Friday, January 14, 2011

Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Although everyone I know knows the story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and many people in my acquaintance have even read the original book, the numbers decrease significantly when I ask who's read any beyond the first book. With that in mind, I thought I'd take a day each month to highlight one of the Oz books, giving a small summary and some general information.

And now, Book 3:

Ozma of Oz -- OR -- How Not To Implement Foreign Policy

Magical Characters Introduced:


Other Introductions:

Billina the Hen
The Hungry Tiger

Old Friends:

Dorothy Gale
Uncle Henry
Tin Woodman
Cowardly Lion


Princess Langwidere
The Nome King

Magical Treasures of Oz:

The Nome King's Magical Belt

Dorothy returns to Oz in the third installation of Oz. Uncle Henry has been sent, by his doctor, to the fresh air of Australia, until he can recuperate from his illness. On the journey they are caught in a storm, and naturally Dorothy is whisked away to a fairy country.

She ends up in Ev, along with a yellow hen named Bill, who she renames Billina for the sake of gender clarity. Billina and Dorothy explore the land of Ev until they run into the Wheelers, a rowdy bunch with wheels instead of hands and feet. The Wheelers chase Dorothy and Billina up a rocky mountain (where they can't follow, with their wheels on the rough terrain), which is a nice bit of felix culpa, as they find a chamber at the top of the mountain, in which they discover Tik-Tok.

Tik-Tok, after being wound up (the first robot in fiction!), points out that the Wheelers are essentially harmless because they have no way to hurt the adventurers, needing to keep their wheels on the ground as they do. Tik-Tok also tells Dorothy and Billina about the Royal Family of Ev, who have been traded to the Nome King in return for a long life for the King of Ev. Who then regretted his actions and drowned himself. Thereby wasting the whole deal.

Dorothy decides to try to help the Royal Family, since she's here and she's got nothing else going on. She travels to the royal residence, where she meets Princess Langwidere, who likes to change heads so that she doesn't get bored. They get along well enough until the Princess decides she needs Dorothy's head for her collection, and locks her up in a tower until she's willing to cooperate.

Fortunately for Dorothy, in the midst of all this, it turns out that Ozma is on her way to Ev, also intent on helping the Royal Family. She talks Langwidere out of keeping Dorothy in captivity, and Dorothy is reunited with the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion, who have accompanied Ozma across the desert on a magic carpet provided by Glinda.

Also in Ozma's company are the Hungry Tiger (always hungry but too conscientious to eat what he really wants), and the Royal Army, which is almost all officers with one Private for them to order around. And the Saw Horse is along for the adventure, as well.

Ozma talks Langwidere out of collecting Dorothy's head, and explains her royal mission to free the family of Ev. Langwidere is delighted to hear this because she's tired of the 15 minutes or so a day that she has to spend actually ruling, so she'd like to pass that responsibility off to someone else, and have more time to play with her heads.

So Dorothy, Billina, and Tik-Tok join up with Ozma and company, and they set out for the mountains to talk with the Nome King. They reach his domain with the help of the Lion and Tiger, who safely see the travelers through the giant stomping machine in their pathway by dashing along the path before it can smash them.

The Nome King seems friendly enough, and after revealing that the family have all been turned into ornaments around his palace, agrees to let Ozma and her company guess which ornaments they are. If they succeed, the family goes free. If not, the adventurers get added to the collection.

Everyone fails until Dorothy manages to free the youngest son of Ev, winning her own freedom but not saving anyone else.

Fortunately, in the midst of all the guessing, Billina slips under the Nome King's throne, and overhears him telling his advisor that all the Ev ornaments are purple, and that he's been turning all the Oz ornaments green. After she lays an egg she infuriates the Nome King, because it turns out that eggs are poison to Nomes. (Remember: never travel into Nome territory without a laying hen.) Billina only agrees to remove the egg after the Nome King allows her to have a chance to guess which ornaments are her peeps. Her people, that is, not her baby chicks.

Naturally, Billina guesses correctly, freeing everyone and further angering the Nome King, who calls out his army instead of letting them go as he said he would. While the Private attacks the entire Nome army, the Scarecrow throws Billina's eggs at the Nome King, temporarily blinding him with an egg in each eye. Dorothy runs up and gets the magic belt he uses to perform his transformations, and he calls off his army in favor of getting the egg out of his eye.

Dorothy, Ozma, and crew escape by turning a bunch of the army into eggs. With all the eggs on the ground, the Nome army doesn't dare follow them. (I am not making this up. Baum already did.)

Once the Royal Family has been restored to Ev, Ozma, Dorothy, and the rest return to Oz, where Ozma declares Dorothy an official Princess of Oz. (Once a Prince or Princess of Oz---no wait, that's another magical world.)

Dorothy gives Ozma the magical belt, which Ozma uses to wish Dorothy back to Uncle Henry. She promises to check on Dorothy every once in a while, to see if Dorothy wants to visit. And thus Dorothy becomes the first Ambassador... or something.

This third installation in the series seems to have a more normal narrative flow, in that the first two seem to climax in the middle and then have a long conclusion. This one definitely to the end, making it, I think, a faster read. Of course I enjoyed it, and I recommend again the HarperCollins Books of Wonder replica edition, with the Neill illustrations.

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