L. Frank Baum’s Oz Series: #2 The Marvelous Land of Oz

L. Frank Baum’s Oz Series: #2 The Marvelous Land of Oz

After four years of hounding, L. Frank Baum wrote the second Oz book for his many thousands of fans and it was published in 1904. By this time it was a stage play too, and the original artist, W.W. Denslow, was replaced by John R. Neill, my favourite Oz artist.

I saw hounded, because apparently Baum wanted to do other things, pursue other themes in different kinds of writing, but his other ventures didn’t pan out and his fans wanted more Oz. So, a little like the Wizard, Baum was trapped by Oz and made the best of it. The thing is, Baum’s creativity and sheer zaniness is off the scales. I count myself as a relatively outside the box thinker, but Baum makes my imagination look like 1970s TV.

The Marvelous Land of Oz, unlike The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, is not a portal fantasy with a Kansas girl, but one starring only the bizarre characters of Oz. We start with a little boy called Tip who was sold to an old witch. He’s about to be turned into a statue, so he runs away and takes the witch’s magic powder of life. He’d previously used this to bring a wooden man with a Jack-o-Lantern head to life (Jack Pumpkinhead).

It turns out he’d done a poor job of building the body, and so as not to wear down Jack’s knees, they find a sawhorse and Tip brings it to life with the second dose of the powder of life. So now there are three characters adventuring.

As a grown-up, a lot of Baum’s imagination strikes me as fitting firmly in the genres of body horror or the bizarre. For example, Jack’s not good at holding onto the Sawhorse, so Jack carves hole into the Sawhorse’s back and hammers in a stake so that he can tie Jack on. Not my first thought as a grown man, but I guess effective in a fairy country.

On the way to the Emerald City, they encounter a girl army, who are revolting (pun is in the book) because they’re tired of the men being in charge. Reading this with my niece recently, I taught her about girl power and down with the patriarchy.

Since the wizard and Dorothy left Oz, the Scarecrow is now the king, and Top and company encounter him, and due to the revolt, they flee to the land of the Winkies who have declared the Tin Woodman their emperor. It’s fun to revisit these two, and the book bills itself as the further adventures of the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow.

As an additional case in point of Baum not filtering his imagination, the adventurers then meet H.M. Wogglebug T.E. (below). He is Highly-Magnified and Thoroughly Educated, because he was a normal wogglebug who lived in a schoolhouse. One day, while the teacher was projecting something onto a screen, the wogglebug crawled onto the plate and he was magnified onto the wall. The Highly Magnified bug on the screen caused the class to empty, at which point, the magnified image walked off the screen and escaped through the back of the schoolhouse. He delights in puns, so he is evil.

The adventurers continue adventuring and are trapped by an evil princess who wants to take Tips head for her head collection (recall my body horror comment). To escape, they tie together two couches, put some palm branches on for wings and attach a stuffed gump head to the front and sprinkle the powder of life onto it. And voila! Flying couch fort with relatively obedient head. Escape is easy-ish.

The adventures go on, and continue to be marvelous and original and lead in the end to Ozma of Oz, the last princess and true heir to the throne, being installed as the ruler of Oz.

This novel is probably my favourite Oz book (although the first three are all pretty stellar) and parts of this book and the third were smushed together to make Disney’s 1985 Return to Oz movie.

If you want to read this as an ebook for free, I highly recommend checking it out at the Gutenberg Index. You can also find it for free as an audiobook at Librivox.org. It’s charming, original, surprising and light fun. At the same time, Baum’s Oz series are widely considered to be the beginning of American fantasy, so for historical reasons are very valuable reading too.

Give it a try!

Derek Künsken writes science fiction in Gatineau, Québec. His first novel, The Quantum Magiciana space opera heist, was a finalist for the Locus, Aurora and Chinese Nebula awards. Its sequel, The Quantum Garden was an Aurora finalist as well. His third novel, The House of Styx, got a starred review in Publishers’ Weekly and the Library Journal and is out in audio and ebook (order link); and the hardcover will release in April, 2021.

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Thomas Parker

Jack Pumpkinhead and the Woggle Bug were by far my children’s favorite OZ characters back when I was reading the books aloud to them. It helped that the WB sounded just like W.C. Fields, of whom I do a very passable imitation!

R.K. Robinson

I have an early edition of those, pretty beat up from 80 years of reading and handling, but still among my childhood favorites.

James Enge

This is and always was my favorite Oz book. Even in my now-distant youth, the gender politics of General Jinjer’s revolution made me roll my eyes a little, but I loved the characters of Tip, Jack, and the Sawhorse and their adventures. And Neill’s art is amazingly better than Denslow’s—bolder, more inaginative, singing with implied motion.

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