Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Characters of Oz — Polychrome

After leaving Foxville, Dorothy and her friends made a surprising new acquaintance.
A little girl, radiant and beautiful, shapely as a fairy and exquisitely dressed, was dancing gracefully in the middle of the lonely road, whirling slowly this way and that, her dainty feet twinkling in sprightly fashion. She was clad in flowing, fluffy robes of soft material that reminded Dorothy of woven cobwebs, only it was colored in soft tintings of violet, rose, topaz, olive, azure, and white, mingled together most harmoniously in stripes which melted one into the other with soft blendings. Her hair was like spun gold and flowed around her in a cloud, no strand being fastened or confined by either pin or ornament or ribbon.
Filled with wonder and admiration our friends approached and stood watching this fascinating dance. The girl was no taller than Dorothy, although more slender; nor did she seem any older than our little heroine. 
 They soon discovered that the girl's name was Polychrome, the daughter of the Rainbow. In Baum's universe, the Rainbow appears to be a sentient being or at least, controlled by one. Baum is unclear as to exactly what Polychrome's father is. (Dorothy calls her Polly, but the nickname dropped off in later books.) My guess is that he controls the rainbow, creating arches when the rain finishes. His daughters dance on it, and dressed in their multicolored dresses, create the colors seen.

Polychrome, however, has a tendency to slip off the Rainbow and leave it, getting lost in other lands. And in this case, she happened to be in Dorothy's path, and of course joined the company.

In The Road to Oz, Polychrome doesn't do much, being a lovely dancing companion as the company moves towards Oz. Yet, it is made clear that although she appears to have a human form, she has a different construction. She says she eats "dew drops and mist cakes." When she tries some of the food Dorothy received in Foxville, she only has a sip of tea and a small nibble of cold turkey. Dorothy says that it's about as much as a fly would eat. Polychrome does, however, manage to slap a guardian Scoodler, allowing Dorothy and her friends to escape being made into soup.

After charming Dorothy's friends in Oz and attending Ozma's grand birthday party, Santa Claus told the Rainbow where to find his wayward daughter and Ozma managed to get a rainbow at the end of her celebration without any rain.
With a glad cry the Rainbow's Daughter sprang from her seat and danced along the curve of the bow, mounting gradually upward, while the folds of her gauzy gown whirled and floated around her like a cloud and blended with the colors of the rainbow itself.

"Good-bye, Ozma! Good-bye, Dorothy!" cried a voice they knew belonged to Polychrome; but now the little maiden's form had melted wholly into the rainbow, and their eyes could no longer see her.

Suddenly the end of the rainbow lifted and its colors slowly faded like mist before a breeze.

Polychrome appears next in the "Trot" book Sky Island, Baum explaining that it made sense for her to appear since the adventures in the book take place near her home. Luckily the Rainbow comes near Sky Island when Trot, Cap'n Bill and Button-Bright were about to be pushed over the edge of the island. Polychrome is recognized by Button-Bright and she steps off and has a visit during which she correctly interprets the law of the Pinkies that allows for the protagonists' protection. Furthermore, she points out that their laws state that Trot is now the queen. Since she didn't get lost, she soon returns to the rainbow, and the protagonists see her again on their trip back home.

(I have to link to John Troutman's rendition of Polychrome's role in the book. It is perfect.)

Polychrome had made her stage debut in The Tik-Tok Man of Oz—which was a bit of a mish-mash of the previous Oz books—and so she returned in the "novelization" of the play, Tik-Tok of Oz. Because of this, Polychrome's role is very similar to her role in The Road to Oz: after straying off the Rainbow, she joins the company of heroes and is largely around for the ride. Her own loveliness makes Ruggedo the Nome King decide not to transform her or harm her, but offer to make her his queen. Due to this, she is able to help Quox break some of the Nome King's transformations. Later, it is her kiss that breaks the spell on the Shaggy Man's brother. She also got to spy on Ruggedo sneaking around when he was exiled. Finally, as the Shaggy Man, his brother, Betsy, Hank and Polychrome leave the Nome Kingdom for the surface world, it rains and Polychrome is able to rejoin the Rainbow.

In The Tin Woodman of Oz, the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow and Woot happen upon the castle of Mrs. Yoop, who soon imprisons them and reveals that she has Polychrome captive as well, transformed into a canary. After she transforms them as well, the four manage to escape the castle.

Polychrome is able to perform magic in The Tin Woodman of Oz. In The Road to Oz, this exchange happens:

"Polly, can you do any magic?"

"No dear," answered Polychrome, shaking her dainty head.

"You ought to know SOME magic, being the Rainbow's Daughter," continued Dorothy, earnestly.

"But we who live on the rainbow among the fleecy clouds have no use for magic," replied Polychrome.
But considering her adventures off of the Rainbow, it is entirely possible that Polychrome has learned some magic. From Neill's illustrations, she seems to be a little older in her later appearances than in The Road to Oz. Whether by choice or by necessity or requirement, Polychrome seems to have learned some magic in the interim, possibly to help out further transformations she might encounter, should she spot someone who needs her help or if she should stray from the Rainbow again.

The magic Polychrome has learned cannot affect Yookoohoo magic like Mrs. Yoop's, but it can do other things, such as conjure up food and make Tommy Kwikstep's magically added eighteen legs (and the corns on his toes) disappear. After arriving at Jinjur's Ranch, Ozma is able to restore everyone to their proper forms.

Later, Polychrome uses her magic to repair damage to the Tin Woodman and Captain Fyter, and later still, shrink herself and her companions to a small enough size to creep through a rabbit's tunnel into Nimmee Amee's garden and then restore them to their proper size. She later repeats this on their way out, waiting to restore them because it has begun to rain. Sure enough, after the rain finishes, the Rainbow arrives and Polychrome returns home.
Although it seems Polychrome would be right up Thompson's alley, she only used her twice. First in Grampa in Oz, when the characters get back to earth by the Rainbow after finding the king's head in the clouds, then again in The Purprle Prince of Oz, when Jinnicky, Randy and Kabumpo cross the Rainbow over the Deadly Desert to return to Oz and save Pumperdink. John R. Neill also has her and the Rainbow serve much the same purpose for Davy Jones and Lucky Bucky on their journey to the Emerald City in Lucky Bucky in Oz. (Neill's chapter in which this happens is literally called "Over the Rainbow.")

Readers of the Oz books often like Polychrome's character, and given her dainty and cheerful nature, it's not hard to see why. Baum himself had characters remark on her loveliness. And though some may call it uneven characterization on Baum's part, like Button-Bright, Polychrome actually develops. Aside from her personality and appearance, The only constant of Polychrome's character is that she seems to not be too concerned about getting home again: if her friends can't help her, then she only needs to be where it will rain eventually and wait for the Rainbow to appear.

In The Road to Oz, we have Polychrome, the dancing fairy girl, who knows no magic and is quite friendly. In Sky Island, we have Polychrome, who is still a dancing fairy girl, but is now willing to leave the Rainbow to help people out. In Tik-Tok of Oz, we still have the helpful Polychrome, who (given her next appearance) realizes she needs to learn to help others. This brings us to the Polychrome in The Tin Woodman of Oz, where she has become a powerful fairy by learning some magic. Perhaps after her adventures with the Tin Woodman, she has become more alert and is a little more careful not to slip off the Rainbow so easily.

But still, that's not to say that an accident might not happen or that she might do so willingly someday...
Yes, I know I didn't use any pictures from Tik-Tok of Oz here, but Neill produced so many lovely pictures of Polychrome that the ones I selected from the other Baum books that she appeared in proved plentiful enough for illustrating this blog entry.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

L. Frank Baum biographies

With The Wonderful Wizard of Oz being a popular piece of Americana, of course people have wanted to know more about the life of the man who created it. Jack Snow, to my knowledge, was the first to attempt a Baum biography, though he was unable to complete it. In the back of Who's Who in Oz, he did include a biographical sketch of Baum and the other writers and illustrators of the (then) thirty-nine Oz books. The printed version has Baum's biography span four pages: the longest of the biographies. In its brevity, it shows a few inaccuracies, but that was due to the limited information available at the time.

The first book-length Baum biography was To Please A Child, published in 1961 by Reilly & Lee as part of their attempt to relaunch the Oz series. (This joined picture book versions of the first four Oz books, The Visitors from Oz picture books, and soon Merry-Go-Round in Oz and the White Edition Oz books.) The book was by Frank Joslyn Baum and Russell P. MacFall. However, Frank J. Baum had died during the writing process, leaving MacFall to try to tie what was left together. This led to many inaccuracies in the text and even a few cases of MacFall inventing situations out of whole cloth, including a brief mention of Baum leading a march in support of William Jennings Bryant. I have heard, though I'm unsure of the veracity of the claim, that Frank J. Baum actually didn't have a lot of research resources at hand.

Having heard about the inaccuracies, I had avoided getting To Please A Child for a long time, but when an Oz collector recently offered a nice copy for sale, I decided to go ahead and get it. The book contains many Baum family stories that may or may not be true (in the manner of Baum himself, sometimes the truth isn't such a great story), including the "Affair of the Bismarcks" and the famous origin of the word "Oz" from the filing cabinet. The book is also known for misportraying Maud Baum as a tyrannical mother and wife.

To me, one of the bigger issues was how MacFall offers a chronological life of Baum up until The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was released, then dedicates chapters to the success of the book and the series, breaking the chronological account of Baum's life. The remainder of Baum's life is retold rather simply in a few more chapters. It did, however, offer a few good bits of information: apparently not even ten years after Maud Baum's death, Ozcot was already torn down and an apartment building on its site.

Fortunately, by this time the International Wizard of Oz Club had been formed and was well underway with research of Baum's life and the creation of the Oz series, often finding where To Please A Child had dropped the ball. There have been many Baum biographies over the years, but I shall focus on the three that I've used for reference the most.

One cannot talk about Baum biographies without mentioning Michael Patrick Hearn. While he has yet to publish his critical biography of Baum (I have heard it is finished, they are simply awaiting a good time to release it, though Hearn probably is yet putting finishing touches on it), he did include a nice biography of Baum in his groundbreaking work The Annotated Wizard of Oz. While far from the first serious study of the Oz books, this book offered a reprint of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz with annotations in which Hearn speculates on how the story is being told in the context of Baum's life and the larger work of the Oz series and the literary world. Thus, this put Oz in the eye of critically examined literature. The book was first published in 1973, but was heavily revised and expanded in 2000. (The shape of the book changed in 2000, so it was less like the original edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.) The lengthy introduction by Hearn offers a lot of good information about Baum's life as well as numerous photos. The appendix includes a bibliography of Baum's works.

Hearn's research was later used as the basis of the 1991 television film The Dreamer of Oz, though, in Baum tradition, that film took many opportunities to make the truth sound like a better story.

Mother and daughter pair Jean Shirley and Angelica Shirley Carpenter (now a former Oz Club president and a friend) produced L. Frank Baum: Royal Historian of Oz in 1992. While aimed at young readers, this biography was actually very well-done and researched and featured numerous pictures, definitely benefiting from the research that had been published in The Baum Bugle.

Finally is Katherine M. Rogers' L. Frank Baum: The Creator of Oz, published in 2002. A more studious biography of Baum's life, it is able to put his life and works into a good historical perspective with quite a bit more research.

While not Baum biographies, I should make mention of two books edited by Nancy Tystad Koupal: Our Landlady and Baum's Road to Oz, both of which focus on Baum's years in Aberdeen, South Dakota.

The less studious might ask, "Why get multiple biographies of someone? Shouldn't one good one be enough?" Perhaps, if one just wishes to know about the person's life, but to my knowledge, there is not a biography of a person that has been declared "definitive," in that that one book contains all the information you'd need to know about a person's life. Although I do look forward to the day Michael Patrick Hearn releases his critical Baum biography, I doubt that book will be the be all and end all source of information about Baum. Multiple sources of information are always best on a topic.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Characters of Oz — Button-Bright

Once upon a time, a little boy lived in Philadelphia under the name of Saladin Paracelsus de Lambertine Evagne von Smith. His father claimed that his son was bright as a button, and so the name "Button-Bright" was soon applied to the boy, a nickname that stuck.

One day, the little lad vanished from his home and found himself by a road that turned out to be in a land across the desert from the Land of Oz. Baum never specified particularly how Button-Bright was so far away from his home. In my book, Outsiders from Oz, the first chapter reveals that he was playing with an old watch in the backyard when he disappeared. All else we know is that he was wearing sailor clothes, a fashion for young children back in those days.

Fortunately, Dorothy, Toto and the Shaggy Man found him and took him with them to Foxville, where King Dox of Foxville took a liking to Button-Bright's inquisitive and simple nature (his answer to most questions would be a simple "Don't know") and gave Button-Bright a fox's head, which the young boy had to wear until they found the Truth Pond in the Land of Oz.

Button-Bright allowed Baum to have a child character younger than Dorothy simply marveling at the wonders of fairyland, which was basically the entire theme of The Road to Oz. Except for the Scoodlers, Button-Bright is amazed and enthralled by what he sees, even being the lone fan of the Musicker's naturally-produced music.

At the end of The Road to Oz, Santa Claus recognizes Button-Bright and when the boy is sent home in one of the Wizard's bubbles, Claus promises to make sure the bubble sends him home.

Button-Bright, unlike Dorothy, didn't return to Oz very quickly, and in a rare case, when he next appeared in the book Sky Island, he's grown older and more mature. We have no idea how many years passed between Road and Sky Island, though it seems there was a shorter gap between Sky Island and The Scarecrow of Oz. (Joe Bongiorno's Oz timeline puts Road at 1905, Sky Island in 1908, and Scarecrow in 1909.) Road tells us that he was two or three years younger than Dorothy. Seeing as she was probably about eleven by then, I'm going to guess he had probably just turned eight in Road, but has grown to ten by Sky Island.

Button-Bright's role in Sky Island is quite different. Baum had established the Trot/Cap'n Bill duo in The Sea Fairies, and by all appearances he decided to add a character from the Oz books to not only attract more readers, but also try his hand at a young male protagonist. If Scarecrow was indeed the third "Trot" book initially, it seems he had determined to make Button-Bright a recurring character.

Button-Bright takes his family's ancient umbrella and discovers that it will fly its bearer anywhere they want to go, so long as they hold on to the handle. After doing a little visiting around the US, he visits the Pacific Ocean, happening to land outside Trot's home. After telling his story and proving the magic power of the umbrella, the three decide to go to a distant island they call "Sky Island." However, the umbrella carries them to the actual Sky Island: an island floating in the sky!

The three run afoul of the Boolooroo of the Blues of Sky Island, who confiscates the umbrella and makes the three work for him. However, Button-Bright manages to steal the Royal Record book as he tries to recover the umbrella just before they escape to the Pink Country. However, soon Baum's preference for heroines takes over and Button-Bright simply just aides Trot and Cap'n Bill as they wind up conquering both the Pinks and Blues and finally returning home.

Button-Bright rejoins Trot and Cap'n Bill in The Scarecrow of Oz, in which he is found in the Valley of Mo, lost in a snowdrift of popcorn, having taken the umbrella and flown away with it.

I am not sure why Button-Bright is suddenly so defiant about being lost in Scarecrow, but it becomes a recurring part of his character for the rest of Baum's Oz books. The text indicates that he has happily abandoned his home and has gone globe-hopping. We can only assume that something seriously wrong has happened in his home. Did his parents die and Button-Bright suddenly found himself orphaned? Did they offend him so greatly that he just didn't care anymore? Or was the call to adventure that great? And where was Button-Bright trying to get to that landed him in the Valley of Mo? Was he trying to return to Oz, but he accidentally let go of the handle just a little too soon?

Button-Bright contributes little to the plot of Scarecrow, getting lost a few times, leading me to suspect that he may have had a bigger part in Baum's original story concept but his action was deleted when the Scarecrow was introduced to the plot. He arrives in Oz with Trot and Cap'n Bill and stays there, never to return to his home again, becoming good friends with Ojo the Munchkin. (A woefully underdeveloped friendship in the Famous Forty, though writers outside of it have worked on it.)

In The Lost Princess of Oz, Button-Bright joins the Wizard and Dorothy's search party for Ozma, and he gets lost a few more times. He finds a peach in an orchard and eats it, keeping the golden pit he found inside. Later, when the company is told that Ozma is in a pit, they find Button-Bright in a hole in the ground. They soon discover that the pit was actually the peach pit, and prying it open, Ozma is released. So, even though he got lost, he wound up being the one to save Ozma!

In Glinda of Oz, he is part of the massive rescue party for Dorothy and Ozma, getting lost at one point, causing Glinda to save him from a tiger and a wolf. He is scolded, and then he never plays an important role in the Famous Forty Oz books again.

Was Button-Bright a successful character in creating a male child protagonist for Baum's books? I'd have to say no, even though he is one of my favorite Oz characters. Baum's Button-Bright is three different versions: the "Don't know" child of Road, the boy hero of Sky Island, and the boy who is always getting lost in Scarecrow and onward. Although Button-Bright's actions help resolve the plots of Sky Island and Lost Princess, every time he appeared, Dorothy or Trot would overshadow him. Some may find it liberating that female protagonists were preferred in Baum's tales, but characters like Button-Bright lead us to ask if it was because that Baum just didn't know how to have boys lead an adventure. He could have men—such as the Wizard, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, Cap'n Bill and the Shaggy Man—take a lead role successfully, but when he put a boy in the lead, a female character would usually take the spotlight, unless the boy was a teenager or the star of a short story. Tip is a rare exception, but even he is arguably overshadowed by the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman, and we know how his story turned out.

However, that is Button-Bright viewed through literary criticism. If we instead to look at the Oz books (and related work) as a consistent history with a few historian gaffes here and there, Button-Bright becomes one of the most developed characters of the series. Starting out as a young boy, his experience in fairyland gives him a lust for traveling to strange places. When he grows older and finds the magic umbrella, he is finally able to live out this fantasy. But when he finally is given one of the most wonderful places on earth—the Land of Oz—as a place to roam in, he becomes tired of organization and wanders off on his own, getting lost as Baum describes it. Perhaps he has problems paying attention or, as a friend once suggested, he has Aspergers' syndrome. Whatever the case, it's fortunate that he has friends like Ozma watching out for him.

Perhaps I wound up making Button-Bright a favorite because he made it clear that Oz was a place for boys as well as girls, a point I appreciated at a young age. Today, he's one of many points that make it clear that Oz is simply a place for anyone.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Quick updates

Over at, they've revealed that Target has been selling an exclusive 5-disc edition of MGM's The Wizard of Oz since November. It contains the same five discs found in the "big box" set that I reviewed after its release in October. It also contains a miniature version of the photo book from the set. Target's is priced at about $30, but the exclusive agreement actually ends soon, so it will likely be popping up elsewhere.

Also, Mr. John Troutman has started scanning some illustrations from his Oz books and posting them on a new Tumblr blog. He insists this is just a hobby, but I thought you might like to know of another place to find Oz artwork.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Disney's Journey to Oz, Part 5

In March 2010, the Walt Disney Company released Alice in Wonderland, a film directed by Tim Burton. (Yours truly is not a fan of this film.) Featuring lavish CGI and standout 3D, the film was a major hit for Disney and led them to announce that they had greenlit Brick, a film based on the Wizard's arrival in Oz from the Oz books.

The development of the film had begun in summer 2009 when writer Mitchell Kaupner mentioned to executive producer Palak Patel that he was reading the Oz books to his children and considered an "origin" story for the Wizard. They decided to develop it as a film, and it soon came together with producer Joe Roth.

Two big roles had to be filled: director and the star of the movie, who would play Oscar Diggs, the all-important Wizard of the plot. Eventually, Sam Raimi (of The Evil Dead and Spider-Man fame) stepped in to direct, and out of contenders including Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Depp, James Franco (also a fan of the Oz books) was cast as Oscar. The cast was soon fleshed out with Mila Kunis as Theodora, Rachel Weisz as Evanora, Michelle Williams as Glinda, Zach Braff as Finley (a flying monkey), and Joey King as China Girl.

The script had been leaked online, revealing a highly Baum-based but MGM Oz-derivative tale telling how Oscar Diggs came to the Land of Oz, fell for the beautiful witch Theodora, got imprisoned by her sister Evanora, headed south to meet Glinda, then joined forces with her to fight the Wicked Witches and become the Wizard of Oz. However, inbetween the leaked script were revisions and rewrites. (David Lindsay Abaire shares screen credit with Kaupner.)

Raimi made a number of fine creative choices for creating a 3D Ozzy cinematic spectacle. Unlike Burton's Alice, he had sets built so the actors could actually work off of actual scenery. Puppets stood in for Finley and China Girl so the cast would actually have something to react to. The film would open in Kansas, in black and white and in an old-fashioned academy aspect ratio with subtle 3D effects. In Oz, the film would switch to color, a wide, theatrical aspect ratio, and more dynamic 3D effects. (Yours Truly experienced no eyestrain during seeing the film in 3D. Perhaps the lead-in helped.) Finally, composer Danny Elfman got to score an Oz film.

The film finds the bored Oscar Diggs performing in 1905 Kansas in a circus as a magician. Escaping in his hot air balloon from the angry circus strongman, Oscar is caught in a tornado and crash lands in the Land of Oz, where he meets Theodora, the good witch, who believes that he is prophesied Wizard come to take the throne of the Emerald City, after the last king died. Along their way to the Emerald City, they meet Finley, who Oscar confides in.

Evanora, who has been keeping control of the Emerald City, tells Oscar that he must defeat the Wicked Witch, who she says is Glinda. Heading out, Oscar and Finley come across the ruins of China Town, the lone survivor of an attack by the Wicked Witch. They soon meet Glinda, who reveals that Evanora is the Wicked Witch. After being attacked by the Winged Baboons, they fly in bubbles to Glinda's castle in the Quadling Country.

Theodora, meanwhile, believes she's been jilted in favor of Glinda and agrees to eat an apple that turns her into a green-skinned Wicked Witch, believing it to be a cure for a broken heart. She flies to Glinda's castle and threatens everyone, promising to kill Oscar. After talking with Glinda and China Girl, Oscar comes up with a plan to oust the Wicked Witches by staging his death in the Emerald City and projecting his face to make himself to appear to be an all-powerful wizard, fighting them with fireworks and Glinda's magic. It works.

Brick, retitled Oz the Great and Powerful, opened in theaters in March, 2013. While not the billion dollar success that Alice in Wonderland was, Oz managed to take in well over $493 million on a $215 budget. A sequel is said to be in the works. Critically, it was not quite so successful, with a lot of praise showered on the visuals and CG creatures, but a lot of criticisms on Franco's acting (some of his co-stars didn't fare much better) and the plot.

Still, Disney had returned to Oz once more, having made its biggest success yet.