Friday, September 28, 2012

(Almost) Weekly Update: It's Friday!

I didn't blog last week, but I am back, so don't worry about it.

Anyhoo, After the Wizard will be available at Redbox kiosks on October 23rd. There will be a red carpet screening of the film in Memphis, Tennessee on Saturday, October 27th with star Jordan Van Vranken in attendance. Tickets are $5 and all proceeds will go to the John McCormack Foundation and the Ronald McDonald House. The Facebook page for the event says "this event will sell out, so get your tickets early".

Our friends over at L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has released a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the visual effects in the film. You can watch that below...

Designs for limited edition Oz the Great and Powerful Vinylmation figures were released online recently...

The Wizard & Finley - Photo Courtesy of Vinylmation Kingdom.
Glinda & The China Girl - Photo Courtesy of Vinylmation Kingdom.
Jared and I were recently discussing how Oz the Great and Powerful could affect in-development Oz films such as John Boorman's 3D-animated adaptation, Dark Oz, Wicked, Drew Barrymore's Surrender Dorothy, Oz: The Return to Emerald City, and even Todd McFarlane's Twisted Land of Oz. 

If Oz the Great and Powerful is a huge success like Tim Burton's Alice was a couple years ago, it could very likely get the bigger studios like Warner Bros. interested in developing Oz-related films. If Oz:TG&P bombs like Disney's $200 million John Carter did recently, that could mean that... well, studios won't really be interested in making a movie like that. Feel free to leave your thoughts about it in the comments!

That's it for this week! Enjoy the weekend.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mary Louise

This is one case where I'd read absolutely nothing about the L. Frank Baum book I was about to read. It was great to finally come upon something I had no expectations about.

What kind of got to me while reading Mary Louise is that this is the last series Baum created before his death. Not only was he writing the Oz books up until he died, he was also writing the Mary Louise series under the "Edith Van Dyne" pseudonym.

In my last blog about the Aunt Jane's Nieces series, I mentioned how that series had reached a stopping place (made even more final in the revision), and to keep multiple forms of income going, "Edith Van Dyne" needed a new series.

Thus, back to basics. Reilly & Britton issued the new series as "The Bluebird Books." I can only presume they wanted to keep the options open, which would not be realized until after Baum's death, when the series was continued by Emma Speed Sampson.

Mary Louise opens with the titular character, Mary Louise Burrows (named after Baum's sister, and one may well wonder if the last name beginning with a "B" is not coincidence) at school. She appears to be a very moral girl, and sincerely devoted to her grandfather, who she lives with. However, her grandfather gets word of something and he and Mary Louise's mother suddenly have to leave, and Mary Louise is sent to stay at school.

While discussing arrangements at school, Mary Louise is questioned by a man from the Secret Service: her grandfather is wanted for some crime and he wants to know where her grandfather and mother went. Mary Louise staunchly believes her grandfather is innocent, and refuses to answer any questions; anyway, she doesn't know where they went.

However, word gets out at school and locally that Mary Louise's grandfather is a criminal, and soon, all the schoolgirls make Mary Louise an outcast, simply because they think she has "bad blood" in her. Finally having enough, Mary Louise sells some jewelry for a train ticket to Dorfield and escapes one night, noting that she's being dogged by a mysterious man.

In Dorfield, the man reveals he is, indeed, a detective, Mr. O'Gorman by name, and he was following her. He's concerned because she obviously underestimated the cost of her journey and expected to find her grandfather in Dorfield. However, Mr. O'Gorman pays for her board at a hotel and informs her that her grandfather is not in Dorfield. He does give her his card in case she's in trouble.

Mary Louise goes to stay with her old friends the Conants, who have with them their niece Irene, who is wheelchair-bound. The Conants manage to send a message to Mary Louise's grandfather, who tells her to stay with them.

The Conants and Mary Louise go stay in the country at a friend's summer cabin, where they meet a few colorful characters: the servant boy Bub, who "hates gals" (hmmm...) and the visiting neighbor Agatha Lord, who seems friendly until Irene finds a letter in a box of second-hand books Mr. Conant bought and says it's about Mary Louise's family. Then Agatha begins to act suspiciously. Mary Louise and Irene begin to wonder who they can trust.

A working girl named Sarah Judd pops up, claiming she was hired by the actual owners. However, it becomes clear that there's more to Sarah than meets the eye. (Particularly when she takes a tiny booklet containing a cipher out of her hair...) Unknown to Mary Louise, Agatha and her maid Susan are both working for the Secret Service as well, and they surprisingly say they want to clear Mary Louise's grandfather's name, as they are sure he is innocent. The letter seems to be a key piece of evidence, but Irene attempts to hide it.

Things come to a head when word is sent that Mary Louise's mother has died, and it looks clear that her grandfather will be coming to see her. This is indeed the case, and when he arrives, all three women, Agatha, Susan, and Sarah drop their disguises, and Mr. O'Gorman has arrived as well. Sarah is actually his daughter, Josie, who's training to be in the Secret Service herself.

Since it becomes apparent the letter needs to be exposed, Irene reads it, revealing that Mary Louise's late father turned military secrets over to a foreign country, and when he died, he tasked his wife with completing the task. When she was caught, her father took the blame, causing them to live on the run. Since the letter proves this, and the military secrets are now irrelevant and the government doesn't wish to publicize this case further, all charges against Mary Louise's grandfather are dropped, meaning he can finally live in peace with his granddaughter.

Baum gets to play with espionage, not a wholly new subject for him, but I can't recall government espionage in any of his other books. The mystery of Mary Louise's grandfather is quite the driving point to catch the reader's interest.

The problem is, this comes at a great sacrifice to Mary Louise's personality. While she is a smart, kind, trusting young girl, she is quite the most generic featured female character I've read that Baum created. The most interesting thing she does is managing to get herself out of the school and to Dorfield. She gets showed up by both Irene and Josie, as they prove to be much more interesting characters than herself.

In fact, Eric Shanower spoiled future books for me, saying that Mary Louise in the later books generally winds up calling in Josie, who winds up solving the plot's problem.

Baum wrote five books in all for the series before his death. Three more Mary Louise books were written by Emma Speed Sampson under the "Edith Van Dyne" pseudonym, and then two books were issued as a spin-off Josie O'Gorman series, which Shanower commented was practically giving the series over to its rightful heroine. These Emma Speed Sampson books are really highly priced, so don't expect me to be covering them. Maybe I'll get lucky and pick them up eventually, but for now, I'll be focusing on Baum's series.

So, while Mary Louise started off as an interesting character, she failed to become really interesting in the end. Still, it's a worthwhile story for Baum's characterizations and plots. It's just a pity the main character got skipped when it came to characterization.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Royal Podcast of Oz: Journey Back to Oz

Jared and Sam discuss Filmation's first film, Journey Back to Oz!

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


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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dorothy of Oz Prequel #4

Okay, this mini-series is finally done.

There's really no way to tell about the plot of this without spoiling it, so consider this your spoiler warning:

Heading back to the Emerald City to find a prism for the Rainbow Mover to bring Dorothy back to Oz, the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion are attacked by Winged Monkeys. Meanwhile, Glinda catches up on the current events using the Book of Records (I'm thinking this is a shout-out for book fans, I wouldn't watch for it in the movie), and we see how Dorothy's doing in Kansas.

The story feels insubstantial, and this has been keenly felt throughout the series. Issue #2 was really good, but overall, it doesn't look like Dorothy of Oz really needs a prequel. Especially when you consider that we'll have to wait about a whole year to see this movie.

This series just offers some likely to be unnecessary back story. Issue #2 provided some good action scenes, but the series would have been much better if the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion had tried to confront the Jester, been defeated, escaped back to the Emerald City and used the Rainbow Mover. Which has the worst name ever. (This actually would have been a bit in line with the Russian Magic Land books by Volkov, in which they'd call on Elli and later her sister as a last resort.)

It's nothing against the writer, they likely had to work with what they were given so it'd be in line with the movie, which they definitely couldn't have seen. And I sure won't blame the artists (though I am not a fan of the designs still, I guess I can live with them), since they have to adhere to certain designs. They do great with what they got to do, but overall this series really wasn't impressive.

So... waiting for the movie now...

Monday, September 24, 2012

All-Action Classics: The Wizard of Oz

Another comic book adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz? How many have we had in the past 10 years? This is about the seventh one!

Well, that art looks cool.

Okay, so I caved and bought this adaptation. While we longtime Oz fans and comic collectors may tire of seeing the story done over in the same medium so many times, this one actually shows that there is more than one way to approach it.

Ben Caldwell's approach is not a straightforward approach by any means. Instead of retelling the Baum story or going the Marvel route and closely adapting Baum's dialogue, he instead reworks the story into an action-packed, colorful, funny romp.

Kansas isn't fleshed out much, and rather than showing a stressed relationship between Dorothy and her guardians, it instead shows Dorothy wanting to see more of the world before the Cyclone strikes.

In Oz, after Dorothy sets off down the Yellow Brick Road, things really start kicking into gear as she quickly gains her companions (the Lion keeps trying to eat Toto, Dorothy having to remove him from his mouth—twice). The adventures down the road are markedly different, starting with them finding the Queen of the Field Mice locked in a cage by a Kalidah, who soon appears, prompting the crossing of a gap using a fallen tree. After this escape, they roll into the Poppy Field, which the Lion identifies as the "Poison Poppies." Everyone falls asleep, but are rescued by the mice.

The Emerald City has a big nod to the "Wash and Brush Up" company of the MGM movie, mixing it with the "Green Girl" (later Jellia Jamb) from the book. They are warned that the Wizard may appear in any form, and a panel shows a fairy, a fireball, and a hideous beast, but all the friends are shown to the Wizard at one time, and he uses the Great Head form, which has been accentuated with a big beard this time.

The Wicked Witch of the West is a little similar to how the Good Witch of the North looked: a diminutive, plump lady who'd look funny if she didn't look so wicked. The attacks are done differently: the Scarecrow manages to just scare the crows away, the wolves break off their teeth on the Tin Woodman, and the Lion manages to scare away a bunch of Kalidahs the Witch sends.

While Dorothy slaves away as the Witch asks her for the slippers (explaining that they must be given or found for the magic to work), the Scarecrow's pieces manage to reassemble themselves, and soon the Tin Woodman as well. They head off to rescue Dorothy, but not before Dorothy manages to take care of the Witch herself.

The adaptation takes a page from the film version of The Wiz, having the Winged Monkeys drop Dorothy and her friends off right at the Wizard's palace, so they catch him unprepared.

The Wizard gives Dorothy and her friends placebos for what they wanted, and the Good Witch of the North appears and tells Dorothy how to use the slippers. (Glinda was mentioned in the beginning as being "mostly good.") Dorothy does ask her why she wasn't told before, and the Good Witch tells her that she never would have helped out her friends and the Land of Oz would still be in the thrall of the Wicked Witch. (I think this North Witch is only "mostly good" herself.)

So, Dorothy goes home. The end.

The art is pretty fun and cartoonish. Dorothy herself, I gotta admit, is pretty cute, even with the gap in her teeth. The Tin Woodman looks kind of French, though, and the Lion has a weird bulbous nose that looks like it has the standard nose painted on. The art's pretty pleasing.

Overall, if you're not tired of comics adaptations of Oz, here's a rather faithful one with some fun twists!

Get your copy on

Friday, September 21, 2012

Thanks, blog readers!

After a hard week of advanced Algebra homework, Angelo opted not to blog today. So, I'll step in real quick.

The Kickstarter for L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was successfully funded today, bringing director Clayton Spinney and writer Sean Gates $5,312 (minus whatever Kickstarter claims for using their service) to finish filming the live action elements for their film.

A little over a week ago, I posted a blog encouraging people to contribute, and thanks to the contributors (whether or not my blog spurred them on), they not only got to their goal of $5,000 but also surpassed it!

Angelo's proud that he'll be voicing a couple characters in the movie, so he had a bit of a professional reason to promote this (I auditioned for Mr. Joker, but I couldn't quite get the voice they wanted), so we're all glad to see it funded. We're told Sam made a sizable contribution. Angelo and I are betting we'll see "Executive Producer: Sam Milazzo" in the end credits!

In any case, this success will hopefully get us a really unique Oz movie sooner than later! Thanks, from a fan, to all the contributors. I'm proud of us all.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


I've written about L. Frank Baum's young adult works, and I've mentioned the book Annabel before. It was published in 1906 under the pseudonym Suzanne Metcalf. As you can see, I don't have the original edition (nor the reissue in 1912), but two reprints by Hungry Tiger Press: it was released in Oz-Story #6, and later it was released in a single volume hardcover, containing all the illustrations by H. Putnam Hall and Joseph Pierre Nuyttens (it was newly illustrated for the 1912 edition, and it's a rare case where a Baum book was re-illustrated in his lifetime), as well as new decorations by Eric Shanower.

The Hungry Tiger Press edtion notes that this is Baum's first young adult novel. I'm not sure where this conclusion is from, but I haven't exactly researched the book. It came out the same year as a large batch of other Baum books under his name and pseudonyms: John Dough and the Cherub, Sam Steele's Adventures on Land and Sea, Aunt Jane's Nieces, The Last Egyptian, Daughters of Destiny, The Twinkle Tales series and Aunt Jane's Nieces Abroad. Counting each of the Twinkle Tales separately, that's thirteen books in one year. It's quite possible that Reilly & Britton stockpiled Baum books to release under pseudonyms and Annabel was the first young adult book to be turned in. (I must note that The Last Egyptian was not published by Reilly & Britton.)

You have to remember, Baum was in a unique position. He was a big author and had a lot of ideas for stories, but releasing too many "Baum books" in one year wasn't a good idea (as evidenced by the sales in 1900-1901 for a lot of Baum titles). This new publisher could reprint and issue new editions of older books, but they needed new content as well. Thus, their answer to not be just another reprint company was to issue Baum's books disguised as non-Baum books! Baum's creativity needed an outlet, and Reilly & Britton were only too glad to be that outlet.

So, we come to Annabel, set in the small American town of Bingham. Vegetable boy Will Carden is a friend and chum of the Williams family, but Mrs. Williams doesn't approve of him as a playmate for her children, placing social class above personal traits.

The oddest thing is: Will's father actually helped keep the Williams family rich. Through a strange series of circumstances, Will's father developed a way to make steel easy to use while not affecting its strength, but had to sign his profits over to an Ezra Jordan for money to go to England, except the ship he was on sank, and there were no survivors. Jordan has licensed the method to Mr. Williams, who runs a big steelworks factory. Jordan boards with the Carden family to provide them some income.

Dr. Meigs, the local town physician, takes an interest in Will and helps him expand his business to growing mushrooms in his shed with his disabled brother Egbert (quite possibly one of the most pitiful characters in Baum, and one of the least defined as he is deaf and mute), which quickly takes off and becomes popular, Will planning to make enough to make his family independent of Mr. Jordan so his mother can take it easier.

Will gets back in the good graces of the Williams family when he rescues their daughter Annabel from drowning during ice skating, and while the two form a fast friendship, Dr. Meigs and Mr. Williams begin re-examining the case of Mr. Carden's disappearance. The more they look at it, the more suspicious it becomes. It's clear someone's not being very honest and the Cardens are unwitting victims. What levels has Jordan sunk to, and how can it be cleared up?

Baum effectively depicts an enterprising yet humble young man in Will and Annabel gets to mature after her near-death experience and although they have no idea of the suspicions Dr. Meigs and Mr. Williams have of Jordan, they do prove instrumental in that plot line.

However, that plot line of Jordan's trickery really becomes the main plot line of the book. It's intriguing though, and showed promise for Baum's later works when the young people would move into leading roles in the plots. (You may remember I noted a similar problem in Aunt Jane's Nieces Abroad.) It's not Baum's greatest, but it's definitely one of his better non-fantasy books.

And I really enjoy it, a trademark common for Baum, but really evident here. While Baum might have problems having the most important characters take on the roles they should, his stories are always enjoyable.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Santa Claus in Oz

Here's Richard Capwell's second Oz book, following up from his first book The Red Gorilla of Oz, which I reviewed in August.

In Santa Claus, Capwell expands on concepts introduced in Red Gorilla. For those wondering about the title, yes, Capwell is very aware of Baum's take on Santa Claus and bases his characterization of Claus on The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (the subject of many December blog entries here). However, Santa's reindeer have the classic names from The Night Before Christmas, but then Jack Snow did the same thing.

Santa arrives in Oz to ask Ozma for help. He appears to be dying. The Mantle of Immortality appears to be losing power, and slowly, Santa is beginning to fade into nothingness! Taking Button-Bright (who often gets called Saladin) with him, Santa Claus follows a magic compass and begins to find the homes of the Wicked Witches of Oz where they find clues as to what to do next.

Back in the Emerald City, the Wizard and his new apprentice Iliana (introduced in Red Gorilla), and they find a mysterious clockwork mechanism in the Fountain of Oblivion. Soon, they begin to discover the magic undoing the Mantle of Immortality, and soon discover the identity of the Wicked Witch of the South.

Yes, there is a third Wicked Witch of the South. Eric Shanower had one in The Enchanted Apples of Oz and Rachel Cosgrove Payes brought in the deliciously fiendish Singra in The Wicked Witch of Oz. Eric Shanower commented that these two don't necessarily contradict each other, but I don't think this one exactly fits into that. Thus, I have to think of it as separate from a lot of other Oz canon.

Still, this is no slight to Capwell's story. It's an exciting, fun tale, and quite enjoyable. Capwell apparently has a lot of fun writing Oz, and it shows.

Capwell also illustrates, but there isn't a lot of major illustration. The same style from Red Gorilla is maintained here. Figurines were a plot point in Gorilla, and all characters were shown as figurines in the pictures of that book, which normally featured a picture at the beginning and end of the chapter. Female characters get off nicely by having a skirt so they don't look fat, but male figures look rather chubby. This is especially true of the diminutive Button-Bright. They're charming nonetheless and work well, though it's not my favorite art style for Oz.

Get your copy on

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Royal Podcast of Oz: Paul Miles Schneider

Jared chats with Paul Miles Schneider, author of Silver Shoes and The Powder of Life.

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


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Monday, September 17, 2012

Angelo Invades Chesterton!

This past weekend, my mother and I drove up to Chesterton, Indiana for their annual Wizard of Oz festival.

First, we checked out the Dorothy of Oz booth, where they were selling exclusive jewelry by Timeless Tresor. You had to buy an item from their jewelry line to get into one of the special clip screenings that producer Ryan Carroll hosted every hour.

As we were waiting for the noon screening to start, we stopped by Roger S. Baum's booth and bought the pre-release edition of his new book, The Oz Enigma. His wife, Charlene Baum was at the booth and they were both extremely friendly. He personally autographed everyone's books, which did take a bit for the people in line, but it's an honor to have met him and have an autographed message from him.

After that, we walked around for a bit and ran into Ryan Jay, who I had talked to online several times before. He is a nationally-syndicated film critic from Milwaukee, and is super cool. As some of you who have met me know, I am not typically a talkative person, so I didn't really say much.

I did a little shopping, and we headed over to the Dorothy of Oz screening tent. When we got in there, producer Ryan Carroll and Charley Cullen Walters, who does all of the public relations for the movie, were already talking up the flick and welcoming people. They showed about twenty minutes of various scenes from the movie, followed by a Q&A.

The animation certainly looked cute, and the score sounded really nice, especially in the first scene they showed where Dorothy arrives in Oz. One of the clips featured the song "Work With Me" written by Bryan Adams which was undeniably adorable and catchy. There was even a small appearance during the song by the Sawhorse and the Queen of Field Mice. There were also some genuinely funny moments in the scene where the Jester captures Glinda. Martin Short brings a lot of energy into his performance as the Jester, and Bernadette Peters seems to fit the role of Glinda nicely as well.

Courtesy of Summertime Entertainment. 

When asked about a release date for the film, Mr. Carroll never really gave a definite answer, but I did hear late next summer and 3,000 screens in there. I was charmed by the clips I saw, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we get to see the finished product sooner than later!

After the Q&A, we got something to eat and did more shopping. I bought a couple of things from Celeste Hertz's booth, too. She had a lot of cool items! Oh, yeah, and we saw this at some point...

I passed by John Fricke's booth, but didn't stop to get an autograph because I wasn't really interested  in buying his new Judy Garland book, and didn't want to meet him and then not buy anything. It was super crowded, but I was able to spot a few Oz fans I recognized from Facebook groups and whatnot.

Overall, I had a good time at the festival. I bought some really cool things like a Return to Oz puzzle, the Return to Oz storybook, a Wizard of Oz edition of UNO (because I can), two neat pillows from the iCollectOz booth, the Scholastic edition of The Magic of Oz, a couple of Dorothy of Oz dog tags, the pre-release edition of The Oz Enigma autographed by the author, a festival t-shirt, and a neat bracelet with removable Ozzy charms from Celeste's booth. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Weekly Update: Chesterton and Other Things

Let's get right down to business, shall we? 

As you can tell from the title, I am going to Chesterton, Indiana tomorrow for the Wizard of Oz festival! I'm super excited that I'm going this year, and I will probably be blogging about my experience sometime next week. Hooray! 

Speaking of the festival, Dorothy of Oz producer Ryan Carroll will be showing twenty minutes of the star-studded animated musical this weekend followed by a Q&A. To receive a ticket to one of the special screenings, you have to purchase a piece of limited edition jewelry from the Dorothy of Oz booth. Author Roger S. Baum will be present as well, selling pre-release copies of his latest book The Oz Enigma. 

As Jared talked about earlier this week, L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is hitting the home stretch of their Kickstarter campaign with only seven days left to reach the $5,000 goal. As of this posting, $4,101 has been pledged. I am playing two supporting roles in the film, so it would mean a lot to me if some of you could help us make our goal. The money raised will be used to finish filming the movie this fall. Click here to contribute to the fundraiser!

Everyone have a fantastic weekend! 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Help these guys out!

Okay, Angelo's been mentioning it, but it's getting close to the end of this campaign.

Back when I started Oz blogging in 2005, the focus was a new film adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and possibly sequels. (Yes, "newwwoz" means "New Wonderful Wizard Oz.") While we've shifted gears over the past several years, I'd still very much like to see a faithful film adaptation that not only stays true to the source but also fully embraces the format it's being adapted to.

And lo and behold, it appears to be in the making!

Sean Gates wrote a screenplay based on the book and Clayton Spinney joined with him to direct the film as a fully independent project. Using CGI backgrounds and actual sets (some even on location), live actors, puppets, and digital creatures, the look of Oz will be pieced together in a very distinctive and original style. Dorothy is actually a little girl, the Scarecrow is actually a straw-stuffed man, the Tin Woodman's rigging has been designed to actually work in real life, and Toto is cute! (We've yet to see a proof of concept of the Cowardly Lion, but hopes are high.) Oh, and the Wicked Witch? Well, this one isn't going to be a star on Broadway!

Now, Clayton and Sean want to finish filming the live action elements soon so they can focus on getting the film actually put together, and they've estimated costs to be $5000. To help get this funded, they started a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money. I've already pledged, as have several others, and we are just over $3000. But with less than 10 days left, it's imperative that this is funded so they can actually get the money. With Kickstarter, it's your goal and any surplus or nothing.

It's not like you'll pay for something and that's it. Starting with pledges of $5, you get goodies! $5 will get you a free download of an ebook featuring artwork for the film (some of which has been put online and looks really good!), $10 will actually let you see the movie when it's completed somehow, and $25 will get you a DVD of the finished film! ($35 and up, you get Blu-Ray!) There's other cool rewards for higher contributions as well.

However, if they don't get the rest of the money pledged, they will get nothing, and neither will we, and the production of the film will be delayed even further as we Oz fans wait for an incredible film version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Anyone who can, please contribute!

Forever Young

It's pretty common in various media that characters don't grow any older unless they have some narrative reason to do so. Bart Simpson has been ten years old for twenty-five years now, and he's actually one of the newer ones.

At least L. Frank Baum explained that a lack of aging was part of life in the fairyland of Oz. Ruth Plumly Thompson amended that to no one aging unless they wanted to, but she never specified how someone would go about making the choice. A popular idea is that it's accomplished by making a wish on your birthday, but I always thought that was a little too cutesy.

Regardless, we're left with a lot of children who aren't growing any older, and I have to wonder what that's like. Do they become adults in child bodies, or do they never mature at all? I recall someone (I think it might have been J.L. Bell) posting to an Oz forum that brains tend to grow along with bodies, so a perpetual kid might not even be physically able to mature. Then again, we are talking about a land where animals can speak fluent English. And just because you're physically and mentally a child doesn't mean you can't learn new things, so long-time Ozian children could potentially have a lot of knowledge.

That's kind of how I think of someone like Dorothy or Ozma. They're physically young and still act it in some ways, but they still possess the knowledge that living for decades can give them. And they both have jobs of a sort, since Ozma rules Oz and Dorothy assists her.

Is it common for children to have to take work after living a certain number of years, or are their parents still willing to take care of them? We're never really told, but I have to suspect that many kids in Oz help out with their family's trade, or find work elsewhere. Kimbaloo from The Lost King of Oz, for instance, is a community of working children. Number Nine is physically twelve years old, but he has a job as assistant to the Wizard of Oz, and his older-but-younger sister helps out in Jenny Jump's style shop. Speaking of which, Number Nine and Sister Six are two of fourteen children, something I would imagine is rare in a land where nobody dies. But then, their family is rather odd even for Oz.

Overall, it appears that children in Oz get a pretty good deal, but I suspect some of them want to grow up anyway.

The Brass Watch

Here is the first draft of the first chapter of The Borderlands of Oz, which I later started over from scratch and eventually retitled Outsiders from Oz. For those of you that have already read Outsiders, you can see the big difference here, and for those that haven't read it yet, it does give you an idea of how the story started.
Jellia Jamb swept the floor of the Royal Banquet Hall. The long, ornately decorated room had not been used in a long time, and even though it was in a fairyland, dust would still show up everywhere, and sometimes Jellia was even obliged to politely ask a spider to move elsewhere, having taken up residence in a corner.

Although there had been many royal banquets since Jellia had started to serve in the Palace, back when the Wizard was still ruling Oz, there had been none in the past few months. Ozma would take her meals in the dining room, as did Dorothy and many of the other residents in the Palace. No grand celebrations had been held for awhile, but everyone was still happy and contented, so no one minded much.

Jellia did not mind her tasks, and for someone who had held that position for as long as she had, it was quite a feat that Jellia did not tire of her work. After all, even though she was a servant, she considered Ozma one of her dearest friends, and of course she was fond of Princess Dorothy, as well as the other girls in the palace, Trot and Betsy Bobbin. These three were Ozma's very special friends, all having come from the Great Outside World, from a country called America. Of course Jellia's closest friend was Omby Amby, the tall soldier with the green whiskers, and it might be suspected that the two may have been the Wizard's only confidants while he ruled the Emerald City. Whether that was true or not, Jellia was friends with the Wizard, although the state of his workshop often bothered her. She also liked Cap'n Bill, and the Shaggy Man, and Button-Bright, the young boy who would disappear for sometimes months at a time but always return.

Today, however, Jellia noticed an ornamental cabinet that she had often seen but never paid much attention to. It was made of rosewood, with crystal windows, and inside were kept a few odd treasures. As Jellia looked at this, she realized that the legs of the cabinet placed it about two inches from the floor. She could not remember when she had last cleaned underneath this cabinet, so she moved it in order to sweep up any dust that had collected.

As Jellia did this, she discovered a pocket watch on the floor. She reflected sadly that she may have found it before had she cleaned underneath the cabinet earlier. She picked it up and looked at it. It appeared to be very old and plain. She pressed the catch on the side, and it sprung open. The clock had stopped a long time ago. The watch was very ordinary for a pocket watch. All the numbers were in Roman numerals, and the hands were elegantly formed. In the other side of the watch was inscribed the words, "von Smith."

"Who is von Smith?" wondered Jellia, "And how did his watch come to be here?" She put the watch in her apron pocket and finished sweeping.

After finishing her duties, she went to Ozma's throne room, where she found the girl ruler of Oz playing a game of cards with Dorothy and Button-Bright.

"Hello, Jellia," said Dorothy. "Would you like to join our game?"

"Not just now, Princess," replied the pretty maid. She took the watch out of her pocket and showed it to Ozma. "I found this in the banquet hall."

Button-Bright looked at the watch curiously. "It looks familiar," he said.

Without replying, Jellia pressed the spring that opened it.

"It belongs to a 'von Smith,'" Ozma noted.

Button-Bright's eyes brightened.

"That's it!" he exclaimed. "I brought it to Oz!"

"When did you do that?" asked Dorothy. "I don't remember seeing it."

"Oh, it was back when I first visited Oz," the boy explained. "I was much younger, but I had it with me. I kept it in my pocket." He took it out of Jellia's hands. "It actually stopped working when I dove into the Truth Pond."

"But why didn't you ever show it to me?" asked Dorothy.

"Don't know. You were older than I was then, maybe I didn't think you'd be interested. Anyways, I must have lost it when I was playing with some of the other children at the party."

"And that's how it got under the cabinet," mused Jellia. "I'm sorry I never thought to clean under that cabinet before."

"Do not worry," replied Ozma. "You did not mean to let it slip, so I do not think you were negligent in your duties."

"But where did it come from?" asked Dorothy, "And who is 'von Smith'?"

"I am, I suppose," replied Button-Bright. "I told Trot once that my full name was Saladin Paracelsus de Lambertine Evagne von Smith. The watch belonged to my father, and one day, I took it out to our backyard to play with. I tried to wind it up, but suddenly, I found myself under the tree where you found me, Dorothy, although you didn't show up until much later."

"But wasn't your father cross with you for losing it?" asked Ozma, who was interested in her young friend's story.

"He was," admitted the boy, "but he wasn't too angry. I'd been missing for a few days, and he told me I was worth more than a hundred watches, but he was sorry the watch was gone all the same. He said it had belonged to a great-great-grandfather. Maybe it was the same grandfather who had the Magic Umbrella that took me to Sky Island."

"So, it could be a magic watch?" asked Jellia, who had given the watch to Button-Bright.

"Maybe," replied the boy.

"I would like to know more about this watch," continued Ozma, "especially since it seems to be magical. You may keep it, Button-Bright, as it is yours by right and I trust you. I only ask that you be careful, as you know my feelings about magic in Oz."

"I will, Ozma," he promised, pocketing the watch.

Ozma was thoughtful for awhile.

"I'm going to send you and the Wizard to see Glinda," Ozma decided at last. "They can analyze the watch and discover its magical properties, if any."

"Now, if we can continue our game," said Dorothy, "It's your turn, Ozma."

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Powder of Life

Okay, well, I got the sequel to Silver Shoes. I hadn't read (or bought) either of Paul Miles Schneider's Oz books before The Powder of Life was released. Of course, anyone familiar with the first few Oz books will see that the first book is named after an important item from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz while the second book is named after an important item from The Marvelous Land of Oz.

I reviewed the first book not too long ago in August, and much of my remarks about the author's style are again relevant. Paul writes with an exciting style, making the story fun to read (and considering I wasn't on a bus with nothing to do this time, the times I had to stop were awful because I wanted to know what happened next!), and though there's no pictures, the descriptions are vivid enough so you can use your imagination.

Now, as this is a sequel that picks up right after the first book, there are going to be some spoilers if you've yet to read Silver Shoes.

Donald Gardner and his parents are taken to see the FBI's collection of evidences of other worlds and fairy tales and folklore being true. To a virtual recreation of Oz, to Paul Bunyan's boot, to Cinderella's glass slipper, to the White Rabbit's pocket watch.

The White Rabbit himself has popped up and told Donald he needs the watch back, but Donny can't just take it. Right? And what about Donald's friends Chris and Jon who were among the few who knew about the Silver Shoes?

And in Germany, at an old tavern, an ancient sorcerer from Oz is busy at work making batches of the Powder of Life to create an army to conquer this world. Can his scheme be discovered and stopped in time?

And what about the fact that Oz is real? Are the people in Oz aware of what's been occurring in Donald's world? And if they are, is there any way they could help out?

There are many twists and new developments along the way. Since I already view this as a completely separate continuity from the original Oz books, I have no problem with seeing this story develop independent of Baum's books, but there are a number of chapters that are basically a long love letter to the Oz books, and those really made me practically beam out some smiles!

I said that this picks up right after the first book, so you won't really enjoy this book if you haven't read the first one. But I really recommend them both!

Buy your copy on

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Next "Wizard of Oz" DVD/Blu-Ray Release

Cover of Warner Brother's first DVD release
of The Wizard of Oz (1999)
(Courtesy of Angelo Thomas)
This entry at the New York Post website reads that "Warner Home Video has indicated it will release new restorations of The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind in 2013."

To which collectors of Oz on video might ask, "How are they going to justify another re-release?"

Now, of course, The Wizard of Oz and other popular classic films have tightly-maintained availability for home video. They are intended to be available for a limited time (though the used market ensures that isn't always the case), so the re-release may provide a justifiable upgrade, or a first-time buy for others. Some collectors will even go so far to just buy every available home video edition. (Angelo Thomas and I recently pondered at a collector wanting to transfer his early-release VHS version of The Wizard of Oz to DVD, considering the fact that the film is widely available on DVD.) This is how companies such as Warner Home Video can justify releasing the film again: repeat buyers.

Now, The Wizard of Oz has been been released on DVD and Blu-Ray before. 2005 and 2009 saw multiple editions of the current print they used, but there have been three different prints so far. Each time, the picture was marketed as looking better than ever before. So, the question rises, how can it look better?

Movies like The Wizard of Oz have a problem in that their crew is no longer living. The creative team cannot oversee a restoration and say "this is how I want the film to look." That same article uses Steven Spielberg's guiding in restoring Jaws for Blu-Ray as an example. Victor Fleming and Mervyn LeRoy are sadly just no longer around to make sure this movie looks how they want it to look. While Warner can make it look how they want, there is no one alive who can actually say, "This is the definitive look for this movie!" Much the same argument can be used against creating a 3D version.

That article also notes Jeff Baker's response to a question about converting classic films like The Wizard of Oz to 3D: "We are testing many films while watching consumer demand from theatrical exhibition to the home on 3D. Conversion costs from 2D to 3D are quite high ($4 to $5 million). Until they come down further, it will continue to be a deterrent in our converting library films from 3D."

It's worth noting that 2013 is not the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, that date would be 2014. Factors for a new home video release in 2013 include Warner Brother's 90th anniversary and wanting to release high-profile films from their library, even if they didn't make those films. For Oz itself, it may be timed around the release of Disney's Oz: The Great and Powerful, so Warner might be choosing to strike while interest in Oz is high. (Fans also hope that Disney uses this opportunity to treat Return to Oz to Blu-Ray.)

Could it be possible that Warner will present a 3D version of The Wizard of Oz for the 75th Anniversary? We'll see. I'm not keen on it myself, personally.

People have noted a glitch in the 2009 Blu-Ray version of The Wizard of Oz with a freezing frame as Glinda leaves Munchkinland. Others noted some strands of hair had gotten on the print during the final scenes and can be seen on the frames and should have been digitally removed. Others feel the colors don't really look right. So, in the opinion of some video fans, there is room for improvement.

Sam and I mentioned in our podcast about the Meglin Kiddies Land of Oz that it was rumored (and at one point even on the official website) that that film would join the other pre-1939 Oz films on the 2009 release. We speculated that they may have chosen to hold it back for the next home video release. I've also noted that the 2009 versions of The Patchwork Girl of Oz and The Magic Cloak of Oz were rather lazily placed on the disc, with unedited transfers of the film (you can actually see the ragged start and end of the first and last reel) with no score. A little extra effort would be appreciated on these next time. (It would also be incredible if these early films had been treated to a high definition transfer, but that might be too cost-prohibitive.)

One other improvement when it comes to non-MGM films included with the set that could happen is The Dreamer of Oz. Warner Brothers used a very shabby print on their 2009 release. People with VHS versions, either taped from TV or the Australian rental tape, have noted it looks worse than their tapes. I'm also not sure why subtitles were not available in English, another element that could be rectified.

As for new content, there are a number of Oz documentaries that have been produced over the years that could be included. (The latest being The Origins of Oz.) Really, unless they have a featurette about Judy Garland (the only lead cast member who wasn't profiled), I am at a complete loss over what is a "must-add" feature. It's been suggested that perhaps the missing deleted scenes could be animated, though that's rather unlikely.

Well, we'll see what Warner Brothers has in store, no matter what their plans are. If the word of a 2013 re-release is completely accurate, I'm sure they'll be releasing a press release eventually. There's room for improvement from the 2009 set, so we'll see how they rise to the challenge.

I do wonder how they'll title it. "Ultimate Collector's Edition" has already been used. That's a rather impressive title.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Weekly Update: Lots O' Stuff!

Happy Friday!

Dorothy and the Lost Girls has released a poster of sorts on their official Facebook page, which you can see to the left. The film will serve as a sequel to Dorothy and the Witches of Oz, with Leigh Scott returning as director. 

There will be a Dorothy and the Witches of Oz screening tomorrow at the Kansas City Urban Film Festival. For more information on the festival, click here.

The teaser trailer for Summertime Entertainment's Dorothy of Oz has been released online, which you can watch below. 

There will be a special screening of  the independent film After the Wizard in Memphis, Tennessee on Saturday, October 27th. Proceeds from ticket sales will go to the John McCormack Foundation and the Memphis Ronald McDonald House. For all the latest information on this event, visit the Facebook page here.

L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is going strong with their Kickstarter campaign, with over $2,000 pledged of their $5,000 goal as of this posting. They've released a new little clip, which you can watch below.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Two Ways To Wiz

Original Cast Recording
Since the advent of recorded sound, recordings of music have proved to be a popular item. Oz has been musical since the 1903 musical extravaganza, and since then, there have been recordings of Oz-inspired music available for sale.

In this entry, I'm looking at the score for The Wiz. Back in 1973, radio DJ Ken Harper had the idea to do an adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz with an all-black cast. It soon became a reality on stage with soulful songs by Charlie Smalls, sung by Stephanie Mills, Hinton Battles, Tiger Haynes, Ted Ross, Andre De Shields, Clarice Taylor, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Mabel King.

This cast recorded the first album for The Wiz: the original cast recording, which offered a special keepsake for the musical as well as a way for people to enjoy the songs without going to see the show.

This album was designed to work as a pop music album as well. It opens with a special prologue featuring a chorus singing "Ease On Down The Road" before moving into Tasha Thomas' heartfelt and soulful "The Feeling We Once Had."

No other tracks lead into each other. The only instrumental from the musical retained on the album is the stirring Tornado theme. Next up is Clarice Taylor leading a bouncy and jazzy "He's The Wizard!"

Track 5 gives us Stephanie Mills' first solo song "Soon As I Get Home," which she sings rather movingly as she sets down the yellow brick road. Next up is the soulful "I Was Born The Day Before Yesterday," sung by Hinton Battle, in which the Scarecrow sings about his creation and his determination to not just be a sack of straw on a pole.

Track 7 gives us the album's full version of "Ease On Down The Road." While it's placed chronologically where it first occurs in the musical, it is a combination of all versions of the song as performed in the musical, so instead of three versions, you get one "ultimate" version. It's rather jazzy and energetic, featuring the main cast of Stephanie, Hinton, Tiger Haynes, and Ted Ross.

Track 8 presents the lively "Slide Some Oil To Me" sung by Tiger, while Ted gets to sing very impressively next in "I'm A Mean Ole Lion." Stephanie takes over in the next track, singing "Be A Lion," being joined by Ted at the end, making for one of the more sensitive and moving songs on the album.

Track 11 gives us Andre De Shields' first song "So You Wanted To See The Wizard," where he gets to effectively portray the Great and Terrible Wizard. Almost in a stark contrast, Tiger sings again in the next track in a moving song titled "What Would I Do If I Could Feel."

Track 13 gives us the sole song for Mabel King, as she sings the Wicked Witch's song "Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News," which has a fun, energetic gospel vibe to it.

Next is Luther Vandross' song "Everybody Rejoice!" which is decidedly joyful as the Winkies celebrate the death of the Witch. This is definitely one of the high points of the musical.

Andre returns with "Y'All Got It!" in which he energetically encourages the people of Oz to govern themselves as he takes his leave.

Again opting to have one version of each main song on the album, Andre's version of "If You Believe" has been dropped in favor of Dee Dee Bridgewater's version that she sings to Dorothy as Glinda. Finally, Stephanie Mills closes out the album with an amazing rendition of her signature song "Home."

While the album works well, a number of songs and instrumentals from the musical were dropped. The album gets the main ones, sure enough, but a few of the more minor ones get the axe. "Who Do You Think You Are?" (sung by Dorothy and her friends when they see the Wizard out of his disguise), Andre's "If You Believe," and Dee Dee's "A Rested Body Is A Rested Mind" unfortunately were not preserved on the album.

Soundtrack album
The other album at hand is the soundtrack for the movie adaptation. The film was released in 1978 and sadly decided to not adapt the musical, but re-adapt Baum's book and use the musical's songs. Stephanie Mills, Hinton Battle, Tiger Haynes, Clarice Taylor, Andre De Shields, and Dee Dee Bridgewater were replaced by Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Thelma Carpenter, Richard Pryor, and Lena Horne, respectively.

This has been referred to as a "kitchen sink" album, meaning that no track has been excised, and the album encompasses two discs. Spanning 26 tracks, the songs and score for the film are represented. In addition, elements of dialogue are lifted from the film to tell the story.

Does this make it better than the Original Cast Recording? It may be a matter of opinion, but I think the arrangements in the Broadway album are much better at representing the songs as they were originally intended. Diana Ross, in her songs and screen presence, is unable to sell the adult Dorothy with her problems of being a confident adult. This isn't to say that she's bad. Unfortunately, to sell this idea, additional songs were written for Diana to sing.

The first of the new songs comes right after "The Feeling That We Have," which has been altered to contrast Dorothy's well-adjusted family to her own personal problems. It's titled simply "Can I Go On," but its presence has managed to take some of the soul from an excellent opening song and on its own, it's not a very good or memorable song at all.

I'll skip over the instrumental tracks, mainly as they are original and tailored for the film by Quincy Jones. The next song is "He's The Wizard," and it has definitely lost a lot of its energy in this outing. Thelma Carpenter's voice is a bit rougher than Clarice's, and admittedly, she's not bad, but the music arrangement is what kills it here. Where the original felt bouncy, this feels like falling down flat. The song also runs longer than it does on the Original Cast album, and it feels like it runs far too long.

Diana Ross sings "Soon As I Get Home," but where Stephanie was calm and brave, Diana is quiet and sad. This is, of course, because of how the character was redeveloped for the movie, but comparing the two already shows this is a change for the worse. There is a huge difference between a character who is a teenage girl setting out alone on her own alone and a grown woman pondering how to start her journey about to break into tears.

Stephanie 1, Diana 0.

Next up is Michael Jackson's sole solo "You Can't Win." The song was originally dropped from the musical and was going to be sung in the Witch's castle. I assume that "I Was Born The Day Before Yesterday" was just too soulful for the talent of the soon-to-be King of Pop. The problem is that the song is whiny. Jackson doesn't get to show off much of a vocal range, but he sings the song well. Frankly, it hardly serves the same purpose as the song on the original cast album. It's not a really bad song, but moving it from the Witch's Castle to the Scarecrow's song doesn't complement his character.

Next is the first version of "Ease On Down The Road," featuring Michael and Diana, and to be honest, they put a lot of energy into this one! It manages to be decidedly different from the original cast recording, though longer. As we're looking at the album, not the film, I'll have to say I do like this version.

"Ease On Down The Road" is reprised twice on the first disc with Nipsey Russell and Ted Ross joining in. However, they add little to it, especially as the song is not played to its fullest potential as it is the first time.

Now we come to the two songs by the Tin Man, which have been placed into the scene in which Dorothy and the Scarecrow meet him. The big problem here is that Nipsey Russell was not a singer: he was more of a comedian. One may well wonder why Motown didn't select someone else to sing the songs and have Nipsey lip-synch to them (as he was probably doing to his own songs anyway) instead of speak with the music. So, his renditions of "What Would I Do If I Could Feel?" and "Slide Some Oil To Me" pale in comparison to Tiger Haynes' original. This is also why he adds very little to the first reprise of "Ease On Down The Road." In fact, he may actually be detracting from it.

Ted Ross reprises his original cast role in "I'm A Mean Ole Lion," but aside from the music arrangement, there's not much difference in his performance in the two different versions of the song. And though he doesn't add much to "Ease On Down The Road" in its final reprise, he definitely doesn't detract. His additional vocals are actually much better than Nipsey's addition in the last version.

The second disc opens with "Be A Lion," and admittedly, Diana does do a great job, though I prefer Stephanie's more soulful version.

The next song is not from the musical, and is an overlong and unnecessary piece. It's called "Emerald City Sequence," and is sung by the many people outside of the Wizard's tower. The subject: it's the big fashion to wear green and they're all doing it, so they all fit in. Then the voice of the Wizard, Richard Pryor, changes it to red, then after a reprise about them singing how that's the fashion, he changes it to gold. Um... Why did we need this? Is this some sort of social commentary that just didn't age well?

There's also a track called "So You Wanted To See The Wizard," but it's audio from the scene instead of a song because Richard Pryor didn't sing. (Why, oh, why did they cast two people who didn't sing in the main cast in a musical?) It also includes audio from later in the film where they catch him outside of his giant head, which is a rather puzzling and unnecessary touch.

Next up is a song deleted from the film, "Is This What Feeling Gets?" sung by Diana. It's a touching piece, but it's easy to see why it was dropped. There was enough of a dour tone already and no need to drag it on. However, it is quite a bit better than "Can I Go On," in that it's actually memorable.

Mabel King brings back much energy with her "Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News," which has more of a southern church revival feel to it's gospel-like tone. I won't say it's really better, but it's definitely a lively piece on its own. I'm very glad they got her for the film, because no one else could have done this song justice.

Next is "A Brand New Day," which runs for almost eight minutes. There are additional pieces of music added by Quincy Jones and more of a lead from Dorothy, which make it quite a bit more jubliant and triumphant, but we must remember that now the Witch's slaves are not given a voice as they were on the original cast album. So, while this version is more stirring, when it comes to it, I prefer the original cast version overall as it was the song of the people Dorothy has freed rather than her own freedom.

Now comes the first version of "Believe In Yourself," which was sung by the Wiz in the stage version, but as the guy playing him didn't sing, this time, it's given to Diana Ross as she tells her friends they had what they wanted all along. Diana's performance is finally shining here.

Next is Glinda's version of "Believe In Yourself" but sung by Lena Horne. Lena has a great voice, but for some reason, Dee Dee Bridgewater was able to bring a voice much better fitting the character of Glinda. (Lena's added "Whoo! Yeah! Yeah!" doesn't help, either.)

Wrapping up the album is Diana Ross' take on "Home." Her Dorothy is far too gentle compared to Stephanie Mills' moving performance. Diana's not bad, but I think the original was better. (You can clearly hear Diana inhaling while she sings.)

For those that collect Oz music, I'd say both albums have enough pluses to justify adding them to your collection, whether you collect music on vinyl or CD. (Or both.) But if you're wanting an album to represent what The Wiz should be, then definitely go for the original cast album. The music arrangement is not as grand as the film's soundtrack, but this better showcases how these songs were originally meant to be heard. Sure, the Original Cast Recording drops a few songs, but it's not like the film included them!

Buy the Original Cast Recording
Buy the Movie Soundtrack

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Beginnings: A New Novel Set In Oz

 I found this book at the Winkie Convention this year for $3. I'd never heard of it, but the price was cheap, so why not give it a look?

From the back cover, I deduced that it was a prequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but it wasn't until yesterday that I actually gave the back cover a good look. So many grammatical errors. (Scan below: click to see it yourself.)

I know the publisher's name: iUniverse also publishes Paul Miles Schneider's Silver Shoes and Powder of Life, but how could they also turn this out? Turns out, yes, they are a platform for self-publishing.

The back cover clued me off that the writer was more familiar with the MGM film than with the original books, and upon reading it, yes, a Wizard rules Oz in these days before Dorothy. There is no mention of lines of kings named Oz or queens named Ozma, nor of Pastoria.

The story is supposed to show how Oz became what it was when Dorothy arrived, and we've seen this before. We've had the book and musical Wicked, Donald Abbott's books about the Wizard's life in Oz before Dorothy arrived, "Oz and the Three Witches" by Hugh Pendexter III, Lion of Oz and the Badge of Courage by Roger S. Baum (and its animated movie adaptation), and next year Disney is presenting a similar story in Oz: The Great and Powerful.

I, of course, can't judge the latter, but what made all of those prequels work (even if some weren't that good) is something that Beginnings sorely lacks: character development or well-defined characters. In this book, characters are introduced then quickly told about. The book itself is under 100 pages, so one can barely expect it to get any better. There's also developments with Dorothy showing that her trip to Oz wasn't just a fluke. A big item setting it apart from the books (even The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) is that Dorothy isn't an orphan here. Her parents left her with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry while going to take care of some business.

There's no real plot, just a bunch of vignettes put together. Considering all the other prequels actually have a plot, this one just feels inexcusable. I can't get on him too much, though. This reminds me of some of my earliest fan writings, which I'm glad to say I never published and never will. There's many offenses to English teachers as well in the text. So much that it actually makes the story difficult to follow. When you have a gap between paragraphs in a book, this usually indicates a time lapse or going to another scene. In this book, it often happens in the same scene and it took me awhile to realize that this was going on. I consider myself pretty well-read, so if this is throwing me off, this is pretty bad.

The back cover says the writer majored in computer graphics and art design. Well, I'll give him that the cover looks very nice. Guess he skipped English classes, though...

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Sam Steele's Adventures: The Pearls of Faytan

And here is the final book in the Boy Fortune Hunters series. Never again did Baum write any more adventures for Sam Steele. Or anyone else. This is the shortest long-running series Baum wrote. Oz practically didn't end, Aunt Jane's Nieces went until the publishers and author felt it had reached a logical conclusion, and Mary Louise was even continued after Baum's death.

Let's take into consideration when The Boy Fortune Hunters in the South Seas was published: 1911. This is when Baum had attempted to practically start over fresh without Oz. He started three new series that year and decided to continue with Aunt Jane's Nieces. Probably because that series had a very wide scope. For whatever reason, Baum decided to conclude The Boy Fortune Hunters in 1911 as well.

I begin to suspect that Baum just didn't like writing specifically for boys. You'll notice that all of his fantasy work, despite whether or not a boy or girl led the story, really isn't gender-specific in its audience. Aunt Jane's Nieces, The Flying Girl, The Daring Twins, Annabel, and his adult novels (I haven't yet read Mary Louise) often feature male and female protagonists, making them accessible to all readers. Here, Baum is attempting to reach out to a specifically male audience, and while he does admirably and the stories are very enjoyable, I can't help but think his heart wasn't in it. That may also explain why this was also the shortest in the series.

The Boy Fortune Hunters in the South Seas starts with the Seagull crew in Australia when they are propositioned to sell the Seagull to Senor de Jiminez. Senor has a shipment of weapons to take home to Colombia to aid the revolution he is playing a lead role in. It's illegal for Americans to ship weapons to other countries, which is why the Seagull can't just be hired.

However, the crew doesn't want to part with the ship, since they've invested so much in it. So, Sam makes an offer. They sell it to Senor, sail with him to Colombia, and buy back the Seagull once they drop off the weapons. This way, they are not breaking the law.

Senor has a few extra guests. His wife, his mother, and his son and daughter, the latter of which (to Sam's amazement) Joe becomes smitten with.

... Sam, why do you care so much that Joe is in love with a girl?

A storm at sea breaks the Seagull's rudder and gets it wedged between two rocks near an island. However, Nux and Bryonia recognize the island as Faytan, and realize their own home island of Tuamotu isn't far away. (Huh... In Book Two, they said their island was named Takayoo...) The natives are not friendly, Nux and Bry warn, and will kill any invaders. In fact, this is what happens when Ned Britton and some other men venture to the island.

However, Nux and Bryonia stir Sam's greedy side and tell him of the Faytan pearls and their amazing city. Sam wishes he could see it, when Senor's son Alfonso tells him he can with a biplane he's purchased. Sam and Joe use it to fly over Faytan, but they are forced to land it on the island and before they can launch again, they are captured and brought to the recently-crowned boy king of Faytan, Atterro.

It is, of course, the law in Faytan that all strangers must die, but Sam takes a page from Chick the Cherub and tries to delay the execution by telling Atterro of the outside world to buy time. But will it work? Can Sam and Joe leave Faytan alive? Will the Seagull ever sail again? This is the last book after all...

Sam gets to be his worst when it comes to his ignorance of foreign affairs. The Jiminez family are sure they are famous and their revolution will be talked about all over the world, but Sam blatantly says to their faces that really, Americans don't care. If this revolution is mentioned in an American newspaper, he says, it'll get about an inch of type when it's all over.

Nux and Bryonia's story gets to have a full conclusion here, even though it is a bit off with what they told about their home in the second book in the series. Their story is finally told in full, and these two excellent characters are none the worse for it.

What really gets odd here is the fact that Archie has vanished. We can only assume he's back home with his family after their adventure in Yucatan. However, Baum gets to play up the relationship between Joe and Sam. It's grown so close over the past three books that when Sam realizes Joe likes Lucia de Jiminez and is even being chummy with her, he's surprised and doesn't see why Joe likes her. (Later, she does help out and I suppose Sam will think better of her.) And I suppose it's time to bring up a fan theory that's going around.

Sam Steele might very well be gay and in love with Joe. Joe, however, loves Sam in a completely non-homosexual fashion. Of course, considering the culture, Sam probably doesn't realize this himself. He often remarks about the looks of the men he encounters, often noting when they are handsome. However, he has little to no attraction to any women he encounters, even if he thinks they're pretty. And, in The Boy Fortune Hunters in Yucatan, Sam almost says it in his narration when Ama reveals that she has helped save the day: "I felt like kissing everybody all around—even including Ama and her maidens."

Even Ama and her handmaidens? All the other people besides them are the men and boys Sam's been traveling with. I doubt Baum intended this, but it is a subtext that works very well in the series.

You do have to wonder how Sam ended his days. He appears to be very rich, so I'm sure he could retire on land and live comfortably. But regardless of whether or not Sam was gay, would he ever find someone to spend the rest of his life with? Lucia seems to knock Joe off the table, so, what's that leave Sam with? He's a rich snob with high standards. I find it more likely that Sam remained a bachelor. (The Aunt Jane's Nieces series, on the other hand, assured us that they had all married by the end of the revised last book.)

So, the series overall? It's a series of tales of high adventure and treasure seeking, told from the perspective of an enterprising young American man. Baum writes as well as he can. Early on the series is excellent, but as Baum tried to make the series sell better, his own interest in the series dwindled, though the stories are no less exciting. Definitely check them out.

Monday, September 03, 2012

School Days

Now that we've reached one of the most dreaded periods for children, back-to-school time, I was wondering about schools in Oz. We know that schools exist in the land, as the Woggle-Bug describes being educated in a rural schoolhouse by Professor Nowitall, the most famous scholar in the nation. I get the impression that this was a one-room schoolhouse, as the readers at the time would have known. Most schools in Oz are probably like that, and I doubt all that many children receive extensive educations. There might even be somewhat of a bias against school in Oz, as Ozma herself says of the insect's college, "You see, in this country are a number of youths who do not like to work, and the college is an excellent place for them." We learn later that the students spend pretty much all of their time in athletics, with academics taught by swallowing pills. Are these pills distributed throughout the land, however, or are they only used at the college? Do other institutions of learning operate in the normal way, with teachers and all that? I would imagine so, but the Oz books pay very little attention to this aspect of life. There are many child protagonists, but the native Ozites among them tend not to discuss education. Since a lot of children also don't age beyond childhood, I would imagine that they stop schooling eventually anyway, and instead help out with their parents' trades or strike out on their own. Even the children living in Ozma's palace, who spend much of their time playing games, have some responsibilities in helping to rule Oz. Dorothy went to school in Kansas, but not in Oz, as far as we know.

Are there any other places of higher learning in Oz besides the College of Art and Athletic Perfection? It's never entirely clear. Halidom has a college of heraldry, but I don't think that's a college in the sense that Americans tend to use the term. An Oziana story called "Nero Zeero: Snoz of Oz" also mentions Snoz University in Snozland, a small kingdom in the Winkie Country, but it appears to be only locally known. In The Runaway in Oz, we meet Alexample, a twelve-year-old boy who was rated Talented and Gifted and hence allowed to tend college at a young age. This college is, of course, the Woggle-Bug's school, but Alexample isn't particularly interested in athletics. I know how that is, and I could certainly see it being a problem for Ozites who want to pursue a university education without having to focus on sports. Even in Oz, where you can take a pill to learn a lesson, the educational system has its problems.

Sam Steele's Adventures: The Valley of the Tcha

And onto book... Yes, that is a very different cover design. Back in the day, Hungry Tiger Press was trying to publish the series in a matching set like this. I suppose sales weren't too high (as evidenced by the fact that they still have this one in stock), and the only books published in this format were the last two books. This means only the last five books have been reprinted in standalone format, while the first still remains reprinted recently in Oz-Story #1 only.

In this one, the Seagull crew is taking a break. In fact, Sam's father and Uncle Naboth have advised Sam to stop these adventures, considering how close he's come to death. So, the Seagull isn't sailing for adventure this time.

Adventure comes to the Seagull!

Lt. Paul Allerton and his aide Chaka approach the crew of the Seagull, and tells them how his widowed mother and sister need money to pay off their mortgages and he isn't earning enough in the army to even try it. But he has a plan: Chaka told him of his homeland where his father rules the ancient tribe of the Itzaex. However, not far from there lies a valley completely hidden by a mountain, in which is the city of the Tcha, who decorate everything with gold and gems.

Using special equipment his uncle has devised, Paul plans to break into the Valley of the Tcha and take enough riches to pay off the mortgage and give his family something to live off of. And also pay back the Seagull crew for their trouble and assistance.

The special equipment consists of inflatable suits that, when filled with themlyne (I can't seem to find this gas listed anywhere, so it is possible that it is a Baum creation), allow the wearer to rise into the air. The wearer can even "fly" using fan-like wings attached.

Also, they are equipped with electrites: electric tubes that send a ray that can stun a human unconscious for about two hours. (A footnote notes a real ray that was able to kill a horse from four miles away from about the same time, and that the author disavowed any knowledge of this ray.)

Arriving in Yucatan, the group heads to the Itzaex, and along the way, they have to fight off the enemy tribe of Mopanes, who have killed Chaka's father, making him the new ruler. However, the priests of the Itzaex demand that all accompanying Chaka must die, so they are forced to use the new equipment to make a daring escape from the Itzaex village and head over to the Tcha's mountain.

Breaking into Tcha, they are captured and sentenced to be used for sacrifices. However, the High Priestess (who Sam calls Ama for lack of a proper name, Ama is actually her title) is fascinated by them. Can Sam and his friends exploit her curiosity and earn their safety, or is it curtains for Sam at last? And furthermore, how safe are the Tcha from invasion?

Baum keeps up as typical for the series. An exciting pace with quite a bit of action and intrigue. Reading the series chronologically for the first time, I couldn't help but be reminded of the second book in which curious new technology helps Sam and his friends with dealing with fierce natives who want to kill them. The stories are, of course, different, but Baum's fascination with technology was bound to turn up again considering the number of books he wrote.

Wait... There's also a girl one of our leads falls for... So, there's another similarity to the second book... Huh.

Anyway, I begin to suspect that this wasn't one of Baum's favorite series. Despite his vivid imagination, the stories were beginning to get repetitious. So, is it any wonder that the next book was the shortest in the series and also the last?