Sunday, April 01, 2012

The Latest Oz Reading

I just finished my latest round of Oz reading this week with Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire, the fourth and final volume in his "Wicked Years" series. I appear to be something of an outlier in the Oz community, in that I liked Wicked — even though, at the time, I was totally expecting not to. No, it wasn't the same Oz as L. Frank Baum created, but it was a good book with some interesting issues. I was less taken with Son of a Witch and A Lion Among Men, but I admired what he was trying to say. Well, Maguire has wrapped things up on a high note, and I thoroughly enjoyed Out of Oz, possibly even more than Wicked. The main character (although we don't realize this at first) is Rain, Elphaba's granddaughter born at the end of Son of a Witch, and her relationship with the Grimmerie, the most potent book of magic in Oz. Munchkinland has declared its independence from the rest of Oz, and much of this book deals with the war that Oz is conducting to bring the Munchkins back into the country. We first meet Rain at Glinda's new digs, where Rain is a servant, and one of the few to be retained when the Oz army takes over, turning the hall into a staging area for the war. Rain eventually leaves when she uses the Grimmerie and helps Glinda stop the Oz army, but she is forced to flee. Rain then takes up with the Clock of the Time Dragon and the party escorting it around Oz, which includes Brrr, the Cowardly Lion. Dorothy comes back to Oz, and encounters the dark side of the Munchkin justice system, but Brrr helps her escape and she tags along. The Clock and its crew are on the run, trying to hide Rain, Dorothy, and the Grimmerie from both sides of the war. Eventually, Rain is dropped off at St. Prowd's school in the Gillikin Country, where she finally gets the education she's always wanted, and meets a boy named Tip. She's discovered at St. Prowd's, and eventually makes her way to her grandmother's old place at Kiamo Ko in the Winkie Country. Finally, she and Tip find their way to the Emerald City, where Mombey, Tip's old caretaker and the new ruler of Munchkinland, tries to talk peace with Shell, Elphaba's brother and the current ruler of Oz. I don't want to tell you more, because this is where it starts to get really interesting, but if you know your Oz history, you will likely be able to figure out at least some of what happens next.

As I said, I really enjoyed this book. For one thing, it felt a lot more unified as a story than the other books in the series. Wicked only showed us parts of Elphaba's life, and the other two books were more explorations of characters than proper stories. But Out of Oz felt like it was going somewhere, even if it sometimes took a while to get there. The final chapters nicely wrap up both the war and the series. The only enigma is probably Rain's final fate, but it's pretty clear that the title applies very much to her. I also liked all of the little references to the rest of the Oz books. Maguire has done this before, of course, but this time it felt like there were even more. There's even a character mentioned (in passing) named Handy Mandy, although it's clearly not the title character of the 1937 Oz book written by Ruth Plumly Thompson.

Having said all that, I'm not sure I can recommend this book, at least not on its own. To be sure, if you've already enjoyed Wicked or any of the other books in the series, by all means you'll want to see how it ends. But if you're not a fan of Maguire's take on Oz, this is not going to change your mind. And I don't recommend it as the first of Maguire's books you read, either, because it helps to know what's come before. However, I do think it's accessible enough that if this is your first exposure to Maguire's Oz, you won't be lost, either.

That's it for the major Oz reading for now. However, a new shipment of comic books is coming soon, and there should be a few Oz and Oz-related titles in there, so this blog won't be totally bereft of Oz reading posts.

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