Friday, August 26, 2011

The latest Oz reading

Man, I have been knocking them out of the park lately! Well, that's going to change once I get back to work within the next couple of weeks. But until then, I can tell you about The Pearl and the Pumpkin by Paul West and W. W. Denslow. This story has a bit of a convoluted history, which Michael Patrick Hearn nicely covers in his introduction. The story was originally conceived by Denslow as a musical extravaganza, and West and he collaborated on the script. West then turned the story into a novel, richly illustrated by Denslow, so that the story might become familiar to play-going audiences. And the story's musical roots sure do show! It's a choppy, episodic story of Joe Miller, the nephew of a prosperous Vermont farmer who knows the secret to growing spectacular pumpkins. When word of the pies made from these pumpkins spread, the pirates in Davy Jones' locker are determined to have their own pies. It all involves the Ancient Mariner, a Corn Dodger (an agricultural sprite), Joe being transformed into a pumpkin boy, and all kinds of other nonsense that probably entertained a lot of people on stage. (In case you're wondering, the show had a decent run on Broadway and toured for a year, but never came close to matching the success to another hit show Denslow was involved in at the time, something called The Wizard of Oz.)

Since the book was published in 1904, and involves pumpkins, one can't help but noticing some similarities between the book and Jack Pumpkinhead, who also first appeared in 1904. There are also elements that reminded me of other Baum and Oz books, notably John Dough and the Cherub, The Sea Fairies, Carter Green from The Hungry Tiger of Oz, and Pirates in Oz. In fact, with much of the story involving mermaids and pirates and taking place under the sea, it would have been a worthy story to include at this year's Winkie Convention.

The best reason to recommend this book is Denslow's artwork. He does his usual excellent job, and is clearly having some fun here. Dover has also done a splendid job recreating the original look (so far as I know) of the original book, with all of the pictures reproduced in shades of black and orange.

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