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Oz reread: the one where Sherlock Holmes gets Killed Off For Real, and Glinda did it thirty-five minutes ago. June 17, 2016

Posted by Erin Ptah in Erin Watches.

We’re six books in, at The Emerald City of Oz, and this is the first time we get a physical description of Dorothy. She has “a round rosy face and earnest eyes.”

Also: suddenly, Ozian statistics! The Emerald City has 9,654 buildings, with 57,318 citizens. All the land around it, all the way to the Deadly Desert, is rural/farming country — no other cities. Total population is “more than half a million people.”

So, Oz is about as populous as Luxembourg. Or, alternately, as populous as Albuquerque.

Seriously, though, this is the book that set my mental standard for all magical fantasy worlds that exist in parallel for our own.

There’s trouble at the Gale farm. They’ve been having money problems for a while, thanks to that “Uncle Henry getting very sick” problem from the background of books 3-4, and the even-earlier problem of “our whole house got blown away in a tornado.” (Continuity!) Henry and Aunt Em have always kinda assumed Dorothy’s stories are just vivid dreams, plus an active imagination…but now, when they’re about to lose the farm, they sit her down and say, “look, is there any chance you could go live with your magical friends? We’re still not sure they’re real, but we’re kinda hoping.”

To which Dorothy is all “oh, yeah, Ozma’s invited me to move in with her a bunch of times! I’ll signal her this afternoon.”

And a day or two after that, Ozma goes on to Magic-Belt this poor old couple from the middle of their chores to the middle of her royal throne room. (Dorothy tried to advocate for finding a nice quiet place out back to have them appear, but Ozma shut that down, because she’s a Princess and is going to do this the Princess Way.)

The scene where they run into the Cowardly Lion in a corridor is worth the price of admission all on its own. (Aunt Em tries to intimidate him by staring him down! I’m guessing Dorothy is a niece from her side of the family.)

Aside from these excellent bits, the rest of the action is…fine. It’s the first book — maybe the only one? — where we follow two narratives. Other books have jumped between POVs when the party gets temporarily split up (Tip falling off the Sawhorse and getting left behind; Billina nesting under the Nome King’s throne while the others get stashed in guest suites), but here we keep switching between Dorothy and company on the one hand, and, on the other, the Nomes who are planning an attack on Oz.

General Guph recruits allies in the classic one-two-three fairytale structure, working out the rewards for each group. The last and scariest chieftain is so powerful that his only viable sales pitch is “look, I’m a dick, you’re a dick, let’s go be dicks to Oz together.”

Henry and Em, meanwhile, get a more disorganized tour of random cute Ozian settings. Accompanied by the Wizard (who cites his former travel experience as “Europe and Ireland”) and the Shaggy Man (“I’ve been to Mexico and Boston and many other foreign countries”).

Eventually Ozma figures out that there’s an invasion force digging a tunnel towards Oz under the desert, so our heroes re-converge at the Emerald City to meet their fate together. After they successfully de-power the villains, they decide the only way to keep Oz safe in the future is to build a wall and make the Nomes pay for it.

…I mean, to have Glinda make Oz invisible and un-contactable to anyone in the outside world.

This seems like as good a time as any to complain about these books’ protagonist-centered morality. Don’t know if I thought about it much on previous reads, but it’s really standing out this time around.

Mild example: the the Woggle-Bug, who’s supposed to be pretty pompous and obnoxious, gets chastised in book 2 for making puns. (To the point where the Scarecrow casts doubt on the value of his brains, and the Tin Woodman — the character so soft-hearted, he cries after accidentally stepping on an ant — “twirled his gleaming axe so carelessly that the Woggle-Bug looked frightened.”) But when sympathetic characters — say, the Wizard post-redemption — do the same thing, nobody blinks. And the narrative itself indulges in some shameless pun blitzes in book 6.

This is also the book where a hungry Dorothy wanders into the town of Bunbury, where everything is edible. (I do love that, even when she’s in Oz, Dorothy can’t help but wander off and get lost.) A couple of families generously donate some possessions for her breakfast. Then Toto eats some of the citizens…and Dorothy scolds the town for being too stingy, and says she’s been “kind” to only eat their “old rubbish.” What.

And, of course, the ending. Which we’re supposed to think is a good idea mostly because Ozma had it. What about that triumphant birthday party full of distinguished foreign guests? — not gonna happen again. Wasn’t their diplomatic relationship with Ev a good thing? — don’t think about it. Really, nobody else from the US should be allowed to visit? — really.

Sure, Dorothy (and her family, and the Wizard, and the Shaggy Man, and Billina, and Eureka…) are welcome to be here, even to become permanent citizens of Oz…but, y’know, they’re the Good Ones.

Long story short, there are a lot of reasons I’m glad this plot twist didn’t stick.



1. markrhunter - June 18, 2016

I suspect Ozma was still a brand new ruler, going by what she thought *should* work, without the experience of not knowing what actually might work.

Erin Ptah - June 18, 2016

Eh, I don’t get that impression — she’s shown as well-established and well-respected by the time of her birthday party. And she’s backed up by Glinda, who’s definitely supposed to be old and wise and have great judgment.

markrhunter - June 18, 2016

I don’t know, I think she could have initially come up with something better to counter the Gnome King’s invasion then, “Well, I’ll just wait here for them and maybe it won’t be so bad”. And of course she didn’t always listen to Glinda. Ozma did go on a pretty fast learning curve, though.

Erin Ptah - June 18, 2016

I think practically all the characters could’ve come up with something better to counter the invasion. (Henry and Em get a pass, but everyone else has lots of experience with magical problems and how to solve them.)

So I can’t see that sequence as really speaking to anyone’s characterization…it’s just a problem of Baum not knowing how else to keep up the suspense, except by contriving to have all of them hold the Idiot Ball at the same time.

markrhunter - June 18, 2016

It’s hardly the only book/show/movie where someone had to hold the idiot ball!

Nathan - June 23, 2016

But do they play idiot ball at the Athletic College?

Erin Ptah - June 23, 2016

I assume it’s their flagship sport!

…Who they play against, since the Great Cutoff, is anyone’s guess.

markrhunter - June 24, 2016

No, they take pills for that.

2. Nathan - June 23, 2016

The fact that Zeb referred to his aunt as “your Uncle Henry’s wife’s sister” instead of “your father’s/mother’s sister” suggests that Henry is Dorothy’s blood relative, unless Zeb was being confusing on purpose.

With the puns, maybe it’s the Wogglebug’s delivery that’s bad, as pretty much everyone in Oz makes puns (sometimes intentionally and sometimes not). And the later revelation that Toto was smart enough to talk all along makes his eating living beings more disturbing. Baked lives matter!

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