Saturday, March 29, 2014


During the lead up to the big re-release of MGM's The Wizard of Oz on Blu-Ray last year, I mentioned that certain sets comes with a code for an Ultraviolet copy of the movie. And then when I reviewed the set, I didn't even mention it. Shall we rectify that?

Ultraviolet is the film industry's answer to illegal streaming sites and the interest in digital copies of a film. The concept is that you set up an Ultraviolet account and an account with a content provider (of which there are several: Vudu, Target Ticket, Flixster and CinemaNow being just a few). Any Ultraviolet codes that come with a DVD or Blu-Ray you own can be redeemed for access to that title through the Ultraviolet service, creating a "locker" of films you can watch with an internet connection and an Ultraviolet device, including a computer. Even better is if you use multiple content providers, your movies are accessible on all of them. (Unless there are licensing issues.)

Ultraviolet access can also be purchased, either by buying the film or putting a DVD copy in your computer with the service's program (Flixster and Vudu have this), and get a Ultraviolet copy in standard definition for a few bucks or a high definition version for a couple more. Alternately, Blu-Ray copies can be brought to a merchant (Vudu is owned by Walmart, for example) and high definition Ultraviolet access bought for title for a few dollars. This access also lets you download the movie to a portable device for internet-free playback later.

Basically, with a portable device, you can watch some of your favorite Oz films on the go or bring them up on your home theater system without grabbing a disc, if you have a compatible device (more recent TVs, Blu-Ray players, gaming consoles and other streaming video devices have some sort of Ultraviolet capability).

There aren't a lot of Ultraviolet Oz titles available right now. There's MGM's classic film, and Warner Brother's Tom and Jerry and the Wizard of Oz. There's also the film version of The Wiz. There are a number of other Oz titles available from these providers, but they're not Ultraviolet compatible: they'll be tied to the one content provider unless they eventually do get added to Ultraviolet. This includes The Witches of Oz, the Disney Oz movies, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz anime series.

Disney has recently launched Disney Movies Anywhere, which they hope to connect to more content providers, but is currently tied to their site and iTunes. (And yes, all three of their Oz titles—Return to Oz, The Muppets Wizard of Oz and Oz the Great and Powerful—are available on it.) Still, it's a separate service from Ultraviolet.

As you can imagine, depending on your internet strength (if you're streaming it), most Oz titles look as good as their DVD/Blu-Ray counterparts (or better, if a title is available for streaming in HD, but not available on Blu-Ray).

MGM's The Wizard of Oz is a different story, though. Unlike recently-produced theatrical titles, it wasn't made in an widescreen aspect ratio. The aspect ratio is almost the shape of a CRT ("box") television set. Almost. The image is actually a little wider than such an image. Thus, when you watched the MGM film on VHS and DVD, a tiny bit of the picture was actually cut off.

With Blu-Ray being designed for widescreen televisions, the 2009 home video release was actually the first time the entire picture was released to home video. And this same high definition print is what is available on Ultraviolet. If you were to view it on a widescreen television or a portable device, you would see black bars on the sides of the image.

However, with me still having a CRT TV, my experience watching the Ultraviolet copy through my Blu-Ray player's Vudu support was different. At first glance, the image appears identical to a DVD copy (aspect ratio-wise), but taking a closer look, there were tiny black bars at the top and bottom of the picture. Thus, without an HDTV, those little bits of frame were all visible.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Writing a prequel to Oz

So, people write Oz stories. I write Oz stories now. But most new Oz stories tend to pick up where Baum or the other Royal Historians left off and tell further adventures.

Still, there are some who go back and tell stories of Oz's past. Perhaps as a midquel, happening in between previous Oz books (often patching up what seem to be continuity gaffes), or perhaps even before The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, making it a prequel to the Oz books.

I'm actually now responsible for two prequels to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: "The Way of a Lion," published in Oziana 2013 and "Aunt Em and Uncle Henry," a little story I posted on this blog not long ago.

Very much, both of these prequels were based on concepts I'd had for a film adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that would flesh out the backstories of the Cowardly Lion and Dorothy. The Scarecrow tells how he was made and informed that he was brainless, and the Tin Woodman tells how he became tin, but the Lion simply tells us how he lived day to day, while we are told little information about Dorothy.

To me, what made the lion unique is that he wasn't cowardly, he simply misunderstands what courage is. According to actual accounts about male lions, they largely allow the females to do the hunting and only defend their prides when the need arises. So, it seems the Lion was actually a well-depicted anthropomorphic lion, that is, if you consider Dorothy and her friends the lion's "pride."

Since the story would start when the Lion was a baby, I had to change some things about real lions. Cubs are often raised together by a group of mothers for defense. This is because young lions are delicate and need protection, though. However, lions often live in the plains, and not in forests as lions in Oz seem to do. Thus, I assumed, given that animals in Oz speak and have come to respect each other, the danger to a cub is reduced, except from a kalidah. The trees and other features of a forest might allow a single mother to care for her cub on her own.

As one reads my story, I reveal that the Cowardly Lion is not a native Munchkin lion, but actually a Quadling. Due to a tragic point of the story, he flees to a new forest, and somehow manages to miss all other forests (I did trace his route on the International Wizard of Oz Club's map) until he comes to the Munchkin forest Dorothy will one day travel through. The main part of him being a Quadling lion was so that he actually has a story arc that begins in my story and reaches its triumph in one of the final chapters of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. So it's as if I began a story and then let L. Frank Baum finish it, except he'd already done it over 110 years ago.

Dorothy's backstory, I knew, did not need to be complicated. I cordially dislike prequels that make out Dorothy's coming to Oz as predetermined or prophesied, or that her parents were tied to Oz somehow. What I enjoy about Baum's stories about someone from the United States going to Oz is that they were no one special when they arrived, but become known for their actions. Dorothy and the Wizard are similar in this regard, except that the people believed the Wizard to be a Wizard, but then, Dorothy was also believed to be a sorceress, the only difference is that she denied it.

The backstory for Dorothy that I wrote was actually folded into Aunt Em and Uncle Henry's, because I knew they had to be tied to each other. How they met was actually based on how my maternal grandparents met. All the names I gave them were either from Baum's life or my grandparents. "Carpenter" was the married name of one of Maud Baum's sisters, so I gave it to Uncle Henry, while Em's maiden name "Stanton" was from an uncle of Baum's. Aunt Em's middle name "Marie" was my grandmother's name. "Matilda" is of course the name of L. Frank Baum's mother in law, while "Charles" is from Charles Dickens, one of Baum's favorite authors. (It's also been suggested that "Oz" came from Dickens' nickname "Boz.")

The difficult part was finding out how Dorothy became an orphan. I had decided to tie Charles' death to the sinking of the USS Maine, the event that set off the Spanish-American War. This was with the idea that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz takes place in 1900. Matilda's death was harder to decide on. I suppose I could have made it easy and had Matilda die during childbirth, thus Charles had to leave Dorothy with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry when he had to serve his country anyway, but I'd decided that Matilda would die after Charles.

My main intention was that after Charles died, Dorothy and her mother would move in with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. Matilda would die on the farm somehow in an accident that Uncle Henry could have possibly avoided. He'd then blame himself for her death, leading to his rarely speaking in Wonderful Wizard. But there wasn't really a good opening without making him look like a really negligent farmer. I did once take a page from Baum's short story "The Diamondback" and have Matilda save Dorothy from a rattlesnake that bites her instead, except that snake venom isn't that fast acting, and surely Uncle Henry and Aunt Em could have been informed and treated it before it proved lethal.

One person suggested that a sinkhole open on the farm and Matilda gets caught in it while rescuing Dorothy. That seemed a bit much, however. So, in the story I posted on the blog, Matilda's death is left vague. I just can't seem to kill Matilda...

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Characters of Oz — Dr. Pipt

Ojo and Unc Nunkie decided to go to their nearest neighbors: the Crooked Magician and his wife Margolotte.

Baum tells us little of Margolotte. She seems rather content living as she is, though she makes a Patchwork Girl out of an old patchwork quilt her grandmother made so her husband can bring it to life and she can make it do all the work while she enjoys herself. She appears to be a kind woman.

The Crooked Magician was called Dr. Pipt and had been living in the Munchkin Forest for some time it seems. He is an old friend of Unc Nunkie, suggesting that his residence has been lengthy. His body is so crooked that he can stir four kettles with his arms and legs at the same time.

Presumably, Dr. Pipt's main output is the Powder of Life, a substance that takes six years to make. In The Patchwork Girl of Oz, he and Margolotte claim that he made the same Powder of Life that was used in The Marvelous Land of Oz, bringing to life Jack Pumpkinhead, the Sawhorse and the Gump.

I suggest that the Powder of Life has only been made twice by Dr. Pipt. The first batch—a large batch, it seems—worked very well, but the charm was activated by the phrase "Weaugh, Teaugh, Peaugh" and making certain gestures. And it seems—though no one tried it intentionally—wishing that the sprinkled item was alive would also work. When Dr. Pipt made his second batch, he revised the formula so no magic words or gestures would be required.

Fans have noted that the surfaces and containers that Dr. Pipt used to make the Powder of Life do not seem to be alive. Perhaps certain objects cannot be brought to life with the powder, due to them not having life-like features or being made of certain materials (a marble table or a golden vial). Or—some posit—these items are alive but are unable to express themselves due to a lack of features that would allow them to move or communicate. (Which is a pretty poor way to live...)

In The Patchwork Girl of Oz, it is said that Mombi gave Dr. Pipt a Powder of Perpetual Youth in exchange for the Powder of Life. The Youth Powder didn't work, and The Marvelous Land of Oz finds Mombi saying, "Why, here is a good chance to try my new powder! And then I can tell whether that crooked wizard has fairly traded secrets, or whether he has fooled me as wickedly as I fooled him." Presumably, the Powder of Youth is the wicked fooling Mombi was talking about.

However, The Marvelous Land of Oz has Tip find some of Dr. Nikidik's Celebrated Wishing Pills, and he says, "I remember hearing her (Mombi) say that she got the Powder of Life from this same Nikidik." So, who was Dr. Nikidik?

Personally, I think that Dr. Pipt marketed his wares under the name and guise of Dr. Nikidik so he wouldn't be bothered while making his powder. A man who could make pills that grant wishes (which must be a simple thing that he can do quickly or Margolotte made them under his instruction) or a powder that can give life to inanimate objects would be a very popular man indeed. So, as to avoid people coming to see him, he used a fake name (and possibly appearance, as Neill's single picture of Nikidik looks very different from Dr. Pipt) so they wouldn't be able to find him and disturb his work.

That would solve this continuity snarl, except The Road to Oz finds the Tin Woodman saying that, "the crooked Sorcerer who invented the Magic Powder fell down a precipice and was killed." His remaining items went to a woman named Dyna who lived in the Emerald City, and she accidentally used the Powder of Life to wish her blue bear (who had been made into a rug post-mortem) alive again, which made it come to life.

Is Dyna actually a relative of Dr. Pipt? Or was Nikidik a magician whose identity Pipt had taken (presumably after the real Nikidik had died or permanently departed Oz)? Or, perhaps the accident in which Nikidik was killed was staged due to Ozma's ban on magic so no one would ask after him, a false home being made so as to sell the idea of his death even further? Did Dr. Pipt himself claim that Dyna was a relative, as he believed her to be harmless? If it was to lay low because of Ozma's magic ban, it certainly seemed to have worked.

Aside from the Powder of Life and the Wishing Pills, Dr. Pipt made the Liquid of Petrifaction, which turned any object it touched into marble. It was useful in stopping some attacking Kalidahs and making certain household items more durable. Unfortunately, it had a downside, as seen in The Patchwork Girl of Oz. Among other achievements was creating qualities for manufactured people as powder, Ojo famously remixing the brains that Scraps would be given. He also knew how to enchant food so that it would not run out, which would be quite a boon to the Great Outside World.

At the close of The Patchwork Girl of Oz, Dr. Pipt's magic tools are confiscated and his body is straightened out. He is otherwise pardoned. But what became of him and Margolotte afterward? Did they move? Did Dr. Pipt really stay away from magic afterward? Perhaps Dr. Pipt assists the Wizard. Some stories outside of the Famous Forty pick up on these ideas, but the main series leaves him alone. Who knows, though?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Kickstarter Updates

I meant to blog more and finally got my Oz buzz back last night, but have other things to write just now.

In the meantime, I have some Ozzy Kickstarter updates.

The Shadow of Oz Tarot Deck Kickstarter will be ending in a little over a day, and is still a little over $4000 shy of reaching their goal.

Who Stole The Ruby Slippers? has less than half of its goal reached with 18 days left.

Meanwhile, a couple new ones popped up about the same time.

First is one for the Winkie Convention's one-night revival of The Tik-Tok Man of Oz. The minimum goal has has been reached, but there are stretch goals to make the production grander and gloriouser. (Which isn't a word, but who cares?) This Kickstarter will be the first to make me cough up a considerable amount of money because some of those perks are very nice indeed! You can get some cool posters, a collection of sheet music from the play, and even a DVD of the performance. Some of these perks will only be for backers, so don't miss out on a great chance to get some very, very cool Tik-Tok Man of Oz collectibles.

Finally, the most modest Kickstarter in this bunch is for a new Oz book, Polychrome. Why does a book need a Kickstarter? To put out an elegant and well-produced volume, something beyond the standard print on demand fare. As usual, there are perks that will get you a copy of the book.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Characters of Oz — Ojo and Unc Nunkie

Once upon a time, in a Munchkin forest, there lived an old Munchkin man called Unc Nunkie and his nephew Ojo. They leaved very humbly in their home until one day, they ran out of food and journeyed to see their nearest friends.

Okay, is it just me, or does The Patchwork Girl of Oz start like a pretty generic fairy tale?

Baum continues his tradition of telling us little of the back story of these two characters. He does, however, drop a couple tantalizing hints by telling us that Unc Nunkie is the descendant of the former kings of the Munchkins before Munchkinland became part of the Land of Oz. We are told nothing of Ojo's parents. Baum never calls him an orphan, and never mentions his father or mother.

However, the two have their quirks. Unc Nunkie barely says anything, rarely speaking of his own accord, and often reducing what he has to say to just one word. Dr. Pipt calls him "The Silent One." Ojo considers himself "The Unlucky" for a variety of reasons, and the way the story unfolds, he believes himself to be right in calling himself so.

Ojo certainly has it rough. Unc gets turned into a marble statue, forcing Ojo to go on a quest with Scraps, the Patchwork Girl, and Bungle, the Glass Cat, both brought to life to be the servants of the Crooked Magician and Margolotte. Along the way, he faces many hardships, but is able to get through with the help and advice of his companions, including the ones who join him later, like the Shaggy Man, Dorothy, and the Scarecrow.

Finally, the Tin Woodman refuses to let Ojo have the last ingredient to the antidote for the Liquid of Petrifaction, as it would injure an innocent creature. But the Tin Woodman does ask him about his title:
"Why are you Ojo the Unlucky?" asked the tin man.
"Because I was born on a Friday."
"Friday is not unlucky," declared the Emperor. "It's just one of seven days. Do you suppose all the world becomes unlucky one-seventh of the time?"
"It was the thirteenth day of the month," said Ojo.
"Thirteen! Ah, that is indeed a lucky number," replied the Tin Woodman. "All my good luck seems to happen on the thirteenth. I suppose most people never notice the good luck that comes to them with the number 13, and yet if the least bit of bad luck falls on that day, they blame it to the number, and not to the proper cause."
"Thirteen's my lucky number, too," remarked the Scarecrow.
"And mine," said Scraps. "I've just thirteen patches on my head."
"But," continued Ojo, "I'm left-handed."
"Many of our greatest men are that way," asserted the Emperor. "To be left-handed is usually to be two-handed; the right-handed people are usually one-handed."
"And I've a wart under my right arm," said Ojo.
"How lucky!" cried the Tin Woodman. "If it were on the end of your nose it might be unlucky, but under your arm it is luckily out of the way."
"For all those reasons," said the Munchkin boy, "I have been called Ojo the Unlucky."
"Then we must turn over a new leaf and call you henceforth Ojo the Lucky," declared the tin man. "Every reason you have given is absurd. But I have noticed that those who continually dread ill luck and fear it will overtake them, have no time to take advantage of any good fortune that comes their way. Make up your mind to be Ojo the Lucky."
 In the end, Ojo discovers that Glinda knew a way to reverse the effects of the Liquid of Petrifaction, and has instructed the Wizard on what to do, so Unc Nunkie is restored, and Ozma gives them a home just outside the Emerald City. Later, Ojo becomes good friends with Button-Bright after the latter permanently moves to Oz.

Surprisingly, Ruth Plumly Thompson made him the subject of Ojo in Oz (which, as Marcus Mebes points out, should have been titled Ojo of Oz as Ojo is a native of Oz rather than someone who goes there). Being lured out by gypsies who want to turn him over to the sorcerer Mooj, Ojo is kidnapped, but soon makes new friends and embarks on new adventures, discovering that he is actually the prince of Seebania, and he is restored to his mother and father at long last. Unc Nunkie breaks his silence to save Ojo, and it is revealed that his real name is Stephen.

It's odd that Thompson used Ojo when most of Baum's other human male characters got ignored. Perhaps she noted the bit about the Munchkin kings while brushing up on Baum and saved it for a future story.

To be honest, it seems Ojo was rather underused in later books, and as I noted just previously, this would become common for the post-Emerald City of Oz Baum books: several new characters would be introduced in a book and almost never make a reappearance, except for cameos. The major new characters that would reappear would be introduced in Patchwork Girl and the next two books. Ojo wasn't one of them, even though he could easily have taken the place of Woot the Wanderer in The Tin Woodman of Oz.

There are many theories about Ojo. John Bell noted Ojo's behavior and said that he seems to be bipolar. Ojo's appeared in some new Oz stories, most notably Paul Dana's stories that were collected in The Law of Oz and Other Stories. Perhaps future adventures await the Prince of Seebania.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Couple Kickstarters

Well, I'll be leaping into Characters of Oz again soon. I realized that beginning with The Patchwork Girl of Oz, there are many characters in the post-Emerald City Oz books that are important just to that book, and only make minor reappearances (if at all) or have one sudden return in a much later book. So, don't be surprised if you see many characters lumped together in a post, as I did with the People of Evna.

In the meantime, here's a couple Ozzy Kickstarters to donate to...

The Shadow of Oz: A Tarot Deck is from the same creative minds that brought us the Dorothy comic book years ago. Regardless of your beliefs about Tarot, it will feature some great artwork by several great artists, including established Oz artists Eric Shanower and Trina Robbins. This alone will make it a nice addition to your Oz collection, whether you pledge enough to get a deck or buy one after launch. They have twelve days left to meet their $28,000 goal, and are over halfway there!

Who Stole The Ruby Slippers? is a documentary in the works about the nearly nine year old unsolved case of a stolen pair of screen-worn Ruby Slippers. They hope maybe some additional awareness brought about by the documentary could lead to some information at last, but in any case, it will be another part of the MGM film's legacy documented. They just launched with a moderate goal of $12,000.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Finding Oz ... I think...

So, when I wrote my blog about L. Frank Baum biographies after finishing To Please A Child sometime back, I got comments pointing out Baum biographies I missed. (Which wasn't the point of the blog, but whatever...) Among them was Finding Oz: How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story by Evan Schwartz. Well, a friend pointed out that it was available on PaperbackSwap (a great site, check it out), so I got a copy.

To be clear, I got an uncorrected Advance Reading Copy, which seems is not quite the same as the finished book. So if I refer to any points not present in the final market edition, that is why.

As the full title suggests, the book focuses on the writing of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and some especial interest is given to the famous movie adaption. The book came out in 2009, the 70th anniversary of the MGM film, so this connection seems rather clear to appeal to readers who might not have read Baum's book.

I'd previously written off Finding Oz based on some reviews focusing on the speculation Schwartz indulges in. I'll get to that soon, but I will say that I was quite impressed with how Schwartz made clear the times that Baum lived in and the opinions that were prevalent in the day. Too often biographies just tell about the life of the person they are focusing on and any now-unpopular opinions they might have had seem ugly. (So, yes, he does do a very good job writing about those editorials in the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer. You know what I mean.)

Also welcome was focus on the lives of Maud and Matilda Gage. Schwartz points out nicely their effect on Baum's life, but overstates it a bit. When he gets to Matilda's death, he claims that "Glinda" was derived from "Good Witch Matilda," a connection I wondered at. That "Good Witch Matilda" was how Baum thought of Matilda of at all is pure speculation, and further speculation that this is where he got Glinda's name from is going a bit much.

The same speculation is all over the book. This account—like The Dreamer of Oz TV film—runs with the idea that Baum got the inspiration for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from his life experiences, religious and philosophical beliefs and some facts that he might have known. Speculation is welcome, but when it is presented as fact, then we have a problem.

Some speculation is a bit much. Schwartz writes that Toto represents certain Theosophical ideals and Baum derived his "unusual" name from that. However, Toto actually was a common name for dogs at the time, and it's far more likely that Baum was painting a bit of familiarity to Dorothy's life in Kansas: if a child didn't live on a farm, they could relate to playing with a pet.

Even more incredulous is Schwartz retelling the "Affair of the Bismarcks," a Baum family story in which Baum bought filled doughnuts, despite Maud's decree that she was responsible for meals, and she insisted that he eat them, even when he tried to dispose of them. Schwartz tries to connect this to the crullers Aunt Em gives to Dorothy and the farmhands in MGM's The Wizard of Oz, even suggesting that they're going bad and Aunt Em needs to get rid of them quickly. Schwartz misses that Aunt Em clearly says in the movie, "Just fried!"

While I found the historical background around Baum's editorials about the Sioux welcome, Schwartz tries to say that Baum realized the error of his statements, and that it is evident in Wonderful Wizard. While I'd love to believe that Baum didn't hold this belief as closely as some of his critics make out, it is all speculation, 90 years after the subject's death.

Most annoying is that Schwartz focuses on one of Baum's works. Baum had 53 published novels to his name (not counting lost manuscripts or books that are assumed to be ghostwritten by others), several collections of short stories and many uncollected shorts as well, as well as poetry. Why is this one book made out to be Baum's magnum opus just because it is his most famous? And if it was such a major work for Baum, why did he later consider Sky Island and The Scarecrow of Oz his best works? As such, after spending so many chapters on Baum's life and the supposed creation of Wonderful Wizard, Schwartz summarizes the last 19 years of Baum's life in a matter of pages.

Finding Oz contains some great research, but the speculation is a bit too rampant.