Sunday, October 02, 2016

This Week's Oz Short Story

I'm taking a sabbatical from my Oziana reread to go back to the very beginning, one of the very first things L. Frank Baum wrote as a fiction writer: A New Wonderland. He originally wrote this anthology of short stories as Tales from Phunnyland around 1896, but it wasn't published until 1900 with a titile hoping to cash in on Alice in Wonderland. That edition didn't stay in print long, but in 1903 his new publishers, Bobbs Merrill, issued an edited version with, among other changes, the name of the country now changed to Mo under the title The Magical Monarch of Mo. I have several copies of The Magical Monarch of Mo (even translations into Portuguese and Japanese), but I've always been curious about how it differed from A New Wonderland. I even bought a copy of a cheap, print-on-demand book purported to be A New Wonderland, only to be disappointed. (If you want to know more about my experience with that book, go read the one review at the link, as it's mine!) I never thought I'd get a copy for myself, as it was not, I understand, a terribly sturdy book, and copies now sell for thousands of dollars.

But a friend of mine is working on publishing a new edition, and is letting me preview the text. For this week's short story reading (to finally get to the reason I'm writing this and you're reading it), I read the introduction and the first story, "The King's Head and the Purple Dragon". (I will hastily add here that I have fairly recently reread The Magical Monarch of Mo, which in part inspired this series about short stories, but didn't comment on them here; I did comment on a handful that were in The Purple Dragon and Other Fantasies, however.) The introduction is quite a revelation, as Baum describes a lot of Phunnyland, which sounds a lot like his description of Mo, but also says it's so nice that visitors never leave! The only reason he came back was because he forgot something at home, and had to pick it up again before returning. (Considering how many things one can easily find in Phunnyland, usually growing from a tree, it would have to be something highly unusual or distinct to lure Baum back. My suspicion is that it was his wife, Maud, and being the strong-willed and practical woman that she was, I doubt she had any intention of going there herself or letting Frank go back, either!) The first proper story tells of how the Purple Dragon, after eating too much of the chocolate caramel crop, bit off the king's head. The poor king had to cope with a series of replacement heads until the Dragon decided to play a little mischief when he put the king's head on the shoulders of the woodcutter who had made the king's wooden replacement head. It all gets very silly as the king and the woodcutter try to figure out who is who, but all works out well in the end, everyone gets their proper heads back, the woodcutter marries one of the princesses, and the Dragon lives to become a nuisance another day (if I may give a small spoiler for some of the further stories). I suspect the Tin Woodman owes some of his origins to this story, for the king and the woodcutter having body parts replaced echoes the origins of Nick Chopper. The king's head on the woodcutter's body scene would be echoed, in a more existential manner, many years later in The Tin Woodman of Oz when the Tin Woodman has an encounter with his original head. Baum also does a nice job of creating the world of Phunniland and giving his readers a taste of what to expect in the forthcoming stories.

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