Monday, February 22, 2016

Two of the odder bits of Baum's Oz

Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz and the Woggle-Bug book were two of the strangest things that I discovered when I started exploring the fantastic literature of L. Frank Baum.

Queer Visitors started out as a newspaper comic strip to promote the novel the Land of Oz. I read a novelized version of about half of them. The Woggle-Bug Book is an adaptation of the Woggle Bug's subplot in the play of the same name, which was an adaptation of the Land of Oz.

Look, before I go into any more detail, let me state at the outset that this was easily the worst stuff I read by Baum. While it was almost the shortest thing I read, it took me the longest because it was such a slog.  

In between the publication of the Wizard of Oz and the Land of Oz, there was a very successful stageplay. It is widely accepted that that influenced the Land of Oz, with some critics stating that elements of the book were clearly written with stage work in mind. Personally, I didn't notice that when I was first exposed to the book but that was my mom reading it to me when I was five. Rereading it as an adult, yeah, I can see that.

But the play was aimed at an older audience with more vaudeville influence. By the time it was done getting adapted, it wasn't nearly as much at children. It had topical humor and Vaudeville routines and chorus lines. That is reflected in both Queer Visitors and the Woggle-Bug Book.

Queer Visitors is a series of vignettes about how the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Woggle-Bug and the Sawhorse fly to the US on the Gump and have wacky adventures as tourists. For some reason, many of them have a punch line of the Woggle-Bug successfully naming places in the US. That was actually part of a contest running in the newspapers but it makes for really bad reading.

Listen, no one will ever accuse Baum of having a great grasp on continuity. Is Ozma the daughter of the last king of Oz or an immortal fairy empowered by the queen of the fairies to rule over Oz long ago? Depends on which book you read. But Queer Visitors breaks way too many of the rules, has the characters act in ways they never have and never again will and is rubbish besides.

But it is better than the Woggle-Bug book. 

That describes more of the Woggle-Bug's adventures in the US. In it, he falls in love with a dress, chasing after everyone who owns it. And the owners are a veritable showcase of racial and ethnic stereotypes. After a brief visit to a land of taking animals, the Woggle-Bug ends up getting a tie made out of the dress and happy.

It's crude and racists but, above all else, it doesn't resemble anything that makes you think Oz.

As a children's author, Baum had a gift. He wrote charming and whimsical stories that ranged from silly fun to the outright fantastic. Even his weakest children's book (which I'm going to argue was Dot and Tot of Merryland) has its fun bits.

Neither Queer Visitors nor The Woggle-Bug book were written for kids, not really. Every reason Baum is still remembered isn't there. It's like he wrote a farce of his own work and it's just bad stuff.

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