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.

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.