Sunday, November 04, 2012

The Latest Oz Reading

I have been very busy lately. Fortunately for me, that's because I have a new job. (And did the first quarter already just end? My, how time flies when you're busy!) However, that also means I've had less time to either read Oz books or blog about them. But the end of Daylight Saving Time gives me an extra hour today, so I thought I'd do some badly needed catch-up work. Besides, I've just finished my latest spate of Oz reading, and figured I'd better write about these books before I forget all about them.

  • First up is the last of last month's Oz comics. The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West #4 wraps up the retelling of The Wizard of Oz set in the Old West with — what else? — a big gunfight between Gale and the Wicked Witch. But Gale does not finally make it home. Instead, she's gained a new title. This is the final issue of the miniseries, but the story continues in the forthcoming ongoing series, for which there is a preview at the end of this issue. Since some of the new characters include Jack Pumpkinhead, Tippetarius, and the Wheelers, it looks like the creators are tapping the rest of the Baum Oz books.
  • I've had a .pdf file of Shadows of the Emerald City to review for some time now, and it's finally bubbled up to the top of my list. As this is a collection of Oz/horror short stories, I'm reading it two at a time, rather than all at once, so I guess I'd better review each story as I read them. First up was "Dr. Will Price and the Curious Case of Dorothy Gale" by Mark Onspaugh, in which a psychiatrist, fascinated by the case of a Kansas girl who went insane after having gone missing for some time, meets Dorothy, now an old woman in an asylum, and tries to find out more about her. He decides to take her out to her aunt and uncle's old farmstead to see what kinds of memories will arise, only to find himself in Oz! Let's just say Oz is not as kind to outsiders as it was when Dorothy came. The second story, "Pumpkinhead" by Rajan Khanna, sees the latest visitor from the Outside World meeting Jack Pumpkinhead, and the troubles that result from some of the awkward questions she asks him about his old heads. This is not my usual kind of reading, but so far, these stories have been fascinating. These writers clearly know their Oz, as both stories talk about aspects of the later books (the first story even names the Good Witch of the North Locasta!). But these are also clearly looking-glass versions of Oz, very much written for more mature readers than anything Baum intended. There are a lot of Oz fans who will not want to read this book, but if you are a more brad-minded reader, you may very well find something in this book to enjoy.
  • Tales Told in Oz by Gregory Maguire is exactly what the title says: A collection of tales told in Maguire's version of Oz, as seen in his Wicked books. Think of this as the Ozian equivalent of The Tales of Beedle the Bard in the Harry Potter world. It's slim, a fast read, and a must have for Wicked fans. Others may want to take a pass. However, the book is also inexpensive, and proceeds go to benefit the Friends of the West Hartford Library, so that's a win-win situation.
  • When I was a very young Oz fan, and there weren't so many Oz books to collect, I managed to get a number of titles from the Pamami Press, run by another young Oz fan, Michael O. Riley. These were small, limited press editions printed by hand, of short stories and essays by L. Frank Baum. Now that we're both a lot older, I'm happy to report that Riley has started Pamami Press up again, and his first new offering for sale in the twenty-first century is Fairy Tales on the Stage. In this article, first published in the run-up to the debut of The Woggle-Bug (his dramatization of The Marvelous Land of Oz), Baum discusses the evolution of how fairy tales have been presented on the stage (er, pretty obvious from that title, actually). Riley slips in a few pages from an aborted earlier edition of this book that he tried to publish in 1985.
  • My Rachel Cosgrove Payes novel this time around is Love's Charade. Yes, back to the romances. In fact, this is the first of a five-volume series about the seven Lassiter sisters, whose classical father named them all after the Pleiades! He's not wealthy, but wants to make sure that they marry well, so his childless sister-in-law offers to introduce them to proper London society. Naturally, they want the oldest daughter, Alcyone (Allie for short — thank goodness most of them have sensible nicknames), to be first, but she's shy and reluctant, and refuses to spend the season in London, so the more outgoing Merrie (short for Merope) gets to go. She's quite smitten with a young Irish lord, Beau Fallon, but as the second son, he doesn't have any money, and is looking for a rich wife so that he can buy his own estate and farm. The usual hijinks and misunderstandings ensue, and it naturally all works out in the end, and not without a few twists. Overall, a satisfying but fluffy little read. What surprised me the most is how tame this one was. Unlike the other romances I've read by Rachel, there were no scenes of bodice-ripping, if you know what I mean. What makes this especially astonishing is that this book was published by Playboy Paperbacks!
  • Fables: Animal Farm is the second collection of the Fables comic book series, and deals with the farm in upstate New York where the non-human Fables live — or, as some of them see it, imprisoned. Snow White takes Rose Red up there to work off some of her punishment (after the events of the first book), only to find herself in the middle of a rebellion. It all works out well in the end, but not before a few fences are torn down. Not a lot of Oz in this one, either, but Bufkin makes a few appearances.
  • I got a double dose of books reread this time around. First was Dorothy of Oz by Roger S. Baum, which I wanted to reread before the movie comes out. (I've had it in my to-read pile for some time, and hoped to red it a lot sooner, but the delay in the movie's release made me not want to read it too soon). I've never been a big fan of Roger Baum's books, because he doesn't seem to realize that there are other books outside of The Wizard of Oz — either that, or he's writing to an audience that he thinks can only handle books related to The Movie. However, Dorothy of Oz has a lot less of this problem, at least. It seems to be set somewhere between Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz and The Emerald City of Oz, since the Wizard is back in Oz and Ozma's on the throne, but Dorothy isn't living in Oz yet. But I think I've pinpointed what bugged me about this book when it first came out, and still does: The lack of conversation. Baum spends too much time writing descriptions about what people are saying when it could just as easily be handled with the characters actually talking to each other. Beyond that, it was a pretty straightforward, if not terribly exciting or original, adventure in Oz. And hey, I've already found one big difference between the book and the movie: In the book, the Jester is not the Wicked Witch of the West's brother!
  • The other reread was Masquerade in Oz by Bill Campbell and Irwin Terry. I wanted to reread this for Halloween anyway. When I received an extra copy as my prize for winning the quiz at the Winkie Convention, I figured that was a sign to really dig in. Betsy Bobbin's birthday is coming up, and since her birthday is October 31, she wants to have a masquerade party. So all of her Oz friends decide to dress up as each other! Being the birthday girl, Betsy gets to be Ozma. Ozma, meanwhile, dresses as Jellia Jamb. The Scarecrow dresses as the Tin Woodman, Nick Chopper becomes Jack Pumpkinhead, Dorothy becomes Scraps, Tik-Tok becomes Cap'n Bill, and so forth. It's all a lot of fun, and only Scraps decides not to take part. Good thing, too, because when Scraps starts playing around with some of the Wizard's magic, everyone else believes that they really are who they're disguised as. Yes, Chaos ensues, and Scraps is the only one who can straighten out her mess, since she's still herself. She gets to visit all kinds of nooks and crannies of the royal palace looking for a way to fix things. She does, of course, but not before a lot of mischief is made.
  • I wasn't at all sure what Aligned Yellow Bricks: The Road Back to Kansas by Bob Woodward was about when I bought it, and was surprised to find that it was another Oz-themed book about business and how to make it better. Hmm, okay, I thought as I kept reading, not the first of these I've read. The fun part turned out to be later in the book, when Woodward sets up a pretend company to demonstrate how his ideas work. The executives who work for the Professor Marvel Manufacturing Plant have some very familiar or evocative names, like Howard Lee Lyon, Noah Hart, Glenn Duwich, and N. Todd Ohtu (say it out loud to get the connection). The General Manager? Grayton Powell Falloz, of course. Each chapter is also headed with a quote from The Movie, although connecting the quote to the main topic of the chapter is sometimes a really long stretch.
  • Dorothy: The Darker Side of Oz by Scott Stanford is a loose retelling of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in a Lovecraftian horror-themed version of Oz. This is not a book that we needed, as there are already all kinds of dark reinterpretations of Oz out there. Still, this one had a couple of interesting twists, like the Wicked Witch's final (or was it?) fate, and the Scarecrow always having to remind himself who people were, because otherwise he'd forget. But like so many self-published books, this is a book in serious need of an editor. Dorothy continuously referred to as a "young girl" even though she's eighteen. The author uses "your" a lot when he means "you're", and the word for falling back is "recede", not "reseed". I also think about a third of the book could be cut without losing much, particularly in the beginning. Descriptions kept going on longer than needed, and he uses a lot of the same ones repeatedly when some variety would have helped. Purists should stay away from this one, as should those with a low tolerance for a lack of editing.
  • And finally, the next comic order came while I was still working on the last one, so I have a few Oz issues coming up. But I had to jump in and read The Road to Oz #1. As usual, Eric and Skottie are in fine form, and I have no complaints. This issue covers Dorothy meeting the Shaggy Man (of course) to the arrival in Foxville, but they haven't met the King yet. First, I like how Skottie Young is handling Dorothy over the series. She looks a little older now (which makes sense), and her hair is in a different, simpler style here. The Shaggy Man looks pretty unkempt. Button-Bright doesn't look quite as pretty as he does in the book, which is probably a good thing. I wasn't sure about snow on the approach to Foxville, but it made sense when the foxes came out dressed like Soviet soldiers, complete with fur hats! Genius! I look forward to the rest of the series, especially how Young handles Polychrome next issue.
Except for a few comics, that's about it for now. I'm not sure when I'll be able to get back to such a long list of Oz reading, but it will verylikely include more Fables, another Lassiter sister looking for a husband, a newly reprinted Denslow classic, and other surprises.

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