The Magical Monarch of Mo (1899/1903) and Dot and Tot of Merryland (1901)

After our long and expansive discussion of 1900’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, we knew it was going to be hard to move straight on to the next Oz book, which was published a full four years later. Having already exposed ourselves to The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, we decided to look at the other two full-length fantasies L. Frank Baum published before 1904. One was a book both of us had read a long time ago; one was a book we had never read before. What we discovered was an author who hadn’t quite found himself yet: still experimenting with his craft, trying to determine what made a good fairy story…

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Originally published as A New Wonderland in 1899, The Magical Monarch of Mo was retitled and slightly revised in 1903 following the success of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Either version of the book is a collection of loosely linked fairy tales that focus on the royal family of a topsy-turvy fantasy country where it only rains lemonade, candy grows on trees, and nobody ever dies. Among the “surprises” included are the loss and recovery of the king’s head; the invasion of a cast-iron giant; the peculiar punishment of a fruit-cake island; and the bravery of a prince against the monstrous Gigaboo.

dotcover.jpgIn Dot and Tot of Merryland, the initial followup to the success of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the final partnership of L. Frank Baum and W. W. Denslow, recuperating rich girl Dot and gardener’s boy Tot take an impromptu journey by boat to Merryland, through seven magical valleys, and into the unknown beyond. Along the way, they encounter mixed-up clowns and talking cats, find out how babies are delivered by stork, discover the last resting place of things that are lost, and are crowned prince and princess of Merryland by its fairy queen.

 

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Perhaps, says Sarah, we should begin at the beginning. We made a conscious decision to read two of Baum’s non-Oz fantasies together, in part because we thought we wouldn’t have as much to say, or as much personal nostalgia, as we would with an Oz book. Do you think that was a good decision? Were the two books different enough from each other? 

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Yes, says Nick, for me it was very interesting. These books really shine a light on Baum at the time he was writing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I think I’ve got a really clear idea in my head of what Baum was trying to get at around this time. He seems to be experimenting with different approaches to children’s books, from really larky to really lazy and even patronizing.

I think the thing that struck me the most is he’s still sort of working his way out of the fairy tale tradition. The Mo stories – sorry, surprises – are very thinly linked fairy tales, and Dot and Tot is incredibly episodic, even more so than Wizard.

Baum isn’t really constructing novels yet. He’s still telling loose stories of varying tones and styles, which is actually quite fascinating. For my money, the Mo stories (or at least, how they appear in the 1903 revision) are the closest to resembling Baum’s later work. They have a lighter, less moralistic touch, and they exhibit quite a bit of Baum’s trademark punning humor. They’re still transitory – they’re incredibly violent compared to his later stuff – but I at least recognize the Baum “voice” in them, if that makes sense.

I agree, and I think his influences are clearer than ever in those stories. They start off with stuff that feels more like Alice in Wonderland mixed with some ultra-conventional, Land of Cockaigne fantasy stuff, which is inevitably parodied because – as we know – Baum wasn’t a pie-in-the-sky sort of person.

That’s actually a good point; we’re still in a period when Baum’s writing about princes and princesses and dragons, and he’s only just starting to flip those stereotypes on their heads.

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Frank Ver Beck (1899)

I think there’s a really strong feeling of Grimm and Hans Andersen here, too, and he’s really only undercutting them a little bit, usually through tone. The idea of eternal life, which is quite a major religious theme, is played through all sorts of comic possibilities where people lose their heads or get cut into bits.

Yeah, one thing that really struck me is how offhand his violence is; that pops up again in certain Oz books. People are run through grinders and it’s no big deal!

Yes, some of these surprises are sort of nasty – but you’re not quite supposed to see them that way.

I actually think the treatment of violence is relatively unique to Baum. Roald Dahl, for instance, plays with violence in a similarly casual way, but there’s always something mischievous or a bit sarcastic about it. Baum is sort of…magical-pragmatic about it, if you will. People lose limbs – and then they pick them up and put them back on. Bears are made into sausages and retain a measure of sentience. It’s all done in this, “Well, why not?” sort of tone, like a sort of narrative shrug. “Oh, yeah…I guess he did lose his head. Huh. Moving on now…”

I’d forgotten about the dancing bear sausages! I think the idea that they are still self-aware, even after they’ve been made into food, is the kind of thing even Dahl would hesitate to do. It suggests a complete breakdown in meaning and being that is actually quite disturbing if you linger on it.

I agree! But it’s very…non-nightmarish, just because of the way Baum describes it. He’s so straightforward. “Well, yeah, of course they still like to dance.” It slips by you as a child reader because he never dwells. It’s only as adult readers, I think, that we go, “Waitaminnit…”

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Frank Ver Beck (1899)

Some of it really is genuinely funny, too. All the stuff about the king’s different new heads follows a wonderful magical logic that feels very Baum. There’s even some antecedent to the Tin Woodman in the king’s wooden head, I think.

Of course, it’s all in those fairy tales that are his source material. There’s definitely a talking sausage in Hans Christian Andersen, as well as a talking bean that gets over-excited and explodes. In Oscar Wilde, there is a rocket that is incredibly vain and literally goes off on one.

I don’t know my Andersen as well as I should (the only ones I know are the heavy hitters like Snow Queen and Little Mermaid), but my impression of both his and Wilde’s fairy tales is they’re so moralistic as to be, in many cases, depressing, or at least incredibly pious. Baum does not do that here, which I appreciate. I know I’m simplifying it, but he just seems to enjoy having fun. Once again, I get the impression of a man who told bedtime stories – and reveled in them.

Andersen and Wilde are both taking a new approach to the fairy tale as a literary form that is suddenly full of Christian mysticism and heavy morality, unlike, say, The Town Musicians of Bremen.

I think Baum’s just continuing the evolution of the fantasy story – away from Victorian morality and toward something distinctly American, as well as distinctly “of the new century.” It’s no accident, in my opinion, that something like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is coming out of the turn-of-the-century American mid-west. This is an era of P.T. Barnum, of Harry Houdini, of Thomas Edison… We talked about it a little bit before, but I think Baum’s writing increasingly reflects this new culture. Part of that transition is the kind of trope-flipping you see starting to emerge in the Mo stories.

Right. It’s metropolitan and snappy. It’s moving folk culture into city culture.

Dot and Tot, on the other hand… Well, it’s less obvious what that book is trying to do. Cynically, part of me thinks it’s a simple cash-in on the success of Wizard. There are, actually, some good parts to it, but it just isn’t as inventive as Wizard or Mo, and it doesn’t hang together as a novel. At least, that’s my opinion.

Cynical or otherwise, though, I definitely get the impression in that Baum let Denslow pull his weight in Dot and Tot. I’m not sure if that’s laziness or just a simple admission that half of Wizard‘s success was Denslow’s design. I mean, why not try to repeat it?

Yours is an opinion that I share. The whole book actually has quite a heavily design-led construction, in that it’s sort of linear and symmetrical and quartered up.

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W. W. Denslow (1901)

Good point. I do think I missed something not reading an edition with Denslow’s design. I had to go back and look at a digital version for that. Admittedly, his duo-tone illustrations for the book are lovely. They make the whole thing more attractive. In contrast, the edition I read is the ’90s reprint with Donald Abbot’s illustrations. Abbot’s clearly talented, but his entire style is based on imitating Denslow. His illustrations for the book are fairly few in number and entirely black-and-white, so…what was the point? Why not reprint Denslow’s art, which is surely in the public domain?

Well, quite. I read the Project Gutenberg version and the simplicity of the story feels like it’s tailored for Denslow: lots of vignettes, odd conversations, and round things. In Wizard, you feel like they keep going off the beaten track and deviating from the path and getting lost in the woods and the flowers. Here it’s like progressing through a series of dioramas.

You know what I kept thinking of?

Giving up? Me too.

Ha! Well, besides that. I kept being reminded of old video games on Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis, “platformers” where you have different “worlds.” You know, one level might be an ice world, one level might be a jungle world… I can even think of one or two games where the player-controlled character hops from one magical island to another.

Oh yes! Gosh, the characters even look a bit like the Mario Brothers – and there’s a princess in the middle.

It’s so segmented, so episodic it almost hurts.  I was struck by how easily you could lift whole sequences out; “The Watch-Dog of Merryland” actually was excerpted later, in one of the Reilly & Britton Baum readers for little kids. The whole sequence with the storks and the babies felt like it could be a very sweet picture book on its own.

Dot and Tot also reminded me of Winsor McKay’s Little Nemo comics, which would have been starting just a couple of years later. They are similarly fragmented, depending a lot on their art for their appeal. Clearly audiences of the time were okay with this type of brief fantasy vignette.

I think it’s interesting that in Wizard the journey is really quite arduous – there’s a lot of detail about how Dorothy gets tired and hungry every evening. I think we both singled out references to that in our chat about the book. Here, though, the protagonists just drift from place to place like holidaymakers on the It’s A Small World ride at Disneyland.

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W. W. Denslow (1901)

They’re just sightseers. They have no motivation; they don’t even paddle the boat, as far as I can remember. And apart from a very exciting bit at the middle of the book where it looks like something is going to happen, they change nothing at all.

That’s exactly right! They have an experience and then they go, “Well, that’s very nice, but we must be going.” There is, truly, no plot at all. Plus, there’s a very strange inversion with Wizard that this “Dot,” unlike the one from Kansas, is a massively entitled, spoiled little rich girl. Baum obviously figured out that approach doesn’t appeal to audiences, because he never (to my knowledge) used it again.

Worse, the working-class boy is a sub-human idiot grotesque. I mean, you’re supposed to like him – but in the way that you might come to like a dog, perhaps.

…And I’ve just choked on my coffee. Thanks for that, Nick, old sock. No, you’re absolutely right. Unfortunately, no one took Baum to one side and told him that Tot’s lisping slang is incredibly annoying; it’s going to return with a vengeance when he brings Dorothy – our Dorothy – back to Oz. Prepare yourself now.

I think Dot and Tot are emblematic of the struggle Baum had with his protagonists for the rest of his career. You can tell, in inventing characters like Betsy, Trot, and Cap’n Bill, that he knows his audience responds well to characters they relate with. Yet he just can’t resist taking these normal people and making them, basically, insanely rich royalty. That’s not just the Oz books, either – it’s a common theme in his pseudonymous adventure stories for boys and even the Aunt Jane’s Nieces stories for girls. He cannot resist giving these people fortunes.

The funny thing about all this is that it kind of makes sense to have a spoiled girl enter the book at the start, so long as she experiences some emotional epiphany halfway through. Dorothy doesn’t actually have any more character development than Dot, though – she’s just steadfast and tough throughout.

Even Dorothy eventually becomes a Poor Little Rich Girl in reverse: the next time we’ll meet her, she’ll be on a ship going to Australia. Where did Uncle Henry come up with that kind of money? Before long, Ozma basically sets her up in a palace! So much for “Home Again.”

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W. W. Denslow (1901)

The impression I usually get – and I think this is generally accurate – is that Baum himself came from the upper-middle-class, it’s just that at the time he wrote Wizard he was hurting for cash. Whenever Baum has money, he tends to very quickly give his protagonists money (or the equivalent of “riches,” anyway). Dot may very well be based on his own family – he certainly put her in Roselawn, which was his childhood home. For all we know, Baum was a spoiled little kid who befriended the gardener’s subhuman troll child. We’ll never know for sure. (Okay, I’m being facetious with that last bit.)

Well, he was an ill child, with some sort of heart condition, which is like Dot at the start of the novel. And didn’t his father set up a newspaper for him to run? There’s definitely something to what you’re suggesting, I think.

It’s obvious at this point that neither of us was terribly enamored of Dot and Tot of Merryland. I would say I found it readable, but it’s not a story I really want to read again, which is quite unusual for a Baum book.

What’s interesting to me is it’s one of the very rare Baum fantasies that hasn’t stayed in print at all. It looks like the last of the original publisher’s editions was printed in the 1920s – and then that’s pretty much it until a mid-’90s reprint by Emerald City Press. Unlike Mo, or Queen Zixi of Ix, or even American Fairy Tales, there’s no Dover paperback edition keeping it in print. So my question for you is this: does the book deserve to fade into obscurity?

I think you can probably give a better answer to this than I can, because I don’t know Zixi or American Fairy Tales, but I have to say, if any work of a great writer like Baum deserves obscurity – and we are so lucky to have things like Project Gutenberg, where if you really want to experience this book, including the Denslow illustrations, you can – I personally think this book has nothing to offer a casual reader. I thought it was dreadful for the most part, lazy and cliched and boring and stupid, and even worse for following a novel with lots of nuance and invention like Wizard. Just to be clear, mind you.

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W. W. Denslow (1901)

I’ll say one thing for Dot and Tot, though. I would really like to write a sequel to it.

What, really?

Really. Baum spends ages seemingly buildlng up this really exciting mix of sci-fi and horror and fantasy at the center of the book, with the tyrant and her “thinking machine” and the oppressed dolls. I really want to send Dorothy and Scraps and the Wogglebug into that scenario and find out what’s really going on there. If they can release the Watchdog and shove Dot out of her boat into the water, so much the better.

I can hear next year’s Oziana calling!

I was so convinced that something of the sort would actually happen in the novel itself – and then it just petered out. I feel like, at this point, Baum is attracted to really crazy, somewhat beautiful images but not necessarily interested in telling stories about them.

Unlike Dot and Tot, The Magical Monarch of Mo is still very much available as an illustrated paperback in this country, and you can pick up the Dover edition for cheap, too. Yours has 14 stories, right?

Yes – or rather, 14 surprises.

Quite. I ask mostly because I can’t find my old Dover paperback, and one or two of these stories felt absolutely unfamiliar to me.

It’s funny, I experienced much the same thing. I remembered them as much lighter and frothier.

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Frank Ver Beck (1899 / 1903)

I do know that the Dover uses the color plates from A New Wonderland, which was the original version of the book; there are more of them, and they’re printed in duo-tone. I don’t have as many in my Bobbs-Merrill Mo, but mine are in “full color,” if you will. It’s an interesting distinction.

I think the two-color plates are nice; they have a sort of elegant, simplified art nouveau quality. I’m not quite so impressed by the majority of the illustrations. A lot of them feel rather thrown away and insubstantial compared to Denslow and Neill, but maybe they suit the more ephemeral style of the Mo stories.

I rather like them – despite Denslow’s obvious skill at design, I actually like these more romanticized figures better. The Purple Dragon is great, too. Still not as good as my beloved John R. Neill and his full-on art nouveau style, but quite pleasant, overall, and probably my favorite Baum illustrations by another artist. There’s a lot of really nice topsy-turvy imagery in the stories, and I think that’s reflected in the art.

So do we keep The Magical Monarch of Mo in print? Is it worth it?

I’m going to turn that question back on to you, Grand Inquisitor, and ask: if Mo is read today, who is its audience? Would you read it to a child? Do you think it was a good children’s book even in its day?

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Frank Ver Beck (1899 / 1903)

Well, I quite like the stories – and I quite liked them as a child, too, which probably proves something. Whether they have an audience today, however, I’m not entirely sure; I think if the Oz books appeal to a child, it’s fairly likely Mo will, too, even though the stories are considerably more bitty. If anything, the stories are more child-friendly now than they were 25 years ago, when I first read them; young kids are exposed to so much more violence now on a regular basis.

A while ago, you sent me this piece about a Magical Monarch of Mo sitcom starring Groucho Marx, where he’s an ordinary guy daydreaming about a crazy fantasy world. I see a lot of Tom and Jerry and even Ren and Stimpy in these stories, and I wonder whether some of them might make really good TV cartoons.

I had a similar thought, actually. I found myself wondering why they’d never been adapted, unlike so much of the rest of Baum’s output. They do feel more than a bit like Looney Tunes.

Is that an American tradition, perhaps? That kind of manic violence where people knock each other down and then get up and go home?

Yeah, I suppose it is, really. That’s all The Three Stooges was, in a nutshell, and you see it in film comedies from Buster Keaton to Jim Carrey to The Hangover and on up. You have a physical comedy history in Britain, too, but it’s rather less about the theater of physical pain. Noel Coward we are not, I’m afraid – even the 1902 stage Wizard of Oz has comedy violence in the “Football” song, which I believe was originally performed with the football made to look like the Scarecrow’s head.

I must say, I find it sort of bizarre that there was such a long gap between Wizard and The Marvelous Land of Oz, even allowing for Dot and Tot and a marvelous reprint of Mo. You’ve just reminded me, though: he was a little bit busy with this thing called a major stage musical!

As it happens, Nick, that’s an excellent place to stop and come back later. Soon, we’ll be examining Mr. Baum’s attempt to catch theatrical lightning in a bottle twice – or as most people know it, the second Oz book…

 

Next Time

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THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ

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Dot and Tot of Merryland illustrations from the digital edition available at Project Gutenberg.
The Magical Monarch of Mo illustrations are photographed from the book collections of Nick Campbell and Sarah K. Crotzer, are used without financial gain as examples of the original publications, and remain the property of their original creators and publishers. Please don’t steal them; go buy the books instead.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) – Part II

For those of you who remember, Nick and I were due to finish our discussion of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz some months ago. Fortunately, we were able to do so, but real life got in the way directly thereafter; we had to put our conversations, and this blog, on the backburner for a little while. The result is that you are getting the second half of a conversation long after it should have been posted! Feel free to refresh your memories with Part I right here, and prepare for far more regular updates in the near future…

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Enrique Fernandez (2006)

You were saying, Nick, that this is a story about disappointment.

It is! It’s not quite consistent, because – well, Glinda – but it’s about pinning your expectations on a great man, on a wonderful wizard, and about seeing through the facade of him. I think that’s pretty rare in children’s literature, ’til perhaps the more cynical stuff in the 1970s and 80s; even E. Nesbit’s Psammead (from Five Children and It) does real magic. 

The moment when Dorothy calls the Wizard out – and the little moment later on, when she quietly forgives him – are what really make this a special novel and Dorothy one of the great hero figures in children’s literature.

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Arturo Bonfanti (1996)

“‘Just to amuse myself, and keep the good people busy, I ordered them to build this City, and my Palace; and they did it all willingly and well. Then I thought, as the country was so green and beautiful, I would call it the Emerald City; and to make the name fit better I put green spectacles on all the people, so that everything they saw was green.'”

I think it fits in with the idea – again, Glinda aside – that nothing is what it seems. Perhaps Baum’s just talking about the America he lived in: a world where the rules were being written anew. You’ve got a Scarecrow who doesn’t scare crows, a Lion who isn’t much of a frightening beast, a Wizard who can’t do magic, a Witch who is afraid of a household material…it’s all sort of turned on its head.

The Witch is afraid of the dark, too. 

Right! It’s interesting that Baum is deliberately using certain fairy tale tropes – wizards, witches, jeweled cities – to be at least somewhat satirical. He doesn’t do that very much later on. He creates this anti-fantasy world, and later, he’s content to let it just sort of relax and become a more traditional, idyllic fairyland.  

Glinda – who, you will note, is never called a Good Witch again after Wizard – is the beginning of the decline, so to speak. She’s exactly who she appears to be: an all-powerful, all-knowing, matriarchal magician. That’s very cool, but it’s in total opposition to the looking-glass logic of the rest of the book.

That might save it from the burden of a labored message, though, unlike Mother Goose in Prose. Baum really believes in powers like Glinda’s, and really finds them exciting, even frightening. Glinda and her child soldiers are almost spooky here.

Are they children? They look like young women, not children – at least to me. 

I’m probably being led by Robert Ingpen’s illustration there. They look like something out of Village of the Damned.

And I’m being influenced by Denslow, so that actually brings up a really good point: how incredibly straightforward, pragmatic, and almost non-descriptive is Baum’s prose? He doesn’t do a whole lot of detail…ever. He describes the Scarecrow’s face in some detail, and the Witch’s one eye, and Dorothy’s gingham dress and pink bonnet. Most things are sort of hand-waved, though. You never get a real description of the Tin Woodman, for instance. He could look like anything.

And the landscape itself is still hard for me to visualize. It’s beautiful, of course, but I’m not sure what particular kind of beauty Baum had in mind. Is it an American landscape or what?

Despite the Wizard’s assurance that he is “a very old man” – well, what does that mean? He might be forty, fifty, sixty, seventy. And how old is Dorothy, anyway? Six, eight, twelve? 

That’s definitely a point. We know barely anything about Dorothy, perhaps so that we can project ourselves onto her. We must presume she’s an orphan, but thankfully, Baum doesn’t go heavily sentimental on that point.

There’s an opportunity here for the illustrator to completely change the reader’s perspective of this book and these characters. One thing that occurred to me: are any of these people even necessarily white? 

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Charles Santore (1991)

“When Aunt Em came there to live she was a young, pretty wife. The sun and wind had changed her, too. They had taken the sparkle from her eyes and left them a sober gray; they had taken the red from her cheeks and lips, and they were gray also.”

That’s a really good observation, and of course the answer is, not at all. Baum is very clear on circumstances. These are all working people, from Dorothy through her friends to the Wizard himself – and that’s it.

With very little squinting, these people and their culture could easily exist in many poorer regions of America today. Rest assured that there are still one-room farmhouses in this country; There are still scarecrows, and people who go out to chop their own wood. There are markedly fewer balloonists and traveling circuses, but even those aren’t totally extinct.

Really, this should be the ultimate reprintable, re-interpretable children’s novel. You could do so many different things with it – and two or three small puns aside, it isn’t reliant on the subtleties of the English language, unlike, say, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The human characters could be any ethnicity, and the story could reflect any culture. (Perhaps this is why Alexander Volkov’s “appropriation,” The Wizard of the Emerald City, had such success behind the Iron Curtain despite little significant change from Baum’s original.) Is it, then, the sheer universality of the story – even in the more popular form of the 1939 MGM film – that keeps it alive today? 

It certainly has a fairy tale’s DNA, with the resilient simplicity that comes with that. In many ways it’s extremely historically specific. I read somewhere about it reflecting the commodification that is part of the American dream – and how relevant it is that Baum used to be a shopkeeper. I think one of the saddest things about the novel – something that makes me uncomfortable but also seems true and human – is that the Scarecrow and the others are told (by the Wizard himself!) that they don’t need to be given the things they’re looking for. They just don’t believe him, and he has to give them those things anyway.

If the Witch had been a little more innocent, perhaps the price – marching off to exterminate her on behalf of this scared little old man – might seem rather high.

Well, there’s a certain cynicism about it, to be sure, which is probably pretty clear-sighted.  It really is depressing that Dorothy’s friends insist on those totems to feel satisfied, but I think it’s a pretty savvy reading of how people really are. And the fact that the Wicked Witch actually seems kind of pathetic and washed up is surely the starting place of Wicked and its many, many imitators. I can’t say it’s ever interested me, overly, to know more about the Witches or their history, but that idea appeals to a lot of people. It doesn’t take much doing to see the Wizard’s actions as fairly monstrous. He comes in, sets up shop, insists on his own superiority and takes over. End of discussion. Baum knows how wrong that is, too – it’s the setup for the second book’s big revelation.

I think one of the main reasons I’ve never really cared much about Wicked is that it suggests it’s a revisionist reading of the novel – but it’s all there in the original book.

It is. What’s a little weird is that the stage musical of Wicked (which I prefer) actually has the less revisionist, and more believable, take on events. In the novel, the Wizard is evil – pretty thoroughly villainous in every way. In the musical, he’s certainly not a nice man, but his actions are clearly those of a man trying to keep ahead of the game. He’s intensely, unimaginably misguided, but he’s not actually, you know, laughing maniacally like some supervillain. That, to me, feels more like Baum’s Wizard: a man who is using every trick at his disposal to keep from being “found out.”

Absolutely – he’s a fundamentally pathetic figure. But as with the “Christmas morning” scene with the Scarecrow and friends, he’s also surrounded by people who want to be commanded and infantilized. The people of Oz have never taken off their green tinted glasses and looked at their own city!

Right – and the musical certainly speaks to that. The Wizard is handed power on a platter; they call him “wonderful,” and he decides to live up to the name. I think Baum would appreciate that take on the character.

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Leonid Vladimirski (1959)

“Oz, left to himself, smiled to think of his success in giving the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman and the Lion exactly what they thought they wanted. ‘How can I help being a humbug,’ he said, ‘when all these people make me do things that everybody knows can’t be done?'”

Is it too moralistic? Or is the moralistic aspect of it, as we’ve kind of been exploring, just another smoke-and-mirrors trick? Baum makes it all seem very settled by the end… It’s only when you step back and sort of look at it sideways that you realize it’s all still pretty skewed.

Again, I am pretty sad that the novel ends without them finding out the truth – and with the Scarecrow, of all people, in charge. Depending on how you look at it, that could be seen as an overly cynical conclusion.

I feel absolutely certain that Baum, with his sense of humor, intentionally left a strawman figure in charge. It’s just too perfect a pun. 

And the Tin Woodman gets his heart – and completely forgets about his Munchkin bride!

They all get a little taste of power which they can’t resist.

This is why, to put it mildly, I wouldn’t quite settle for this as the one and only Oz book.

I don’t know what I would think if there weren’t a string of sequels, but what it feels to me is that the story is essentially a fable. Every plot beat, twist and revelation suggests that. Oz is a land of color and Kansas is grey, but at least in Kansas you see what you’re getting (or you do if you’re smart). Baum tells his story so well, though, that we – and perhaps the author himself – can’t help but like the Scarecrow and Company. Even the Wizard is somewhat sympathetic. So we’re caught between thinking, “Yes, how true this rings to me,” and also thinking, “No, it can’t possibly end there.”

I think that’s a pretty fair assessment. And it is, I think, possible that Baum got as much enchanted by his vision as the child readers did. At least, at first.

Did you ever hear the story that Maud Gage Baum told about her husband getting frustrated with his characters “not doing what I want them to do”? I loved that story when I was a child, and perhaps it meant a lot to me when I was thinking about writers and writing my own stuff, even then. I’ve since wondered, though – when was that happening? If it’s true. What does it refer to?

I don’t know, but it probably says a lot about Baum’s process. I keep harping about him being an undisciplined writer, but I don’t even mean that as a criticism. (I’ll be the first in line to admit that I am an extremely undisciplined writer.) It’s just a fact. The idea of Baum getting up in the middle of the night and scrabbling on some wallpaper doesn’t seem at all unusual.

Precisely. I really want to see those drafts that Maud burned now!

WizardSantoreIllo1
Ernesto R. Garcia (1983)

“‘This must be the Land of Oz,’ said Dorothy, ‘and we are surely getting near the Emerald City.'”

So here’s a pedant’s question: how big is Oz here? Is Oz even the name of the entire country? 

I don’t think Baum has really thought about that. Doesn’t he call the land around the Emerald City “Oz”? But Munchkin Country is also “in the land of Oz, my dear!” It certainly takes ages to get around in it. Where is Oz? For you?

I have no idea. This is a continuous problem with Baum’s Oz. He never locates it. He seems to imply that it’s on Earth, somewhere, at least…whereas later, Ruth Plumly Thompson is going to put it on a distinctly different planet.

Is it another dimension? A lost city? Is it fairyland? Dorothy really goes there because Uncle Henry’s had to rebuild the house since it blew away. That feels, to me, like a statement of intent: “This is not an imitation of Alice in Wonderland.”

Here’s my pedantic question. Is Glinda meant to be Gayelette? The woman who created the Golden Cap in the first place. Does that even make sense? I spotted it this time around but it’s never occurred to me before. 

I’ve actually had that vibe before. If it’s not intentional, I do find myself wondering if Baum considered going that route and abandoned it before the published version. Possibly, he just decided it was too tidy a move.

Yes, maybe he just amended Glinda to Gayelette in a late draft. I can’t imagine Glinda with a husband and I’m pretty sure neither could Baum – just lots and lots of beautiful girls in military outfits.

We’re definitely going to have to talk about Glinda’s army of beautiful girls when we get to The Marvelous Land of Oz, Nick. First, though, it’s a little side-step into the realm of Baum’s other fantasies…

 

Next Time

Mo
Frank Ver Beck (1899)

THE MAGICAL MONARCH OF MO

and DOT AND TOT OF MERRYLAND

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All illustration images are photographed from the book collection of Sarah K. Crotzer, are used without financial gain as examples of the original publications, and remain the property of their original creators. Please don’t steal them; go buy their books instead.