jump to navigation

It’s Oz Conquering O’Clock again here in reread land July 6, 2016

Posted by Erin Ptah in Erin Watches.
Tags: ,
trackback

There’s a Baum-penned book of Oz short stories that came out between books 7 and 8. I’m not sure whether Little Wizard Stories of Oz is objectively better than the stories of Mo, or just feels more grounded because it uses characters we already know…either way, it’s a cute roundup of character moments and worldbuilding details that might not have fit into any of the larger adventures.

And it shows that Baum hates coming up with titles as much as the rest of us.

The Cowardly Lion and the Hungry Tiger: in which we learn that Oz has an afternoon siesta! The Lion and the Tiger resolve to finally act on their natural “tearing a person apart” and “eating a fat baby” instincts, but when they head out into the street, everybody’s napping.

Also: when Ozma is holding court, Dorothy habitually sits at her feet. Um. That setup doesn’t say “auxiliary princess” so much as “lounging courtesan.” (I like it.)

Little Dorothy and Toto: probably the backstory of how Dorothy got cured of her getting-lost habit between books 6 and 7. The Wizard keeps telling her that he’s worried she’ll get in real trouble, and when that doesn’t sink in, he stages an object lesson: disguising himself as a shape-changing imp who captures her and forces her to wash dishes.

He kinda learns a lesson himself, when he has to cut the charade short because Toto nearly eats him.

At one point Toto looks at a warning sign “so seriously that Dorothy almost believed he could read it.” One of several bits of serious foreshadowing that he’s secretly just as language-enabled as all the other mundane animals who have visited Oz.

Tik-Tok and the Nome King: in which it turns out that non-Oz fairy countries have currencies: after the king smashes Tik-Tok and Kaliko fixes him, Kaliko’s wages are raised by “one specto a year.”

This is really hard to place in the timeline. The fact that Tik-Tok leaves Oz doesn’t mean it’s pre-Ozsolation; by book 8 some major exceptions have been carved out. The King is intimidated by Ozma and scared of the consequences of breaking one of her things, which doesn’t jive with his angry, revenge-seeking mindset between books 3 and 6…so I guess it’s sometime during the timeskip, while he’s still reconstructing the events he can’t remember, and figuring out that Ozma scares him.

Ozma and the Little Wizard: in which we learn that Ozma doesn’t just hang out on the throne, but tours the country to do problem-solving in person.

Jack Pumpkinhead and the Sawhorse: more Ozma problem-solving, this time through sending agents. Jack engages in diplomacy with the King of the Squirrels, only to get his head smashed with a branch. It’s like a mashup of that scene with Kronk intoning “Squeak squeakerson squeak squeak,” and the head-exploding scene from Scanners.

The Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman: in which these two queer characters take a romantic boat ride together, and get so wrapped up in each other that they crash into a rock because they’re not paying attention. I’m not even kidding, that’s it, that’s the plot.

***

On to book 8! Tik-Tok of Oz is titled in the fine tradition of “pick one random character who appears in the story, and name the book after them.” It starts in one of Oz’s mini-countries: Oogaboo, a tiny mountain kingdom in Winkie Country. And by “tiny” I mean: “18 men, 27 women and 44 children.”

Baum’s writing is on-point in this book. Strong multi-level plot, snappy humor. Oogaboo “had a royal family of their own. Not especially to rule over them; just as a matter of pride” — and their Queen Ann Soforth (who I always imagined as effectively college-age, immortality aside) gets so frustrated that she decides to head out and conquer the world.

She ropes 17 of the nation’s 18 adult males into her Army — that’s 16 officers and 1 private soldier. Much less capable than General Jinjur’s Army of Revolt, to say nothing of General Guph’s collection of horrors…but, admittedly, a match for the Royal Army of Oz, at least since Ozma promoted their private.

Thing is, the Emerald City is so over being conquered. Glinda sees the Army of Oogaboo coming, and teleports them out of Oz long before they have any idea what they’re doing.

Meanwhile, Shaggy is looking for his brother. The Shaggy Man really is Baum’s favorite, isn’t he? I remembered him being introduced in book 5, and his quest to save his brother here, but had forgotten how Baum stuck him in the party in both of the novels in between, too. He’s like wallpaper. Shaggy wallpaper.

This plot thread racks up a party with remarkable efficiency. Oklahoma girl Betsy Bobbin gets shipwrecked with Hank the donkey, and runs into the Shaggy Man. A detour into the eerily misogynistic Rose Kingdom has them walk out with a Rose Princess (as in book 4, our heroes pick the ripe ruler; but these flowers want to be ruled by a king, so they kick her out). They meet up with Polychrome, lost from the rainbow again — weirdly, she and Shaggy both act like they’ve never met before. Then they yank Tik-Tok out of a well!

I was going to say “maybe this is Tik-Tok on the way back from being fixed by Kaliko,” but no, he was sent by Ozma to help on the quest. One wonders why Ozma didn’t teleport him directly to Shaggy’s side. Or, even better, why she doesn’t teleport them all into the same room as Shaggy’s brother…but I digress.

Asked how to get to the Nome Kingdom: “The best way is to walk,” said Tik-Tok. “We might crawl, or jump, or roll o-ver and o-ver until we get there; but the best way is to walk.” I told you this one was funny.

***

Some thoughts on Betsy. Let’s face it, she’s awfully hard to distinguish from Dorothy at times — plucky young girl from the US who gets shipwrecked in a fairy country with a stalwart animal companion. Ozma even lampshades it toward the end, telling Dorothy that Betsy got shipwrecked “in much the same way you did.”

Some differences: She throws herself into adventure for its own sake, with no wistful thoughts of returning to home or family — in the end she says she has no home to go back to. (We never get that backstory.) It probably helps her adjustment that she’s read some of the Oz books. Not enough to know the Shaggy Man on sight, but she’s all impressed that he’s friends with Dorothy and Ozma.

Dorothy takes weird things in stride, befitting someone whose first fairy adventure happened when she was really little. She’s used to assuming that whatever’s going on is normal. Betsy asks a lot of questions — even about things that are normal by mundane-world standards, like “why are all tubes hollow?”

And she’s nervous about being sent off to sleep alone in a strange place. Dorothy — well, she usually has Toto at her side, but she took it pretty easily in book 3 when Langwidere took away Billina and Tik-Tok before locking her in a tower. Betsy is a welcomed guest when the party lands in Tititi-Hoochoo’s country, and she’s still anxious about being alone for the night, enough that they end up sending Polychrome with her.

***

Okay, backing up: The two quests crash together; Shaggy suggests that Ann can conquer the Nomes while he’s rescuing his brother. Their destinies are further entwined when Private Files quits — he refuses Ann’s orders to take the girls captive — and Tik-Tok obligingl lets himself get recruited to be the new Army of Oogaboo.

Ruggedo may no longer have the Magic Belt, but he still knows a lot of spells and controls a lot of useful equipment. When he spots the would-be invaders, he arranges to drop them down a hole to a fairy country on the far side of the earth. (It’s even pseudo-Chinese. Their formal wear is cheongsams with embroidered dragons!)

All this is very illegal. Kaliko, hearing the plan, sneaks off to his room and starts writing letters of recommendation for himself.

(“I hate mortals more than I hate catnip tea!” You take a lot of that, Ruggedo…?)

Paralleling the army that’s all officers except for one private, this country is all Kings and Queens with one Private Citizen: Tititi-Hoochoo (I didn’t say it was good pseudo-Chinese), who runs the place. A counterpoint to the last book’s legal ideas: “It is wise to ignore laws when they conflict with justice.” Our heroes have broken the law, but it was the Nome King’s fault, so they get sent back to deliver justice.

Along with a dragon!

Serious horror when Kaliko explains how he learned to fear dragons. Another Nome had been torn to pieces by a dragon, you see, and since in fairy countries nobody dies…Kaliko found a chunk of head. That could talk.

I wonder how these dragons relate to the ones whose cavern Dorothy and company snuck through in book 4. For that matter, how do all those underground countries compare with the Nome Kingdom? I’m inclined to believe they’re even deeper — they have no contact with the surface, and the Nomes don’t show any sign of knowing about civilizations like the Valley of Vo. (Not to be confused with the Valley of Mo.)

***

Ruggedo gets insta-smitten with Polychrome, Hades-Persephone style. It’s actually kinda cute. Imploring her to stay: “You shall be my daughter or my wife or my aunt or grandmother—whichever you like.” (Poly: “Are you sure he hasn’t seen the Love Magnet?”)

The dragon came prepared. By the time the dust has settled, Ruggedo has been depowered and dethroned (Kaliko gets his place!); Shaggy has found his brother; and the Army of Oogaboo is sick and tired of conquering and just wants to go home.

Honestly, there’s something shady about Shaggy’s quest. He claims not to remember what his brother looks like. Okay, he left home several decades ago, when the brother was much younger…but when asked the guy’s name, he hesitates. And indeed, only ever addresses the man as “Brother” (while introducing himself as “Shaggy”).

And of course we’ll never see the guy again (the brother; I do expect plenty more Shaggy) in any future books. What was really up with these two? We’ll never know.

In an interesting complication, the characters’ haste in de-powering Ruggedo comes back to bite them. Sure, he deserved the punishment, but he’d put a curse on Shaggy’s brother, and no longer has the power to undo it. Instead the characters have to figure it out through trial and error. Can’t remember any other children’s fantasy fiction that pulls something quite like it.

***

Poly confirmed to be thousands of years old!

The Magic Picture is in a radium frame. Oh geez.

The Wizard invented the cell phone! But didn’t include a mechanism for calling anyone. You just have to hope that you and the other person manage to pick up your handhelds at the same time.

The dragon goes home, the Nome Kingdom adjusts, and the rest of the characters get teleported back to Oz in batches. There’s no legal immigration process since the Ozsolation, and Betsy, Hank, and Shaggy’s brother never got their visas, but obviously in the end they get royal approval to stay.

In the latest edition of I Swear I Am Not Making This Gay Up:

“Well,” said Dorothy, “as far as Betsy and Hank are concerned, I’d like to have them here in Oz. It would be such fun to have a girl playmate of my own age, you see. And Hank is such a dear little mule!”

Ozma laughed at the wistful expression in the girl’s eyes, and then she drew Dorothy to her and kissed her.“Am I not your friend and playmate?” she asked.

Dorothy flushed.

“You know how dearly I love you, Ozma!” she cried. “But you’re so busy ruling all this Land of Oz that we can’t always be together.”

Mmmyep.

Dorothy thinks of Betsy as “her own age,” though Betsy is about 12 and Dorothy has been in Oz at least a couple decades by now. Betsy and Dorothy are about the same height; Ozma is about half a head taller.

And then there’s a brewing fight in the stables (over “who is the sweetest and dearest girl in the world,” with Hank on Betsy’s side, the Sawhorse championing Ozma, and the Lion and Tiger adamant that it’s Dorothy) — which the three heroines interrupt, Ozma standing in the doorway with a mortal girl on each arm. Like a boss.

Finally: this is the book where it comes out that Toto can talk! He just doesn’t want to, okay. Stop invalidating Toto’s life choices with your anthropocentric communication demands. (I kid, I kid. It’s good he told Dorothy, even if he never says another word since.)

***

Programming note: the next Oz book has also been called “the third Trot and Cap’n Bill book”, so I’m listening to the first two of those (The Sea Fairies and Sky Island) first. In case anyone has been reading along, join me on my detour.

Advertisements

Comments»

1. markrhunter - July 6, 2016

Tragically, I’ve never read Little Wizard Stories … I didn’t even know they existed for many years. The same goes with the Trot and Bill books, which I didn’t discover until searching out more Oz reading for my daughter–but at least I finally got around to reading those!

Young as I was when I first read the books, I still remember wondering why Toto didn’t talk for so long. On the other hand, I wish more people took that attitude.

Erin Ptah - July 6, 2016

They’re on Gutenberg! Illustrations and everything. And they’re an extremely quick read.

I read all the Baum books my library had — which meant most of the Oz books, and that was all. Seems like a missed marketing opportunity there. I’m sure there were “also by this author” lists in the books, but they could’ve showcased the connections between the different fairy countries…even done omnibus editions that bundled the non-Oz books with the related Oz ones.

markrhunter - July 7, 2016

On Gutenberg, eh? I guess I have the next addition to my reading list!

I agree, there was a great opportunity missed. My parents bought me Baum’s 14, and I wasn’t aware there were any other Baum books at all until I was about 20, and encountered “The Cowardly Lion” (in horrible condition) at a local library. Ten years after that I was searching out as many of the books as I could, and reading them to my own daughters.

2. Nathan - July 8, 2016

Assuming the Wizard was right about the walking-on-air thing was a product of lower gravity near the center of the Earth and not a magical property unique to that particular kingdom (like glass that can grow), it’s presumably much deeper down than the Nome Kingdom.

Interesting that the Hungry Tiger champions Dorothy when he had met Ozma first. She must have really made an impression on him, or maybe he just wants to side with his best friend.

Erin Ptah - July 8, 2016

Probably true. I wonder if the Nome Kingdom’s caverns ever get deep enough to encounter weird gravity effects.

I wondered about the Tiger too — especially since we know that, though Dorothy likes him, she’s more attached to the Lion! Or at least, that was the case in book 6. If she spends more time with the Lion than Ozma does, and these days the Lion and the Tiger come as a unit, maybe their feelings have shifted.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: