In 1910, Oz came to its natural end. Eager to write new stories about new fantasy lands, L. Frank Baum put a cap on the Oz stories with a tale that sees Dorothy move permanently to the Emerald City with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. At the same time, the Nome King – who holds a grudge against both Dorothy and Ozma – plots to conquer Oz by means of an underground tunnel and a host of evil allies. He nearly succeeds, thwarted only by some quick thinking from the Scarecrow and the Fountain of Oblivion that sits at the center of the Emerald City. Soon afterward, Glinda the Good arrives to announce her new plan to protect Oz from outsiders: an invisibility barrier. “We are now cut off forever from all the rest of the world,” writes Dorothy at the book’s conclusion, “but Toto and I will always love you and all the other children who love us.” That’s it. That’s all.
. . . Or is it?
Well, Nick, asks Sarah, did you like this book when you were a kid?
It’s funny you should ask that, says Nick. I don’t really have much memory of it, but I do have a photograph of me with the book, which you can see on the front page of this site (and which I’m replicating here). In a way, it’s proof I did read the Oz books, and didn’t just dream it! I remembered odd things about the plot – and I actually remembered it being much more complex than it is . . . .
The only thing I strongly remembered about it – I mean, I knew what happened in this book, but the only strong specific memory of it – was the Nome King ordering his generals through the meat slicer. I genuinely remembered that from some 20 years ago: reading it and thinking, “Uhh, that’s dreadful.”
Yeah, there’s more cruelty to the Nome King this time – and that’s before he takes on underlings who want to slaughter the people of Oz just because they’re happy.
I think if I had been reading some of the other Baum books carefully at the time I would have noticed similar scenes, but for some reason, I didn’t. Perhaps Emerald City was one of the last Oz books I reread before giving up on them as a teenager.
My childhood copy of Emerald City is physically warped – I must have left it out in the rain or something because it’s really swollen up and looks huge. I remember it being like War and Peace . . . which it is, I suppose! On the cover, it had the most dreary photo of Fairuza Balk standing next to a mirror, and I didn’t care; I suppose I saw it as a serious photo for a serious book.
That’s all right. My own childhood edition was the Dover one – you know, the one with the 1930s cover of a rather leggy Ozma riding the Sawhorse sidesaddle.
. . . And the Sawhorse is sort of sprinting – in a way that neither of them do, even a bit, in the novel?
That’s the one. That’s the cover I associate with The Emerald City of Oz! It’s funny what sticks in your brain.
Given that I’d probably only read the book once or twice as a child (on a trampoline, in the garden), I really clearly remembered Miss Cuttenclip and the Utensia trial. As in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, it seems like a real callback to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Well, the Utensia trial is just an unending series of puns. Each sentence could end with a “ba-dum-tish!” cymbal crash. It’s very funny, but it’s so rapid-fire it feels a little out of place with the rest of the book.
Dorothy basically wanders away, gets lost, goes to Utensia, Bunbury and Bunnybury, is threatened with death by most of them, eats a few of them and goes back, and everybody’s just like, “Oh, we knew you’d be all right,” and the plot resumes.
There is that great line from the Wizard: “Have you been having adventures again?”
I do like the thought that Dorothy even wanders away from the adventure we’re reading to have more adventures. Maybe in other books there are unseen moments where Dorothy just goes through a door nobody else noticed, has a book’s worth of adventures, and comes back in time for the next chapter to start.
Well, here they’re utterly pointless adventures, and they have no reason to be there – except to give John R. Neill a reason to draw rabbits. He seems to have had a real affinity for rabbits – if you look at his other work in illustration and advertising, he often finds a way to work bunnies in, and they’re always lovely bunnies at that. We’ll see more bunnies from him in later books, too. In general, he seems to have really enjoyed drawing animals, although – like Denslow – he makes an odd assumption that a lion is about the size of an elephant.
At least with the bunnies of Bunnybury, Baum has provided him with justification for drawing animals in clothes, which seems to be his obsession. He puts a little jacket on the alligator that Guph has to jump over . . . .
. . . And there was Eureka and her tailcoat, back in Dorothy and the Wizard.
Yes, and her flamboyant court clothes. How strange!
The Talented Mr. Neill
An admission for you: when I was a kid, the much-beloved Books of Wonder editions came out at the rate of one a year, and I think by the time The Emerald City of Oz came out, I must have been getting into being a teenager, and maybe a little bit out of Oz, at least for a while. As a result, I never bought it. My collection ended at The Road to Oz for the longest time.
Oh dear! That doesn’t sound like a good idea. Reverse that decision as soon as possible.
I did – years and years later, when I had to really hunt for it! That’s a very long-winded way of telling you that this is the first time I’ve ever read the book with color pictures, which has been an extra-special treat.
This is the first time I’ve ever read it with pictures of any kind!
Whoa. There you go!
It’s interesting, actually. I quite enjoyed reading The Road to Oz in the edition I used to have, with no pictures, because I was obliged – or allowed – to imagine things for myself. Those more mannered Victorian illustrations can sometimes prevent you fully immersing yourself in the book, I think. (Editorial note: Sarah disagrees and is shaking her head.) This time, that just didn’t happen. I settled quite quickly on the Books of Wonder edition, and these illustrations are my favorite of all we’ve seen so far, by a long way.
It’s funny you say that! As I was about halfway through the book, I was thinking to myself, “This must surely be the nicest designed Oz book yet.” It has the nicest pictures, it has the nicest layout, it has a really strong balance of color and black and white. I especially like the little headings that Neill does for each chapter – it all adds up to a really nice aesthetic object.
Something about the way that the characters are depicted feels less stylized. Last time you told me how there was a bit of tension between Neill and Baum, that Baum was concerned that Neill’s pictures didn’t quite represent his characters, who are just so full of life. For me, these feel warmer – more likeable and more animated, I guess, than in previous books.
These have a nice fluidity about them, which I think combines Neill’s sheer penmanship with that sense of movement. He’s starting to strike a really nice balance, and I think as we go on, you’ll see him loosen up more and more and more and more, to the point where, somewhere in the middle of the Thompsons, he becomes very cartoony – which I don’t like as much. Normally, though, I would say that the late Baum period – Tik-Tok of Oz onward – is my favorite Neill period, too, because he’s weighing out a slightly more simplified look with a lot of nice illustrative detail. I think you’re right; this is the first time it’s really just firing on all cylinders.
In a peculiar yet wonderful coincidence – and don’t those just keep happening to us, with this blog? – our conversation about Neill dovetails nicely with an experience I had just after Christmas. I was thrilled to discover that one of John R. Neill’s original Oz illustrations – the Chapter Three title heading for Tik-Tok of Oz, featuring Glinda – was up for auction in my hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee. Fortunately, my parents still live there, so I was able to go back and get a short audience with the picture during the auction preview. It was rather like crashing a wedding: furtive, a bit illicit, and altogether very exciting. As you can see, I was pretty thrilled. How amazing to see the original work of one of my favorite artists, and in such a gorgeous character portrait, too.
I really love everything about this story: I love that you made that pilgrimage, I love that you defied the stuffy atmosphere to get your picture taken, and I love the look of excitement in your eyes. Also, of course, I love getting a (second-hand) look at Neill’s original artwork, how natural his line work is, and how perfect that composition. I really feel like we’re looking at Neill’s handwriting. He’s showing off his love of Art Nouveau, pre-Raphaelite imagery, and just the joy of making something modest in size but beautiful in effect.
What impressed me most was how few remnants there are of any pencil lines or pre-work; mostly, it’s just a collection of quick, sharp pen strokes that build up a beautiful picture. Comparing it to a 1920 edition of the book on site – and later, to the Books of Wonder edition – it’s startling what a drop in quality there is when his work is reproduced. And that leads into our next topic . . . .
Every Book a Wonder
Out of the entire design of Emerald City, my only complaint is that a couple of the watercolors, while very pretty, are so detailed, and seen at such a distance from their subjects, that I can’t always make out what’s going on. My eye just doesn’t naturally pick up all the detail. Take a look, for example, at the plate of Glinda, Dorothy, and Ozma. Let me know when you see the Nome King.
Are you sure you mean the picture I think you mean? He’s not…oh!
Yeah, there you are – exactly. One day, I just opened it up and went, “Good grief, there he is!”
That is funny. I had a similar feeling about other pictures, and I did wonder if that was anything to do with how they’ve been printed in the modern edition. Take the illustration of Dorothy being apprehended by an army of spoons. Look in the tree above her; there are houses of some kind in the branches above the tree.
It’s very hard to make out. Honestly, it kind of gets lost in that sea of green that makes up the background.
There’s Billina in that picture, as well, and I hadn’t spotted her the first time.
Oh, she is, isn’t she! No, I hadn’t noticed her at all. They’re complicated pictures, and I’d say it’s likely Reilly & Britton never replicated them at the quality Neill painted them. If you look, for instance, at the 1939 Junior Edition – like last month, when we showed a few colored pictures from The Road to Oz? – they’ve replicated his paintings as horrible muddy washes of color that are very hard to look at. There are even differences in early editions; my first edition, first printing of Emerald City is a lovely book, but it’s falling to bits, and missing some of its plates. I have a much more stable copy from the 1920s, but by then, they had stopped using the metallic green ink – they simply leave it out, resulting in big white empty spaces. Sometimes it works out all right, and sometimes it ruins the pictures.
The very use of that ink is just an indicator that they were making this as special a book as possible. They saw it as the end of an era, the last in a super-popular series, and I think they envisioned young Oz fans rereading and looking back over it for their Oz “hit” for years to come. It’s not something you can exhaust in one or two readings, and that’s deliberate.
I think particularly with the early Oz books, they’re trying really hard to make each one an event. It’s like the childhood version of this year’s car: ooh, here are the features for this year’s book! This one’s got bright shiny green ink! And it’s got 16 plates instead of 12! And it’s got little chapter headings! That kind of thing. They give up on it really soon, though – perhaps because of rising costs and shortages in the years leading up to World War I. Before long, the books will have a standard presentation.
Targeting the Audience
There’s one other thing that I keep wondering about with these pictures. What age of child are these really addressed to? They are so visual that there is a kind of picture book aspect to them . . . .
I have no idea anymore! I’ve been wondering the same thing, because logically I would think to myself, the age range should be reflected in Dorothy, right?
Yep, that’s reasonable, especially as she’s the only actual child-figure in this book.
That makes sense. At the same time, though, ten years have passed since The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Ozma of Oz was 1907. . . can we assume that Dorothy was, perhaps, 8 years old at that time? If Dorothy is 8 years old in 1907, and there’s been one book a year since then, are she and the audience both maybe . . . 11 now? Is that even possible? Sorry, of course it’s possible. I just have such a hard time discerning who it’s intended for. I really don’t feel like it’s very, very small children, the way the first book might have been. Does that make sense?
Yeah, absolutely! In part, the question came to me because it feels like there’s a bit of a mismatch in this one between the level of complexity of the plot (which is nil) and the level of detail (how richly he describes the places and houses and events). So little happens in this book, really, that it feels most suitable as a bedtime story for that very young child – but then, there’s also the wordplay, the complexity, which really suggests something different. I found myself asking, who is this for, really?
Do you know whom I think it’s for? At this point, it’s mostly for L. Frank Baum. What I mean by that is: he knows if it has the word Oz in it, it’s going to sell, so he’s just going to do whatever he wants. I’ve already sort of told you I didn’t like this book much when I was a kid. The truth of it is, I thought of this book as the last in a trilogy of Really Boring Books. They’re Baum’s big three travelogues where very little happens. Now, as an adult, I think it’s the best constructed of these three books, because it doesn’t just STOP midway through . . .
Baum seems to be telling fairly basic stories with a lot of padding, sometimes investing more of his skill in the padding than in the “plotline,” which suggests to me that he kind of woke up in the morning, and went, “Welp, I’ve got to write an Oz book this year, what should I put in it?” He just sat down and wrote whatever he wanted, and he was frankly a bit bored. So much so, in fact, that I’m fairly convinced the only reason he came up with an invasion of Oz – bear in mind, the first truly evil plan in these books since the Wicked Witch of the West – was specifically so he could block Oz off from the outside world at the very end. He could use it as an excuse to say, “Oh, we must put ourselves in an invisible bubble and separate ourselves forevermore from the great outside world…buh-bye! Buy my other books.”
Yes! I totally agree. I’m surprised, in fact, that the chapter with the Rigmarole people doesn’t go on pages longer, because it seems to me it’s purely an excuse to put a lot of words on the page without having anything actually happen at all. He even chooses to give us a weird cutaway: a zebra trotting up out of nowhere and having an argument with a crab about the outside world. It’s so peculiar that it feels it must be a heavily coded bit of satire, but I think it’s just stream of consciousness: looming deadlines and suppression of his internal censor. It feels like he just wrote it, huffed out the candle and went to bed, dusting his hands . . . .
“Six pages down! Two hundred and forty-seven to go!”
Exactly. There are moments here that feel to me completely transparent about how little he cares about what he produces, so long as he produces it. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t produce great stuff sometimes, but he also doesn’t mind if he doesn’t . . . and neither do Reilly & Britton.
No, it’s pretty obvious they have L. Frank Baum the Celebrity writing a book for them every year with the word “Oz” in the title, and they don’t really care what’s inside the covers. He doesn’t care either! It’s too bad, because there’s some stuff in this book that’s really good. It’s just all in the first half, before he loses the will to live.
Meanwhile, the Legion of Doom . . . .
The initial sequence with the Nome King is such an interesting way to start the book. Baum’s never started an Oz book before without the focus firmly on a child character (usually Dorothy). For the first time, it’s set up as if you should already be aware of this world and all of its people – you know, it’s like the latest episode of your favorite TV show. In a fantastically grim teaser, the Nome King sends multiple generals off to the meat slicer and vows his revenge on the Oz people. Cue the title sequence!
It’s one of Baum’s motifs, isn’t it? “They’re expecting a meat slicer joke, so I suppose I’d better shove one in somewhere. Maybe I’ll suggest the characters get eaten in the last half. I hate having to put these bits in, but the kids go crazy for threats of cannibalism . . . .”
Well . . . yes, it’s cuddly old Uncle Frank, so there’s always going to be gags about eating people. Aunt Em will, of course, think it very unfortunate Billina isn’t offering up her young to be eaten. My favorite is the bit in Bunbury where Toto eats some of the citizens; not only is Dorothy indignant that the other buns dare to be offended, but Billina defends Toto’s actions by saying they dared him to do it. Dorothy and her pets are like the worst kind of guests who show up, eat all your food, and then blame you for not having any more. “You only gave us a wheelbarrow and a piano to eat. What do you want? You want us to be neighborly, too?”
Aside from the humorous references to killing and eating people that we’ve come to expect from L. Frank Baum, however, I also thought there were parts of it that do show how far he’s come. There’s a really scary bit when General Guph meets the Phanfasms.
I love that bit. Really to my taste.
That’s a great bit, right? There are all these eyes watching Guph that he can’t see but he can feel, and even when he gets brought into the hut, it’s obviously not really a hut – yet that’s all he can make out with his poor fragile Nome senses. I love Neill’s response to the description of Guph having the sensation of being watched by a thousand eyes: he draws the First and Foremost of the Phanfasms holding Guph by the neck and surrounded by about a hundred literal eyes.
I must admit, I did have to look at that picture twice to work out what was going on . . . .
It’s that, or the First and Foremost really likes bubbles.
I like all of those scary people that Guph meets. They’re all really vividly imagined, really inventive, particularly the Whimsies, with their giant papier mache heads and tinted wool for hair. The Growleywogs, who are motivated by a sort of resentment not because they are innately horrible, but that they are –
They’re different. They’re different, and it makes them nasty. It’s one of the rare times Baum says, “To be different from your fellow creatures is always a misfortune.”
Yes! It’s like an internal conflict, for the first time, between Baum’s idealism and his cynicism. Being different is a difficult life.
I made a note while reading that just says, “Meanwhile, the war. . .” I like how we keep cutting away from docile events to show the Nome King building his tunnel or entertaining his allies. It’s like a cartoon, with all the supervillains sitting around together, going, “Well, do we attack the good people NOW?” “Yes, we attack the good people at dawn!” “AT DAWN!” “AT DAAAAAAWN!”
It’s a bit He-Man, isn’t it? It’s also a little bit like someone chopped Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz and The Road to Oz up and weaved them together. It’s as if Baum went, “Okay, okay. So not completely ‘terrifying,’ then, but also not completely ‘nothing happens.’”
You’re right – this one is all very scary music, with interjections of sudden bits of fluffy childhood security. Dun-dun-dun-dun PAPER DOLLS! Dun-dun-dun-dun BUNNIES! Dun-dun-dun-dun…
Back and forth, back and forth. Every single Oz book we’ve read so far has been really different in tone from all of the others. There’s not two where you can go, “These are completely alike.”
The Old Folks at Home
A large portion of this novel is given over to the ending of things. Baum is lining everything up in a row so he can leave it there, and there’s one particularly odd way in which he makes that happen. What did you think about Ozma bringing Aunt Em and Uncle Henry to Oz to live?
I really, really enjoyed it. It’s always been one of my favorite things about this book – I suppose because it breaks the rules of all children’s books. I don’t think this happens in any other children’s novel, and really, you’re not supposed to even want this, because escapism is supposed to be temporary and good for you, but you’re supposed to grow out of it – it’s not supposed to be the long-term solution. I think there’s a variety of reasons why Baum does it here. Partly it’s another indictment of our heartless modern world. Partly it’s just for the comedy of having them there.
There’s comedy for sure. When they meet the Lion, he’s in on the joke, going out of his way not to embarrass Aunt Em.
Oh, I missed that detail! I just read it as the confrontation of two absurdities – two people who should really never have met, and the Lion saying, I was so frightened I was a step away from ripping you to bits. It’s funny because Dorothy’s aunt and uncle are so much more earthly than she is. Your reading is a lot lighter than mine, though. I saw it as Baum’s realist streak showing again: that’s how cowardice and fear sometimes manifests, as random acts of violence . . . .
Your reading is valid, and it’s exactly how I read it when I was a child. This time around, though, I noticed we actually get a description: “‘The human eye is a fearful weapon,’ remarked the Lion, scratching his nose softly with his paw to hide a smile.” He’s humoring the daft old lady. It’s rather sly, understated humor on Baum’s part.
Oh, I missed that bit! Maybe it’s because of Neill’s illustration, which I’d never seen before. In my head, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry look like the actors Clara Blandick and Charley Grapewin. from the MGM film. Here, though, they’re wearing these ridiculous Ozian garments, and they look kind of like they’re from the 18th century. . . .
I think their transition to life in Oz is rather sweet. It contributes to the “sunset glow” that makes everything feel like it’s coming to an end: Ozma’s going to find something for them to do, Aunt Em’s going to be the official darner of stockings, and Billina’s going to have a few thousand more children, and that’s how we’re going to leave them. By the way, I don’t know how they’ve kept the land of Oz from being overrun by chickens at this point – sort of like the cane toad infestation that took over Australia. These are the chickens that took over Oz – though as the book points out later, that may not be such a bad thing, insofar as it prevents invasion by Nome. As for Ozma…
Absolutely, Your Worship!
Finally, we have a book where Ozma does things. I started this book just before Christmas, and I was right in the early section where Ozma is being very, very princessy and regal right as the news came out about Carrie Fisher’s death. With all the photos online and footage from Star Wars on news programs, it was really hard not to see Princess Leia in my mind’s eye as I was reading about Ozma. That really showed up an inconsistency for me between how I remember the books and how the books actually are, because I remember Ozma as a real Leia-type: this princess who is bright and spunky and a real go-getter. There are some hints of that in Emerald City, actually. Yet this is also the book where Ozma decides she’d rather just sit back and be invaded.
Again, I think that relates to what we’ve talked about before, briefly, about how Baum’s idealism relates to his pragmatism. As much as the sense of an epic invasion is really not given its due gravitas, there is a tragic theme to this novel: Oz is (by this point) the perfect place, an utopian, socialist state of emancipated women, and therefore, quite naturally, the object of attack. Whether it’s for material gain or to enslave its citizens, or purely out of resentment of its moral purity and happiness, any force that could have designs on an utopian state like Oz is presented as capable of destroying it. Oz can only survive by withdrawing. Baum’s utopian idealism has this one completely tragic condition: it just couldn’t exist against the cynicism and moral bankruptcy of the modern world.
In the scene with Ozma refusing to fight, we see him portraying what he sincerely considers a high ideal of pacifism, but as something ultimately romantic and impossible, perhaps even dangerous and naive. It’s part of the romantic tone to the last chapters of the book. In anticipation of the invasion at daybreak, we get this Garden of Gethsemane moment where four odd men, who have been made by the Ozian people and can’t technically die, gather together and lament for the passing of Oz. They actually weep in Neill’s illustration, which is just extraordinary, really. It goes beyond symbolism; it’s a weird collision of cultural mores of the time and the fact that Baum and Neill had more or less a free hand in whatever they did with this book, really, and weren’t even censoring themselves in what they presented. It’s kind of hard to judge it by any normal aesthetic measure, because it’s not even a political statement; it’s just a moment of two men having a kind of romanticist flamboyant episode, really. Almost hysterical, in a funny sort of way. Does that make sense?
Yes, it does. I think L. Frank Baum was a complex beast and had a lot of facets. I’m a little worried what happens when we get beyond Baum, in fact, because I don’t think anybody treated his world with the same sincerity – well, Jack Snow, maybe. In the closing chapters of this book, though, I thought Baum was really talking about his view of death. Too much?
Well, I found myself wondering if Baum’s romantic nature and his more pragmatic side ever had a little fight about the concept of death. It’s a strangely romanticized pragmatism right there at the end, isn’t it? Here we are, at this one brief shining moment, and soon, it will be gone . . . but there’s nothing we can do, so we might as well get up in the morning and face it full-on. It’s a very mixed message. I agree with you, there’s symbolism in those four characters standing around and talking and basically waiting to die – waiting to be invaded. They’re just going to watch the very spot where it will happen, until it bursts open and everything goes to hell! I mean, it’s lunatic.
Yeah, they’re resigned to their fate.
It’s a very optimistic resignation, though! Yes, well, it has been really nice, let’s have one more nice meal together, and get a nice sleep, and get up early in the morning so we can die.
I think it comes down to the fact that the Land of Oz is utopian – and we could get into all the intricacies of “okay, it’s a socialist utopia, but Ozma has so many servants she has nothing for Aunt Em to do, so…” – but Baum does present this as a perfect place, where you live forever so long as you’re good . . . .
Unless you die of the pip!
Oh, Baum allows himself to break with continuity for a death gag, obviously – I think he always will – but he presents that utopian situation as boring, frankly. He’s doing it on purpose, too – over the last few books, he’s slowly made Oz so perfect he can’t tell any more stories about it. What would happen if he did? People would wake up, have a nice day, go to bed, wake up, drive out of town, see some people made out of jigsaw puzzles, come back and go to bed again. If the Ozian people showed any violence here, or any capacity to destroy another person, that would mar their perfection, to the extent that he would have to write another book! They have to be perfect so that story is done. Baum ends by reassuring us that everyone in Oz has achieved that moral perfection, so we can let them be.
I get that: in not lowering themselves to violence, these characters remain perfect, so when the enemy is defeated, they’re more perfect still, and we leave them in a sort of idyllic existence. What’s particularly interesting to me is that there’s another figure yet who is more perfect than they are – and that’s Glinda.
Mama’s Gonna Help Build the Wall
Glinda shows up at the end to be everybody’s mom, and I just find that so fascinating. Instead of a God, Our Father symbol, Baum has decided on Goddess, Our Mother. It’s really driven home, I should add, by that plate Neill drew of Glinda as a very motherly figure with Dorothy under one arm and Ozma under the other. Glinda shows up to fix everyone’s problems, much as she did in the original book; she has complete intelligence, she has complete control, she can do whatever needs to be done, and because it’s Glinda, it’s going to be perfect and inviolate. It’s really comforting to have this Ultimate Mother figure, especially if you’re a child reading the book, but as an adult, I have to look at it slightly differently. Yet again, we are learning how much you don’t want to piss off Glinda. Actually, you don’t want to make her happy, either: if she decides she likes bunnies, she’s going to make a bunny city!
Whether they want it or not! Glinda is a very powerful individual, and she’s even outside of the situation of Oz being invaded. She knows that it’s going on, she doesn’t want to intervene –
That’s why she feels like God!
– And evidently, she doesn’t feel threatened by it, either. Why would she be? She really is a Mother Goddess. Big “G,” without any reservations. There’s not a minute where she’s implied as mortal in any sense. She’s not even a common-or-garden witch any more. By this book, she’s the only one with the designation of Sorceress, which is interesting in terms of the view of witchcraft that Baum might have had from Maud Gage. There’s something about the Sorceress: she’s mystical, rather than magical.
I’m positive – positive! – that Glinda is based on Baum’s wife Maud. I think she must be – or at least, to split a hair – she is based on the mother of his children.
Yeah, I can see what you’re saying.
Glinda is not a character we ever fully grasp, I think. She’s always a little bit untouchable. There might be one or two books where she becomes a little bit more human, but not by much. And that’s been an interesting thing for me to realize as we read these: just how powerful she really is. In the first book, she’s just a Good Witch; then she becomes a Sorceress and we never really look back. By this book, she can practically change physics, so . . . it’s quite astonishing.
She has everything written in her magic book, too, which is interesting. In effect, it’s quite like Ozma’s Magic Picture, but a book is so much more powerful a symbol than a picture – in terms of scholarship and religion and even this physical thing we’re discussing now, storytelling and authorship and Baum. You could say that Glinda is basically carrying out the role of the author at the end of the book, but she’s also like us, turning the pages, reading their adventures. There’s something potently meta-textual about Glinda and her book.
Yes. As much as the Magic Picture can show you anywhere at any time, the Great Book of Records has everything that ever happens everywhere. Glinda is the keeper of the ultimate knowledge. One of my biggest annoyances with the MGM film is Glinda, because it so undercuts Baum’s concept of the character. She doesn’t really fit for me. She’s just Billie Burke playing a Billie Burke character. Admittedly, though, it does feel like she could have created Bunnybury. “I just love little rabbits! Poof! You have your own city now!”
The End of the Road . . . ?
It wasn’t quite as complex as I was expecting, but I did enjoy reading The Emerald City of Oz. It is teeming with weird ideas, weird inventions, and surprises. It’s a very unusual book, an easy read, and although it could’ve been dull in places, it had just enough momentum – Baum was just enough invested in it – that it held together and was fun.
Absolutely. I enjoyed the beginning very much, I enjoyed the middle quite a bit, and there’s a bit around 2/3s in where it feels like it’s got a bit of a lull, but it picks up again toward the end. I think I enjoyed the whole of it more than I did either Dorothy and the Wizard or Road. I still don’t think it’s one of the best in the series. For whatever reason, I have yet to encounter any of the books we’ve read so far where my childhood impression has been really off the mark. If we stick to the pattern, that means we have some good books coming up!
I’m looking forward to a book where people don’t just drive around for no reason. That’s a real downside, a real flaw to this book, that makes it pointlessly tedious at times.
There’s never going to be a time where Baum completely gives up on giving us a travelogue. For some reason, this is a man who is always destined to write 300 page books that should be 200 pages long. From here on out, though, he at least gives us reasons for this stuff, and I think he learns, eventually, to come up with stronger endings – or if not endings, stronger climaxes, to where you actually feel like you’ve read a book. That’s as opposed to really great beginnings that . . . just end, suddenly.
I do like the conclusion to this book, too, and the way that the invaders are redeemed rather than destroyed. That’s quite a nice ending, even if there’s a moral dubiousness to it about whether it’s better to die or have your entire personality erased.
We could talk for a while about Ozma basically lobotomizing people, but . . . .
I’d rather not dwell on it.
Me neither, at least not this time around. Would you give this book to a child?
Yes – more so than the other two that we’ve just read. I’d really enjoy reading this to a child, because it has some drama, it has some laughs, it has a clever ending…ish, and…yeah. I thought this was one of the best assembled and addressed to a child audience since Ozma of Oz.
I agree with that – it has a nice balance to it. It’s not over, though, Nick! This can’t be the end. The best is yet to come!
Should Oz have ended right here and now? Tell us in a comment!
THE SEA FAIRIES and SKY ISLAND
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