Saturday, September 07, 2019

This Week's Oz Short Story

It seems that in the 1920s, children's programs at radio stations around the country would read "The Enchanted Tree of Oz" by Ruth Plumly Thompson, a story with a cliffhanger ending. The listeners were challenged to come up with an ending, and the best would receive prizes. No records of any of those endings are known to exist, but The Baum Bugle published the story in its Autumn 1965 issue, and challenged members to come up with their own endings. In this fragment, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion are out reminiscing while they're heading to Nick Chopper's palace. Veering off the road (uh-oh), they encounter a tree with a single odd-looking fruit. Since Dorothy is hungry, the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman want to pick it for her. The Lion is more cautious, and suggests they don't. When they insist, the Lion insists on trying it first. But once he climbs a few branches, a few of them intertwine around the Scarecrow and he is engulfed in the tree! On a missing page, it seems Dorothy does the same! When the original strange fruit falls and bursts, a strange little man pops out and tells them to chop the tree into kindling to save their friends, naturally the Tin Woodman starts chopping down the tree to save his friends while the Lion runs off to find help. But no matter how much he chops, more branches form—and then it begins to rain, and Nick is rusted solid. So how does it end?

Fortunately, Bugle readers back in the day didn't have to wait long to find out, because Bill Eubank provided a conclusion in tho Christmas 1965 issue. The Lion, disoriented, runs back just in time to see the Tin Woodman also engulfed, and turned into a tin fruit—a TIN CANtaloupe, to be precise. Sure enough, Dorothy and the Scarecrow have also been turned into giant fruits. Ozma, however, catches what's happening in the Magic Picture, and enlists the Wizard's help. While the Lion has captured the strange little man, the Wizard uses his new lightning machine to destroy the tree, and even stack the remains into two neat piles of kindling. Ozma uses the Magic Belt to transport everyone back to the Emerald City, where they try to force the little man to tell them how to disenchant their friends. He refuses, but Ozma then reveals that this tree was one of many created by the Wicked Witch of the West to capture slaves. Once a large fruit appeared, she would pick it and then disenchant it when she needed a new slave. Just then, Scraps comes in, and in her excitement, knocks all the fruits off the table, breaking them. But it turns out, that's the disenchantment. Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and Nick Chopper are safe. The little man, as punishment for not revealing anything he knew and hindering them, is sentenced to seeking out the rest of the trees and directing the Wizard's lightning to destroy them. The whole adventure ends with a celebration party.

Even with Ozma and the Wizard stepping in like a deus ex machina, I like Eubank's resolution. I'm not too sure about his treatment of the little man, however, who was only a victim of circumstance and an enchanted fruit himself. I don't understand his rationale for wanting to keep the others prisoners. (I suspect Thompson had something very different in mind for him, but that wasn't her part of the story to tell.) Still, he is punished, and in a very appropriate and Ozzy way. It's always fun to get a new Oz tale from a Royal Historian, and the complete-the-story format made this one especially fun.

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