Tag Archives: L. Frank Baum

Read Your (Book) Shelf Challenge: The Oz Series by L. Frank Baum

8 Jan

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For dedicated readers, and the book bloggers among us, it is quite literally a challenge to put away the library card, refrain from browsing online or in one’s favorite bookshop, and simply read what we have already collected over the years.  But often the question is, where to begin? Michelle of the True Book Addict and Gather Together and Read offers us a neat and easy method for choosing what to read next.

In her Read Your (Book) Shelf Challenge, she asks that we

  • pick one of our shelves (presumably bulging with books yet to be read)
  • pick one book from that shelf (or pile)
  • start from that book and continue along the shelf until you have picked out a total of 12 books, one to read each month in the coming year.
  • the order of reading is up to you–read in order, or pick at random
  • check her challenge post for more details and sign-ups

Here is what I came up with. I picked a pile with these appealing books.

 

But, you say, there are only three books, not twelve! Not to worry, these are omnibus editions (published by Fall River Press) collecting all 15 of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books. I have wanted to read them in order and this challenge presents a lovely framework for doing so. Although I have read some of these beyond The Wizard of Oz, most will be new to me, and reading them in order certainly will be.

I watched the premiere of Emerald City on NBC last Friday, and I will probably keep watching its Game of Thrones-style take on Dorothy, the Scarecrow, Glinda, and the other “cardinal” witches. So far it mixes story elements from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) and from its sequel, The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904), which features the gender-switching Tip and the old witch Mombi who had kept him/her a prisoner. I will read this book in January, and then continue my adventures through the whole series, meeting Baum’s imaginative cast of characters inhabiting the Land of Oz.

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Map of Oz, from Baum’s  Tik-Tok of Oz (1914), illus. John R. Neill.

Don’t Miss…Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return (2014)

16 May

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I saw Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return in a multiplex on Sunday of its opening weekend–Mother’s Day afternoon. I didn’t expect to see many kids in the audience on this particular holiday, but the ones who were there sounded delighted with it, and so was I! This 3D animated musical sequel to The Wizard of Oz was visually inventive, with a charming story, attractive new characters, and some beautiful songs. It pulled in only 3.7 million in box office receipts, coming in 8th for the weekend. I hope those who passed it up on its first weekend will give it another look. It includes plenty of Oziana references, enough to entice committed Ozophiles (Ozmaniacs?), but anyone who has enjoyed the classic 1939 film or read any of L. Frank Baum’s books will get the jokes and feel a tug of nostalgia too.

Legends of Oz loosely follows the plot of Dorothy of Oz (1989), written by Roger S. Baum, L. Frank Baum’s great-grandson (in fact, the original working title of the film was Dorothy of Oz). Just as the MGM musical made some creative changes when they adapted L. Frank Baum’s original story for the screen, Legends of Oz has made some significant changes when adapting his great-grandson’s tale.

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Let me set the scene as the movie does: Dorothy wakes up in her room in Kansas, and she is joyfully reunited with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. But their house and surrounding farm buildings are badly damaged by the tornado. The first problem they face will be a visit from a shady appraisal agent, voiced by Martin Short, who wants to condemn their house and force them (and their neighbors) off their property. This Appraiser is the “Miss Gulch” of the film; in Oz, he will appear again, but in the form of a villainous Jester (also brilliantly voiced by Short). Time has passed much faster in Oz. The Jester now wields the wand of his sister, the Wicked Witch of the West, and has used its power to wreck the Emerald City and oppress its citizens. Therefore, while Dorothy is wondering how she might help her Aunt and Uncle and save their farm, the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion are trying to call Dorothy back to Oz to save them from the Jester.

In any Oz sequel where Dorothy will play a role, some method has to be found to get her back to Oz! For example, in Out of Oz (2011), the last book in his “Wicked Years” series, Gregory Maguire made use of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 to open a portal from California to Oz–echoing L. Frank Baum’s own sequel Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz (1908). In the Legends of Oz film (as in Roger S. Baum’s Dorothy of Oz), Dorothy knows that things are getting unusual again when she sees a giant rainbow racing towards her. One end snakes across the prairie and finally lifts her and Toto up, sliding them along on a fast trip to Oz. The rainbow was sent by the brainy Scarecrow who has rigged the machine in the Wizard’s chamber for this purpose, but the Jester and his flying monkey henchmen arrive and interrupt Dorothy’s flight; suddenly she is deposited not in the Emerald City but in the Gillikin Country. In her adventure-filled passage from there to the Emerald City she will encounter the important new characters of this story, including: Marshal Mallow, an officer in Candy County; the China Princess, ruling over her lands protected by the Great Wall of China (!); Wiser, an enormous, loquacious Owl; and Tugg, a boat built with the help of the Talking Trees. Together they will battle the Jester and try to restore beauty, peace, and equilibrium to Oz (until the next sequel!).

The beauty of the art direction (especially all the porcelain people in the Dainty China Country) and the creativity in the animation made it a delight to watch throughout. In one early scene, the Jester demonstrates that he can’t ever remove his parti-colored harlequin costume because of his wicked sister’s curse: every time he tries to pull it off, it just changes to new colors, switching faster and faster without ever releasing him. Marshal Mallow is an adorable creation, genuinely sweet, although he looks like a very stately, uniformed Muppet: the two marshmallows forming his head are hinged to let his jaw work. His character is voiced by Hugh Dancy, whose rich singing voice makes the song “Even Then” perhaps the most memorable of this lovely and lively score. Megan Hilty (from Smash) plays the haughty China Princess perfectly and sings with Dancy. But the story is really all about Dorothy–from the moment she put on her spunky cowboy boots and started to sing, I felt confident of this Dorothy. Lea Michele gave her a bright, youthful voice and a convincing range of emotions; her effective acting carried through her solo song, “One Day,” and all the songs, and this film is fortunate indeed to have the benefit of her vocal power and expressiveness.

On his website, Roger S. Baum wrote:

We have only to look at the fact that Oz has just passed its 100th Anniversary and is just as popular as ever. America’s greatest fairy tale continues to send us on a wonderful journey, from which we never tire.

Perhaps, the secret, why it remains a modern fairy tale after all these years, is hidden within the story. Herein lies the truths of courage, wisdom and heart and to these three we can easily mix a foundation of good faith, love and understanding.

Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return respects this tradition and adds to it with distinction. And I’m so glad it was a musical!

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Dorothy Gale ranks 83rd on The Fictional 100.

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In and “Out of Oz”: Dorothy in the “Wicked Years” series

2 Jun

Out of Oz: The Final Volume in the Wicked Years by Gregory Maguire, illus. by Douglas Smith. HarperCollins, 2011.

 

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Dorothy, the beloved character created at the turn of the 20th-century by L. Frank Baum in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, makes pivotal appearances in all four volumes of Gregory Maguire’s inspired refashioning of the Oz world, his “Wicked Years” series.  She does not hold center stage, however, in these books which are a brilliant exercise in empathy for the “Wicked” witch, Elphaba Thropp,  and her descendants.  These books imaginatively alter an already alternate universe, and transform a classic of children’s fantasy literature–also widely appreciated by adults–into a sometimes quite disturbing fantasy fiction for adults. In this alternate history, Dorothy Gale still comes in and out of Oz, on and off the stage, at crucial times and much of the story could never exist without her.

 

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Dorothy’s first visit to Oz comes along rather late in Wicked (2004), which introduced Elphaba’s family, chronicled her childhood, and sent her to college in the Gillikin town of Shiz where she unwillingly shared a room with Galinda (later Glinda) and began to learn about the politics of Oz and where she would stand on them.  For one thing, she championed the cause of the free, sentient, talking Animals (always capitalized, as in Lion). She also came to recognize the tyranny of the Emerald City over the other regions of Oz, which were exploited by its leader the Wizard.  After their college years were over, Elphaba began to act, in secret, as an agent of the resistance to the Wizard.

Dorothy’s arrival from Kansas in the twister-propelled house killed Elphaba’s sister Nessarose, who had become the leader of Munchkinland.  Here the story begins to intersect recognizably with Baum’s tale.  Glinda gave Nessarose’s magical slippers to Dorothy, enraging Elphaba, who retreated again to a castle deep in the western region of Oz, the Vinkus (Winkie country). This place was the family home of Fiyero, Elphaba’s only love and father of her son Liir; Fiyero was killed by the Wizard’s secret police who were after her.  While Dorothy and her motley companions walked the Yellow Brick Road to see the Wizard, Elphaba learned sorcery from the Grimmerie, a magic text which had attracted the Wizard to Oz in the first place.

Dorothy had apparently accepted the Wizard’s charge to kill the Wicked Witch of the West, but in Maguire’s telling, she had no such intention, but journeyed there to apologize to Elphaba for killing her sister with the falling house. Elphaba had become embittered by many griefs and their meeting was confrontational and disastrous. Elphaba’s skirts were set on fire and Dorothy threw the bucket of water to douse the flames and save her, but this melted and killed her instead.

 

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The next book, Son of a Witch (2005), tells Liir’s story (with flashbacks to fill in gaps) from the death of Elphaba to the birth of his own daughter.  Dorothy’s role is brief. She took him with her back to the Emerald City and Liir developed a crush of sorts on the odd Kansas farmgirl. Perhaps her being so out of place in Oz spoke to his own sense of disconnection with all that had happened to him.

 

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A Lion Among Men  recounts Dorothy’s first visit to Oz from the view point of Sir Brrr, otherwise known as the Cowardly Lion. But it spans more of his life than this one episode, and thereby reveals more of his character, in keeping with the series’ ethos of respecting intelligent Animals.  

In the final volume, Out of Oz, Dorothy returns to Oz, this time in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906! (This reference to the quake in popular culture has already found its way into the wikipedia article on the event.) Auntie Em and Uncle Henry have taken Dorothy on a trip west from Kansas, in hopes that the change of scene will help cure Dorothy of her persistent delusional talk about Oz!  Maguire manipulates the chronology deftly: From 1900 (publication of Baum’s first Oz book) to 1906 is 6 years and Dorothy has aged from 10 at her first visit to 16 for her second. Meanwhile, about 16 years have passed in Oz (leading to jokes  where Dorothy agrees that time passes slowly–very slowly–in Kansas).  Most of the book follows the coming-of-age adventures of Rain, Liir’s daughter and thus Elphaba’s granddaughter.  The best Oz stories have a child at their heart and Maguire’s concluding tale is no different in that respect. The Cowardly Lion is likewise one of Rain’s faithful companions and provides a necessary link between the first and last books and between Baum’s storyworld and Maguire’s. 

 

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Some of the key plot elements (the war of rebellion in Oz) and several of the characters (including Tip, Mombey, Ozma, and Jinjuria) in Out of Oz mirror those in Baum’s second Oz book, The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904). Of Baum’s fourteen Oz novels, this is the only one in which Dorothy doesn’t appear. However, Maguire gives her an important role, especially in the centerpiece murder trial, “The Judgment of Dorothy.”  Revealing how that came out would be a *spoiler* indeed!

Instead of revealing more of Maguire’s well-crafted plot, let me consider instead how he portrays Dorothy in this series and how his attitude toward her differs from Baum’s. Given how she is described by the narrator and how other characters speak of her, she is an ungainly child, “not a dainty thing but a good-size farm girl,” (Wicked, p. 3), and an even more awkward teenager.  Rather than fitting Baum illustrator John R. Neill’s winsome vision…

 

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she seems much closer to the stocky miss imagined by her first illustrator, W. W. Denslow.

 

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She is saccharine, “misguidedly cheerful,” given to inappropriate singing, apparently stupid, and clearly a menace! In the prologue to Wicked, Elphaba finds her sympathy patronizing. While naive and guileless, she has a definite presence, especially during her trial:

Aha, thought Brrr, there it is: she has graduated to Miss Dorothy. In her zanily earnest way, she’s commanding the respect of her enemies despite themselves. Brrr would never call it charisma but oh, Dorothy had charm of a sort, for sure. (Out of Oz, p. 294)

Her best qualities came out in her desire to make amends and her insistence on helping Rain. But in the end, for Maguire, Dorothy’s life, despite its adventures and calamities (she was an orphan), was not touched to the same degree by the sorrows and tragedies that characterized the Wicked clan. Her disposition was so incredible to the Ozians that they imagined at one point that she must be an assassin, disguised “as a gullible sweetheart.”  Baum prized Dorothy’s innocent goodness, her wide-eyed, doughty good humor, but in the Wicked universe (our universe?), it became almost an affront to the inhabitants laboring under so much pain. The onslaught of sorrows broke Elphaba’s spirit, left Liir perplexed, and made Rain cry for “the whole pitfall of it, the stress and mercilessness of incident” (p. 421). Even Glinda was imprisoned and suffered during the war.  The gentle satire of Dorothy’s “soapy character” makes it clear that this author would not choose her outlook, but instead felt greater affinity for Elphaba above all, whose tortured spirit never really leaves the saga for long.

Myrtle Skete

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