Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Characters of Oz — Queen Ann, Her Army and Ozga

In The Emerald City of Oz, we were shown various little places around Oz that served as their own kingdom. In Tik-Tok of Oz, Baum opens in one of those little places: the Winkie kingdom of Oogaboo, ruled by the young Queen Ann Soforth after her father abdicated and left Oogaboo, his wife following after him.

One of the first things we discover about Ann is that she has a sister, Salye, and they make up the Royal Family of Oogaboo. And the entire Royal Household, as they must also care for their home. The first bit of dialogue in Tik-Tok of Oz is Ann refusing to sweep!

Growing bored with her humble status, Ann decides to assemble an army from the men of Oogaboo to set out to conquer the world. Each of the members of the army was named Jo and their last name was from the crop they grew in Oogaboo: General Jo Apple, General Jo Bunn, General Jo Cone, General Jo Clock, Colonel Jo Plum, Colonel Jo Egg, Colonel Jo Banjo, Colonel Jo Cheese, Major Jo Nails, Major Jo Cake, Major Jo Ham, Major Jo Stockings, Captain Jo Sandwich, Captain Jo Padlocks, Captain Jo Sundae, Captain Jo Buttons, and finally Private Jo Files, the most dedicated fighter of the lot. Jo Candy of Oogaboo refused to go.

If the ranking of the Army seems a little familiar, that's because the Army of Oogaboo was modeled after Ozma's army in Ozma of Oz. Ozma was adapted for stage as The Tik-Tok Man of Oz, which took so many liberties with the plot that Baum adapted it as Tik-Tok of Oz. I can only imagine that Baum saw the appeal of a comic army on stage. However, Ann was not a substitute for Ozma's portrayal in the play. Ann was in the play, as was Ozma, who had a quite different role.

However, Glinda read about Ann's marching out of Oogaboo in the Book of Records and transported them into the wilds of the Land of Ev. Shortly afterward, they were attacked by a Rak, who Files shot, and it landed on the Army. Files managed to get the Rak to turn over and free his superior officers, and it became clear that perhaps conquering the world would be a little more trouble than they thought. Then, they met up with the Shaggy Man, Tik-Tok, Polychrome, Ozga the Rose Princess, Betsy Bobbin and Hank the mule. Files left the Army because he would not fight women, but Tik-Tok took his place, and the rest decided to march with the Army to the Nome Kingdom.

Ruggedo the Nome King activated his rubber country so that the Army bounced through it, but they would not be stopped, so he had the Hollow Tube turned so they would march into it and fall to the other side of the world. The Army met the Famous Fellowship of Fairies, ruled by Tititi-Hoochoo, who sent them back with a dragon named Quox to deprive Ruggedo of his throne and banish him from his kingdom. However, Ruggedo had Ann and her Army caught in a trap, but they found their way into a tunnel that led into the Metal Forest.

It was not easy in the Nome Kingdom, and by the time the Army was discovered, everyone was bruised and their gorgeous uniforms were tearing, and Ann decided to call it quits. She decided that it would be better to go back to Oogaboo and run her humble kingdom than take over the world. Eventually, she and her Army were transported back by the Wizard.

As with many characters in Baum's last eight Oz books, Ann and her army only appeared in this one book. The lack of reappearances gives us little to work with when we try to build a portrait of the character. (Which is why these later blogs aren't quite as good as the former ones...) Oogaboo isn't revisted in the rest of the Famous Forty either.

However, outside of the Famous Forty, there is a book that deals with Queen Ann, and it might seem that I consider it part of my personal Oz canon because a couple friends wrote it: Queen Ann in Oz by Karyl Carlson and Eric Gjovaag. In fact, Karyl has dressed as Queen Ann twice for the Winkie Convention costume contest. (2010 she had a glittering green outfit as Queen Ann visiting the Emerald City. In 2011, she had a pirate costume as Queen Ann on the Crescent Moon.) In their book, Queen Ann goes to seek her long-lost parents with the help of a group of children from Oogaboo. It's a well-done little book and that's why it's part of my personal canon. Being friends with the authors is just a plus.

Private Files was the most well-read of the Army, so he had a better idea of war, but he was coaxed out by refusing to conquer Betsy and the other ladies the Shaggy Man was traveling with. Particularly, Ozga the Rose Princess. She was going to be the ruler of the Rose Kingdom, but the Roses refused to accept her as they wanted a king. Her character was partly based on the Princess of the Mangaboos from Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, but she is much more appreciative of the people who set her free. Throughout the adventure described in Tik-Tok of Oz, she and Files become very close and the Wizard sends her to Oogaboo with Ann and the Army.

Ozga is defined as a mortal maid who was a fairy in the book. She officially doesn't have any magic powers, but she is able to ask field flowers the way to the Nome Kingdom, and they sway in the correct direction. So she at least retains a connection to her floral origins.
Source of this scan

Files and Ozga have a new adventure in Melody Grandy and Chris Dulabone's Thorns and Private Files in Oz, but aside from those two books, I'm not sure of any further adventures of our friends in Oogaboo.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Sexuality in Oz

If there was one thing L. Frank Baum didn't dwell on, it was romantic relationships, particularly between his main characters.

In his first three Oz novels, he tells us of two marriages, but they are fairly unimportant to the overall plot. (Quelala and Gayelette, Jinjur and her never officially named husband.) The most prominent romances were lifted from dramatic Oz tales (Private Files and Ozga from The Tik-Tok Man of Oz and Pon and Gloria from His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz). Throughout the series, we encounter several married couples both in and out of Oz, so we may assume that sexuality is a thing in Oz.

There's a few definitions of sexuality, but the one I refer to here is a capacity for intimate relationships. So, no, I'm not discussing people having sex in Oz. (Though Thompson did have Prince Pompa of Pumperdink and Peg Amy have a child, so it happens.)

One objection fans raised to the film Oz the Great and Powerful was that Oscar Diggs, the Wizard himself, was depicted wooing different women. (Actual womanizing was only suggested.) And to be honest, I didn't have a problem with it. He's the Wizard of Oz, not the Eunuch of Oz. That said, by the time L. Frank Baum's stories begin, he doesn't seem to have much interest in his sexuality. In all the Famous Forty, and in all of the stories set in the same continuity, the Wizard is happily single.

Also in all those stories, Glinda, Ozma, Dorothy, Trot, Betsy, the Shaggy Man and Cap'n Bill never seem to take a romantic interest in anyone. To be honest, a little bit in Jack Snow's "A Murder In Oz" revealing that Glinda has handsome young mountain giants serve her late at night amused me because it hints at her having a sexuality.

The most complicated case of sexuality in the Oz books is Nick Chopper, the Tin Woodman. He seems to be a typical heterosexual in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, discussing how he decided to marry a girl that would be revealed to be named Nimmee Aimee in The Tin Woodman of Oz, determining to go back and marry her when he's received a heart. However, he doesn't do this. Instead, we discover in The Marvelous Land of Oz that he's inclined to be a dandy, and he and the Scarecrow share a "bromance" that begins to raise a few eyebrows, and by The Tin Woodman of Oz seems to be a bit more than that, as these two seem to be happiest with each other. Even more curiously, when the Tin Woodman finds his human head in The Tin Woodman of Oz, it appears to almost have a different personality than he does.

But doesn't the Scarecrow flirt with Scraps in The Patchwork Girl of Oz? Yes, he does. And in the Famous Forty Plus book The Runaway in Oz, Scraps becomes devoted to Popla, a plant that seems to identify as female. If these relationships are to be taken seriously, I don't think these manufactured people care about monogamy.

That brings us to the subject of homosexual relationships in Oz. (This means that both people in the relationship seem to or do love one another, and they are of the same gender, not that they've identified a sexual orientation.) Nathan DeHoff commented that given how many LGBT people write Oz stories, it's surprising that there aren't many openly queer characters in Oz stories. Isabelle Melacon wrote a piece for the Namesake website that suggests that such relationships would be a non-issue in Oz. Everyone lives forever in Oz, and are happy to be content and don't mind seeing other people content, so what would be the point of objecting to a homosexual relationship as long as the people in it are happy?

This isn't that there hasn't been Oz stories featuring queer characters. In Eric Shanower's "Abby," his adult Tom from The Shaggy Man of Oz has recently broken up with his boyfriend. In Chris Dulabone's The Fairy Circle in Oz, a vain king wishing to marry the most beautiful person he can find ends up marrying a man. Gregory Maguire has queer undertones in his Wicked Years series, particularly the bisexual Liir, but this isn't canonical Oz. Finally, in a story I recently finished for an anthology I was asked to contribute to, I took a shot at developing a queer romance in a traditional Oz setting. I hope I handled that one well...

Now, we must note that of course, Baum's books were written for children at the beginning of the 20th century. Sexuality of any type just wasn't a major plot point for children then. And anyway, Oz is more about the magic and adventure! But still, as we find characters forming relationships in the series, we will always wonder about the nature of these relationships.

Friday, June 06, 2014

What I'd Like To See In A New Oz Movie

Time for an op-ed piece!

In the past two years, we Oz fans have been treated to seeing two new Oz films in theaters: Oz the Great and Powerful and Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return. But as enjoyable as these films were, for seasoned fans of the Oz books, they left a little to be desired.

So, what would this fan like to see in a future Oz film?


Ozma has appeared on the big screen before, most notably in 1985's Return to Oz, but her character was reduced to almost a presence with only a few lines of dialogue. We never got to get into her character. While fans hoped that she'd be at least referenced in Oz the Great and Powerful, traces of her character seemed to be merged with Glinda.

Ozma's introduction in the Oz series touches on transgender themes, which is a current civil rights issue, and a well-handled adaptation might be a hit for that reason. But it might also prove divisive, so a film featuring Ozma might decide to open with her already ruling the Land of Oz or take a different approach to her introduction.

What makes Ozma so compelling is her mysterious origin: somehow she is both a fairy and daughter of the pre-Wizard King of Oz. In her reign—the classic default setting for most of the Oz books—she is a girl ruler over a land of people and animals of all types and other strange creatures. Beginning in The Emerald City of Oz, Ozma always has a friend nearby to interact with, indicating that she has a personal need for a relationship. A good writer could certainly find a beguiling angle for her character.

Characters We've Never Seen On The Big Screen Before

Audiences know the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion, and we know Dorothy, the Wizard and Glinda. But what about characters like the Hungry Tiger, Scraps the Patchwork Girl or the bears of Bear Center? Baum's Oz books alone reveal a whole slew of characters and creatures, all public domain and open for interpretation. Having lesser-known characters lead the story may even help the film feel less like it's aping the popularity of the MGM classic film.

Please, No More Of The Wicked Witch

The Wicked Witch of the West is a great character, but here's the thing: L. Frank Baum knew that her story was done and never resurrected her. Nor did he have her ghost or magic equipment return. He created new antagonists and found a different recurring villain: Roquat/Ruggedo the Nome King, who appeared in four novels and one of the Little Wizard picture books. A re-imagining of the character also appeared in Return to Oz, but as with any good villain, there are other ways to reinterpret him.

Some of the Oz books take an episodic approach and have no central villain, but we do also have Mombi the wicked sorceress, the giants Mr. and Mrs. Yoop, Ugu the Shoemaker, Blinkie the Witch and King Krewl, and the Supreme Dictator of the Flatheads and Coo-ee-oh of Skeezer Lake. There's also plenty of scope for new, original villains.

Basically, don't do the Wicked Witch of the West again, unless you're doing her story.

A Real Feeling Of The World Of Oz

This one might be more of a wish, but so many Oz films make the Land of Oz look like an isolated unit, when Baum alone created many lands that border it. Give viewers a sense that there's much more to Oz than the yellow brick road and the Emerald City and that there's so much more around it. Perhaps even work it into the story. Take a page from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and let your viewers know right off the bat that if your take on Oz is successful, you have so much more to tell.

Make Oz Oz

Oz fans do feel a little disappointed at some recent projects not because they didn't want to see them, but because they seem to want to make Oz like another property. The Lord of the Rings trilogy worked because Peter Jackson didn't make it evocative of Titanic. Harry Potter worked because Warner Brothers didn't make it like Lord of the Rings. The Hunger Games and Twilight and Game of Thrones (not a movie, I know, but it fits) worked because they were not made to resemble past films. They all reached into the source material and brought that world to life. (It could be argued that trying to go Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter put a halt on the Chronicles of Narnia film series.)

Trailers for Oz the Great and Powerful reminded audiences of Alice in Wonderland, and Legends of Oz brought to mind Wreck-It Ralph. While Oz the Great and Powerful managed to take home a profit, neither film became a billion-dollar blockbuster. When an audience feels that they've seen this story or world before, they feel less inclined to go see it, with the exception of a sequel. (I remember waiting for The Hobbit to start, wondering how many apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic movies we really needed as the trailers ran. I went to see none of them.) Name recognition of stars, directors and studios only go so far.

That said, Oz needs to feel unique so the audience feels interested in the film and be pleasantly surprised that there is so much more in the land that they believe is over the rainbow. It's a funny place, but it can also be dangerous and scary as well as beautiful and whimsical and welcoming, and if that can be depicted faithfully onscreen, it should offer audiences something they have never seen before.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Dorothy of Oz

So, with Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return having come and gone from theaters, I realized I haven't discussed the book it was based on here. Dorothy of Oz was the first Oz book by Roger S. Baum, one of L. Frank Baum's great-grandsons. Seemingly, he wrote it on a challenge from a member of the International Wizard of Oz Club. (I'll bet it was Fred Meyer, but if anyone knows who it was, I'd be interested to know.) This was the result, packaged into a fine book by Books of Wonder, illustrated by Elizabeth Miles. (Eric Shanower indicated in the afterword of Adventures in Oz that he'd been approached to illustrate the book, but decided not to take the job.)

The book opens with Dorothy in Kansas. The Wizard appears in the end of the book, and the text mentions Dorothy knows about dama fruit, so this book seems to be set after Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, but before The Emerald City of Oz. Glinda sends the Silver Shoes to Dorothy with a message that she's needed in Oz, and the Silver Shoes have enough magic to get her to Oz and back home to Kansas again. (The Magic Belt is completely absent from this book.)

In Oz, Dorothy finds the palace of Gayelette and Quelala, but it's been taken over by Gayelette's Jester, who has been corrupted by the Wicked Witch of the West's wand. (Remember that from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz? ... Yeah, me neither.) He's turned everyone in the palace into porcelain figurines, including the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion. When he takes Toto,  Dorothy makes him an offer: if he lets the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman and Lion accompany her, she will bring Glinda to him. He agrees. Dorothy also manages to take the Princess of the Dainty China Country, who she found among the other figurines.

Dorothy and her friends face several obstacles on their way: dragons, a curse from the Wicked Witch of the East, a river that requires them to build the talking boat Tugg, and an enchanted maze. Finally, Dorothy has to scheme with Glinda and Ozma on how they can stop the Jester and restore everyone to their original forms.

Roger S. Baum's books are not the most loved Oz books. While he can come up with interesting situations (the Maze is a particular favorite scene of mine), his writing style leaves a bit to be desired. It's easy to read, but very flat. While the original Mr. Baum was admittedly not the greatest writer, he still managed to add a third dimension to his characters and world. Not having everything spelled out and having some odd gaps actually added to the charm of Oz rather than detracting from it. Roger lacks that same charm. This isn't to say that his writing is horrible, but he pales in the shadow of his great-grandfather.

That said, likely due to Peter Glassman being on board with the creation of this book, I believe Dorothy of Oz is the best of Roger's Oz books that I've read so far. (Three.) I did find his point of returning to characters and places from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz irksome. We have Boq and the Queen of the Field Mice returning in a chapter about the Yellow Brick Road. Then we have some expansion on the Dainty China Country, which is actually a nice touch.

Elizabeth Miles' charming illustrations also help the book stand out. Her figures are charming, though for the people of Dainty China Country, I did find the concept of each one having a base awkward. (How do they move around and interact with those things?) That said, while she gives us plenty of illustrations of Dorothy and her friends, we get far too few of other characters. There's only a couple of pictures of the Jester, and one that's unclear as to whether it's Glinda or Ozma.

Dorothy of Oz should be easily available if you want to check it out, both in print form and in an ebook format.

(And anyone wanting an idea of how close Legends of Oz is to the book, yes, Candy County is in the book, but it occurs as a largely self-contained episode before Dorothy finds out about the Jester. Marshal Mallow was created for the film, based on another character, and Wiser serves a very different purpose in the plot.)