Saturday, October 26, 2019

This Week's Oz Short Story

By a wild coincidence, with Halloween coming up, the 2006 issue of Oziana is The Haunted Issue, with somewhat more macabre takes on Oz than usual. Case in point, the first story, "The Wailing Witch of Oz" by Daniel Gobble, illustrated by John Mundt, Esq. Dorothy, the Wizard and the Sawhorse head to the tiny town of Bluffburg, in the far northeastern part of the Gillikin Country, just on the edge of the Deadly Desert. They've gotten reports of people falling into the desert, more that seems random. The people of Bluffburg are wary of strangers, however, preferring to deal with issues on their own. But Dorothy and the Wizard slowly manage to win key people over and earn their trust. They learn about Pribyl, a witch who came to town many decades earlier and was accused of kidnapping one of the boys in town for her own nefarious ends. She was driven into the desert, but since then every few years she is heard wailing, and someone then falls off the bluff and into the desert to meet her fate. After some research in the local library, Dorothy and the Wizard find out more about the early years of Bluffburg, not long after Oz was enchanted, and it seems the people of Bluffburg are not quite as innocent as they claim to be. When the latest series of wails causes the Wizard to fall, Dorothy finally climbs down the bluff and finds Pribyl's cave, where her spirit has been trying to reach out to the people of Bluffburg for their help ever since she fell into the desert. Dorothy also finds that the people of Bluffburg and the Wizard have not fallen into the desert, but petrified and embedded into the side of the bluff to preserve them. Now that she finally has someone to talk to, Pribyl shares her story with Dorothy. It seems Pribyl didn't kidnap the boy many years ago, he really did fall into the desert. The townspeople thought she'd lured him there because of the toys they found, but they actually belonged to her own son. Fearing the worst, she put the baby on a doorstep in town just before her fall, and the child was raised by the local librarian. With help from the Sawhorse, several strong ropes, and the muscles of the men of Bluffburg, Dorothy is able to help the petrified people so that Pribyl can disenchant them. Once she knows that her son is well and happy, Pribyl's spirit lets go and moves on.

This is a nicely atmospheric story. Bluffburg is painted in only a few deft strokes as an interesting place, isolated from the rest of Oz with people who have had to become self-reliant, so trust of others does not come easy. That lack of trust, however, proves to be their undoing, as they end up killing an innocent woman in a harsher, earlier time, and don't recognize that she does not hold a grudge and is trying to help them. It takes more outsiders, in the form of Dorothy and the Wizard, to help Bluffburg understand their own failings. But all turns out well in the end. One thing I liked about this story is that the Sawhorse does more than just pull the Red Wagon. He doesn't do much, and he doesn't find anything in his investigations, but just the fact that the Wizard asks him to go out and ask people about what's going on gives the Sawhorse a lot more to do than he does in most books he appears in.

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