Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Lost Tales of Oz

Joe Bongiorno's Royal Publisher of Oz has a new book out, illustrated by eminent Oz illustrator Eric Shanower. Instead of a single Oz story, it presents seventeen stories by thirteen writers.

I'm one of the writers who contributed to the anthology and thus have some insight into the creation. Each writer was solicited for a story that didn't necessarily have to stick to traditional Oz themes. It didn't need to be “safe for kids,” Joe encouraging us to think of stories that wouldn't be in traditional Oz books. I chronicled the creation of my contribution in one of the appendices.

The book features a framing sequence in which Dorothy, Trot and Betsy Bobbin look through some of the stories that appear in the Royal Library. You could interpret this that not all of the stories are “true,” but the book goes on to consider them so.

Joe runs The Royal Timeline of Oz website and as can be expected, has a big focus on continuity. When he edited the stories, it would sometimes mean that he would add notes to continuity. He might also add other things as well.

The first story is The Great and Terrible Oz Mystery by Michael O. Riley in which Ojo spots some suspicious behavior of the Wizard around the Palace. With some information from Jellia and help from his friends, it's up to Ojo to solve the mystery.

Next is The Witch's Mother of Oz by Paul Dana. This midquel takes place during the final chapters of The Marvelous Land of Oz, introducing the mother of none other than Mombi, who approaches her, revealing some secrets from her past.

The Trade: A Langwidere Story by Mike Conway features a young woman offering her head to Ev's mysterious dignitary. The response reveals that there may be a bit more to explore about the head-swapping princess.

Ojo and the Woozy is J.L. Bell's attempt to create another “Little Wizard Story,” focused on the titular characters. As Ojo meets some new friends, he runs into a situation that the Woozy might be quite suited to handle.

Nathan DeHoff makes the first of three contributions in The Other Searches For The Lost Princess. Taking place during The Lost Princess of Oz, these three short stories follow the other three groups who didn't find Ozma: the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman; Shaggy Man, his brother, Tik-Tok and Jack Pumpkinhead; and Ojo, Unc Nunkie and Dr. Pipt. This one is chock full of puns and Easter Eggs for fans of the Oz series and its adaptations.

Next up is Chop by Eric Shanower. Originally written for an Ozzy horror anthology, it tells how Button-Bright came across the home of Chopfyt and Nimmee Aimee. But this was never a happy home, and it hasn't become any happier... It's probably the darkest story in the collection.

Following is In Flesh Of Burnished Tin by Jeffery Rester, a short piece depicting the relationship of Nimmee Aimee and the Wicked Witch of the East.

David Tai's Diplomatic Immunity comes next, revealing Trot and Betsy investigating an island that has descended on Oz from the sky. It is—in fact—Sky Island, and as Trot is the ruler she has to make the choice whether to enforce Ozma's rule or help her people.

The late M.A. Berg offers The Scrap Bag Circus of Oz, in which Scraps comes across a small circus of plush people and animals, who it turns out where made from the cloths that were also used in the crazy quilt that made up Scraps' body.

Following this is a pair of stories by the late Sam Sackett with Joe helping out. In The Wizard in New York, the Wizard goes to check out the 1939 World's Fair. It's not a majorly eventful story, mostly the Wizard reacting to the state of the world he left behind several years before, including going to see MGM's The Wizard of Oz. But he does pick up a stray cat he names Ali, who features in Ali Cat in Oz, which follows the adventures of the Wizard's new pet cat as it travels through the palace, then the Ozian countryside.

Joe then presents an unusual Oz story in Lurline and the Talking Animals of Oz, which follows the diaries of a resident of Oz who lived through Oz becoming a fairyland and animals beginning to talk and asserting their own place in Oz. It further addresses how Lurline had to intervene to maintain the peace.

Then comes the story from yours truly: Tommy Kwikstep and the Magpie. Journeying to a Gillikin village with Corina the Magpie, Tommy Kwikstep discovers what became of the Good Witch of the North before making a new acquaintance in Perry, the son of the ex-General Jinjur. It's very much a story about relationships, from the families we are born into to the ones we choose.

Up next is Nathan DeHoff's Ozma and the Orange Ogres of Oz, which follows the conquest of the Emerald City of a group of orange ogres and how it was resolved. If you thought it might be a timely political allegory, Nathan actually wrote it over two decades ago and it was revised heavily by Joe for publication.

Marcus Mebes offers Quiet Victory which reveals how Victor Columbia Edison, the talking phonograph, came to live with Allegro De Capo, the Musicker. Perhaps these two were made for each other.

Nathan's final offering in the collection is Vaneeda in Oz, which I admit I had a hand in. Not a big one, but I told Nathan that as I'd written a story featuring Jinjur's son—who was a twin—perhaps he might write a story featuring the other one, Winnie. (As they're Munchkin-born, their names are similar to perriwinkle, a blue flower.) Anyway, Winnie and her friends Henrietta and Paella the Cookywitch decide to investigate the claim that Vaneeda, daughter of the Wicked Witch of the East (name and identity suggested by a never completed story by Ruth Plumly Thompson), has turned the Munchkin Royal Family into glass.

The final story is The Puppet-Mistress of Oz by Andrew Heller. As Dorothy relates her first adventure in Oz, Trot begins to think some things added up too well. Suspicions are raised and questions are answered. And if you've thought about Oz history, it's exactly who you think it is.

Each story is introduced by an opening page that features an introduction written in character by Dorothy, Trot or Betsy. A small illustration by Eric Shanower also tops this page. With the exception of The Trade, there's two illustrations by Eric per story: the small one on the introductory page and a full page illustration. It's all right for some stories, but this means many characters will only be seen in your imagination.

What a lot of Oz fans love about Shanower's artwork is that it's finely detailed and drafted. His human characters look human, and the characters of Oz are designed after John R. Neill's illustrations. He also adds well-proportioned design work to scenery and animals and other creatures so it adds a believable look to the world of Oz, even when completely unreal creatures such as the Woozy are being depicted. I had to admit, I only had a determined visual for Corina when it came to creating my story as she is a Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, also known as a Ceylon Magpie, specifically. Perry I had decided to let the illustrator handle. While Eric did draw Perry and I was pleased with it, what impressed me was that he drew a lot of birds I'd described in the story. That I was not expecting at all!

The book also features notes on the stories that tell how they came to be written, as well as continuity notes by Joe, and then biographies of the authors are given. Mine sadly dated quickly as it mentions that I live with my two cats when that's no longer the case. But I don't think I'll request it to be revised.

The book is laid out in classic Oz book style with the text set in the Schoolbook font with the title of the book being at the top of left hand pages over a line with the title of the chapter being on the right hand page over another line.

With the exception of Chop and moments in Lurline and the Talking Animals, most of these stories fit the traditional Oz style of being fun adventures for all ages with some strange twists. The Oz stories have always toed that line between whimsical and macabre, though. One might want to be a little wary about giving this one to children without some supervision, though. Literature provides a good way for readers to learn about certain concepts, but in the form of fantasy and fiction, it might be best to discuss these stories with young readers.