Sunday, June 24, 2012

The latest Oz reading

I have been tearing through a number of Oz and related books and other readings lately, so I figure I'd better get going and tell you all about them!

  • The 2012 edition of Oziana, the literary magazine of the International Wizard of Oz Club (which doesn't actually appear to be for sale anywhere yet). Time for a little disclosure here: I'm now a Contributing Editor to Oziana. This pretty much means that I get an early draft and check it over for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. I don't see it as a big deal, but Marcus, the editor, thinks it is, and lists me on the masthead and even asks me to sign bookplates for the premium collector copies. Whatever. So I've read this one before, but as I was going over it with a fine-toothed comb looking for errors, I wasn't actually paying as much attention to the story. This time around, I got to read it for fun. In something of a departure, it's all one unified story with several contributors. The fun part is that it starts off with a fragment from L. Frank Baum! (Well, it turns out, thanks to the background given by Robert A. Baum in his introduction, that it may not have been L. Frank who wrote it. But it's been floating around for years, always attributed to Baum, and we don't have any idea who actually wrote it.) Then each subsequent section was written by another writer, and passed on to the next, until it was getting to the right length and could be wrapped up by the final contributor. It was a fun little story, but as is often the nature of these tales, it goes off in several directions, and it was up to Atticus Gannaway to wrap it up and give it a satisfying conclusion. I want to give a shout-out to S. P. Maldonado, who did the pictures, and a mighty nice job, too. I especially liked his illustration of Ozma in her ice skating outfit.
  • The Magical Monarch of Mo by L. Frank Baum. This was my classic reread, but not quite how you might expect. I started reading this to my nephew when he came over for a visit last summer. I figured short stories would be perfect, and these fit the bill nicely. About the same time, I was wrapping up my own reading of The Collected Short Stories of L. Frank Baum, and since the Mo stories weren't in that collection, I decided to just keep going and finish Mo after I didn't have to read it to anyone else. I really enjoyed this book when I was a kid, and I still do on that level, but I can also see a lot more of the absurdity and pseudo-horror in this book now that I'm an adult. Still, it was a fun read. (Now could someone give us an inexpensive reprint of the original version of this book, A New Wonderland?)
  • Continuing on with the short stories, I picked up the new Dover edition of Little Wizard Stories of Oz. As always, Dover does a great job, and despite this being a paperback, this edition has two pluses over other recent reprint editions: (1) The text and line art are printed in blue ink, as in the first edition (not so easy on the eyes, but not too bad, either); (2) An introduction by the late Martin Gardner. It doesn't give a lot of insight, and he barely discusses the stories at all, but it's a nice little addition.
  • The Fate of a Crown by "Schuyler Staunton", AKA L. Frank Baum. This is an adventure novel Baum wrote under a pen name, and it was the last of Baum's pseudonymous books that I hadn't read. So I was very happy to see this reprint edition. I was especially eager to get it when I found out that, besides the book's original illustrations by Glen C. Sheffer, it included those from the original newspaper serialization of the story. The publishers of this edition couldn't identify that artist, but his name is John R. Neill! His familiar signature is even clearly visible in many of the pictures, so someone just plain didn't do their research. Ah, but what about the story itself? It's definitely a potboiler, as young American clerk Robert Harcliffe is sent to Brazil to assist a client, who turns out to be one of the ringleaders in the revolution against Emperor Dom Pedro II. Of course Robert gets swept up in local politics, and even meets the Emperor himself before he is deposed. It's all terribly melodramatic, with secret loves and secret vaults and betrayals and the like. A few years ago, my friend Judy Bieber, an expert in Latin American history, wrote an article for The Baum Bugle about the real history and people behind this book, so now that I've finally read the book, I'm looking forward to digging that up and reading it again.
  • The Man with Three Eyes by "E. L. Arch", AKA Rachel Cosgrove Payes. I needed a break from Rachel's historical romances (and I have plenty more to keep me occupied for a while), and this proved to be just what I needed. This is a science fiction novel from 1967, in which a comedic third eye that sticks to your forehead with a suction cup proves to be something far more sinister, and the diverse residents of a New York City boarding house become involved in an alien invasion plot. It reads like a middle-of-the-road episode of The Twilight Zone or some B-movie of the era, and some of the attitudes towards women and minorities have not aged well, but it was definitely an entertaining read. Part of the invasion involves some Venus flytrap-like plants that scoop up and eat animals, and I couldn't help wondering if the similar plants from The Patchwork Girl of Oz might have influenced Rachel.
  • Since I've started reading the Fables comic book series, Laura and I decided to go back and read the series from the beginning via the trade paperbacks. I've now read the first volume, Legends in Exile, and it is a great set-up of the situation and some of the major players. But the only Oz content is a flying monkey seen around Snow White's office (I presume this is Bufkin). So, moving on...
  • Toto's Tale by K. D. Hays and Meg Weidman retells The Wizard of Oz from Toto's point of view. This is closer to the book version than the movie, but it's not quite the same, either (the Scarecrow doesn't get stuck in the river, no trip south, new creatures that the Wicked Witch of the West has enslaved). Since Toto interacts with his environment through his nose, we learn what an awful lot of things smell like, and he doesn't always understand what the other characters are saying, either. It makes for a fun telling of the story. I do wish there were more of April Martinez's illustrations, because they are charming and original.
  • At long last, the ninth and concluding volume of Michael Buckley's Sisters Grimm series, The Council of Mirrors! This one feels like it's been too long in coming, but it was worth the wait. I hadn't really figured it out until this book, but the whole series has been about Sabrina, the older of the two girls. She's been at the center of most of the action, more than her younger sister Daphne, and here she firmly takes center stage. She's no longer reacting to events, but taking charge, despite all of her reservations and hesitations. I won't say any more, except that it ends on a surprising but satisfying conclusion. There's not a lot of Oz content, but several Oz characters appear, and the Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, and Tik-Tok all have big parts to play. We even get what I think are the Sisters Grimm debuts of Scraps and Bungle.
  • Of course the comics also arrived, and there were a lot of Oz titles. I had to jump in first with Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz #6, since there wasn't an issue last month. So, real quick, Eric and Skottie do another bang-up job, it all looks good, blah blah blah. This issue starts with the party's conversation with the Dragonettes, and ends with the arrival in Oz, and the Wizard telling Ozma his history (ooh, flashbacks!) and being invited to stay. And there are still two issues to go!
  • And finally (for now), Dorothy of Oz Prequel #2. The Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion have hatched the plan to bring Dorothy back to Oz, and the Dainty China Country is shaken up by an earhquake conjured up by the Jester. Oh, yeah, and there's a run-in with the Gamekeeper, and Marshall Mallow is in the teaser for the next issue.
This isn't the end of my current Oz reading, but that's certainly the bulk of it. There are at least a few more comics coming soon.

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