Peacekeeping in Oz

The final Oz novel by L. Frank Baum, Glinda of Oz, opens with Ozma and Dorothy deciding to pay a visit to the sorceress Glinda the Good. While there, Dorothy takes a peek at Glinda’s book that provides news of everything happening everywhere in the world. We learn that the book does not provide detailed accounts, but limits itself to the headlines and a brief summary, which does seem to foreshadow the news results from modern search engines. While browsing through the book, Dorothy learns that two of Oz’s peoples, the Skeezers and the Flatheads are preparing to go to war. Ozma promptly decides to put a stop to this nonsense. After a stop by the Emerald City to put the Scarecrow in charge during her absence, Ozma and Dorothy leave on a peacekeeping mission.

Dorothy and Ozma’s first destination is the mountain home of the Flatheads. As the name implies, these people all have flattened heads. In fact, their heads are flattened just above their eyebrows, which leaves no room for brains. So, they carry their brains around in cans. The Supreme Dictator of the Flatheads claims to be the smartest of the bunch because he has more than one can of brains, all because he took brains from others of his kind. It turns out, the Supreme Dictator is none too happy with Ozma’s interference and plans to imprison her. Thanks to some quick thinking on Ozma’s part, the two princesses escape and make their way to the island home of the Skeezers.

The Skeezers’ island has a great, glass dome and can be lowered into the lake. Queen Cu-ee-oh of the Skeezers isn’t much happier about Ozma’s interference and promptly arrests Oz’s monarch and her companion. She then lowers the island below the lake’s surface and commences to launch a submarine assault on the invading Flathead army. During the melee, Queen Cu-ee-oh is transformed into a diamond swan and forgets all the magic she knew to raise and lower the island. Dorothy and Ozma end up trapped and Ozma has no way to untangle the magic that lowered the island into the lake.

Fortunately, Glinda—remember this is a book about Glinda—sees in her big book that Dorothy and Ozma have been taken prisoner. She travels to the Emerald City and meets with the Scarecrow and Ozma’s advisors. They assemble a rescue party that consists of almost every major Oz character to date. This final book of Baum’s has some interesting perspectives on the limitation of magic in Oz and shows that it can’t simply fix every problem one might encounter.

Glinda of Oz was written at the tail end of World War I and was published in 1920, about a year after Baum’s passing. It’s clear he had things he wanted to say about the nature of war and war machines that can’t always be controlled by those who create them. The domed underwater city foreshadows many similar cities in later science fiction and fantasy novels. Although there’s a large rescue party at the end, it isn’t unwieldy. You get nice moments from the characters that make you glad to get to spend a little more time with them.

Although Glinda of Oz is the last of Baum’s Oz novels, it would not be the last Oz novel by a long shot. Baum’s publisher hired a writer named Ruth Plumly Thompson to take over the series. Between her and other authors such as illustrator John R. Neill, the canonical Oz series would continue until it reached forty novels.

Still, the real delight of the Oz series is that it was a series where both girls and boys could go on adventures. What’s more, both young and old could go on adventures. Uncle Henry and Aunt Em weren’t left behind on that Kansas farm while Dorothy had all the fun in a magical country. Those of us who write science fiction and fantasy do well to pay attention to Baum’s lessons. Over these posts exploring his novels, we’ve learned that Baum wasn’t perfect, but he left a series of novels that are still well worth reading. I hope this series has encouraged you to take a look at Baum’s Oz novels. If you have a favorite, I’d love to hear about it.

Scary Oz

While I’ve been reading through L. Frank Baum’s Oz novels, Zenescope Entertainment released their 2021 Oz Annual featuring their version of the Patchwork Girl. Like Big Dog Ink’s vision of Oz which I mentioned last month, Zenescope has their own take on Baum’s most famous creation. It helps to realize that like many other comic companies Zenescope has their own “multiverse” and many of their stories fit in that world. Oz is one of the magical lands in the Zenescope multiverse. The other lands are Neverland, Wonderland, and Myst. In the center of it all is the Earth we all know and love. In this multiverse, Neverland, Wonderland, and Oz do bear a passing resemblance to their literary counterparts, but they also have distinct differences. In the Zenescope version, Dorothy travels to Oz and ultimately becomes queen of the land. Thorne, the counterpart of the Cowardly Lion, is from a race of lion men. Bartleby is a living scarecrow.

Zenescope’s Patchwork Girl Annual

The 2021 Oz Annual introduces us to the Patchwork Girl. Instead of the happy-go-lucky Scraps of Baum’s novel we meet a witch called Jenny Patch. Long ago she was put on trial for witchcraft. Found guilty, the villagers tried to drown her. Instead of dying, Jenny came back as a living doll, capable of turning others into dolls. Eventually she’s captured and placed into Oz’s Ojo prison. The name is a neat reference to Ojo the Lucky who appeared in the original Patchwork Girl novel. Once she’s in the prison, the people she turned into dolls revert to normal.

Moving forward to the present day, Jenny summons a tornado, which destroys the prison and she escapes with her sidekick, a bug. I don’t recall Zenescope introducing an analog of H.M. Wogglebug T.E. before, so wondered if this was a nod to that character. Not only does Jenny escape, she escapes to Kansas where she unleashes a reign of terror on the townspeople of an unnamed, large town. From the buildings, I’d guess the city is supposed to be Wichita or the Kansas portion of Kansas City.

Dorothy, Toto, Bartleby and Thorne make their way to Kansas and find the Patchwork Girl is creating a whole army of living dolls. So, it’s up to our heroes to stop them. In the Oz novels, it’s stated several times that Oz’s magic doesn’t work outside the fairyland. In this case, the magic has no problem operating in our world, but again, this fits the rules of Zenescope’s multiverse. Overall, I find that Zenescope does a good job with horror action and this comic fits comfortably in that niche. The comic is written by Jenna Lyn Wright, whose work I haven’t encountered before. She seemed to sneak in a few more sly Oz references than I’ve seen in earlier Oz volumes from Zenescope.

Overall, I recommend this for the Oz fan looking for a twisted, scary take on the world. This one is definitely not for younger Oz fans. For those wanting to explore the Zenescope Oz universe you can start with the graphic novels at: https://zenescope.com/collections/tales-from-oz-trade-paperbacks

A Retread in Oz

The Magic of Oz was L. Frank Baum’s penultimate Oz novel. At “lucky” number 13, I expected great things. What I got was a rehash of story elements from earlier novels in the series. Hearkening back to The Road to Oz, it’s once again Ozma’s birthday. As the novel opens, our friends in Oz are scrambling to find the best presents for their beloved ruler. In the meantime, hearkening back to The Emerald City of Oz, our favorite nemesis, the former Nome King Ruggedo, is plotting his revenge on Dorothy and the gang. To achieve his aims, he teams up with a Munchkin lad named Kiki Aru, who lives high atop Mt. Munch. Because the mountain is so steep, the people who inhabit the mountain haven’t interacted much with the other people of Oz. This brought to mind the Frogman and Cayke the Cookie Cook from The Lost Princess of Oz. Even the conflict’s resolution recalls the ending of The Emerald City of Oz.

This is not to say the book lacks fun, it’s just that the best moments are more about the way these characters who have grown to know each other over several books interact than it is about the characters being in new situations. Trot, Cap’n Bill, and the glass cat go on a quest for a magical flower that constantly changes its blooms. Along the way, Trot and Cap’n Bill get into trouble and the glass cat, known for being a self-absorbed creature, must find help and save the day. In the meantime, we get to see Dorothy and the Wizard team up to create a magical birthday present for Ozma. During their quest, they stumble upon the villains trying to stir up trouble among the jungle animals. In a book like this which revisits so many plot threads from earlier novels, one might think the relationship between Dorothy and the Wizard would be hard to distinguish from the relationship between Trot and Cap’n Bill. However, Baum shows his deftness with characters and each set has their own, distinct “uncle-niece” relationship defined by their individual histories.

The Magic of Oz feels like one of those “filler” episodes of a long-running, but popular television show. It doesn’t really do anything to forward the story, but like the best of those episodes, you’re still happy to have spent time with the characters. Sadly, L. Frank Baum suffered a stroke and died about a month before this novel was released. I couldn’t find any information about his health at the time he wrote the novel, but this does feel like the work of a person struggling to provide a satisfying tale to hungry readers. He did write one more novel in the series, which would be published about a year after his death. We’ll pay our final tribute to L. Frank Baum in that post.

The Necromancer of Oz

The twelfth Oz book seeks to answer a question that has been lingering since the series began. In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, it’s revealed that Nick Chopper became the Tin Woodsman because he had the misfortune of falling in love with Munchkin lass who happened be enslaved by the Wicked Witch of the East. The Wicked Witch didn’t like Nick distracting her servant so she enchanted his axe. Eventually, poor Nick chopped off every part of his body. As each amputation occurred, a friendly tinsmith replaced the part until he was all made of Tin. Unfortunately, he got caught in a rainstorm and rusted in place until Dorothy found him. Afterwards, he went with Dorothy in search of a heart, because he could no longer feel love. So, what happened after Nick got the heart? So far in the series, we never heard any mention that he went back to seek out the fair lass, whose mistress Dorothy dispatched when she dropped a Kansas farmhouse on her.

As The Tin Woodman of Oz opens, a munchkin named Woot the Wanderer pays a visit to the Tin Woodsman’s castle and they exchange stories. Woot asks what happened to the girl. The Tin Woodsman explains that although the Wizard of Oz gave him a kind heart, it wasn’t a loving heart, so he never felt the need to seek out the girl, who we learn is named Nimmie Amee. Woot and the Scarecrow call the Tin Woodman on this and inform him that it certainly wasn’t kind never to return to Nimmie Amee and let her know what happened. So they decide to go on a quest to find the munchkin lass. If she still wants to marry Nick, he will consent … out of kindness, of course.

As the quest proceeds, we learn a little of the history of Oz. We hear how the Fairy Queen Lurline saw Oz isolated by the deadly desert and turns it into a fairyland where no one can ever die. In this part of the novel, we learn, “…when Oz first became a fairyland, it harbored several witches and magicians and sorcerers and necromancers, who were scattered in various parts…” When I heard this part, I had to pause and consider the necromancers of Oz. In a weird way, the book doesn’t just mention this idea, it eventually explores the idea.

Over the course of their adventures, Nick, the Scarecrow, and Woot meet up with Pollychrome the Rainbow’s daughter and also find yet another tin man rusted in place in the very same woods where Dorothy had found Nick. This tin man is a soldier named Captain Fyter. It turns out that after Nick became a tin man and rusted in place, Captain Fyter came along and also fell in love with Nimmie Aimee, who was heartbroken because Nick had vanished. The Wicked Witch of the East enchanted his sword and the same fate that happened to Nick, happened to Captain Fyter. Like Nick, Captain Fyter went to a nearby tin smith and was rebuilt. The two tin men decide to visit Nimmie Aimee together to see if she will marry either of them. Nick and Fyter visit the home of Nimmie Aimee and find she’s no longer around. So they decide to visit the tinsmith who made them into tin men to see if he knows what happened to her.

Now, remember that bit about how no one can ever die in Oz? When they get to the tinsmith’s house, they find he isn’t around. Nick looks around the house, opens a cupboard and lo and behold he finds his old head! He then goes on to have a conversation with his old head and finds his old self somewhat disagreeable. What’s more, when the tinsmith returns, we learn that he used the organic or “meat” parts of Nick Chopper and Captain Fyter to create yet another creature he names Chopfyt, which we ultimately meet and find it has its own personality. In effect, we do learn that the tinsmith who made the tin woodman and tin soldier is kind of a necromancer of Oz, which leads me to ponder other story possibilities about other creatures we thought long gone.

I found this exploration of how much the tin woodman and the tin soldier are like their original human forms really fascinating because of how much the scenes anticipate science fiction of almost fifty years later where writers would contemplate what happens to consciousness when the mind is transferred into a robot or a computer. I edited one such novel called Upstart Mystique by Don Braden. You can learn more about it at: http://hadrosaur.com/UpstartMystique.php

Finally, before I sign off, the virtual CoKoCon is this coming weekend. I’ll be discussing such topics as exoplanets, the weird west, badass women of science fiction, speculative poetry and magical creatures. You can find the schedule and register to attend for free at: http://www.cokocon.org/2021/index.html. The convention is all virtual, so you just need Zoom and/or Discord to attend the events from wherever you happen to be. Hope you’ll join us!

Marvel Comics in Oz

While reading L. Frank Baum’s original Oz novels, I discovered that Marvel Comics ran an Oz series from 2009 through 2012. Written by Eric Shanower with art by Skottie Young, the series adapted the first six Oz novels into comic format. Shanower is a long-time Oz fan and knows the books and characters well. He’s also an artist in his own right and I first discovered his work by finding his illustrations of Oz characters, which are strongly inspired by John R. Neill’s illustrations for the original novels.

Skottie Young started at Marvel drawing such titles as Spider-Man: Legend of the Spider Clan, Human Torch, and Venom. He was soon tapped to take on the Oz series. I have to admit, when I first encountered these adaptations the art almost kept me from diving in. It was a little more stylized and, well, cartoonish than my taste in comic book art. However, the more I looked at the art, the more I was reminded of the surreal illustrations Tim Burton drew while imagining The Nightmare Before Christmas. There’s something about the illustrations that’s warm and loving, but just a little creepy, which actually suits the material nicely. I warmed to Young’s style even more after watching a video where he told how Oz helped him find his preferred artistic style. I really love his take on Dorothy, the Wizard, and the Tin Woodsman, along with characters like General Jinjur and Professor H.M. Wogglebug T.E. from the later books. He also does real justice to scary characters like the Wicked Witch of the West and Road to Oz’s terrifying Scoodlers.

The comics are almost word-for-word adaptations of the novels, which means the adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has many notable differences from the famous MGM movie. That said, I noticed that Eric Shanower didn’t slavishly adapt the Oz novels when writing these comics. In his adaptation of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, Shanower actually corrects a logic problem in the novel. Where L. Frank Baum gave us a deus ex machina ending, Shanower tweaks the resolution slightly and foreshadows it giving us some plot tension along the way. Yes, Shanower changes Baum, but he shows us how someone who knows and loves an author’s work can make it better. I suspect Baum would have approved.

After reading the six adapted novels, my primary complaint is that they didn’t continue to adapt the rest of Baum’s canon. Still, if you’re looking for a way to quickly see what the larger Oz universe has to offer, the Marvel Oz comics are a good place to jump in. They helped to refresh my memory of the first three novels, which I’d read several years ago. I then had fun seeing Shanower and Skottie’s adaptation of the three novels that began my current journey through Baum’s fantasy series. In 2020, Marvel brought the series out in three digest-sized volumes under the title Oz: The Complete Collection. Copies were available at both my local comic store and my local Barnes and Noble.

The God-Machines of Oz

Over the course of the Oz series, L. Frank Baum introduced quite a few magical items that should give our heroes almost limitless power. These include the magic picture, which allows Princess Ozma, ruler of Oz, to see what’s happening at a given time anywhere in the world, and Glinda the Good’s great record book, which automatically records absolutely every event taking place in the world all the time. And here I thought Santa’s book listing all the naughty and nice children would be enormous! In Book 11 of the series, The Lost Princess of Oz, Baum asks what would happen if these items, which he’s used to create some deus ex machina endings, disappeared along with Oz’s ruler. What transpires is an entertaining quest story as Dorothy and many of her friends seek the lost Ozma.

As soon as Dorothy discovers that Ozma is missing, she gathers characters from many of the Oz books to search high and low through the land to find out who captured the Princess and absconded with the magical items. Not only is the picture gone, but so is the Wizard’s magical bag of tricks. Four parties go on the search. The book largely follows Dorothy’s party, which is the largest. Betsy Bobbin, Button-Bright and Trot join Dorothy, the Patchwork Girl, the Woozy, the Wizard, the Cowardly Lion, and the Sawhorse on a sojourn to the Winkie Country. A suddenly talkative Toto joins the party as well.

Meanwhile in a remote part of the Winkie Country, Cayke the Cookie Cook discovers that her solid gold dishpan has also disappeared. This proves a terrible tragedy, since she can no longer make the awesome cookies she’s known for. So she sets out with the wisest man … er, frog in her part of Oz, the Frogman, to go find out who stole her dishpan.

This feels like one of those books that Baum wrote to please all his fans. He tries to work in every great character from the ten books before this and he actually does a pretty respectable job. I admit, I found myself cheering a bit when Cap’n Bill appeared and was left in charge of the Emerald City while everyone was away. The only person I really missed was Pollychrome, the Rainbow’s daughter. Not only does this book give us a return of many favorite characters, the new characters are just as memorable as the old. I couldn’t help but smile every time Cayke the Cookie Cook appears. We meet a race of sentient Teddy Bears and our villain has the unfortunate name, Ugu the Shoemaker.

As the novel progresses, we learn that Ugu has gone on a mission to capture all of Oz’s magic for himself. And yes, while I think making really awesome cookies ought to be considered a God-like power in its own right, it turns out Cayke the Cookie Cook’s dishpan has powers she didn’t realize. As befits a novel about a power-hungry man trying to control all the land’s God-machines, he’s undone by one that he didn’t know about because it came from a land outside of Oz.

All in all, The Lost Princess of Oz proves to be an enjoyable tale, if a bit unwieldy at times as all the characters vie for the spotlight. This wouldn’t necessarily be a good book for a first-time reader of Oz to dive into, but it’s a great book for fans looking to spend time with old friends.

Regime Change in Oz

Despite a familiar character in the title of the ninth Oz book, a whole new protagonist enters L. Frank Baum’s most famous fantasyland in The Scarecrow of Oz. Book nine of the series opens when a girl from California named Trot and her teacher and companion, Cap’n Bill, decide to take a boat to visit a cave, not accessible by walking along the shoreline. They end up being swept down a whirlpool and coming up into a cave where the only outlet is back into the water or out through a long, dark tunnel. Trot and Cap’n Bill make the best of their situation. The good captain catches some fish and they decide to rest before exploring the tunnel. While resting and deciding what to do, an Ork comes up from the water. This Ork isn’t one of the evil minions of Sauron from The Lord of the Rings, but a featherless, ostrich-sized bird with a propeller tail.

This group decides to explore the tunnel. Eventually they find their way out and onto a mostly deserted island. The island’s only inhabitant is Pessim, a little man who never sees the good in anything. We learn that Pessim was stranded on his island by his people because he was so … well … pessimistic. Our heroes eventually fly off the island with the Ork’s help and cross the ocean to the land of Mo, a place where it snows hot, buttered popcorn and the people eat candy for dinner. They soon find Button-Bright, the lost boy from The Road to Oz, happily munching on the popcorn snow. In more foreshadowing of Tolkien, our heroes recruit some eagles to carry them across a nearby desert to a beautiful land. Trot, Cap’n Bill, and Button-Bright soon learn they’ve arrived in Jinxland, a country cut off from Oz by a range of impassable mountains.

Jinxland is ruled by a terrible monarch named King Krewl, whose laws are enforced by a whole coven of wicked witches. There’s a princess named Gloria who is in love with the palace gardener, Pon, despite the fact that Pon’s father dispatched Gloria’s father to become Jinxland’s king. Krewl, in turn, dispatched Pon’s father to take his place on the throne. King Krewl’s courtier, Googly-Goo, wishes to marry Princess Gloria. Krewl orders the witches to freeze Gloria’s heart so that she’ll no longer love Pon. The plan backfires, though, and Gloria refuses to marry anyone!

Over in the main part of Oz, the Scarecrow—remember him, he’s the guy in the title—is meeting with Glinda the Good. Glinda has just learned about all the terrible goings-on in Jinxland, plus she sees that Trot, Cap’n Bill, and Button-Bright could use rescuing from this terrible situation. She sends the Scarecrow to the mountains with some magical rope on a mission of regime change.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I’ve been listening to these books in free recordings available at LibriVox.org. One of the things that made this recording fun was that it featured different voice actors in each of the parts. There was some variation in the sound quality among the actors, but I really didn’t have a problem with this since it’s a free recording and everyone was clear and audible. It was also interesting to note that they changed narrators from chapter to chapter. I thought this would bother me, but it actually worked nicely and I enjoyed hearing the different approaches each narrator took in reading the material. Even after I finish the Oz series, I may well look around for other books to listen to, especially ones with multiple narrators.

What are we going to do tonight, Queen Ann?

“The same thing we do every night, Private Files. Try to take over the world!”

Okay, Tik-Tok of Oz doesn’t actually start out like an episode of Pinky and the Brain, but I was reminded of the show when Queen Ann Soforth of Oogaboo decides to lead the eighteen men of her country out to conquer the world. Meanwhile a young girl named Betsy Bobbin and her mule Hank find themselves shipwrecked in a strange fairyland. They go on a quest to find a safe refuge, when they come upon a greenhouse, which is the home of the Rose Kingdom. While they’re there, the Shaggy Man from earlier Oz books literally drops through the roof. The flowers of the Rose Kingdom send Betsy, Hank and the Shaggy Man on their way along with their newly plucked queen who they’ve decided to reject, a cousin of Princess Ozma named Ozga. We soon learn the Shaggy Man is on a quest to find his brother. Princess Ozma discovered the Shaggy Man’s brother was a captive of recurring villain, the Nome King Ruggero.

On their way to the Nome Kingdom, our band meets Polychrome, the rainbow’s daughter who we last met in The Road to Oz. A little further along the road, they come upon a well and find the title character, Tik-Tok, the machine man of Oz. Tik-Tok has long been one of my favorite steampunk-like creations. For all intents and purposes, he’s a true clockwork robot. His thinking, speech, and movements all have to be wound up to work. It turns out that Princess Ozma teleported Tik-Tok to help the Shaggy Man in his quest. Unfortunately, Ruggero found him first and dumped him down the well.

By and by, our two bands encounter each other. Queen Ann’s army consists of sixteen officers and one soldier. The one soldier, Private Files, defects when he doesn’t want to harm the Rose Queen Ozga, Betsy Bobbin, or Polychrome. Queen Ann then recruits Tik-Tok to be her army. The mechanical man agrees under the condition that the first place they invade is the Nome Kingdom, which will, in turn, help the Shaggy Man in his quest.

Despite the title, the book is more about the Shaggy Man and the Nome King than Tik-Tok. Still, I enjoy seeing Tik-Tok in this book. There’s a nice moment near the end of the book where Ozma uses a two-way communication device to talk to the Shaggy Man while watching him through her magic picture. I couldn’t help but think that L. Frank Baum had anticipated video chat in his 1914 novel. Dorothy and her little dog Toto only appear briefly at the end, but we have a wonderful moment where we learn why Toto only barks and wags his tail when other animals who come to Oz, such as Billina the Yellow Hen, learn how to talk.

As with The Patchwork Girl of Oz, I was swept along by the quest story. This one felt different from earlier ones in the series, and I had the sense that Baum was growing more comfortable telling stories with his troupe of characters and bringing new characters into the mix to add spice. That noted, it didn’t seem that Baum paid as much attention to continuity in this volume as earlier books in the series. Polychrome didn’t seem to remember meeting the Shaggy Man back in The Road to Oz. Also, Tik-Tok felt as though he was played more for comedy here rather than being the stalwart defender of his friends. Still, after trying to eschew the series and move on, it feels like Baum is now having fun with these characters and I’m glad to keep reading and having fun as well.

The Patchwork Girl of Oz

It seems fitting that my journey through the Oz books took a brief hiatus between The Emerald City of Oz and The Patchwork Girl of Oz. Baum himself took a three-year break between the two books. The seventh book in the series opens when a Munchkin named Ojo and his Uncle pay a visit to the Crooked Magician, Dr. Pipt. We soon learn that Dr. Pipt created the magic powder that brought such characters as Jack Pumpkinhead and the Gump to life in earlier books. In this novel, Dr. Pipt’s wife Margolotte has sewn together a girl from a patchwork quilt. Dr. Pipt plans to bring the patchwork girl to life so she can be Margolotte’s servant. The reason she’s made from a patchwork quilt is to look sufficiently different from the Munchkins that she’ll stand out and be recognized immediately as a servant. Margolotte gives the patchwork girl just enough brains to do her job. Ojo decides to give her some more. Soon afterward, Dr. Pipt sprinkles on the powder of life and the patchwork girl springs to life. In a terrible accident, another potion is knocked over, petrifying both Margolotte and Ojo’s uncle. Ojo, along with the patchwork girl, now named Scraps, and the crooked magician’s glass cat go on a quest to find the items needed to restore Margolotte and Unc Nunkie to life.

Ojo and Scraps hunt for the yellow brick road. Along the way, they discover an enclosed area of forest and meet a creature called the Woozy, essentially an animal made of box-shapes with just three hairs growing from the tip of its tail. Those three hairs are one of the spell ingredients, but they can’t pull the hairs out, so they bring the Woozy along with them. They soon find their way to the yellow brick road and get to the Emerald City where Dorothy and Toto join the quest.

For the most part, The Patchwork Girl of Oz has been my favorite of the books so far. It has a tight, breezy plot and there are solid stakes. I care about Ojo rescuing his uncle. Also, we meet some truly unique characters in this book. Scraps is delightful. The glass cat with its red heart and pink brains is a little bit of a jerk but still engaging and an imaginative creation. Sadly, the book also gives us a song about “coal-black Lulu” and a scene with Tottenhots, a play on the word Hottentots, which is a Dutch word which has at times referred specifically to South Africa’s Khoikhoi people, and at other times has been applied to all black people in South Africa. The Tottenhots are described as “imps” and John R. Neill’s illustrations of them evoke stereotypical depictions of black people.

Of course, when the book came out in 1913, such depictions were widely accepted and not seen as problematic. Baum and Neill can and should be viewed in the context of their times, but we also need to remember that their society was a casually racist one. I get the feeling Baum was struggling a bit with society’s attitudes about race in this book. Scraps is “born” to be a servant, but she demonstrates she’s as clever as anyone else and never sees herself as anyone’s slave. At the end of the book Ozma reaffirms Scraps’ freedom from servitude. When we get near the book’s ending, Ojo runs into difficulty when the Tin Woodsman won’t let him pluck a wing from a butterfly, because it would be cruel to a living creature. As we’ve seen along the way, many creatures in Oz, including some insects, are sentient and can talk.

In 1891, Baum wrote an editorial advocating the extermination of Native Americans. In earlier posts, I’ve discussed the challenges of admiring artwork by artists with problematic histories. While it’s not clear that Baum’s views on race glimpsed in The Patchwork Girl of Oz are especially progressive even by 1913 standards, they do seem to have advanced from where they had been two decades earlier. I hope that’s true, because if the Oz books teach us anything, it’s that life is a journey and we learn things along the way. We should always make an effort to be better people today than we were yesterday.

But, It Wasn’t a Dream

At the end of the 1939 movie, The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy wakes up in her room, relieved to be home after her journey to distant land of Oz. Her Aunt Em tells her, “You just had a bad dream.”

“But it wasn’t a dream,” insists Dorothy. “It was a place.”

My journey through L. Frank Baum’s original Oz novels has brought me to the sixth book in the series, The Emerald City of Oz, and sure enough, Aunt Em will learn that Oz was no dream!

The Tin Woodsman is ready to defend The Emerald City of Oz

As the novel begins, we learn that Uncle Henry and Aunt Em are facing serious financial trouble. Henry had to take out a mortgage to pay for a new farmhouse after the first one was swept away by a tornado in the first book. Now the payment is due, but Henry hasn’t made enough money. All along, Princess Ozma has been asking Dorothy to move to Oz permanently. Given the dire straights in Kansas, Dorothy finally agrees, under the condition that Uncle Henry and Aunt Em also be allowed to move to Oz. The next day, Ozma uses her magic belt to yank Uncle Henry and Aunt Em to the magical land.

So where did this magic belt come from? That goes back to book 3, Ozma of Oz. The magic belt used to belong to the Nome King who lives across the deadly desert from Oz. Well, it turns out the Nome King wants his belt back and what’s more, he’s decided to take over the land of Oz. As the Nomes begin to tunnel under the deadly desert, the Nome general, Guph begins to recruit allies to help with the invasion.

While all this is going on, Dorothy decides to take her uncle and aunt on a tour of Oz. They’re accompanied by the wizard, the Shaggy Man, the sawhorse, Billina the Hen, and Toto. Along the way they see such sights as the land of the Fuddles inhabited by living 3-D jigsaw puzzles, a land populated by living paper dolls, and Bunnybury, a land of civilized rabbits. Fans of groan-worthy puns don’t want to miss Dorothy’s side trip to Utensia, a land of kitchen utensils. Eventually the party makes their way to the castle of the Tin Woodsman, who is now the Emperor of the Winkies. He’s learned about the Nome invasion and the whole group return to the Emerald City to warn Ozma and prepare a defense. Along the way, they pick up their old friends the Scarecrow and Jack Pumpkinhead.

The steampunk in me was delighted when Dorothy suggests that airships might be a great way to get around Oz. Then after that, the wizard realizes that could be a problem, after all, he arrived in a balloon and Dorothy made her first trip by cyclone. If airships become too numerous in our world, they may eventually find Oz. Not only did I enjoy the reference to airships, I loved how this further suggested that Oz was a real place in our world one could just travel to, assuming one could cross the deadly desert that separated it from the rest of the world.

I have to admit, I’ve long been conflicted about the ending of the 1939 film. The problem I run into arguably isn’t the fault of anyone involved in the writing or production of the classic movie. Dorothy’s return home is nicely handled and the audience can draw their own conclusions about whether Oz was a dream or not. In fact, in the Oz novels, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry don’t believe in Oz until they’re brought there in the sixth book. The problem I have is that I’ve seen too many fantasy stories after The Wizard of Oz that send a hero into a fantasy world, give the hero many heart-wrenching, death-defying adventures, and then bring them back home to discover “it was only a dream.”

What I don’t like is the cliché. If I invest myself in a fantasy story, if the characters engage me enough, I want to believe the world they inhabit could exist. I want to believe that my concern for the character had been justified. I want to believe airships could fly over the fantasyland by accident. The Wizard of Oz screenwriters had good narrative reasons for its ending. If you’re going to put me through a harrowing emotional journey, then tell me the whole experience was just dream, you better have reasons that are just as good or you’ll lose me as a reader.