Sunday, February 23, 2020

This Week's Oz Short Story

The final story of the 2009/2010 flipbook edition of Oziana, from the 2010 side, is "Invisible Fence" by J. L. Bell, with illustrations by David Lee Ingersoll. When Dorothy uses the Magic Belt to take her to the Wizard, she finds him in the midst of an undercover investigation with the Tin Soldier and Snif the Iffin into illegal magic in the midst of a Gillikin forest. They must take her into their confidence, and Dorothy ends up assisting. The group manage to capture a young boy and his cat who are bartering magic items from their home. In the Emerald City, the prisoners are looked after by Tollydiggle, but they still almost break out in spite of the magic invisible fence around the prison. Clearly things are not as cut and dried as things look, but the wild card proves to be Ozma, who recognizes one of the defendants at the trial, which puts things in a whole new light.

There is, as I'm sure you can guess, a lot more to this story, but I don't dare say any more. This is a tightly woven story, and any attempt to explain further would unravel it for anyone who hasn't read it but may want to in the future. But it is a very satisfying story in the end, and as happens in the best of all Oz stories, everything works out in the end. But what an interesting journey to get there! One thing that struck me during this reading, though, is just how well J. L. Bell understands the Oz books and its characters. He is not afraid to dig deep into the series for a character or a story hook, and he uses them well without completely rehashing what has done before. This is a rare trait in any writer, but especially one digging around in someone else's sandbox as he does with Oz.


David Lee Ingersoll said...

Thank you for reviewing this story. I had fun illustrating it. I always enjoy visiting Oz.

J. L. Bell said...

As shown by the appearance of characters like Snif the Iffin, Snip the button boy, and the ex-king Pastoria, this story is set after Ruth Plumly Thompson expanded Baum’s vision of the Emerald City and Oz. Since those characters are still under copyright protection, I was very grateful that years ago Oziana gained the legal leeway from the Oz books’ publisher to include stories featuring them.

By that time in the series, Ozma and her court have great magical power at their command. Dorothy has the Magic Belt, Ozma has the Magic Picture, and the Wizard can casually do amazing things. This story is about figuring out how the court should wield such power wisely. It’s basically a “Law and Order” episode. Dorothy, as I conceive of her, made a good point-of-view character because she’s bold about jumping into situations and sometimes jumping to conclusions, not always right but always well-meaning and right in the end.

Once I figure out the plot of a story like this, I get the most enjoyment from putting in little touches specific to the Oz characters or to daily life in Oz. The scene with Snip and Pastoria was one such slice-of-life vignette in another manuscript, but it worked better here because of their history.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this story, Eric!

David Lee Ingersoll said...

My illustrations for this story are viewable in this week's newsletter.