Monday, September 23, 2013

Oz in 3D

So, 2013 has presented us twice with Oz movies to see in 3D. And I went to see both in theaters. The first was, of course, Disney's Oz the Great and Powerful, which was filmed with the intention to be shown in 3D. Director Sam Raimi wisely chose not to have a lot of "in your face" 3D moments. Yes, flying baboons fly straight at the viewer, but largely, the 3D added depth to the world of Oz and made it draw viewers in more.

And I don't know if it was certain techniques or beginning the film in black and white and subtle 3D, but the effect didn't bother my eyes. I did not go to bed with a headache.

But in late 2012, Warner Brothers announced that the MGM classic The Wizard of Oz would be restored once again for a 3D version to be released to 3D Blu-Ray. At the time of announcement, I hoped that they would release it for at least a limited release in theaters. Well, only a few months ago, they announced that that would be the case. It would play nationwide in over 300 IMAX theaters. Screening events have been announced for other countries, though they don't seem to have received a lot of press.

Making a 3D version of a classic film has proved controversial to film fans. It is, admittedly, retrofitting an old film for a modern market trend. However, The Wizard of Oz is a visually rich film. Perhaps such a conversion would not be such a bad thing. And in any case, it would not replace the original version, but only be a different way to view it.

Today is the fourth of the seven days that you can go see it at a theater and the day I finally went to see it myself. It was also the first time I've been to an IMAX theater. I was actually the first customer there, arriving before the doors were unlocked. (Six other customers for Oz would follow.)

I've seen the MGM movie on a big screen before, but it was a screen on the smaller end of projection screens, and it seemed to have been a tired, faded film print. While the screen I saw today wasn't a legendary huge IMAX screen, it was definitely bigger than any other screen I'd seen.

Some have noted seeing no film grain on the picture, but I noticed it in its full glory as soon as Judy Garland and Terry appeared onscreen. Most people had thought the 3D conversion would reduce the film grain and make everything look waxy, but it was delightfully not the case. The film looks as great as it ever has, just now in 3D.

A word on film grain: it is very much a good thing. Prior to Blu-Ray, you didn't really see film grain at home due to low resolution on very much every home video format. High definition, however, can show the fine details of a film transfer. The image is in the film grain, because that is what makes up the image on the film. The Wizard of Oz was shot on film and in Technicolor and should look that way. Film grain can be removed digitally, but the result looks glossed and unnatural.

Rather than try to make the 3D really pop out of the screen, the people behind the conversion wisely just broke the image into layers, accurately spacing them apart to give the properly-spaced illusion of depth. Even the matte paintings that turned the empty space of the MGM studios into the spectacular Land of Oz were broken into 3D landscapes. This is a case where less is more.

The depth shown allows viewers to recognize more detail (though the huge IMAX screen and a 4k film transfer definitely help as well) in the film. For the first time, I noticed that when we first see the Winkie guards, two of them are beating drums and one is sounding a pair of cymbals. However, we only hear the drums on the soundtrack. Sharon Ray notices that Dorothy curls Toto's hair at the Wash and Brush Up Company. And that's definitely a bird and not a suicidal Munchkin! Who knows what else has been eluding us all this time?

After Thursday, the only way to see The Wizard of Oz in 3D will be in the new 3D Blu-Ray. And since the last time I posted about it, some new details have come to light about this release and its four home video editions.

Codes for a Ultraviolet version of the movie will be available with some if not all editions. Ultraviolet is a service that allows you to stream movies to TVs, computers, and mobile devices for free through certain vendors, including my favorite Vudu. (Disney titles are not available on Ultraviolet, but Oz the Great and Powerful and Return to Oz can be purchased on Vudu, so you could watch all three in a marathon.)

The DVD edition is a single disc version and will probably be very similar to the first disc of the 2009 DVD editions. Possibly features from that version will be dropped to make room for the new 1-hour documentary about the making of the movie.

If you still haven't gone to Blu-Ray or don't want the new 3D version or just want to see that new documentary, this is likely the one to pick up.

It is unknown if the Ultraviolet version will definitely be included with this one, though I'd be surprised if it didn't.
The Blu-Ray standalone release is also a one-disc affair this time around. Early reports say that this is a re-authored version of the first disc of the 2009 Blu-Ray editions with the new documentary added.

The drop of the second disc from the 2009 Blu-Ray sets is a little sad, meaning that if you want that disc, you have to hunt for one of those or go for the "big box" edition.

It also hasn't been confirmed if the Ultraviolet copy will be included on this.

The 3D Blu-Ray copy is a 2-disc version, featuring the 3D version on a disc and the above Blu-Ray standalone disc is one case. This will also be available from Best Buy in a steelbook case. Other retailer exclusive editions have been confirmed, but will only differ in packaging, not content.

Early photos of this edition confirm that the Ultraviolet code will be included here.

This year's "big box" edition contains five discs: the 3D Blu-Ray, the standalone Blu-Ray, a third Blu-Ray of special features re-released from the 2009 sets, the standalone DVD, and the dual-sided DVD of the documentary MGM: When the Lion Roars. Personally, I would have liked it better if they had put this on a Blu-Ray with some new bonus features. (I'm already suggesting that next time
they dig up wraparounds that were used for early TV broadcasts.) Also, you get the Ultraviolet code. The discs will come housed in a standard case, meaning that you can take it out, put it on the shelf with your other normally-packaged Blu-Rays and put the big box into storage.

The 1999 deluxe release of the DVD came with a reproduction of the movie's script. The 2005 Collector's 3-disc edition DVD came with reproduction 1939 Kodachome photos, a premiere ticket and program, MGM studio news and the Photoplay Studies guide, and a card showing tiny images of 1939 posters. The 2009 Ultimate Collector's Edition came with a watch in a tin, a 52 page book by John Fricke, and reproductions of the film's budget and campaign book.
Photos courtesy of Zachary Ryan Allen
This new edition will not have any reproductions. It comes with a hardcover journal and a hardcover book that shows the timeline of the film's production, most likely profusely illustrated. It also has a map of Oz, a "sparkle globe" (think snowglobe with only glitter inside) that features the Ruby Slippers on the top and a set of pins showing a diploma, heart watch and courage badge. These contents are confirmed by people who received the sets early at the premiere of the 3D version. Publicity pictures have proved confusing, with Amazon featuring an exclusive Wicked Witch of the East flash drive if you buy it from them and the official Facebook page showing a picture that showed a soundtrack CD included. If the soundtrack CD is a retailer exclusive, I don't know who it's from.

So, head on out and take in the classic MGM film in 3D while you can, decide if you want to take it home on 3D Blu-Ray, even if you don't have a set up yet.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Review: 'The Wizard of Oz' in IMAX 3-D

Last night, I watched The Wizard of Oz on a huge IMAX screen and in 3-D. As soon as the opening credits began, it was clear that this was going to be a very different experience than watching it in my bedroom on Blu-ray.

The movie has never looked better. It looks so much clearer and sharper than any other version of the movie I've seen. You can see every Munchkin's face, you can see every sequin on Dorothy's shoes, and you can see amazing texture on the Scarecrow's face, the Lion's hair, and even Dorothy's dress. It's incredible to be able to watch the movie and be able to see every detail.

I was very skeptical about the 3-D going into it. The movie is 75 years old. Most new movies that are converted in 3-D don't even look good (i.e. this year's Man of Steel). I am very happy to say though, that the 3-D here is stunning. All of the flat, painted backdrops have been given depth and volume, giving us an effect similar to a pop-up book. The first shot we see of the Emerald City is beautiful in 3-D, and the transition from sepia into color is much more effective in 3-D. The Wicked Witch was also much scarier with the added dimension. The scene where she appears in the roof and threatens the trio is more intense. She looks like she is right in your face and her hand is so close it could touch you.

I noticed a lot of things watching this version of the movie that I've never noticed before, like a lot of the Munchkins aren't enthusiastic at all and look like they're about to fall asleep, just waving their hands left and right pretending to sing. It was much more obvious that the Scarecrow isn't moving his mouth at all when he meets Dorothy for the first time, and yes, it was much clearer that there is no hanging munchkin and that it's just a bird wandering around in the background! I heard a few whispers from the people behind me when that scene came along.

The Wizard of Oz in IMAX 3-D is the definitive way to experience the classic, so if you have the opportunity to see it this way, see it! It's pure magic.

Get tickets here.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

American Fairy Tales: From Rip Van Winkle to the Rootabaga Stories

I happened to come across this compilation years ago while looking through audio books at the library, being surprised to find an audio book that had the title of a book by L. Frank Baum. While I enjoyed listening to the audio book, I have finally picked up a copy of the print book.

This book is a compilation of American-penned fantasy stories. The subtitle is very accurate: the first story is Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle" and the last one is Carl Sandburg's "How They Broke Away to Go to the Rootabaga Country."

Editor Neil Philip notes in his afterword that when researching the collection, many people remarked that there was no such thing as an American fairy tale. But we Oz fans can of course counter that Oz is quite the American fairy tale. But this collection presents seven fairy stories of American origin before representing Baum with "The Glass Dog" (from his own American Fairy Tales). Philip is quite well-researched and this might prove quite the book for anyone wanting to start to put Oz into the proper context of the canon of American-penned fantasy.

Kicking it off is "Rip Van Winkle," the famous tale of how a hen-pecked husband went hunting and had a supernatural encounter with some odd dwarf-like men who play nine pins. The titular Rip fall asleep after trying their liquor and re-awakens to discover that twenty years have passed, leaving him to spend the rest of his life as an amiable old man.

Next is "Feathertop" by Nathaniel Hawthorne. This one may have had served some inspiration to L. Frank Baum as it involves an old witch named Mother Rigby (possibly inspiring Mombi both in character and in name) who makes a scarecrow made of sticks with a pumpkin for a head. She decides to cause the neighborhood some mischief by bringing him to life with her pipe. In quite the opposite of his famous Ozian descendents, Feathertop discovers that he can't mix with humanity. I find "Feathertop" to be quite enjoyable to read or listen to.

Horace E. Scudder is represented with "The Rich Man's Place." While not exactly magical, it tells of a lavish home of a rich man who lets people and animals explore the grounds. We eavesdrop on conversations between some fancy-shaped trees, some chickens, and a poor couple who have something better than wealth.

The otherwise unidentified "M. S. B." appears to represent the obscure gems from St. Nicholas magazine with a fanciful tale titled "What They Did Not Do on the Birthday of Jacob Abbot B., Familiarly Called Snibbuggledyboozledom." It's exactly what it says it is: an account of what did not happen one day.

Frank Stockton's "The Bee-man of Orn" appears next as a junior sorcerer detects that a man who lives with bees has been transformed. The Bee-man goes to discover his true form, and finds that his transformation is a rather familiar one.

Familiar names from American literature begin to turn up again with Howard Pyle, famous for his collected version of Robin Hood, presenting a very traditional tale "The Apple of Contentment." A mother prefers her two other daughters over Christine, but when she's given a gift from a little man, they begin to envy her. She gets a little seed that grows into a tree that bears apples that only she can pick that provide whatever she needs. When a passing prince wants the apple, it looks like a happy ending is in store.

Little Women's Louisa May Alcott's "Rosy's Journey" comes next, telling of how a girl whose mother died is helped along to find her gold-mining father by a series of her helping animals and them helping her in return.

Next up is Baum's "The Glass Dog," in which an accomplished wizard barters for a glass dog to keep unwelcome visitors away from his home in a typical American city. (Readers of Outsiders from Oz, I did reference this story.) The glass-blower decides to give his cure-all to a rich girl in exchange for her hand in marriage, but she doesn't really like him and is willing to play a few tricks to keep him away. However, he's got a few tricks of his own that he can play.

Laura E. Richards' "The Golden Windows" kindly speaks of contentment as a little boy goes to see the house on a hill he can spot every night that has golden windows.

Next up is Ruth Plumly Thompson's own tale "The Princess Who Could Not Dance," which had been previously collected in The Princess of Cozytown. As I said when I reviewed that volume: "The story tells of the princess Dianidra, who cannot find it in herself to dance. After getting fed up with dancing masters and leaving the palace, she meets a good fairy who teaches her the secret of dancing. It is one of Thompson's more beautiful tales." Philip notes that Thompson may have become a much more famous fantasy writer had she not taken up the Oz series.

Will Bradley's "The Lad and Luck's House" takes a rather odd way of telling the tale. Thanks to some help from us common American folk at the urging of a little fairy, a poor young lad is able to save a princess and later win her hand. It begins as distinctly American then turns a little more traditional a third in. It's an odd way of telling the story, but quite enjoyable.

Finally, Carl Sandburg's "How They Broke Away to Go to the Rootabaga Country" tells of how a father named Gimme the Ax and his children Please Gimme and Ax Me No Questions decide to leave for a very different country indeed. Sandburg plays in just enough nonsense to make quite a whimsical tale. (This is also the only story in the book that required permission for reprinting.)

So, whether you want to sample some of America's fine fairy tales or want to get a larger idea of how Oz fits into American folklore, I'd suggest checking out Philip's collection of tales. If nothing else, Michael McCurdy's lovely illustrations are a delight to see.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Little heads up...

The Royal Shop of Oz will be closing.

For a couple years, I've had an Amazon Astore to link you to places to buy books, DVDs and the like. In return, I get a tiny fee per transaction that eventually build up that I consider reimbursement for paying for the domain name of the Royal Website of Oz and hosting the podcast.

However, I also live in Missouri, which has introduced laws putting new taxes on internet income. As such, Amazon is withdrawing us from the program. I presume I could still link you to items on their site, and I don't see why they'd close my Astore, but I have a better suggestion...

Why not use my friend Eric Gjovaag's shop instead? His listings are more comprehensive and frankly, he does a better job of keeping it up to date.

And Christmas is coming in a few months. If you have other Oz fans (or people who should be Oz fans) on your shopping list, it might be a good time to get started!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

No, I haven't just read this famous Oz-themed piece of literature. I read Wicked at least ten years ago and really didn't care for it. It was an Oz that was pretty blatantly anti-Oz: no joy, little magic, and the beloved Glinda and Wizard are by no means what they seemed. Whereas the Good Witch of the North in Baum's book says that Oz has never been civilized, the Oz by Gregory Maguire has been, complete with colleges, mints, shops, railroads, and corruption.

However, much later, I thought that I should probably re-read the book. I was in my late teens then. Now I'm closer to thirty. Well, not long ago, needing a book to read on the way to work, I spotted my copy (it's a paperback, but I've been trying to find a hardcover with the same cover design to match my copies of the rest of the series) and decided to give it its much needed re-read.

First off, I do not recommend anyone under 18 read Wicked. I've heard of people younger than that reading the book, but the book contains profanity, some nicely written sex scenes, and plenty of suggestive themes. Frankly, kids, there's stuff in here you probably shouldn't know about yet.

The concept of Wicked is not to tell "the real story of The Wizard of Oz" or be a prequel to Baum's book (though Maguire cleverly uses elements from Baum's book not in the famous film version, which there's plenty of references to). The book was released in 1996, when Baum's tale had been in the public consciousness for 96 years and had become firmly part of American folklore. Instead of providing the whimsical adventure fairy tale of Dorothy's quest, it is a reinvention of the original Oz story based around the grim reality of the life of Elphaba Thropp, a girl born with green skin who grows up to become the mysterious Witch of the West.

Elphaba was born in Munchkinland, but after her parents befriend a Quadling (who might be the father of her armless sister Nessarose), the family moves to his home country. The story jumps ahead years later to find Elphaba attending Shiz University in the Gillikin Country where she learns from Doctor Dillamond, a Goat (a capital letter denotes the difference between non-speaking animals and talking Animals), who gets her interested in freedom and equal protection for Animals as Oz citizens. She rooms with Galinda Arduenna Upland, a girl from high society who will one day be known as Glinda the Good. After some terrible events at Shiz, Elphaba and Glinda go to the Emerald City to see the Wizard.

Elphaba decides she has to go rogue and she becomes a mysterious figure, though during her life in the Emerald City, she has a physical relationship with Fiyero Tigelaar, a married man and former classmate. After a failed assassination attempt, Elphaba becomes a nun after a lost year in her memory, where she discovers herself joined by a boy named Liir. Having been in every other part of Oz, Elphaba goes west, where she begins building the image of the Wicked Witch of the West and begins to discover a few secrets of the framework of Oz's current government, magic, and even her own life.

Maguire doesn't call Elphaba a Witch until about two-thirds through the book. It's not until very late in the book that she is finally the Wicked Witch of the West. A big part of the book is the perception of Good and Evil. Elphaba doesn't consider herself good, and it's true: she does some rather awful things in the course of the book. Yet, by getting under her green skin, Maguire lets us see a broken woman who never had the best life and in the end just wanted to be at peace. She isn't good, but is she truly evil? Writing at a slow, leisurely pace, Maguire draws the reader into an odd version of Oz that mashes together Baum's original book with iconic images from the classic film.

I most like Maguire's original characters. When I first read the book, I imagined Liir as one of those creepy wide-eyed kids from a horror movie, but after the sequels, I found myself liking his character much more and he seemed more natural, though there is definitely something not quite right with this kid. Another favorite is Nanny, Elphaba's nursemaid who helped her mother shortly after her birth, then again with Nessarose, even accompanying her to Shiz, serving as her Ama. Nanny is an old woman at the start of Wicked. She's around at the end of Out of Oz. She gets older and older and is simply a hoot to read.

The Oz depicted in Wicked and its sequels is very different from Baum's original. Again, it must be remembered that Maguire (though very aware of the later books: references to the line of Ozmas and "Lurlina" are made) is not playing in Baum's Oz. Again, this is a reinvention of what has become American folklore. This Oz contains religions (one scene finds a young man seemingly sacrificed by being strapped to a Tiger, he is seriously ill after this and dies years later), a hard government with military force, occult magic, and a very different take on some of our beloved characters, particularly the Wizard. (Maguire seems to have no love for Toto, either.)

Wicked is not for everyone. Some outrightly despise it. Some unabashedly love it. Some appreciate it, but prefer other versions of Oz. Others are confused as to the vast differences between the book and its popular musical adaptation. As for me, I'm glad I gave the book another chance. I certainly enjoyed it much more with a more seasoned mind. It will never be my Oz, but I can appreciate it for what it is.

Friday, September 13, 2013


So, I have five comics to go over this time, but they're from three series.

Best first: The Emerald City of Oz #3 from Marvel Comics. The highly condensed 5 issue adaptation continues with Guph's visit to the Phanfasms and Dorothy's visits to Fuddlecumjig, Utensia and Bunbury. (The Zebra and Crab have been dropped.) I begin to wonder how the remaining thirteen chapters will fit into the final two issues. I suspect the final pages of #4 or the first pages of #5 will have Dorothy visiting the Tin Woodman and discovering the bad news about the Nome King. Skottie continues his whimsical comical style and Eric stays faithful to Baum's text.

 Grimm Fairy Tales Presents: Oz #1 & 2 from Zenescope Entertainment. So, I wound up getting the first two issues of this series that features many cover variants for each issue. Each with overly-sexualized versions of the Witches and Dorothy. My selection was based on what was available.

This series is part of Zenescope's "Grimm Fairy Tales" line which has already presented similarly reimagined
versions of fairy tales and Wonderland. This line reinvents the Wizard of Oz story, but it doesn't seem to really be based on Baum's books. A map at the end of issue 1 shows "the Northern Territories of Oz," featuring five regions: the northern Kingdom of Zine, featuring the Emerald Mountains and the Emerald City, the central "Conquered Zone," the eastern Land of Ak (I doub, the western Skarab featuring the Haunted Forest, and the southern land of Bogg (Munchkin Land), featuring the Yellow Brick Road. Oz seems to be surrounded by the Infinite Sea.

A young woman named Dorothy lives in Kansas with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, and she soon adopts a large wolf-like dog she names Toto. However, a woman comes to claim Toto, but when he growls at her, Uncle Henry decides not to surrender the dog to her. It becomes quite clear that she's a witch. So, soon a tornado sends the house (Dorothy and Toto included) to Oz. After arriving, Dorothy is attacked by the Witch of the East, who Dorothy—with the sudden help of a strange tool—is able to vanquish. Stranded in Oz, Glinda, "a Good Witch of the North," advises Dorothy to see a mage who might be able to open up a portal between worlds.

The reinvented plot is admittedly rather tired even in issue 2 of 6 (thank goodness it's a limited series) for someone who's seen a lot of reinvented versions of Oz. But I guess I'll stick through to see how it plays out. A lot of Oz fans view Oz as an innocent environment and the menacing and sexualized look probably won't appeal to many of them. (The sexualizing certainly doesn't appeal to the large number of gay men in that demographic.) But seeing that Zenescope has been running awhile, I suppose they have their audience. I'd guess most of who are reading are reading to see the reinvention of the story.

 The Steam Engines of Oz, Free Comic Book Day issue (#0) and #1 by Arcana Entertainment. Surprisingly, this series kicked off its story with a Free Comic Book Day issue, which they also make available for a free download (this is a direct link to a large PDF, click wisely). Although I couldn't go to FCBD (and I doubt they'd have Arcana's offering), I was able to purchase a copy from my usual online comic seller.

An original pick-up from the original Wizard of Oz, we meet Victoria, an Emerald City engineer for the now Steam Punk-ized Oz ruled by the metal hand of the Tin Man who is doing quite the wrong things mistakenly believing that he's doing the right thing. Winged Monkeys take Victoria to meet a mysterious mystic woman who tells Victoria to make the Tin Man stop his spread of machinery over Oz. Victoria heads out to do so, making quite a bit of headway in issue #1. Overall, I'm looking forward to seeing how this version continues.

Now where's the next issue of The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West?

'The Wizard of Oz' In IMAX 3-D News & Four New 'Oz'-Inspired TV Shows in Development

It's been awhile since I've blogged!

First, if you didn't know already, The Wizard of Oz is returning to 300 IMAX theaters in the U.S. & Canada next Friday... in 3-D! Find out if a theater near you will be playing the movie here.

The 3-D version of the film opened in a handful of theaters in Australia last weekend, and though it didn't perform at the box office, we now have an idea of what this version of the film is like thanks to a few reviews... 

"It actually improved the viewing experience, particularly in the monochrome sections making the Kansas storm even more threatening. The academic format has been wisely retained." -John Bale, The Blurb Magazine 

"Fortunately, this 3-D transfer is tasteful and subtle and simply immerses audiences into the film a little more, rather than reaching out and throttling them as some 3-D movies try to do." -The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly Film Show 

"The 3-D gives the film a little extra pop in places, but much like other conversions, it falls into the background after a while, likely to be all but forgotten by the time we get our first technicolour glimpse of Munchkinland." -Jonathon Natsis, Film Ink

You can watch a neat featurette on how the 75-year old film was restored and then converted to 3-D here.

In other news, four separate TV shows inspired by Oz are now in development at The CW, NBC, CBS and Syfy. The CW's show is called Dorothy Must Die, and paints Dorothy as an evil fascist ruler who stirs up an underground movement to rid her of her crown. NBC's show is called Emerald City, and is described as a dark reimagining of the Oz books. CBS' show is called Dorothy, and is said to be a medical drama set in modern-day New York. Syfy's show is a post-apocalyptic mini-series called Warriors of Oz, to be directed by Timur Bekmambetov. 

But, fans of ABC's fantasy drama Once Upon A Time shouldn't be discouraged by all of this news, because show creators Adam Horrowitz and Eddy Kitsis have revealed that they still hope to incorporate Oz into their show in the future. Read about more that here.

It's certainly been hinted at that Oz does exist within the same world as Once Upon A Time. In the show's pilot, Henry flips through his storybook, and we can see that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is certainly there.

And we know from an episode in the first season that there is an accessible way to get to Oz...

That's it for this week! Check back next Friday night for my review of The Wizard of Oz: An IMAX 3-D Experience.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Characters of Oz — Kaliko

As Roquat the Nome King waited for Ozma's company to try his guessing game, he proved hospitable, providing refreshments and even allowing them to stay the night. But during this, the company met the Chief Steward:
This Nome was not unlike the others that Dorothy had seen, but he wore a heavy gold chain around his neck to show that he was the Chief Steward of the Nome King, and he assumed an air of much importance, and even told his majesty not to eat too much cake late at night, or he would be ill.
Later, he chides Roquat for playing around with Ozma's company, leading the Nome King to reveal the key for deciphering the transformations, which a present but hiding Billina heard.

I am rather surprised that Baum hadn't planned the Chief Steward's story from Ozma of Oz, considering what he says to Roquat:
"Have your own way, since you are the King," he growled.  "But if you come to grief through your carelessness, remember that I told you so. If I wore the magic belt which enables you to work all your transformations, and gives you so much other power, I am sure I would make a much wiser and better King than you are."
Later in Ozma, he helps clean egg off of Roquat's face and notes that the Magic Belt is gone after Dorothy took it.

I generally assume that the Chief Steward reappears in The Emerald City of Oz, still serving the angry Roquat, and now named Kaliko. Nathan DeHoff, however, reminds us that by Emerald City, Roquat had few reservations about disposing of his staff. However, John R. Neill's Chief Steward and Kaliko in later books look rather similar (except for Rinkitink in Oz). Also, the characterization of the characters isn't incompatible. Kaliko will still stick up for himself and advise when he will, but the Steward was much more defiant. Considering that Roquat has become more violent by Emerald City, perhaps Kaliko has adjusted his habits so as not to be disposed of. Thus, to me, Kaliko appeared back in Ozma of Oz.
"Fetch my pipe!" yelled the King.

"Your pipe is already here, your Majesty," replied Kaliko.

"Then get my tobacco!" roared the King.

"The tobacco is in your pipe, your Majesty," returned the Steward.

"Then bring a live coal from the furnace!" commanded the King.

"The tobacco is lighted, and your Majesty is already smoking your pipe," answered the Steward.

"Why, so I am!" said the King, who had forgotten this fact; "but you are very rude to remind me of it."

"I am a lowborn, miserable villain," declared the Chief Steward, humbly.
Kaliko serves a small role in Emerald City, but it is he who tells the Nome King that to retrieve the Magic Belt, he will have to go to Oz. He also refuses a promotion to General, saying "Because I'm your Chief Steward and know nothing of warfare... I manage all the affairs of your kingdom better than you could yourself, and you'll never find another Steward as good as I am. But there are a hundred Nomes better fitted to command your army, and your Generals get thrown away so often that I have no desire to be one of them." (Extra credence to my theory of Kaliko calming down.) Presumably, after the mind-wiped Roquat returns, it was Kaliko who was really keeping the Nome Kingdom under control.

Kaliko reappears in the Little Wizard Story "Tik-Tok and the Nome King." After Ruggedo smashes Tik-Tok to bits, Kaliko actually disobeys the King who told him to throw away the remains of Tik-Tok. Instead, Kaliko repairs Tik-Tok in his spare time, thus saving a beloved Oz character and sparing the Nome Kingdom of the wrath of Ozma of Oz.

In Tik-Tok of Oz, Kaliko plays a more major role. He tries to advise Ruggedo against acting foolishly, advice that goes ignored. He even begins looking for other work. When Ruggedo orders Betsy and Hank thrown into the Slimy Caves, Kaliko takes them to his private room. When Quox dethrones Ruggedo, Kaliko is given the throne, and promises to be a much better king than Ruggedo.

Until Rinkitink in Oz. Behind the scenes, we know that Baum wrote the first version of Rinkitink about 1905, and the Nome King who works with the villains of that book is actually a prototype of Roquat, and in revising the book, he becomes Kaliko, though the character is pretty much just a name swap of Roquat. But this is the Royal History of Oz, so somehow, the power went to Kaliko's head (and he had a headache), so he agreed to hold King Kitticut and Queen Garee of Pingaree captive, a promise he holds even when Inga and Rinkitink face down all of his traps and even when Dorothy tells him that King Gos and Queen Cor were dead now. But then she shows him some eggs, and everyone gets to go home.

After Rinkitink, Baum didn't return to the Nome Kingdom. Thompson largely left it alone. In The Hungry Tiger of Oz, Kaliko actually has one of the rubies of Rash which Carter Green takes back for Reddy. He tries to stop the party's escape, but the worst damage he does is making Carter Green's corn ears pop, which are eventually replaced. In The Gnome King of Oz, Ruggedo briefly re-takes the throne of the Nome Kingdom, but he leaves to conquer Oz where he's defeated, so Kaliko resumes his duty. Finally, in The Wishing Horse of Oz, he promises to help Dorothy fight Skamperoo if she can get another army to help out, and he gives her some magic tools that prove useful, though he'd actually prefer not to get involved and that Ozma stays missing.

The Nome Kingdom and Kaliko make their final Famous Forty appearance in Neill's Lucky Bucky in Oz, in which—with some help from Number Nine—Lucky Bucky takes the throne from Kaliko, but he soon leaves, letting Kaliko resume his reign.

I can't recall many instances of Kaliko outside of the Famous Forty. K. Kline wrote Kaliko in Oz, which had the new Nome King go onto his own adventure. Sherwood Smith's Trouble Under Oz features Ruggedo's son Rik wanting to take the throne of the Nome Kingdom, and as soon as he gets there, Kaliko lets him have it to teach the boy an important lesson. Finally, Kim McFarland's A Refugee in Oz has Ruggedo return to the Nome Kingdom, where he conquers Kaliko, but fortunately, the people from Oz soon defeat him again and restore Kaliko. A more amiable Kaliko appeared in the round robin tale The Ruby Ring of Oz which can be found online. At the close of the story, Ozma finally makes peace with the Nome Kingdom.

So, Kaliko seems a decent enough King for the Nomes, as long as he's left alone to rule them. Heavy is the head that wears a crown, and seemingly after getting one, Kaliko's head got quite heavy. But I'd like to think that not so deep down, the same outspoken, friendly and wise Nome is still there.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Shanowerthon! Closing

Eric Shanower at the
2013 Winkie Convention
In the past several blogs in this series (though we did take an almost two-year break), I've looked at Eric Shanower's work for Oz, focusing on his new Oz stories. (To see them all, click on the "Eric Shanower" tag at the end of this blog or in the tag list over to the right.)

However, Eric has had one of the most insane careers for any modern Oz writer/artist. In addition to the illustration jobs I've mentioned, he's also produced a lot of artwork for the International Wizard of Oz Club to use for Christmas Cards and the like, as well as programs for many Oz events and conventions. The 2011 and 2013 program books for the Winkie Convention had new Shanower artwork for their front covers.

In 2008, Marvel Comics began their series of Oz adaptations with Eric on board as writer, faithfully adapting Baum's text and giving instruction to artist Skottie Young as to what is going on in each panel. When Eric was aware that Baum had expanded on his stories later (excerpts from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz appeared in L. Frank Baum's Juvenile Speaker with some rewriting, including bits of new dialogue), he wove them into the original story seamlessly. Dialogue from Baum's own adaptations of his works help fill the background in The Marvelous Land of Oz, and The Road to Oz even has a cheeky quote from the MGM film The Wizard of Oz rushed in. (When I noted it to Eric, he told me it was added after he'd seen Skottie's art.) The most notable change Eric made was slightly restructuring Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz to avoid the highly criticized deus ex machina. It is almost as if Eric gives Baum the writer's position and just serves as editor. Currently, a more or less compressed five-issue adaptation of The Emerald City of Oz is being printed by Marvel. It may or may not be the last of the Marvel adaptations.

After becoming the new publisher for his Oz graphic novels, IDW wisely got Eric to provide cover art for their comic book miniseries that served as a prequel for what was then the Dorothy of Oz movie and is now the yet-to-be released Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return. The fact that this re-branding happened should be no slight to IDW or Eric.

Eric has also written several articles about Oz, his work in Oz, and given many presentations at Oz events over the years. He has an informative introduction in the Hungry Tiger Press editions of The Flying Girl and Her Chum. I could go on and on about Eric's work, but he's listed it all on his website in his complete list of credits.

About ten years ago, I remarked to my father that I had met Roger S. Baum (not one of my favorite Oz writers) and wondered if I might ever meet other writers of Oz stories, "like Eric Shanower." He replied that I would probably have to go to where they were. Well, less than ten years afterward, I got to meet Eric at the 2011 Winkie Convention. (I had attended the 2010 convention, but it had coincided with the San Diego Comic Con, and Eric and David Maxine had gone there instead.) I would say that we're friends now. Back when I was modifying Doctor Who action figures into Oz characters, I made one of Flicker and sent it to Eric. He thanked me and let me know that Flicker is part of his Oz collection now. (Given Flicker's tiny size at the end of Ice King, he joked that I'd started doing life size Oz figures.)

In counting Eric's original Oz stories (not including poems but including the short comic stories and the very short "The Two Peters"), the count comes to twenty-two. There are his five graphic novels, one prose novel, five short comic stories (only one of which is also drawn by him), and eleven short stories, several of which have been collected into a book. And don't forget that he's illustrated stories by all of the Royal Historians, including Oz books by Baum, Rachel Cosgrove Payes, Eloise McGraw, and even polishing John R. Neill's last Oz book for publication.

I'm not alone in saying that I'd like to see new Oz stories by Eric, and surely I'd like to see sequels or follow-ups to The Blue Witch of Oz and "Abby," but Eric has said that he doesn't really have the drive to do such an Oz story at the moment. Perhaps one day he will. But if he doesn't, I've decided that considering the body of Oz work he's already done, we should be happy with what we do have.

So, to Eric and his wonderful Oz work over the many years, I'd like to say a big "Thank you!"

Friday, September 06, 2013

Shanowerthon! Trot of Oz

Oz-Story 6 contained a long Oz story by Eric Shanower and San Francisco poet Glenn Ingersoll. The editor's notes by David Maxine explain the story's origins:
In 1982, Glenn Ingersoll and Eric Shanower began writing Trot of Oz, a new "Trot and Cap'n Bill" book. Glenn wrote the first chapter, Eric the second, Glenn the third and so on. They would only set two rules: each chapter would end with a cliffhanger, and there would be no stupid little countries. There was no outline, no discussion, the story simply came to life. It is incredibly seamless considering how it was written. The characterizations are true and consistent, and the pace is fast and addictive. So join tiny Trot and the Cap'n as they discover the secret of the Multiplying Overcoat. Eric Shanower has supplied illustration more than a decade since the story was completed in 1988.
The story finds Trot and Cap'n Bill boating on Lake Quad, when they are surprised by the sea monster Quaddle, who tells them that a group of people underwater need a champion, so he takes Trot and Cap'n Bill to find them.

What they find is a country of mushroom people (not the same type as in "Dorothy and the Mushroom Queen," if they are related at all, these are definitely another race). A recent lakequake has destroyed their Shroom City. The Shroom people need to start rebuilding, but the despot imprisons Trot and Cap'n Bill as Quaddle runs away, being easily distracted.

A wicked Shroom named Rottug switches Cap'n Bill's body with a stel's (a different type of mushroom people), then switches himself into Cap'n Bill's body so he can use five fingers to take the Multiplying Overcoat, an object which is sacred to the Shroom people, though some don't believe in it anymore. Soon, an army of Cap'n Bills swarms over the ruined city, conquering what's left of it. Trot and two Shrooms named Musharoo and Shruvm escape to the Land of the Multiplying Overcoat where they learn what they must do in an all or nothing attempt to defeat Rottug, which will mean many endings for the Shrooms and Shroom City, but new beginnings as well.

So, can Trot and her Shroom friends defeat Rottug? Will Cap'n Bill get his body back? Will Quaddle stop running around?

I agree with David on the story's consistency. It barely feels as if it is two writers switching between chapters, though once you have that in mind, you can spot where they drop challenges for each other. Also, yes, Trot and Cap'n Bill (the only traditional Oz characters in the story) are excellently in character. The pace is indeed exciting and the reader will be loathe to put it down if they need to stop reading to attend to another matter.

So, congratulations to Glenn and Eric on this collaborative effort. It is quite well done. Perhaps one day it will be reprinted in book form. Until then, it's one of the many things worth tracking down Oz-Story 6 for.

Well, we're about at the end of the Shanowerthon here. But we're not quite done yet!

The Characters of Oz — Roquat/Ruggedo

Where did the Nome King come from? Where did he get his Magic Belt? Why did he commission Smith and Tinker to make a giant with a hammer to keep people away from his caverns? (Was it to keep away bill collectors?) Was he the same Gnome King who voted for Santa Claus to obtain immortality?

These questions are never addressed in the Famous Forty Oz books. Instead, Baum introduces him as the primary villain of Ozma of Oz.

The Scarecrow briefly mentions that the Nome King is called "King Roquat of the Rocks," and Ozma explains a little about him:
"He is said to be the Ruler of the Underground World, and commands the rocks and all that the rocks contain.  Under his rule are many thousands of the Nomes, who are queerly shaped but powerful sprites that labor at the furnaces and forges of their king, making gold and silver and other metals which they conceal in the crevices of the rocks, so that those living upon the earth's surface can only find them with great difficulty.  Also they make diamonds and rubies and emeralds, which they hide in the ground; so that the kingdom of the Nomes is wonderfully rich, and all we have of precious stones and silver and gold is what we take from the earth and rocks where the Nome King has hidden them."
Ozma is setting out to reclaim the Royal Family of Ev from Roquat and restore them to their kingdom. Although she recognizes the validity of King Evoldo giving him family to Roquat for a wasted long life, she decides that it would be best if they were restored.

However, the Nome King proved to be unlike what she expected. In fact, Dorothy right away declares that he looks just like Santa Claus, only he isn't the right color.
This important monarch of the Underground World was a little fat man clothed in gray-brown garments that were the exact color of the rock throne in which he was seated.  His bushy hair and flowing beard were also colored like the rocks, and so was his face.  He wore no crown of any sort, and his only ornament was a broad, jewel-studded belt that encircled his fat little body.  As for his features, they seemed kindly and good humored, and his eyes were turned merrily upon his visitors as Ozma and Dorothy stood before him with their followers ranged in close order behind them.
Roquat seems amiable enough but he refuses to just hand over the Royal Family, and when he reveals his massive army to Ozma, his sense of cunning comes into the forefront when he offers to let Ozma and her company try a guessing game. Each person may enter his ornament rooms to guess which ornament is an enchanted person. If all their guesses (one per enchanted person) prove wrong, they will be turned into an ornament. Ozma agreed, but soon realized that the Nome King had scores of ornaments. Ozma, her army, the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow and Tik-Tok all failed to guess correctly. Only by sheer luck did Dorothy manage to save a prince of Ev and herself.
Billina managed to save the day when she heard Roquat's chief steward (who we find out later is named Kaliko) chide him for wasting time with Ozma and her company. She heard Roquat say that the enchanted people are color-coded and are the only ornaments of those colors in his collection: the Royal Family is purple, Ozma and her army are green, and the Scarecrow and Tik-Tok are gold. Using an egg, she manages to get herself into the guessing game and rescue everyone.

Roquat was furious at this turn of events and set his army to attack Ozma and her company, but due to some bumbling by Omby Amby and the Scarecrow using some of Billina's eggs, the Nomes had to withdraw, allowing Dorothy to capture the Nome King's magic belt that he used to do magic with. After using the belt to leave the Nome Kingdom, Dorothy gave the belt to Ozma.

Now deprived of his magic (and Dorothy also stopped his mechanical giant with a hammer), Roquat remained in his kingdom, the bitterness of his defeat poisoning his mind. And soon, he began to desire revenge.

Eventually, Roquat got the idea from one of his Nomes to tunnel to the Land of Oz to take revenge on Ozma. Promoting a Nome named Guph to General, it was decided to tunnel all the way to the Emerald City and recruit allies for assistance and to lead the way. Roquat had this done, but Ozma (with help from the Scarecrow) surprised them by making the tunnel dusty, making them all thirsty, so that when they came up, they immediately drank from the Fountain of Oblivion and forgot everything they knew. (It must be clarified that only Roquat and Guph drank. The remaining Nomes were waiting in the tunnel.)

Although Ozma told Roquat his name before sending him back to his kingdom, he forgot it and took the named Ruggedo. (This was no error to Baum, as there is actually a footnote in Tik-Tok of Oz explaining why he needed a new name. However, it may be a Reilly & Britton editor instead of Baum writing it.)

It turned out that Ozma had possibly made a mistake by sending the Nome King back home right away. Although Ruggedo's mind had been wiped, his Nomes apparently reminded him of his bad ways, and he became even worse than before, becoming more brutal and short-tempered. The first from Oz to witness this was Tik-Tok, who went to Ruggedo for new parts and was broken into pieces by the King's scepter. Luckily, Kaliko rebuilt Tik-Tok and he was soon sent home with gifts for Ozma.

Maybe it was long-lasting effects of the Water of Oblivion, but Ruggedo did not seem to learn from his mistakes. When he found Tik-Tok later in the Land of Ev, sent to assist the Shaggy Man, he threw the Clockwork Man down a well. Finding that Tik-Tok and the Shaggy Man had joined with Queen Ann and her army of conquest, he played a number of tricks on them, assisted by his magician, the Long-Eared Hearer, and Kaliko at the Magic Spyglass, who warned Ruggedo to take care. Kaliko's words were ignored and Ruggedo made the biggest mistake of his career as King of the Nomes: throwing the entire invading company down the Hollow Tube to the great fairyland where Tititi-Hoochoo reigned.

Tititi-Hoochoo, the great Jinjin, had warned Ruggedo not to use the Hollow Tube, and now that he had been defied, it was time for Ruggedo's punishment: the victims of the Tube would be sent to the Nome Kingdom by riding a dragon named Quox, him serving as an instrument of vengeance. Fighting the Nome army and even defeating some transformations by Ruggedo, eventually, Ruggedo was stripped of what magic power and knowledge he had just by looking at Quox's ribbon and scared off by some eggs. Ruggedo was no longer the Nome King, and Kaliko (who had proved friendly to Betsy Bobbin) was made his successor. Kaliko, however, offered Ruggedo refuge in the Nome Kingdom. (After he miserably failed in carrying off gems from the Metal Forest and assisted in disenchanting the Shaggy Man's brother, who he'd captured and enchanted before.)

However, when Baum next featured Ruggedo in The Magic of Oz, he was now exiled from the Nome Kingdom, though he told Kiki Aru that he abdicated. Apparently, he had stirred up some sort of trouble in the Nome Kingdom, making Kaliko give him the boot!

Ruggedo told Kiki many things that weren't quite true. His bitterness at being ousted from his throne and home likely led to self-justification, and he wanted to win Kiki to his side, so he painted himself up to be a "good guy." Learning that Kiki Aru could transform himself and anything he wished, Ruggedo came up with a plan to conquer Oz by going to the Forest of Gugu disguised as fantastic beasts called Li-Mon-Eags, convince the animals that Ozma planned to attack them, and start a revolt against her. The plan nearly worked until the meeting with the animals was interrupted by the arrival of the Wizard and Dorothy. Kiki panicked and transformed almost everyone present into another form, including Ruggedo, who became a goose. Later, the Wizard learned Kiki's magic word and turned Ruggedo and Kiki into nuts.

At the close of The Magic of Oz, Ruggedo and Kiki are restored to their true forms and made to drink of the Water of Oblivion. Ruggedo is allowed to stay in Oz as a wanderer. And that is the last Baum wrote of him.

When Thompson began her second book, Kabumpo in Oz, Ruggedo reappeared, having taken up a life of petty crime under the Emerald City, remembering his old natures and history. He found a box of mixed magic that gave him spiky hair and made him grow into an enormous giant with Ozma's palace on his head. He wandered into Ev, where he was eventually restored to his normal size and made to live on a runaway island.

Later, in The Gnome King of Oz (Thompson, unlike Baum, insisted on spelling "nome" with its traditional "g"), he met Peter Brown and with the boy's help, left the island behind and attempted to conquer Oz again with an invisible cloak. He came very nearly close to capturing Ozma, until Peter silenced him with the Silence Stone. Again, he was dunked in the Water of Oblivion.

In Pirates in Oz, he has managed to leave Oz and become King of the coastline Kingdom of Menankypoo, where the effects of the Silence Stone are removed, and he allies with a mechanical man named Clocker and fierce pirates to take over Oz, which Peter and Pigasus manage to stop at the eleventh hour. Ruggedo is turned into a stone jug.

In Handy Mandy in Oz, the Wizard Wutz breaks Ruggedo's enchantment to help him take over the Emerald City again, but Himself the Elf manages to turn the two into cacti, and this is the last time Ruggedo appeared in the Famous Forty Oz books.

Ruggedo has appeared in many Oz books outside of the Famous Forty, often getting up to some trouble, and usually winds up being mind-wiped, exiled, imprisoned, transformed, killed, destroyed, and occasionally, he reforms.

When I set out to write Outsiders from Oz, I initially didn't intend to include Ruggedo. He wasn't part of the original plan to have the Wizard and Button-Bright visit the valley of Mo, and he wasn't part of the original Ozma plot. But when the Ozma plot went underground, it was almost impossible not to reference the Nomes. Reading Peter Blystone's translation of Alexander Volkov's The Yellow Fog, I decided that I did want to handle the character of Ruggedo, and I wanted to do it in my first Oz book.

In The Yellow Fog, we find Urfin Jus, who had previously been exposed to the Soporific Waters, which temporarily wipe a person's mind, allowing them to learn good habits in the interim. Urfin is treated kindly by the people of the Magic Land and as a result, when he finds temptations to do evil, he refuses. Not only this, but when the Yellow Fog descends, he helps find ways to keep everyone safe from it. A number of Oz fans believe that Urfin owes some of his origins to the Nome King, so getting a bit of inspiration from this book, I went on to add Ruggedo to Ozma's underground experience in my book.

I decided to mainly pick up where Baum had left Ruggedo, though Outsiders does acknowledge Thompson's addition to Oz. When I mentioned this to Eric Gjovaag at the Winkie Convention in 2011, he agreed with my editor and I that given Ruggedo's many, many experiences in the Famous Forty and other books, just having him pop up without his full memory and no explanation as to why he isn't a cactus anymore was actually a better idea than trying to explain it. In this case, it was better to just tell the story than to worry about what is admittedly a rather messy and foggy continuity. Joe Bongiorno's Royal Timeline places Outsiders from Oz between The Magic of Oz and Kabumpo in Oz. It was my intention that it actually takes place long after the Famous Forty Oz books, but if a reader wants to see it differently, they are free to.

I won't spoil Ruggedo's story in Outsiders, but I knew I wanted to do something different with him than have him get angry and try to take over Oz once again. A conscious choice was to call him "Ruggedo" rather than "The Nome King" (as Thompson often did, spelling it "Gnome") since he wasn't the Nome King anymore, though his past as king was actually a plot point.

I do believe I will be using Ruggedo again in a future Oz tale, but it's no wonder why people like Ruggedo. He is a wonderful Oz villain not because he can be so mean, but because anyone could be like him after a bad day. His gripes are sometimes quite relatable! But whether he's grumpy, imprisoned, mind-wiped or actually happy, he's a wonderful character, and let's face it, Oz wouldn't be the same without him.