Nitpicking in Oz, part III

So we’ve finally gotten ’round to The Emerald City of Oz. Obviously intended as a series finale, in which Dorothy moves with her aunt and uncle to Fairyland and Glinda quite literally slams the door shut behind them (also on the new threat of ‘flying machines’ that will be able to cross the Deadly Desert surrounding Oz at will).

Except, oops, they may have ticked off one powerful magic being too many. Scenes of Dorothy and company touring odd corners of their new home are intercut with the Nome King first recruiting other powerful magic beings to ambush Oz and the subsequent tunneling under the desert.
To pass the time they hold various frank discussions about who’s going to be who’s slave once the country is razed — Dorothy and Ozma being the grand prizes. The Nome King figures they’ll make pretty china bookends for his mantlepiece. Baum’s idea of what constitutes light relief from the ‘bloodthirsty’ traditional tales continues to amuse.

This is a much more adult and ambitious plotline than any he had attempted before, and it shows… unfortunately, it shows mostly in how klutzily it’s handled.

He does achieve one great Moment: asking what’s in it for them, the Phanfasms, most powerful of the evil races, point out that no common plunder is going to impress magic beings. The Nomes counter that there remains above all the exquisite joy of making people unhappy. He has to say ‘unhappy’, ’cause this is a kid’s novel, but we’ve already heard the debates over who gets Dorothy. The Phanfasms are sold.

Savour that moment of competence, kids, because we’re about to begin the guided tour of Stuff That Really Bugs About this Book.

–We open on Uncle Henry about to lose the farm. Times are tough, he’s been sick… and his niece keeps disappearing into what she claims is an incredibly opulent fairyland and never coming back with any jewels or other riches. Hilariously, Baum makes that exact observation, as if it doesn’t actually highlight the fact that Dorothy’s a moron. From a long line of them. (OK, OK, maybe they’re fairy jewels and would fly out of her pockets like everything else on her return trips. A line confirming that still would’ve helped.)

–When Dorothy makes the sensible suggestion that her aunt & uncle are plain people and it wouldn’t be helpful to make a big deal of their arrival in Oz — "No, they shall first see me in my Throne Room," huffs the sweet, gentle, generous Ruler of Oz who only wants the best for her people. Further, since there ‘can be nothing’ the old folks want back in Kansas — like, say, pictures, heirlooms, beloved friends or family who might worry, any of that useless burden — she’s going to haul them over ASAP.
Seriously, it’s framed as a total Princess-zilla moment, with Dorothy instantly backing off from That Tone. And of course poor old Aunty Em & Uncle Henry do show up in Oz in a chore-time mess, and everybody in the Throne Room laughs, and this whole ‘Heh, aren’t old folks quaint for not understanding luxury!’ vibe runs through the rest of the book. So yes, kids, Dorothy was actually a total idiot for wanting to get back to her Humble Home throughout the first book, but she’s better now, ‘kay?

–This is driven home during the side trip to Bunnybury. Glinda apparently makes a hobby of setting up little communities for her favourite local novelties, and this one contains all the pink-eyed white rabbits. Since there’s *ahem* no death in Oz, apparently albino animals aren’t insta-predator chow… which leads to some alarming speculations about the size of the rabbit population.
Never mind, back to warping the Aesop. The bunnies live rather as fuzzy French dolls, all silks and velvets and every whim satisfied. Everybody’s happy but the King, who misses his wild freedom; enter Dorothy, who saves the day by convincing him how much he’d miss all his civilised goodies. It’s a cute little sequence, and deftly handled… but the assumption that of course materialism solves everything still leaves a bad taste.

–You Fail Magic-Using Forever moment #1: Meanwhile, back at Villain HQ, the Nome King is understandably getting a little antsy about keeping all these vastly more powerful beings onside. His General tries to comfort him by saying they’ll get the Magic Belt & wish them all home instanter post-razing. It never occurs to anybody that a) the Ozites might use the Magic Belt themselves or b) the other bad guys might get to it first. You know, being vastly more powerful, and all.

–Moment #2: Eventually, Ozma looks into the Magic Picture, thinks of the Nome King, and — grasp! — sees the tunnel being dug. Ooh, the plot thickens! What will Ozma do now?
…Um, grab the Magic Belt, send everybody home and seal off their access to Oz forever, end of book. I think this may have occurred to Baum too, because what he actually does have Ozma do is: nothing. Zip, nada, not even a courtesy note to Glinda. ("About to be invaded. Stop. Just know they won’t give me time to get to the Throne Room. Stop.")
You do have to feel for the poor author here; he can’t have the bad guys just erupt and start razing, so his only option is to make Ozma look like she’s Paris Hilton rules Fairyland for the day, ha ha busted! …I do think the line about how she’s so amused, she continues to watch the tunnel being built for a while each day, was a bit overkill though.

–So eventually Dorothy & company meet up with the Tin Woodman, who tells them the awful news. Nota bene: The Wizard is of the travelling party, meaning it was apparently more important to Ozma to brief the tin guy than one of her most powerful magical advisors (what? Oh, Glinda’s been tutoring him between books). They’re all of course totally shocked and take off to be with their Princess in her hour of need.

–So they get there, and the Princess is all, "Oh, need? Was there a need?" In what Baum had to have meant as an ‘oh, she’s a girl, they’re too sweet and pure to even visualise war’ moment, she just does not understand why they’re all so upset. I think somebody may want to explain the concept of ‘slavery’ to this ‘dainty girl Ruler’. With slides.
She then admits that she may be underestimating the situation a tad — especially since the tunnel’s done and the enemy is just waiting for the sunrise to break through — and the glitterati of Oz settle in to strategise. That is, toss the Idiot Ball around some more, because still nobody mentions the Magic Belt, except when Dorothy suggests using it to whisk everybody back to Kansas and is instantly shot down. Oh, and she also mentions putting some emeralds in their pockets when they go. The little twerp.

–Turns out Ozma’s a raging pacifist who doesn’t want to stoop to fighting. Oh, yeah. If this is meant to be a subtle explanation as to how her father was so easily overthrown, then kudos. If not… I’ll just carry on, shall I?

–Which is not to say they don’t come up with a brilliant plan, of course. It really is rather neat, the way it neutralises the threat without a drop of bloodshed even hinted, so I won’t go into spoiler details here. Except to say that Stage One involves the tunnel being filled with dust, so the big Parade o’Villainy has to march through it for miles. I leave you with the mental image of near-godlike villains going "koff-koff! Where’d all this dang dust come from?! koff!"
…Yeah, if only you had some way of, I don’t know, magicking the dust out of there, or preventing it from affecting you, or even conjuring up a nice cool glass of water. Tsk. Sucks to be you, huh?

–OK, one other teeny detail: That’s got to be one humongous fountain.

–The day saved, they jaunt over to Glinda’s to discuss the question of access to Oz, including those pesky flying machines. (One does not get the idea Baum was impressed with the Wright Brothers). Glinda waves aside explanations — it was all in her Great Book, the one that tells her everything that happens everywhere at the exact instant.
So she knew about the Evil Plan the moment it was proposed, but it made such great bedtime reading she never got around to sounding the alarm. Which would’ve been ignored anyway, because Ozma was busy with that day’s installment of Looming Apocalypse TV. All that this scenario is missing is the posts to the Facebook page.

…or, um, LiveJournal.wordpress visitors

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