Monday, February 16, 2015

Volkov-thon: The Wizard of the Emerald City

If you've been a longtime reader of the blog, you've seen me mention Alexander Volkov's rewriting of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as Волшебник Изумрудного Города (Volshebnik Izumrudnogo Goroda), properly translated into English as The Wizard of the City of Emeralds. You may have seen me mention that Volkov wrote five original sequels to this first book, but I've never really discussed this series. That's because I hadn't read it all. However, my collection of translations by Peter Blystone is finally complete, so I can finally tell you all about it.

The Wizard of the Emerald City (as I call it) very much follows the storyline of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, though the opening chapter is quite different. Ellie lives in Kansas with her parents John and Anna and her little dog Totoshka. She has friends and family nearby, so Ellie's Kansas is not quite as lonely as Dorothy's. In an interesting aside, Anna reads Ellie a story about a magician, so Dorothy's remark that her female guardian told her that there were no more magicians or witches is not only retained, but displayed as well.

Then we cut over to the Magic Land, where in the Blue Land of the Munchkins, the Wicked Witch of the East Gingema is brewing up a new spell to wipe out all life on earth, save the few creatures she finds useful. This spell takes the form of a storm, and it is this storm that brings Elli's little house to the Magic Land, and right on Gingema.

The Good Witch of the North (Yellow Land), Villina, uses a magic book instead of a slate. She was informed of Gingema's evil spell and used her own magic to alter it so that instead of the intended mass extinction, it would only drop an abandoned house on Gingema. Well, a house that should have been abandoned. In order for Ellie to return home, Villina's magic book says that she must help three beings fulfill their fondest wishes.

Volkov added this to stress the importance of helping one another, but while it might be interesting to add this to the reason why Ellie may return home, I think Baum did better by having Dorothy assist the people she meets simply because she feels it is the right thing to do. Ellie seems to enjoy helping others anyway.

One little addition Volkov makes is that Totoshka begins talking as soon as he is addressed in Magic Land. He proves a happy, energetic character and is also the one who retrieves Gingema's Silver Shoes, which Ellie decides to wear right away because she was needing a new pair of shoes as it was.

The Scarecrow is called Strasheela by Volkov, and the crow who told him he needed brains returns in sequels and is called Kaggi-Karr. Volkov also changes the Tin Woodman into Iron and the Kalidahs become saber-tooth tigers that went extinct everywhere but Magic Land. Further naming changes include the Wizard: he is known as Goodwin, and he reveals that James Goodwin is his name. The Guardian of the Gates is named Faramant, the Soldier with the Green Whiskers is Din Gior, and the green girl is named Fleeta. The Wicked Witch of the West (Violet Land) is named Bastinda, and Glinda is now Stella of Rose Land in the south. Goodwin appears to the Scarecrow as a mermaid, while the descriptions of the great head and the beast differ from Baum's original a little. The Hammerheads are simply leaping men called Marrans who can throw heavy punches.

Volkov adds things as well. A badger tries to get in to the cottage Ellie sleeps in before she meets the Woodman and Strasheela scares it away. An ogre kidnaps Ellie before she meets the Lion, forcing Strasheela, Totoshka and the Iron Woodcutter to rescue her. Ellie discovers Bastinda's aversion to water and uses it to her advantage. Totoshka stays with the Lion when Bastinda has them captured. The Winkie cook Fregosa is persuaded by Ellie to re-evaluate Bastinda's threats and begins to believe that the Winkies can safely revolt against the Witch. However, Bastinda is killed before that can occur. (She leaves behind clothes and hair when she dies, grisly details Baum glossed over.)

Goodwin mentions he has a source of hydrogen, and after he leaves the Emerald City in his balloon, an eclipse occurs, leading them to believe Goodwin moved to the Sun. Baum's Fighting Trees and Dainty China Country are omitted for another river crossing that is more disastrous as it becomes a raging deluge that leaves the friends stranded for a few days and almost makes them lose the Golden Cap and Strasheela. Ellie also intends to give Strasheela the Golden Cap, realizing that he can use it after her turns, but it winds up going to Stella anyway.

When Ellie returns to Kansas, the ending goes on a little further to inform us that she told her story and that Totoshka had a promised fight with a neighboring dog, ending in a draw. Finally, Ellie went to the fair to get new shoes and happened to see a circus. And who happened to be in the circus but Goodwin himself!

Volkov writes in a later edition's afterword that his rewriting was in line with a bit of Russian culture, which was to befriend and help others. A woman once told me that she'd been in a group that distributed coloring pages and crayons to Russian children in a children's home, and when one child had been missed, the other children began to give them parts of their own gifts so they wouldn't go without. Of all the ways to reinterpret Oz, this take is quite welcome, since it actually feels Ozzy in its own way.

Yet, despite being very close to Baum's original, Volkov had made a new version of Oz called Magic Land that he would eventually expand upon. The first edition of Wizard was published in 1939, and a revised version was released in 1959. (Blystone's translation merges the two texts.) After the revision, Volkov would soon return to Magic Land with a story that had some nods to Oz, but was overall entirely his own.

(These pictures are by Leonid Vladimirsky and can be seen here.)


Anonymous said...

Actually, I believe Blystone has merged various post-1959 texts (there were minor differences). The 1939 text was fairly different, being much closer to the Baum original (including Hammerheads etc.). Check out Blystone's appendix titled "Volkov's Two Wizards" to see the differences.

Jay said...

I'd actually read the notes at the end after I wrote this blog, so thanks for the addition, Marc! (Because I know that's you...)

Anonymous said...

You're welcome. My point was that as far as I can recall (haven't read it in a few years) the text only uses post 1959 versions and didn't use the 1939 one. I used Google Translate to copy and paste this translation of info taken from the Russian Wikipedia article on the book:

Three of the most famous versions and their main features are:

Edition 1939 - the closest to the original text of Baum:
Ellie - an orphan who lives with her uncle and aunt;
Witches and secondary characters have no names;
in the forest between the ravines live Kalidahs ('tiger-bears');
In the mountains to the south of the country live armless Hammerheads with lengthening necks.

The publication in 1959 :
Ellie's parents appear;
Sorceress get names familiar to us;
Kalidahs replaced by saber-toothed tigers;
armless Hammerheads replaced by jumpers - men jump high, hitting the enemy heads and fists.

The third version:

Scarecrow first says with a lot of reservations, gradually moving to the right speech;
before meeting with Ogre Ellie removes shoes, losing the magical protection;
There appear the names Fleeta, Lestar, Worra;
Jumpers call themselves Marranes;
Tin Woodman says that will bring his bride to purple country;
I removes all mention of the elephants in the territory of Oz;
It mentions that the appointment of the ruler of Oz Scarecrow angered some courtiers.

Apart from the above major changes between these editions there are a lot of small text differences, such as the replacement of individual words. We can say that the tale has been completely rewritten several times.

Anonymous said...

And by the way, I really like this blog and am happy to be a part of it! (Marc)

Unknown said...

Actually, the four witches already had names in the 1939 version (Gingema, Villina, Stella, and Bastinda). It was the secondary characters (Faramant, Din Gior, and the others mentioned) who first received names in 1959.

Unknown said...

Just here to make some points.

First off, the main character was renamed because "Dorothy" is non-existent in Russia, while "Eleanor" (Ellie) is more common (though, not much).

The slippers went from ruby to silver because it would be much easier for kids to reenact the story (school plays were a thing back then) - just take regular shoes, wrap them up with tin foil, and you're set.

Scarecrow's new name "Strashila"(Страшила) does carry a similar meaning, but it actually means "something/someone that is scary" (for anyone, not just crows).

The Tinman's new name "Железный Дровосек"(Zhelezny Dravasek) should be translated and understood as "Iron Lumberjack".

Now, I don't know if Baum has this scene, but there's some epic action just before they reach Gingema's castle. We have Strashila beating the shit out of a bunch of crows, and the Lumberjack slaying a pack of wolves (see here for epic DECAPITATION!!!!

Jay said...

Thanks for the insight on the names. The shoes were silver in Baum's original, the MGM film adaptation changed them to ruby because they looked more colorful. Baum also had the large amounts of decapitations, though W.W. Denslow, the original illustrator of the book, didn't draw them gratuitously. The only picture of the wolves he drew simply has one lying on the ground and you couldn't tell it's been decapitated.

American Oz fans like to call Volkov's Scarecrow "Strasheela" just to automatically identify him as that version of the character.

Unknown said...

Check the rest of the post about this series - I plan to write stuff about all of them (especially about the second book)