After putting it off long enough, I finally went through the last two of Baum's Oz books. Both published posthumously, in case this wasn't sad enough already.
Book 13 is The One With The Even Gayer Birthday Party, and Book 14 is Baum Breaks His Own Record For Unnecessary Cameos.
***The Magic of Oz
opens with a baby supervillain. Munchkin boy Kiki Aru discovers a magic word of transformation, and decides to fly over the Deadly Desert and visit other countries, then come back to Oz and maybe take it over.
(So of course the readers all had to figure out how to stumble through pronouncing "pyrzqxgl." Wish some of them had thought to go back and distort the audio, so what the listener hears is something they genuinely can't repeat back.)
Baum sure does have a thing for fantasy young boy protagonists vs. mundane young girl protagonists, huh? On the one side, Dorothy, Dot, Trot, and Betsy; on the other, Ojo, Woot, Inga, and Kiki, plus I'll throw in Tip, who considers himself male for the bulk of the book in which he's the focus of the adventure.
Mundane boys: Tot, Button-Bright. Fantasy girls: Ozma, and...is that it? There are Polychrome and Ann Soforth, but they both feel like young adults to me.
Didn't even plan this: Kiki Aru drops in on exactly the non-Oz countries from my last review. Hiland, Loland, Merryland, Nol, and Ix.
He ends up in Ev, where he tries to crash at an inn for the night, only to realize that -- worldbuilding! -- Ev uses money, and he doesn't have any. You'd think he could turn into a bird in order to sleep in a tree, but as a baby supervillain he decides to turn into a bird in order to steal someone else's coins.
The ex-Nome King just happens to be in the area, and approves. "I like you, young man, and I'll go to the inn with you if you'll promise not to eat eggs for supper."
It's almost Ozma's birthday again! Look, it was a serviceable plot device the first time around, no reason not to bring it back.
Dorothy is stuck for gift ideas, which is bound to happen when you've been living with someone for, what is it, 30 years now? The Scarecrow is providing a straw-themed gift, and the Tin Woodman a tin-themed gift, but Dorothy doesn't exactly have a theme.
Scraps wrote a song! The title begins "When Ozma Has a Birthday, Everybody's Sure to Be Gay..." ("I am patched and gay and glary / You're a sweet and lovely fairy.")
"Tell me, Toto," said the girl; "what would Ozma like best for a birthday present?"
The little black dog wagged his tail.
"Your love," said he. "Ozma wants to be loved more than anything else."
"But I already love her, Toto!"
"Then tell her you love her twice as much as you ever did before."
"That wouldn't be true," objected Dorothy, "for I've always loved her as much as I could, and, really, Toto, I want to give Ozma some PRESENT, 'cause everyone else will give her a present."
Glinda suggests Dorothy bake Ozma a cake. Then suggests she put something surprising inside the cake. When asked for specific ideas, she says that has to be up to Dorothy. HMMMM.
Everyone ships it, is what I'm saying.
(Her eventual big plan for the surprise: tiny monkeys that do tricks! She decides to ask the Wizard for help, because she has no idea how to (a) hire monkeys, (b) make them tiny, or (c) teach them tricks.)
Worldbuilding update: they've decided they aren't sure whether immigrants to Oz are affected by the "can't be killed" rule, so Dorothy et al are carefully protected.
Trot, Cap'n Bill, and the Glass Cat head out on their own sidequest: to bring Ozma a magic flower that only grows on a secluded island. As with The Scarecrow of Oz
, Trot is missing a lot of the personality she had in her own books. Sigh.
I was going to say "at least she gets a quest," unlike Betsy, whose only adventuring since moving to Oz has been her bit part in Lost Princess
-- but on second thought, Betsy being a homebody who didn't care for her first adventure and would rather avoid having more of them is a nice way to distinguish her from Trot and Dorothy. Let the girl have a quiet, uneventful life at the palace for a few more decades. She's earned it.
About that island: it turns out to be creepily bare ("How funny it is, Cap'n Bill, that nothing else grows here excep' the Magic Flower"). Turns out it's because any living creature that sets foot on the island puts down roots.
Ruggedo and Kiki Aru take on some chimera forms, fly back to Oz, and land in a Gillikin forest with an animal kingdom.
Kiki Aru provides the transformations -- he's smart enough not to let Ruggedo in on the magic word -- while Ruggedo does the planning and the talking. He spins a tale that the people of the Emerald City are plotting to invade the forest and enslave the animals, so clearly they need to attack first and enslave the people instead. Based on hearsay from some creatures they've never seen or heard of before. Yep.
The animals are...admirably skeptical. Kiki Aru transforms a couple of them, backing up the "we're magicians" part of the story, but nothing more.
And this is the point where Dorothy and the Wizard just walk in
. Or rather, ride in on the backs of a giant frickin' lion and tiger
, while the transformed Ruggedo is all ::sweats nervously:: in the background.
The Lion introduces himself: "I am called the 'Cowardly Lion,' and I am King of all Beasts, the world over." The response boils down to "I didn't vote for you."
Dorothy and the Wizard are just here to hire some monkeys, but baby supervillain Kiki panics and does a rapid round of transformations on them. Plus on Ruggedo -- who gets to be a goose, which terrifies him, because what if he lays an egg?
Eventually the Wizard (as a fox) catches up with them, overhears Kiki saying the magic word, and uses it to turn Kiki and Ruggedo into nuts.
Honestly, it's kinda refreshing how fast the invasion subplot peters out. The animals realize the "magicians" were full of it, and immediately drop their halfhearted sense of grudge. A bunch of monkeys even agree to come join them for the party.
The Glass Cat catches up with them to explain what's happened to Trot and Cap'n Bill, they take a detour to wrap up that subplot too, and everyone goes home for the party.
"You will have noticed that the company at Ozma's banquet table was somewhat mixed." Heh.
Character apparent-age update:
When Dorothy and Trot and Betsy Bobbin and Ozma were together, one would think they were all about of an age, and the fairy Ruler no older and no more "grown up" than the other three. She would laugh and romp with them in regular girlish fashion, yet there was an air of quiet dignity about Ozma, even in her merriest moods, that, in a manner, distinguished her from the others. The three girls loved her devotedly, but they were never able to quite forget that Ozma was the Royal Ruler of the wonderful Fairyland of Oz, and by birth belonged to a powerful race.
It isn't until the last chapter that the Wizard finally remembers about the nuts in his pocket.
I've complained about the protagonist-centered morality before, and the ending here might be the most head-desky example on the whole series. Ozma, Dorothy, and the Wizard talk about not knowing how powerful the mystery magicians might be...but unlike with the invading armies from book 6, they're not facing a concrete threat of overwhelming force. It's just a guess. And we, the readers, know for a fact that Kiki Aru is just a kid who knows one trick, while the other nut is Ruggedo, nobody they can't handle.
In spite of this, the characters repeat the "manipulate the attackers into drinking the Water of Oblivion" trick. They recognize Ruggedo, but have no idea who Kiki is, and don't bother to ask before he takes a drink. So the kid loses his identity...and all memory of the family he left at the beginning of the book. Now they'll never find out what happened to their son.
Dammit, Baum, magically lobotomizing characters you don't like is not a happy ending!
Which brings us to Glinda of Oz
, another of those books where the title character isn't the focus, and in fact is only around for half of the story.
It starts as a Dorothy-and-Ozma quest, kicked off when they visit Glinda, read in her Magic Book about a war brewing between two isolated communities, and decide to go intervene.
At Glinda's place: "Ozma took the arm of her hostess, but Dorothy lagged behind, kissing some of the maids she knew best, talking with others, and making them all feel that she was their friend." I've joked about Ozma's harem, but whoo boy, Dorothy isn't doing so bad herself.
Some final retconning: people in Oz can't die *or* suffer "any great bodily pain." So even if you get put through the torn-to-pieces-and-scattered-across-the-
world horror show, at least it won't hurt!
The warring communities are the Flatheads, who have no room for brains in their heads but compensate by carrying some around in cans, and the Skeezers, who live on a sinkable island in a lake.
Both of them have fairly terrible, selfish, dictatorial rulers...but both of them make the point that they've never heard of Ozma, didn't know their lands had been declared within the borders of a country called Oz, and so why should they acknowledge her as their ruler the moment she shows up on their doorstep?
Oh, goody, marriage-is-awful jokes:
"I'm sorry we couldn't have roast pig," said the [Supreme Dictator of the Flatheads], "but as the only pig we have is made of gold, we can't eat her. Also the Golden Pig happens to be my wife, and even were she not gold I am sure she would be too tough to eat."
The Skeezers' island sinks while Dorothy and Ozma are on it, and the ruler gets turned into a swan before she can bring it back up, so they're stuck for a while. Baum indulges in some pretty description of the undersea environment. Reminds me of The Sea Fairies
A bunch of reviews claim this is one of the darker Oz books. It's really not! Remember the first book, where Dorothy and her companions went through multiple fights to the death, and for a while Dorothy was in forced servitude to the Wicked Witch and spent her nights crying alone in the dark? Now here, Dorothy is imprisoned in a place with gorgeous scenery, the company of her best friend, and total confidence they'll get rescued sooner or later. Her biggest fear is getting bored while they wait
Glinda resurfaces (hah!) in chapter 13 of 24. She sinks a model island in a pond near her home, for the purpose of testing various island-raising magics.
I was just thinking how comparatively nice it was to have a stripped-down party, just Dorothy and Ozma...and then in chapter 15 it seems like half the Emerald City heads out to rescue them. The Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, the Lion, Scraps, Button-Bright, Ojo, the Glass Cat, Tik-Tok, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Woggle-Bug, the Shaggy Man, Cap'n Bill, Trot, Betsy, the Frogman, Uncle Henry (but for some reason not Aunt Em), the Wizard, AND Glinda.
That's eighteen people! Tik-Tok, the Woggle-bug, the Lion, and Jack don't get any lines
once the quest is underway. Shaggy, Cap'n Bill and Uncle Henry get one line apiece. One!
Gratuitous magical gizmo for the Wizard: a skeropythrope. He never leaves home without one.
All this is doubly superfluous because most of the conflict gets solved by the Rightful Rulers of the Flatheads, working together with a Plucky Skeezer Lad. Also, another magic-user (a Yookoohoo, same type as Mrs. Yoop) who gets talked into helping via reverse psychology.
(The Yookoohoo, Red Reera, is another shapeshifter, and apparently Baum's original manuscript had her appear as a wired-together skeleton with glowing eyes. Okay, that's appreciably dark. In the published book, she spends most of her time as an ape.)
Dorothy has a good moment where she figures out how to raise the island. The magic was designed by one person, the Skeezers' usurper queen, so all she has to do is apply the psychology of the individual. Well done.
In a nice reversal, the end sees the Flatheads all transformed to have round heads, with space to safely store their brains. So they're much less
likely to get lobotomized now.
And the Skeezers get to elect their new ruler! They pick Lady Aurex, a sweet, subversive courtier who took care of Dorothy and Ozma while they were prisoners. Good choice.
The moral of the story, according to Ozma, is that it's always important to do your duty -- meaning her royal duty to step in when a war is brewing, and bring the diplomacy.
The moral of the story, it seems to me, is that you shouldn't send twenty characters to do a quest that needs, like...six, max
Especially since it really seems like the locals had this covered! Which is, to be fair, not a bad note to leave the series on. Oz is in good hands.