Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Emerald City of Oz, where Baum planned on ending the series

Ho boy. This is a big one. The Emerald City of Oz is the book that turns so much of Oz on its head. The Nome King returns, more vindictive than ever. Vast evil armies march upon Oz. Oh, and Dorothy moves to Oz permanently, along with Uncle Henry and Aunt Em.

Okay, it's that last one that really shakes things up and breaks the formula we've become used to. You know, Dorothy somehow ends up in the fairy lands, has adventures and goes home to her loving family that don’t quite know what to make of her stories.

Like pretty much everyone alive today, my first exposure to Oz was the 1939 movie with Judy Garland. That version of the Wizard of Oz ends with it all being a dream. Having Uncle Henry and Auntie Em end up living in the emerald city is a huge difference than it all being just a dream.

As is often the case with Baum, real life does have an explanation for this big shift. Baum was wrapping up the series and intended for the Emerald City of Oz to be the last book, which also explains the whole evil armies invading Oz too.

Of course, the fact that he would go on to write eight more Oz books, plus a small short story collection about Oz shows how wrong he was. Unfortunately for Baum but fortunately for those of us who enjoyed his Oz books, nothing else sold nearly as well and he had to go back to Oz in the name of money.

(I do think that Sky Island, which was the last book he wrote before he threw in the towel and went back to Oz is a really good book, by the way)

Anyway, let the spoilers begin as I give a quick summery of the book.

Most of The Emerald City of Oz goes back and forth between two plotlines that dovetail together at the end of the book. On the one hand, we have the villains’ storyline. The Nome King is back, planning his revenge on Oz by leading several armies of evil creatures to conquer Oz. On the other hand, we have Dorothy and her family immigrating to Oz and spending some time as tourists before they learn about the impending invasion.

At the beginning of the book, Uncle Henry’s about to lose the farm. It turns out that he never was able to financially get over the farmhouse getting destroyed in the first book.

After she learns this, Dorothy arranges with Ozma for the whole family to move to Oz. (So that happens right at the start of the book so I didn’t spoil much mentioning it in the first paragraph)

After they arrive, in order to help them settle in and get used to what Oz is like, Dorothy and the Wizard take Uncle Henry and Aunt Em on a road trip where they get a chance to see some of the crazy tiny little kingdoms in Oz.

While Baum is no stranger to oddball places, he really pulls out the stops with this trip. Living jigsaw puzzles, talking utensils and philosophy arguments between crabs and zebras.

The trip does include what I found to be one of Dorothy’s most unsympathetic moments. After Toto eats some of the inhabitants of Bunbury, who are living bread, Dorothy takes offense to them having a problem with that since they are food, after all.

The other plotline, which I found more interesting, describes how the Nome King appoints a new general, Guph. Guph then goes out and recruits increasingly nasty allies. The Whimsies are giants with tiny heads that they cover with papier-mâché masks, the Growleywogs are even stronger giants with a total absence of body fat and finally the Phanfasms who have vast magical powers.

Of course, every last one of them, including the Nomes, plan on betraying everyone else. While they don’t get a chance to, my money would be on the Phanfasms. The other three groups have their silly elements but the Phanfasms are just plain creepy.

Thanks to Ozma’s magical picture, Ozma and company learn about how the Nomes are tunneling to Oz so the armies can invade. They trick the armies into drinking from the Fountain of Oblivion, causing them to lose all their memories and give up this whole evil invasion nonsense.

Glinda the Good then casts a spell that renders Oz invisible to the outside world. Since Dorothy was allegedly the one telling Baum everything that happened, his source has dried up, hence wrapping up the series.

Baum might not have ended up ending the Oz books with the Emerald City of Oz but he certainly does a good job making it a worthy end to the series. While the General Jinjur got farther in her civil war in the Land of Oz as far as conquering Oz is concerned, the Nome King and his allies are a far more serious threat. They are easily the greatest danger that the land faces in all of Baum’s books.

Heck, even the degree of silly stops on Dorothy and company’s grand tour of Oz exceeds anything else in the series for sheer density of locations. Baum clearly planned on ending in a big way and I’d say he succeeded.

Of course, it wasn’t the end. Not by a long shot. But, boy, were things shaken up.

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