And now it’s back to Oz! This is a very special book for both of us, filled with fond memories and favorite quotes. As children, we probably both loved this even more than The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. And so it is with a slight sense of trepidation that we venture on to the Gillikin country, to adventures with Tip, Jack Pumpkinhead, and the Saw-Horse, and ultimately, to the coronation of Princess Ozma herself…
The first Oz sequel hasn’t a thing to do with Kansas, sparkly shoes, or “no place like home.” Instead, it follows the adventures of Tip, a young boy living in Oz, as he escapes the witch Mombi and works to thwart an invasion of the Emerald City – by women! Along the way, he makes new friends, including his creation, Jack Pumpinhead; the highly magnified and thoroughly educated Professor Woggle-Bug; and those venerable heroes, the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman. But will Glinda the Good help them restore the Scarecrow to power? Or is there another, more deserving heir to the throne?
So Sarah, says Nick, it’s The Land of Oz. Or The Marvelous Land of Oz. Or even The Marvellous Land of Oz.
Enough of your double-L, limey! winks Sarah. Seriously, though – isn’t this the most boring title for a book ever?
I think it sounds particularly bad when they start taking the “marvelous” out of it, at which point it means almost nothing.
Oz: The Book! I’ve always found it quite amusing how terrible Baum is at titles. I mean, really, really, really bad. This is the man who wanted to title a book Three Girls in Oz. (That’s The Lost Princess of Oz, for what it’s worth.) “…From the author who brought you such stunning titles as The Road to Oz, The Emerald City of Oz, and The Land of Oz. Could be anything, really.”
I’m glad it didn’t end up with its original title, The Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman, which is like saying, “You know that fun night out at the theatre last July? Here’s the tie-in novel.”
Apparently, even his publishers didn’t have the bright idea to put “Oz” in the title until late in the day, which seems so strange now.
In a funny sort of way, the title makes sense. We really do visit every corner of Oz – and fly over the edge of the map at one point, too. And it’s a novel about the state, its ruler, and their people.
That’s an interesting point. It’s also a book, unlike Wizard, without a starting or ending point outside of Oz itself. Eventually, Baum wrote quite a few of those, but not until the series was well and truly bedded-in, about ten years later.
Does that change how we, as readers, approach the story? Is it tangibly any different to have Tip as our lowly protagonist instead of Dorothy, at least at the beginning? Quite a few adaptations, after all, have gone out of their way to insert Dorothy into a version of this storyline – sometimes replacing Tip, sometimes alongside him.
I think it makes a huge difference for Oz not to be an elsewhere or an escape. In the first book, there’s a major statement in the fact that Dorothy wants to come home to the grey real world: most of the audience want to return to Oz, I think. Here, it’s not somewhere that you leave and look back on and really want to be: it’s a crazy place that people have to live in and govern and make work.
The story is about a restless populace, and a ruler who can’t govern them. It’s about something being wrong with the place you live that has to be put right, even if you do have magical instruments with which to achieve that.
“‘But why need I wear spectacles?’ asked Jack.
‘It’s the fashion here,’ said the Soldier, ‘and they will keep you from being blinded by the glitter and glare of the gorgeous Emerald City.'”
Can you reconcile this Oz with the Oz of the first book? It feels like Baum has trouble: the Wizard is clearly a bad guy now instead of the genial fraud of the original. The Emerald City is a real Emerald City this time, but for some reason, we still need green glasses. Glinda is a sorceress, not a witch, and so on – these aren’t huge changes, but they do change the perspective somewhat, and some of them will influence the rest of the series.
The Wizard is the really interesting figure for me. I feel like Baum is saying here, “No – hang on, I don’t think I quite got this right last time. This man ruled the country based on intimidation, made people live by his dictates, sent a child to kill the witch he was too scared to face. The novel was about him – but I made him too nice. You liked him.”
What Baum suggests about the Wizard here, with regard to Ozma and her father, is really sinister. As for installing the Scarecrow as king, that’s a sign of his contempt for the people. He sows the seeds of Jinjur’s coup. If we’re talking about almost-titles, His Majesty the Scarecrow is an interesting one, because it really points up how the situation at the end of Wizard is inherently absurd, unstable, and ready to fall into chaos.
Yes, I see what you mean. Baum appears to be using the success of the stageplay – where the Wizard was, distinctly, a villain, and the former ruler of Oz was named Pastoria – to wipe the slate clean and start again. That’s not too unusual for Baum; he never really let any sort of continuity get in his way. What’s so uncomfortable about it, I think, isn’t just that the Wizard seemed nice (if rather pathetic) in the first book, it’s that you and I also know with hindsight that he’ll be back in a few books, and he’s going to be a nice guy again. That makes all the things people say about him in this book feel so awkward and wrong!
The same kind of instability can be found in the depiction of Oz itself: in Wizard, it was a magic fairy tale land, albeit a topsy-turvy one. Later, it’s going to be a total fantasy utopia. This is the one story where it appears to function on modern, American lines, more or less, with money, workers, and politics. Again, it’s the stage extravaganza’s influence at work – at least, I think so. Baum saw how successful the “topical satire” approach was and ran with it. Am I right in thinking that dates the book far more heavily than some of the others?
“…Tip was fully justified in staring at the gown for some moments before his eyes were attracted by the pretty face above it. Yes, the face was pretty enough, he decided; but it wore an expression of discontent coupled to a shade of defiance or audacity.”
I think a lot of the book has dated pretty well; it’s not moralistic or patronizing. The magic isn’t wrapped up in the same sort of mysticism as other children’s books of the time: it’s closest to E. Nesbit, if anything. I think there are some legitimate targets in the book: we still have bad rulers only in it for power, profit or status. We still have people installed without election into power and trading on their personality.
The presentation of Jinjur and her radical feminist knitters looks ridiculously crude and old-fashioned, though. It’s surprising, given what we know about Baum’s personal life, and of course, the fact that the land of Oz is a matriarchy by the end of the book, but what might have been read as satire in 1904 is just naff parody to a modern reader.
Ah, the Army of Revolt. I know as a child, I thought they were funny. As an adult, I find them…less funny, and a lot of that’s to do with how lazily stereotyped they are. Yep, they’re girls, hooray. They’re also apparently only interested in having jewels, reading novels, and eating bon-bons – and they’re frightened of mice, too. I know that Baum was probably teasing his wife, Maud, who was the daughter of the famous suffragette Matilda Joslyn Gage, but I’d be curious to know if she actually found it funny or if she just found it tedious and boorish.
I think of Baum as one of those guys who’s basically on your side but is always slightly pulling a face at the word “feminist,” and saying, “Why do you have to be so militant about stuff? Coming on so strong doesn’t help your cause at all!”
Yeah, I agree with that, actually. You certainly couldn’t do the Army of Revolt this way today, although I personally think there’s plenty about militant feminism (or, indeed, militant anythingism) that’s well worth satirizing. I wonder, though, if Baum isn’t all about the last laugh. Could the awfulness of the Army of Revolt be authorial intent? After all, he leaves Oz completely under matriarchal control at the end of the book, and even if you dismiss Ozma as young and naive, Glinda (once again) has all the power. Glinda could crush you.
“Glinda had been carefully considering what to do, and now she turned to Mombi and said: ‘You will gain nothing, I assure you, by thus defying us. For I am determined to learn the truth about the girl Ozma, and unless you tell me all that you know, I will certainly put you to death.'”
The women in his books are naturally clever, strong, dependable people – and Glinda, as you say, could turn herself into a griffin in two seconds and eat you alive. But woe betide they actually mobilize, protest or bring about change. After all, it makes them look so unattractive. I suppose it’s part of Baum’s wider critique of rulers and those who seek power for its own sake.
It is, and that’s probably a lot of why Jinjur is such a spoiled child; Baum rarely writes about truly “evil” people. Instead, he likes to make fun of the things he sees wrong with society, whether that’s selfish materialism or intellectual pomposity, as in the case of the Woggle-Bug. The difference, of course, is that Jinjur’s a genuine problem; the Woggle-Bug’s just a bit irritating, like someone’s uncle who can’t stop telling old and groan-worthy jokes.
It’s funny to think how easily their roles could be exchanged. You could have an infestation of bureaucratic Woggle-Bugs moving into the palace, and Jinjur teaming up with the other characters to try, as they rather ineptly do, in-between squabbling, to save the day.
Oh, that’s an interesting idea! Baum very rarely presents a situation that, from the outset, has to be solved in a specific way. Often, he seems to simply enjoy the character creation process: he props these figures up in his world, winds up the metaphorical keys in their backs, and watches them go.
I feel like there’s a continuing trend in the Baum we’ve read this year, where his ultimate aim is a sort of parable or satire or just a gag, but he writes character so well that they become too human for us to dismiss just as a cartoon. The Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman, for example, both seem meant as bumptious and naïve, but they’re also utterly adorable. You can see why readers demanded more of them.
I’d like to think this is all down to Baum’s love for the stage. Particularly at the time, a good stage entertainment involved showcasing different characters and giving them all “things to do,” often in lieu of an actual plot. The Marvelous Land of Oz has about ten distinct and highly individual characters, and it’s no surprise that Baum wrote this book not just to be a sequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but so he could adapt it and put it on the stage.
I absolutely agree. Wizard still had that strong sense of a fairy tale mixed with the picaresque, but the influence here is mostly “a good night out.” You open the book, you watch some characters dash about and have funny conversations. They escape, come back, escape, come back, fly in the wrong direction for a whole chapter, and finally land at Glinda’s palace in Chapter 20. And that’s where the plot really begins. I’m almost surprised there isn’t a chapter where the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman sing a duet.
You mean like this?
Precisely! It’s not as if Lewis Carroll’s Alice books weren’t a model for Wizard, and they’re packed full of songs and rhymes. This book is mostly played for laughs. Thankfully, they always feel like genuine laughs coming from actual comic characters and how they get along, or don’t. Does this book make you laugh?
“‘I beg your Majesty’s pardon,’ returned the Pumpkinhead; ‘but I do not understand you.’
‘Why, I don’t understand your language. You see, I came from the Country of the Gillikins, so that I am a foreigner.'”
Yeah, I have to admit – it does make me laugh. My father came to visit while I was reading this book, and he found me chortling away over one of my favorite sections: the “interpreter” sequence between the Scarecrow and Jack. It’s very low humor, of course – I tried a few paragraphs of it out on my dad, and he just gave me…a look. But that’s exactly what Baum was going for, I think: the low joke for the populist audience. Make ’em laugh, make ’em laugh, make ’em laugh!
It makes me laugh, too – well, not the puns, but… I do think these characters make a fantastic team, perhaps because they’re all egomaniacs of some kind, which can be hysterical if played right. I do laugh when the girls invade, and Jack says: “We need to figure something out or they’re going to cook me!” And the Scarecrow just says, “Nonsense! They’re too busy to cook, even if they know how!” It’s that absurd, bathetic approach to an absolute crisis, and the fact that everybody’s looking to keep his own head.
Baum is probably remembering his reader there: most kids, like these characters, are rigidly self-centered.
I think it’s undeniable that this is a book intended to be cast, later, with actors; the jokes are meant to be told out loud. I sent you the video above because it’s an actual, staged production of the story. When I found it, I wondered, “Does this material actually work on stage?” And having watched it now – you know, I think it does.
For me, the book evokes the earlier Carry On films: it’s an ensemble piece, and it’s about high drama being handled by a bunch of good-natured but completely unheroic characters. What was somewhat poignant about Wizard is played very broad here.
We’re coming back around to our original conversation about the satirical qualities of the novel. It’s the big blockbuster story of the invasion of the land of Oz, but the people trying to defend it are the wrong people. They’re out of place. They muddle through. Goodness, isn’t this virtually the scenario for Ghostbusters? Or Duck Soup?
…Or the original Star Wars.
There’s a running joke throughout the book about whether the Scarecrow or the Tin Woodman is better off for the thing they received from the Wizard, and at the end, Ozma steps in diplomatically to talk about the riches of content. There is something wonderful about how content these poorly constructed, ungainly, ridiculous people are. Jack and the Scarecrow bond over their unlikely origins. “And so,” says the Scarecrow, “as we differ from all ordinary people, let us become friends.” And I’m saying, “Yes, yes! Me too!”
The idea that Oz is defended by a rag-tag group of friends is probably my favorite part of the entire thing – and I don’t just mean the book, I mean the entire series. I’m one of those rare people who, as a child, really never cared about Dorothy. Dorothy’s the little goody two-shoes I had to put up with so I could get to the interesting people. When I was about eight years old, I would very likely have told you that The Marvelous Land of Oz was my favorite Oz book, and that’s completely because of all the strange and unusual characters.
Yes, I think we’re totally agreed on that. I never identified with any of the human characters, beyond the fact that I wanted to have weird and wonderful friends like Jack.
It doesn’t hurt that, for me as a gay boy reading through my own gay lens, there’s something really special about Jack and the Scarecrow going off arm in arm and, of course, the Scarecrow’s undying (ahem) bromance with the Tin Woodman. Oz is a modern, queer world: the characters don’t occupy any orthodox role assigned to gender. That’s even literal with Tip, whose transformation into Ozma poses more questions than it answers. I really feel this is the queerest children’s novel of the twentieth century, and that makes me happy.
“‘I am convinced that the only people worthy of consideration in this world are the unusual ones. For the common folks are like the leaves of a tree, and live and die unnoticed.'”
I think it’s almost stunning how little gender really means to these characters. None of the male characters acts in a traditionally masculine way, except possibly for Tip; that’s quite interesting, if you sit and think about it. They’re all nice, kind people, occasionally a little pompous or doddery, but essentially very loving. And then there’s Glinda, who – as I said before – could crush you with the power of a thousand suns. None of these people act as a reader in 1904 would expect. Like we’ve seen in almost all of his fantasies up to this point, Baum delights in topsy-turvy; for the first time, though, that aspect of his world isn’t played for laughs or shocks or even basic wonderment. It’s just a fact: this is Oz, and the people are different here.
As for seeing Oz through a gay lens, it’s a topic we’ll definitely need to come back to later, because I think it’s part of how we both read the Oz books now (we are, after all, both openly gay adults). Unlike you, though, I never identified as a gay child or a gay teen. I was, instead, a child with a disability; that impacted my experience of the world, and the behavior of others around me, every single day. At a very basic level, then, you and I both grew up queer – and it’s telling that this is the fantasy world we both found so attractive. Regardless of who you are, what you look like, how you speak, who you love – there’s a place for you in Oz.
“‘Pardon me if I seem inquisitive – are you not all rather – ahem! rather unusual?’ asked the Woggle-Bug, looking from one to another with unconcealed interest.
‘Not more so than yourself,’ answered the Scarecrow. ‘Everything in life is unusual until you get accustomed to it.'”
So what’s your final assessment, Nick? Did you enjoy returning to The Marvelous Land of Oz? Or are you hankering for the return of that little pipsqueak from Kansas?
I was really pleased to come back to The Marvellous Land of Oz. Like you, it was one of my favourite Oz books as a kid and the one I re-read the most, back in the day. I thought it might be all bad puns and rushing around, but it made me laugh, it made me smile. I look forward to seeing Ozma actually “in play,” if you know what I mean.
Absolutely! It’s not, perhaps, a game-changer the way that Wizard was, but it’s a comfortable and endlessly pleasant book, filled with old friends and familiar jokes. Before we come back to Oz, though, you and I have another little tangent to take, right?
Yes! I finally get to meet Queen Zixi of Ix, who I must say sounds fun. I hope some Oz fan somewhere has named either an animal or a child after Zixi.
And after years of waiting, I finally get to meet John Dough, the Gingerbread Man, and we’ll both debate the gender of Chick, the Incubator Baby!
All sorts of new friends and discoveries await us, Sarah!
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