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An Oz-Mo magical re-listen double-header June 23, 2016

Posted by Erin Ptah in Erin Watches.
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Took a detour in the Oz readthrough to check out The Magical Monarch of Mo. (Originally released before The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, then re-released with a matching title in an attempt to capture the same sales magic.)

It’s…quantifiably not as good. And that’s not just the non-Oz location (3/7 of the books so far have spent the bulk of their time touring other settings) or the lack of familiar characters (scroll down for how much I love Scraps and Ojo). It’s a series of short stories, only loosely interrelated, so you don’t get any of the characters developed enough to be invested in them. The writing style is much more telling than showing. Far too many of the names are cheesy puns. (A villain named Scowleyow, a thoughtful prince named Thinkabit, a chatty courtier named Nuphsed. I mean, it’s not that a name like Jellia Jamb is all that morally superior to Bredenbutta, but in Oz it isn’t the only kind of name.)

And it sure doesn’t help that you’ve got princesses being married off as rewards in the very first story. That would never happen with an Oz princess! Nobody would even try.

Surprisingly, the Monarch doesn’t show up at Ozma’s birthday party. The book is relevant now because one of the Mo citizens, the Wise Donkey, makes a cameo in Oz book 7. He was visiting when the cutoff from the rest of the world happened, and has been stranded there ever since. At least he’s gotten comfortable! And made a friend, the Foolish Owl. Maybe they were destined to meet all along.

***

And so, back to Oz! Book 7 — The Patchwork Girl of Oz — my childhood favorite, and one of the biggest reasons I’m glad life didn’t let Baum get away with stopping at 6.

We’ve skipped into the future. And I mean waaay in the future. Back in book 6, Billina introduced Dorothy to her eleven children. Here, there’s a mention that she’s hatched “about seven thousand chicks.”

If she’s kept up her one-egg-per-day rate as established in book 3, that means it’s been almost 7,000 days in-universe — or, a little over 19 years — since the last book.

Ozma has been ruling for two decades! Dorothy still looks like a kid, but chronologically she’s old enough to drink, drive, and vote! (Hopefully not all at the same time.)

And the cool thing is…we can kinda see it. Our heroes make it to the Emerald City about halfway through their quest, and come away with Dorothy and a couple of others added to the party — and she really does seem more mature, comfortably established as a young-adult Ozian citizen. She breaks out some clever diplomacy to help broker a peace between two warring towns. She invokes her rank as princess and her closeness with Ozma to get some favors, assuring the citizens that they’ll be paid back. She doesn’t wander off once!

***

But let’s talk about the people she helps. This book the first non-Dorothy protagonist since book 2, and the first (and only?) protagonist who’s a completely average Ozian child.

Ojo lives in isolation in the mountains of Munchkinland, with his Unc Nunkie, some trees, and not a lot of food. They stop in to visit the Crooked Magician, who’s working on some Powder of Life — the same guy referenced back in book 2, now all expanded and fleshed-out. Worldbuilding!

Which is not to say there aren’t the usual continuity holes. There are references to how nobody dies in Oz and references to past deaths, as well as things the characters are unable to do because it might kill something. And why exactly does Ojo live with his uncle, instead of his parents? Did they die?

The Magician brings the Patchwork Girl to life, but a magical mishap turns his wife and Ojo’s uncle into marble statues. The spell to reverse the enchantment needs a list of obscure ingredients, which Ojo and the Patchwork Girl set out to collect, seeing lots of random Ozian oddities and picking up an ever-changing party along the way.

Seriously, Ojo is such a great protagonist. More well-rounded than a lot of these characters, including, dare I say it, first-book Dorothy. He takes a lot of initiative, partly because his uncle rarely says more than one word in a row, meaning that Ojo does a ton of talking to fill things in.

Being raised in isolation means he’s out-of-step with the national mainstream — I’m not gonna say feral, but he’s awkwardly socialized, and you can see it in the way he bristles and digs in his heels when faced with a law or a social rule he doesn’t want to follow. And he’s so prone to self-blame, especially when he picks up the epithet “Ojo the Unlucky” — any time something on the quest goes wrong, he blames himself and his presence for jinxing anyone who tries to help him.

At the start of the book, he’s told he’s “unlucky” on account of living in such a lonely place and not having much to eat. Towards the end, he’s thought up a bunch of extra reasons to see himself as not just a victim of bad luck but its source, including random details like being born on Friday the 13th. It’s a good thing he has friends and allies to talk him out of it.

***

His closest and truest friend is the Patchwork Girl herself, who is also so great, you guys.

Dances, and makes up rhymes, and has even more resistance than Ojo to things like laws and dignity. But when her brains were originally mixed they had an overdose of cleverness, and that shows, too. She’s the one who starts the ad-hoc diplomacy that Dorothy finishes! When Ojo gets into legal trouble, she figures out what he’s done…and independently invents the concept of “hiding evidence.”

And, okay, here’s a thing: Scraps is created to be a servant…so she’s made out of a multicolored bed-quilt, with the intention that the embarrassment of not being a nice respectable Munchkin blue will keep her in her place as a second-class citizen. Once she’s brought to life, she immediately decides, screw that, she’s going to love and celebrate her unique rainbow self.

Gee, I wonder why kid!me would have glommed on to this book.

***

Science marches on: our heroes spend some time in an underground community which is lit/decorated entirely with a glowing material they dig out of the mines. And it’s…radium.

Hopefully that means magical fairyland radium which does not give the entire species radiation poisoning.

Social awareness marches on: this is the book starring the Tottenhots, which are based on a caricature of African people and exactly as unfortunate as they sound. Some later publications of the book have skipped that passage entirely, which I think is fair. You could refurbish them into just one more innocently-weird fairyland subculture by changing the name and tweaking a few details, but then you have the problem of how to make the result authentically Ozzy without Baum around to consult.

***

But let’s get to the really big thing about this book, much as I love it…

People love to write dark, dystopian versions of Oz. And they make up reasons why the country is Secretly Not As Nice As It Seems. Wicked came up with animal oppression. Dorothy Must Die goes with “everyone is forced to be happy” plus some magic-draining and some sadistic torture.

The thing is, it would be so easy to write a dark Oz that’s based on actual canon problems in Oz. And those are on full display in book 7.

From the beginning we get reminded that Ozma has made it illegal to do magic, unless you’re on a “personal friends of hers” exception list. (Glinda and the Wizard. That’s it.) The Crooked Magician reasons that he should be in the clear because he’s only doing it for his own personal use, but that doesn’t fly when the news gets to the Emerald City, and in the end he’s forcibly de-magicked.

One of the ingredients for the marble-curing spell is a six-leaved clover, which are illegal to pick. This is Ojo’s big dramatic clash with the law: he picks one on the way to the Emerald City. When they get to the gates…he’s promptly arrested, and put in prison, long before anyone tells him what law he’s accused of breaking.

To “save Ojo the embarrassment” of being seen as a prisoner, he gets led through the streets in a “prisoner’s robe.” It’s…a sheet with a couple of eye-holes cut in it. How much more conspicuous can you get? It hides his identity but makes him much more of an object of shame and judgment than if he was just walking like a normal person who happens to take walks with the Soldier with the Green Whiskers.

Oh, and there’s a constant refrain about how shocking this is, because Nobody Has Ever broken a law of Oz before. It’s pure propaganda. The whole reason the “no picking six-leaved clovers” law was created in the first place was because they’re a common spell ingredient, and Ozma was trying to make it harder for people to…break the law about “no practicing unauthorized magic.”

And that’s not even touching on the fact that a female character gets lobotomized for being too haughty and disagreeable. Guys, the Glass Cat was great. In the first leg of the journey — when it was just her, Scraps, and Ojo — she was the protective adult of the group. And no matter how haughty she got about her pink brains (you can see ’em work!), it’s not as if she out-bragged the Scarecrow.

Seriously, this has all the groundwork for a canon-compliant dark series about an unelected monarch running an oppressive propaganda-fueled police state. Where’s that Oz novel, huh? I don’t want to write it, but I sure would like to read it.

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Comments»

1. markrhunter - June 24, 2016

I’m not a fan of Dark Oz, but I am a fan of canon-compliant … I’d have to check that one out. I don’t think I’d write it either, though–I like my Ozma the sweet and well-intentioned type.

2. Nathan - July 1, 2016

It’s strange how, when the later Baum Oz books mention characters who are allowed to practice magic, the Good Witch of the North is never included.

Erin Ptah - July 1, 2016

Good point. I was going to say I think Baum just forgot about her after the first book, but I double-checked the wiki and she makes an appearance at Ozma’s birthday party. Where she puts on a magic show, even.

So: I think Baum just forgot about her after the fifth book. But there’s story potential in the idea that she lost her magic privileges somehow (latent evil?), or flat-out moved out of Oz for some reason. (Didn’t like the idea of the Great Ozsolation, maybe, and bailed on the place before it took effect…?)

Nathan - July 7, 2016

Phyllis Ann Karr’s “The Hollyhock Dolls of Oz” has the GWN return to practicing magic after being retired for a few years.


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