Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Latest Oz Reading

Yes, it's that time again, to delve into the Ever-growing-but-not-fast-enough pile of Oz and Oz-related books, read some of them, and tell yau what I think of them.

  • I'm starting off with my reread of the FF+, but this one is tricky because what comes after The Marvelous Land of Oz? No, not Ozma of Oz, but the earliest Oz comics. But how to read them? I didn't want to read Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz: The Complete Comic Strip Saga 1904-1905 because that thing is huge and bulky to read. Fortunately, I had a more reasonably sized alternative in The Visitors from Oz from Hungry Tiger Press, which is the complete texts of not only the comic page, but The Woggle-Bug Book as well. For those not already familiar with this series, they transcribe the adventures of the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, the Wogglebug, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Sawhorse, and the Gump in a strange and far-off land called America. These are really very short stories, and in some cases the visitors from Oz barely appear. But a consistent throughline is how amazing they find America and its accomplishments, nicely dovetailing with Baum's views of American progress. Looking at what we can now accomplish with computers, digital technology, and other more recent innovations, I don't disagree. This despite the fact that our friends can do magic, something they can't do in the regular Oz books. I also found all kinds of other inconsistencies with the (later) Oz books, which leads me to think that Baum didn't see these stories as part of the Oz series. Some time, I'd like to go through and put together a detailed explanation of why these adventures don't fit. Maybe I'll go back and reread these individually as part of my short story readings once I'm done with Oziana (but as I still have over forty years worth of that to go, it may take a while). The Woggle-Bug Book rounds out the collection, and it does not hold up well at all. The story of the Wogglebug falling in love with a Wagnerian checked dress is, frankly, pretty slight, and as he follows it from one owner to the next, Baum gets to trot out a tired tirade of ethnic stereotypes that were probably not even that funny over a hundred years ago, but now are extremely offensive. Things look up a bit when he gets to a jungle of civilized animals (shades of Prince Zingle and the monkeys in The Magical Monarch of Mo), but by then it's pretty much too late to save things. The whole thing ends with the Wogglebug making it bark to America, but we never see him reunite with his friends, let alone all of them returning to Oz.
  • I figure if I were going to read Baum's comic page, I may as well also read W. W. Denslow's comic page of the same era, also about the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion having adventures in America and the Caribbean. So I also grabbed my copy of The Scarecrow and Tin-Man of Oz, also collected in convenient-to-read book size, even though they are also reproduced in the big book. Denslow's style is much gentler and based more on the situations the characters find themselves in, rather than situations others often put them in as happened with Baum. Things sort of morph from the characters being from Oz to the characters being from the then-running stage show, so it makes sense that the final part of this volume would be the text of the picture book Denslow's Scarecrow and the Tin Man, recounting their adventures when they decided to take an afternoon off and leave the theater.
  • The final book in the current reading was The Visitors from Oz, ironically the first book to be published under that name. This came out in 1960, not long after the original "Queer Visitors" comic was rediscovered by Oz scholar and artist Dick Martin in a Chicago newspaper archive. He thought there was potential for a book, Reilly and Lee agreed, and so this book came about. About a dozen of the stories were rewritten and updated a bit (although I was surprised at how much of Baum's original text actually remained), and the order was rejigged so everything hung together better. The visitors first arrive at an amusement park in New York, where they are directed to Kansas in the hopes of finding Dorothy in time for her birthday. They keep getting turned around and going in the wrong direction, which means having to get out and figure out where they are (and having a new adventure each time as a result). But of course they make it to Dorothy's farm just in time, and help her celebrate. The Wogglebug even adds Aunt Em's cake recipe to his book of spells. The final story sees the Gump racing Santa and his reindeer as they're headed back to Oz. I really like this book, the story is charming and does a nice job of adapting the originals while putting it all together in a more timeless format. Martin's painted illustrations are charming, and he drops in a few sly Easter eggs for Oz fans to discover.
  • Finally, although not part of the regular Oz reading cycle, I also read this year's edition of Dunkiton Press, the twenty-fifth (!) consecutive year that editor Ruth Berman has put out a collection of rarely seen newspaper stories by Ruth Plumly Thompson and other Oz notables. This year the subject is "The Perhappsy Chaps" #5. This year those friendly little fellows help out with a town full of mice, an unhappy old man, a student who doesn't like to do math, a boy being raised to not have any fun, and a farmer unable to bring in his crops. Another charming collection. I can't help but think that someone needs to compile the definitive book of all of the Perhappsy Chaps stories into one volume.
That's it for now, but I'm sure I'll have more later.

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