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READING THE TBR, DAY 127: The Royal Book of Oz (1921) by Ruth Plumly Thompson

I don’t understand.

Ruth Plumly Thompson wrote 21 estate-approved Oz sequels.

Meanwhile, L. Frank Baum once wrote a collection of Oz stories.

So WHY, if you were putting together a box set of Oz books, would you include ONE of Thompson’s fanfic versions and not the original creator’s short stories? Was the box a fixed size, and The Royal Book of Oz was exactly the right size to fill it up? What and why and who decided this terrible decision?

Admittedly, in the early days of these posthumous sequels, L. Frank Baum was credited as the author. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Thompson was given as the author, Baum basically becoming the Virginia Andrews of his day. But this box set was released in 2015! They knew better!

As you can tell, this has me very upset.

For the book itself, it’s… fine. I don’t know how much my appreciation of it is hampered by the awareness that it is not one of Baum’s originals, maybe readers of the book in its original release would have been enchanted. But for me it has something missing — it has all the pieces of the puzzle, but the picture is missing, so it’s like the edges have been filled in but all the middle remains disassembled and chaotic.

Also, it’s racist as hell.

On the bright side, the Wogglebug has a decent part, when he makes a family tree for everyone in Oz, and sends the Scarecrow on a quest for relatives. If only this made sense, and didn’t end up with him in a distasteful simulacrum of China! 

Dammit, book. You even made me mad at my Wogglebug.

I think I’m done with Oz books now.

I might go watch Tin Man again, though. Or maybe The Wiz. I might even assay Return to Oz again, even though I remain traumatised from a childhood viewing that still occasionally wakes me in fright.

I’m just not sure I can let it all go. Which is why this book (and its plenitude of sequels) exists, of course. I get it. But I don’t have to like it.

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 126: The Royal Book of Oz (Oz #15) by Ruth Plumly Thompson
GENRE: Children’s Fiction, Classics
PUBLISHED: 1921
TIME ON THE TBR: 3 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Amazon.
KEEP: Yep!

READING THE TBR, DAY 126: Glinda of Oz (1920) by L. Frank Baum

How very dare you, L. Frank Baum? WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL?

The Wogglebug, my poor, beleagured Wogglebug. How could you make him such an outcast, so anathema, so swollen-headed and intellectual that he has become so monstrously unpopular? Do you not like smart people? WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS?

I will never get an answer to this question, since Baum died the year before this book was published and this was the last of his Oz books — and yet there is one more book to go in my collection… hmmm — but it goes to show that getting invested in a minor character can break your heart on an author’s whim. We all know this. We’ve all seen Game of Thrones. But I expected more from an Oz book. I expected better.

The rest of the book is actually pretty interesting, as two small nations within Oz declare war and Ozma takes Dorothy along with her on a mission of peace. You have to think this has a lot to do with World War I, which was still in progress during its writing — and which, actually, might account for all of the invasion plotlines in the other Oz books — and it’s good to see Ozma fail at something so thoroughly and learn that she’s not actually omnipotent. A cavalcade of pretty much every Oz character helps out, and all ends happily, of course, but it is a bit of a departure from the rest of the series, for all the familiar elements, and one has to wonder how much that had to do with Baum’s sickliness during the writing of this book.

So I guess I can forgive his treatment of my poor dear Wogglebug. 

And I have to say, this has been one of the most fun fortnights I have ever spent.

So, thanks, L. Frank Baum. See you in fairy land.  

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 126: Glinda of Oz (Oz #14) by L. Frank Baum
GENRE: Children’s Fiction, Classics
PUBLISHED: 1920
TIME ON THE TBR: 3 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Amazon.
KEEP: Yep!

READING THE TBR, DAY 125: The Magic of Oz (1919) by L. Frank Baum

Oh. We’re back to that kind of Oz book.

Ozma’s birthday is coming up, and everyone is fretting over what to get the girl who has everything. So pretty much all the characters we have ever met in Oz go on journeys to, basically, shop for presents.

Meanwhile, an invasion of Oz is being planned, because when is Oz not being invaded nowadays? (I know I loved it in The Emerald City of Oz, but there is such a thing as beating a dead unicorn.) (Yes, sometimes there are unicorns in Oz.)

It’s all very same ol’ same ol’, and very disappointing after the last couple of books and their general high quality. On the other hand, the Lonesome Duck! He’s awesome! (She? It’s never really specified.) He has a diamond palace and is “lonesome” only in that he is the only duck in Oz. In fact, he’s a total misanthrope — and mis-everything-else-thrope — so is just really happy in his own company. But still, he helps Trot and Cap’n Bill, because he’s not a bad guy, really. He’s kind of a proto-Marvin the Paranoid Android.

I really liked the Lonesome Duck. But the rest of this book… not really at all.

Sigh.  

Wogglebug Report: Nope. Double sigh.

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 125: The Magic of Oz (Oz #13) by L. Frank Baum
GENRE: Children’s Fiction, Classics
PUBLISHED: 1918
TIME ON THE TBR: 3 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Amazon.
KEEP: Yep!

READING THE TBR, DAY 124: The Tin Woodman of Oz (1918) by L. Frank Baum

It has been mentioned before in this series how no one in Oz ever dies, but I think it is only in this book that it has really penetrated my brain that no one ever ages there either.

I don’t really get how that works, since we know that Ozma was a baby when she was given away to wicked Mumbi the witch (by the Wizard, no less! He really hasn’t caught enough flack for that evilness, as the series has gone along), and she is now a girl somewhere around Dorothy’s pre-teen age, but apparently everything was normal in Oz until a fairy randomly put a spell on the land leading to this ongoing immortality, and which may mean that Ozma was stuck under Mumbi’s thumb (and as a boy) for much longer than I previously thought. 

But it is due to this spell that the Tin Woodman was able to be made tin since, somewhat horrifically, his human body was replaced piece-by-piece by tin prostheses, until at last he was all tin all the time. This tale is revisited here, and an oversight from the very first Oz book revisited: what ever happened to the young maid servant he loved so well, and and wanted to marry so badly, that her witchy guardian cursed his axe to keep cutting off his body parts?

Belatedly recalled to his duty to her, the Tin Woodsman sets off to find her, in company with his old friend Scarecrow and new friend Woot, and the three get up to all kinds of shenanigans, while also there is a whole lot of overt Frankenstein and Island of Dr. Moreau imagery.

It’s actually pretty cool.

I did feel for Woot most of the time, however, since he is actually quite sensible, and no one in Oz can possibly fare well with that kind of attitude. I’m also unclear about Dorothy and Ozma’s role here, since they basically just seemed to be tuning into the quest to see how badly it was going every day, and then didn’t step in to help until after everything was all resolved (I guess the Emerald City doesn’t get cable; one thing Baum didn’t invent), but for the most part, this was a super-fun romp through the marvellous land of Oz, and I liked it a lot.

Bring on Book 13! 

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 124: The Tin Woodman of Oz (Oz #12) by L. Frank Baum
GENRE: Children’s Fiction, Classics
PUBLISHED: 1918
TIME ON THE TBR: 3 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Amazon.
KEEP: Yep!

READING THE TBR, DAY 123: The Lost Princess of Oz (1917) by L. Frank Baum

Yay!

At last, a fine return to Oz-ian form in this exciting, clever and amusing mystery in which Ozma goes missing from the Emerald City — as does her magic picture, the Wizard of Oz’s magic bag and Glinda’s magic book, along with a baking dish belonging to Cayke the Cookie Cook, an intrepid baker who sets out on a quest to find her bakeware — and eventually pretty much everyone we’ve ever met in Oz is involved in the search for their missing Princess.

It’s ingenious! It’s hilarious! It’s full of philosophy, like “No thief, however skillful, can rob one of knowledge, and that is why knowledge is the best and safest treasure to acquire.”

I loved this one. I’m excited to read these Oz books again. Which is lucky, because I still have four to go… 

Wogglebug Report: Nope. Surely he could have helped?!? 

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 123: The Lost Princecss of Oz (Oz #11) by L. Frank Baum
GENRE: Children’s Fiction, Classics
PUBLISHED: 1917
TIME ON THE TBR: 3 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Amazon.
KEEP: Yep!

READING THE TBR, DAY 122: Rinkitink in Oz (1916) by L. Frank Baum

This is the best Oz book in a while, but then, calling it an Oz book is a bit of a misnomer. For a start, Rinkitink — he’s a King, and a bit of a nuisance — has nothing to do with Oz, and nothing even remotely Oz-related happens until the very end of the story.

Instead, this one is set in a different of Baum’s fairy lands, and a fun one it is, peopled with his signature inventive races and — I am very happy to report — showcasing a return to his sparkling, often laugh-out-loud, dialogue and prose. The irascible Bilbil the Goat is a highlight. 

There are kingdoms and invasions and magic and mermaids and it’s just a lovely little story, with Dorothy, Glinda and Ozma shoehorned in at the end, clearly because the word “Oz” was clearly bank in those days.

And I suppose I have to be happy about that, because most likely I should never have read this story — nor enjoyed such epigrams as “Never question the truth of what you fail to understand, for the world is filled with wonders — was the title any different.

Because the word Oz is bank in these days, too.  

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 122: Rinkitink in Oz (Oz #10) by L. Frank Baum
GENRE: Children’s Fiction, Classics
PUBLISHED: 1916
TIME ON THE TBR: 3 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Amazon.
KEEP: Yep!

READING THE TBR, DAY 121: The Scarecrow of Oz (1915) by L. Frank Baum

A couple of chapters into this book I went to do some research, because I felt like I was missing something, and indeed I was. Trot and Cap’n Bill, the two new main characters, were not, I learned, new at all, but had previously appeared in two other Baum stories of their own.

So this is basically a crossover episode, as these two are swept into a whirlpool and end up in Oz, there to meet pretty much everyone we already do know (even the titular Scarecrow… eventually) and just basically go through the Oz motions.

The bloom is definitely off this rose for me now. Oh, I’m going to press on with these books, because I want to get them all out of the way, and hey, Book 7 was cool after a bit of a slump, so who knows what creativity might await?

But I’m not holding my breath.   

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 121: The Scarecrow of Oz (Oz #9) by L. Frank Baum
GENRE: Children’s Fiction, Classics
PUBLISHED: 1914
TIME ON THE TBR: 3 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Amazon.
KEEP: Yep!

READING THE TBR, DAY 120: Tik-Tok of Oz (1914) by L. Frank Baum

This book is a strange combination of massive inconsistencies and  rehashed Oz plots and then one glorious moment of plot hole filling that almost redeems the whole thing. (Except doesn’t.)

Though the invention of the mobile phone goes a pretty long way towards doing so, as well.

The rehashed Plots include an attempt to invade Oz and an Earth girl washed overboard and ending up in Oz. The inconsistencies include a) Polychrome, the rainbow’s daughter, and our old creepy friend The Shaggy Man already know each other and b) that is not how his hateful Love Magnet works! All very, very annoying.

But also, in this book we learn that Toto — who, alone of the animals of Oz, doesn’t talk, something I’ve been wondering about for a while — has been silent in Oz because he didn’t have anything to say and not because he couldn’t speak, and I very much appreciated that retcon right there, and I must give thanks to the early-20th-century kids who doubtless prompted it. 

And then this happened:

… Shaggy suspected the truth, and believing that Ozma was now taking an interest in the party he drew from his pocket a tiny instrument which he placed against his ear.

Ozma, observing this action in her Magic Picture, at once caught up a similar instrument from a table beside her and held it to her own ear. The two instruments recorded the same delicate vibrations of sound and formed a wireless telephone, an invention of the Wizard. Those separated by any distance were thus enabled to converse together with perfect ease and without any wire connection.

“Do you hear me, Shaggy Man?” asked Ozma.

“Yes, Your Highness,” he replied.”

I mean. That is pretty cool.

Oh, yeah. And Tik-Tok is in this book, too — and he sucks now. Sigh.

Wogglebug Report: Nope. Just makes the book even worse.

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 120: Tik-Tok of Oz (Oz #8) by L. Frank Baum
GENRE: Children’s Fiction, Classics
PUBLISHED: 1914
TIME ON THE TBR: 3 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Amazon.
KEEP: Yep!

READING THE TBR, DAY 119: The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1913) by L. Frank Baum

After bidding a sudden farewell to Dorothy and the gang at the end of the previous Oz novel, the magical land was clearly still preying on L. Frank Baum’s mind (or bank balance), so here he decided to revisit it, but initially centering his story on a whole new set of characters. (Though, there is a magician we’ve heard of before, the one who came up with the powder that brought Jack Pumpkinhead and the Sawhorse to life.)

Scraps, the titular patchwork girl, is brought to life by that magician as a maid for his wife — they explain to Scraps that she is a servant, aka “One who serves, a sort of slave”, which is not quite right, but okay — but she tires of this life and is soon off on an adventure with Ojo the Unlucky, a poor Munchkin boy on the brink of starvation as the book starts (dark!), to try to save his uncle, who has been turned into a marble statue.

Of course, they make new friends and various well-known Oz denizens are encountered on the journey, and it all ends happily enough, if a little too quickly. Baum is very fond of a deus ex machina, after all.

But the best of the book is Scraps herself, bad poetry and all; most especially, her meeting with a soon-smitten Scarecrow. I am shipping Scraps and Scarecrow hard now. It’s weird as hell, I know, but hey, that’s who I am.

Oh, and here’s a fun Oz fact! In 1914, Baum’s film company brought out a silent picture version of this book, the first Oz film ever on screen. It runs about an hour long, and it has the production values of a kindergarten play, and it’s so hard to follow — even when you’ve read the book — that it’s very easy to see how it lost money (as did all the Oz Film Manufacturing Company feature productions, of which there were… four. Two of which were not even set in Oz).

Still, check this out! It’s unintentionally hilarious, which is often the best kind of hilarious, isn’t it?


 

TBR DAY 119: The Patchwork Girl of Oz (Oz #7) by L. Frank Baum
GENRE: Children’s Fiction, Classics
PUBLISHED: 1913
TIME ON THE TBR: 3 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Amazon.
KEEP: Yep!

READING THE TBR, DAY 118: The Emerald City of Oz (1910) by L. Frank Baum

I’ve liked the last couple of Oz books, of course, but with this one Baum is back in the realm of genius. It’s actually my favourite one yet; pretty impressive for the sixth book in any series, let alone a kids’ one, where you’d think most of the wonder comes from the initial ideas and the world being laid out before us.

One of the reasons Baum keeps on surprising is that he continues to broaden the world of Oz, giving us more and more civilizations of more and more interesting people. From the baked goods-based people of Bunbury to the living utensils of Utensia to the assorted members of the Nome King’s evil coalition, determined to invade Oz and destroy the unwonted happiness of its citizens, his inventiveness knows no bounds, nor — often — does his wit.

Also, after struggling financially and finding their farm in danger of repossession, Dorothy’s Uncle Henry and Aunty Em find themselves whisked off to Oz in this one, the family to now settle there permanently, and there is a lovely little moral about work ethic thrown in, because they do not easily adjust to their lives of luxury and need something to keep them occupied.

But more than anything, the attempted invasion of Oz takes centre stage in this book, and it is so much fun!

Woggle-Bug Report: Yes! He is here, and is now a Professor at the College of Art and Athletic Perfection, which he founded. One of his innovations was to introduce school pills to the curriculum, which allow students to literally swallow knowledge — Maths, English, History and the like — in order to spend more time on their artistic and physical education.

It’s basically a cyberpunk concept, but from 1910. Amazing!  

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 118: The Emerald City of Oz (Oz #6) by L. Frank Baum
GENRE: Children’s Fiction, Classics
PUBLISHED: 1910
TIME ON THE TBR: 3 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Amazon.
KEEP: Yep!