kingdoms in his stories. But here, there is not enough Ozzy wit and magic in Halidom and the neighboring kingdom of Troth to make it work, unlike in Thompson and Baum. (As it turns out, Lauren was an Anglophile at the time and couldn't resist adding these touches to her favorite fairyland.)

Merry Go Round in Oz was the last new Oz book published by Reilly & Lee, who were, at the time, now part of the Henry Regnery Company. Soon, the Reilly & Lee line was restricted to Oz books and they relinquished their rights to be the only ones publishing new Oz books, allowing other literary works to come about.

Reilly & Lee is still around, in a sense, though they don't publish Oz books anymore or go by that name. In the 1980s, they had become Contemporary Books, and are now part of McGraw-Hill. (As a personal aside, when I was studying for my GED, I was pleasantly surprised to see one of the books I was studying from was published by Contemporary Books. That tells you how much they've changed.)

So, that is the story of how what fans now call "The Famous Forty," "The Official Oz Books," or "The Canon" came to be.

But since you've been following along with these blogs, you know that the author's last Famous Forty book was never their last Oz work. Merry Go Round in Oz, while being the last Famous Forty book, was the only such book to be published after the International Wizard of Oz Club was founded. There was now a dedicated fan base who thoroughly enjoyed this new Oz story and sent the new authors many letters thanking them for it. They were even invited to conventions, and seeing the love for Oz and their own work, you may very well guess that Eloise and Lauren soon felt the urge to write another Oz story!