Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Latest Oz Reading

Inspired by Oz the Great and Powerful, I thought I'd dip into other stories that told about the Wizard's past in my rereadings. (For those who haven't figured it out, I thought I would throw some of my older books, that I've already read once, into my reading mix some time ago. It's been an interesting experiment. But I digress...) The first was How the Wizard Came to Oz by Donald Abbott. This is a pretty straightforward tale that doesn't give us much more than we've already learned from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the rest of Baum's writings about the Wizard. And I did notice one parallel with the recent Oz movie, in that Glinda takes a hand and has a big part in getting the Wizard to where he ended up, even knowing that he's a humbug. However, in this book, she's playing it coy and behind the scenes, as she doesn't want to be seen to be involved at all. I had some issues with the timing in this book, as we get a cameo by the Scarecrow, before he gets his face painted on, while the Wizard is still ruling in the Winkie Country, having overthrown the Wicked Witch of the West (temporarily, as it turns out). But the Scarecrow had only been made a few days earlier in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I'm also not wild about this book perpetuating the idea that the Wicked Witch of the East and West are sisters. In its favor, we see the construction and development of the Emerald City, the origin of the green glasses, and what the Wicked Witch of the East is up to, including her role in the origin of the Tin Woodman. Abbott is also the illustrator, and he very consciously copies W. W. Denslow's style. It's a light, frothy, fun read, but I don't think it should be taken terribly seriously by Oz scholars.

Abbott's next book, which I also reread, was How the Wizard Saved Oz, which also takes place before the events of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. (You can also still get this book new from Books of Wonder.) The Wizard gets a visit from the Queen of the Field Mice, who seeks his help to find her lost subjects. It turns out that they've all been kidnapped by Mombi to power a machine that will suck all the magic out of Oz. And, oh, yes, the previous king's brother, General Riskitt, wants to get rid of the Wizard so he can rule. Naturally, the general and Mombi team up. Again, it's pretty simple and straightforward, but this time Abbott isn't trying to inject a whole lot of Oz backstory into his tale, which makes for a tighter, better plotted story. And we get to see Abbott's illustration of Mombi (and, in a cameo, Professor Wogglebug), giving a taste of how Denslow might have illustrated The Marvelous Land of Oz. But as I was reading it, I couldn't help thinking, "Wait, what about Ozma?" Fortunately, her disappearance is finally addressed at the end, but it doesn't jibe very well with previously established Oz history. I think Abbott was trying to keep the Wizard out of her story and make him appear to be much more heroic than he really was.

Finally, I reread Oz and the Three Witches by Hugh Pendexter III (also available in the anthology Oz-Story No. 6). This is little more than a novella, and one of the first Oz books I ever bought outside of the Famous Forty and Related Books, way back in the mid-'70s. It was fun revisiting it, but it's also a great story in and of itself. The day after the end of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, the Wizard and Ozma are having breakfast when Glinda comes to call. Glinda is concerned when she hears that the Wizard is staying in Oz, considering the role he had in Ozma's disappearance. So Oscar Diggs tells the story of his arrival and first few weeks in Oz, and how he dealt with the Wicked Witches of the East and West, and Mombi as well. It's a gripping, exciting tale that very neatly ties up all we learned about the Wizard's early history in Oz from the Famous Forty, and yet shows us the Wizard to be the brave, clever but all too human man that we know him to be. I can't recommend this story enough, and I can't believe that I've waited this long before rereading it again.

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