Nitpicking in Oz, part II

As was previously mentioned — and if you haven’t been reading my lit-crit masterpieces in order, why not, may I ask — at any rate, Oz was consciously designed as a very practical Fairyland. You notice, when the characters stop for supper on their nigh-endless journeys, how often milk is mentioned?

In other words: Tolkien, Baum was not. This is part of the reason I don’t buy into the idea of the first book as a political allegory; there’s just no evidence of that much conscious planning in the rest of the series. Really, the very idea of designing intricate languages and mythologies and making sure Celaborn was pronounced correctly would’ve seemed vaguely unwholesome, to a middle-aged Midwesterner at the turn of the 20th century.

Thus Oz grew into a truly American fantasy concept: sturdy and free and self-reliant and… not making a lick of sense, really. On the plus side, at least he didn’t attempt to turn the whole thing into a religious allegory.

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He did, however, have to deal with the effects of magic — yes, even in kiddy books. This posed a special problem for Baum, since — as TVTropes explains in their splendid page on the subject — you don’t really need rules, but you do have to have internal logic. If it’s been established that the Enchanted Whatzis can get you out of a situation, it’s bad form to repeat that situation sans Whatzis.
‘Cause you just know some random critic is going to turn it intosnark fodder. Or, as in the case of Star Trek, you have to reboot an entire decades-old franchise at least partly because there was literally no way left to get the crew in trouble that couldn’t be solved by previously demonstrated tech.

Baum seemed to have an especially unfortunate gift for granting omniscience. In Oz, after the third book, there is the Magic Belt, worn by Ozma, which functions as a shameless deus et accessory. Ozma also has a Magic Picture (noticing a trend here?) which shows her anything she wants to see the instant she asks.
There is also Glinda the ‘powerful Sorceress’, who possesses the Great Book, on which everything that occurs everywhere in the world is instantly recorded. There is the Wizard, on his return, who becomes her apprentice. There is even a frelling Powder of Life that can grant sentience to whatever it touches. All this, without even mentioning the winged monkeys.

So basically the remaining Oz stories should all be about two pages long. Instead, the characters go on quests like the one in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, in which the title characters get trapped in the centre of the Earth and held captive by vegetable people, who declare their intention of ‘planting’ the visitors.
After several days of fobbing them off, Dorothy and party escape via a steep cave path up towards the surface. It’s a long, hard climb. Along the way they get attacked by bloodthirsty invisible bears and captured by wooden Gargoyles, wander unaware into a dragon’s den and get annoyed the hell out of by a crazy man half-way up who won’t let them leave without a box of his High-Grade Artificial Flutters and Rustles.

All of which is splendid fun; nobody ever accused Baum of a dearth of imagination. The kicker comes when they find themselves trapped in a cavern juuuuuust too far below the surface to reach. Even the Wizard starts lamenting their fate, until…
…Dorothy calmly announces that they’ll be OK, because she’s made a deal with Ozma: At four o’clock every day, Ozma will look for her in the Magic Picture, and if Dorothy is making a ‘special signal’, she’ll use the Magic Belt to transport her and her companions out immediately. So she does, and she does, and they do.

Right. Let me just remind the reader, this is several days later. It’s explicitly mentioned in the text.

Apparently Ozma has ethical qualms, or something, about using the thing indiscriminately; at one point in Road to Oz she tells Dorothy that she was on the verge of rescuing her, but Dorothy et al got out OK by themselves. That can-do frontier spirit in action again, I guess. But it still leaves everybody else wondering why Dorothy’s companions didn’t raise even the eensiest little question about why the @!$@#%#$ she DIDN’T MENTION THIS BEFORE THE GIANT INVISIBLE KILLER BEARS. Or, for that matter, have some choice words for Ozma’s ethics.

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Nitpicking in Oz, part I

So OK, I realise that The Wizard of Oz was originally a one-off deal. The first sequel was intended as a cash-in once the original became a  hit stage play, and the others were written pretty much as a favour to the fans (partly because, frankly, Baum needed the money too much to refuse them).

All that said… you do sometimes wonder, coming back to the original, if Baum ever bothered to reread it himself before embarking on the embellishment. Oz in the first book is — in keeping with the preface — a determinedly mundane fairyland, designed deliberately as an antidote to the vivid and grotesque European classics. (We will skip lightly over the fact that Wizard nevertheless has a body count in the dozens, largely of animals who get their heads chopped off by the Tin Woodman. It’s entirely possible that in Grimm, he would’ve carefully kept the severed heads to put in the Wicked Witch’s bed later, where they would recite doggerel predicting her gruesome demise. So it works out.)

In Oz the original, then, there is death. There is aging. They use money. The Tin Woodman’s retro-hilarious backstory involves him staying with his mother after his father’s death, until she too dies and he decides to get married on his inheritance.
There is suspicion, fear and stinginess. The Emerald City — in a bit that always struck us as goofily random, even at ten — is one gigantic fake, involving green glasses perma-locked to everyone’s head. (Couldn’t have called it, say, the Rose Quartz City and been halfway-clever with the glasses, noooooooo, it has to be green.)
There is no mention of a ruling dynasty of Oz. While trolling Wikipedia we were surprised and amused to note that the bit in the second book, that has the Wizard overthrowing same and sneaking the true heir away to be hidden by a Witch, is a direct offshoot of the decision in the original play to drop the Wicked Witch and go with the Wizard as the villain. The play also has a dancing cow named Imogene replacing Toto, so you can guess which version stuck in the popular imagination. In that version, of course, the Wizard is genial and loveable and please, Mr. Baum, can’t you bring him back to Oz again?
Thus Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, and the famous ‘What did the Wizard know, and when did he know it?’ conudrum was born. So was Ozma of Oz. We have already made it pretty clear what we think of that decision.

Helpful True-Life Survival Tips for the Absent-Minded, Vol.2

OK, kids, today we address the heretofore criminally neglected branch of mental health risk that is trying to alleviate boredom by cliking through the potholed links on TVTropes.

Put simply, one should exercise great caution anytime one embarks on this seemingly harmless activity, maintaining full awareness to context at all times. Because there is always that possiblility that one will come across a reference to the classic short story I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, and think "Hmmmm, cool title, always wanted to know what that one was about," and clik thru without a second thought, and

OH MY EVER-LOVING GOD WHAT IS THAT HARLAN ELLISON YOU JUST SIGNED ON TO PAY MY THERAPY BILLS FOREVER

…except I think Harlan Ellison may be dead by now. So there’s no recourse at all, which is kind of ironic when you think about it, which I do not, thank you much. As it was I had to go edit the Wodehouse page for a solid hour before I calmed down enough to go to bed.

The Seven Days meme: Day Six

day 01 | a song
day 02 | a picture
day 03 | a book/ebook/fanfic
day 04 | a site
day 05 | a youtube clip
Day 06 | a quote
day 07 | whatever tickles your fancy

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I don’t say I’ve got much of a soul, but, such as it is, I’m perfectly satisfied with the little chap. I don’t want people fooling about with it. ‘Leave it alone,’ I say. ‘Don’t touch it. I like it the way it is.’

Joy in the Morning (US: Jeeves in the Morning), P.G. Wodehouse

The Seven Days meme: Day Three

day 01 | a song
day 02 | a picture
Day 03 | a book/ebook/fanfic
day 04 | a site
day 05 | a youtube clip
day 06 | a quote
day 07 | whatever tickles your fancy

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I had originally thought of being cute with this one, and plucking out something like the most obscure or weirdest book I own. Which — at least, in context — is a tiny 1964 paperback called From the Back of the Bus. It’s a collection of one-liners from Dick Gregory’s early career, complete with forward by Hugh Hefner.
I picked it up from a laundry room, feeling a bit smug, and boy was that knocked out of me but quick. This is Chris Rock’s direct ancestor; his MO was basically to get up in front of White audiences and make jokes about how racist they were. Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I understand there are a good many Southerners in the room tonight. I know the South very well. I spent twenty years there one night. "If I get them laughing, I can get through to them."

And it worked. They laughed. They packed the Playboy Club for weeks. Then he ran for President. I realise each generation creates its own level of insanity… but only in the 60’s, it sometimes seems, did they fully grasp the possibilities inherent therein.

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Clara Bow didn’t ever have to worry about locating the crazy. It spun around her, spun through her, spun her right over the rainbow into some of the most magnetic images ever captured on the big screen. She had no Kansas – she had no idea there was even an Emerald City. And by the time the Wizard turned out to be humbug her silver slippers had long since fallen off, and been lost in the wasteland.

…which is to say, I’ve also been re-reading David Stenn’s Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild lately. Stories of old Hollywood tend to have that effect on me. For awhile there, you start believing that it’s actually possible to redo reality in Technicolour; the only similar reading experience I can think of is a Dickens marathon.

Anyway, if you like celeb bios, this is a classic of the genre, striking the perfect balance between subject and purpose. Where Clara was real — and she was very, very real, in a Tinseltown age where it was unforgivable — so is Stenn; where things must needs get artificial, Stenn sympathises, delicately, rather like a friend who’s trying sincerely not to laugh. Because, frankly, these people were nuts. At one point, we’re introduced to a Judge Ben Lindsey, 1920’s celebrity advocate for premarital sex; he asks to meet Clara; arriving at the swank home of her producer and his family, Clara promptly unbuttons the Judge’s fly; he promptly flees in a huff. This is a minor incident at the bottom of page 98 or thereabouts.

The really wild stuff is elswhere, and it has nothing to do with orgies with football teams (as it turns out, there weren’t any of those anyhow). By  the hideously sensible logic of the studio system of the time, Clara was the studio’s top draw, its most reliable meal ticket — therefore too damn reliable to be wasted in a good film. If you threw random junk up around her and it made millions, spending money on commissioning a fine original script, decent co-stars or even an artistic-minded director was actually counter-productive. So here’s the poor little slum kid on the treadmill, patiently waiting for stardom to make it all better, and here’s her studio, using that same priceless, vivid wistfulness to ensure it’s never going to happen.

Right. Next week, it’s back to Oz for awhile. I really, really need to find those slippers again.

Wait’ll you hear what she says when her aunt wants her to expose her shoulders.

I spend some of my cyber-time on Project Gutenberg, the online effort to have every existing public-domain book ever transcribed and available by…whenever. They’re good and noble people no doubt, but their header-writing leaves a bit to be desired, clarity-wise.

Anyhow, I was originally inspired by the chance discovery of the Pollyanna sequel. Yes, you read that correctly. Pollyanna Grows Up. And yes, a truly adult Pollyanna is an oxymoron. Thus I do not recommend this book except to those investigating a possible Chinese Cheerfulness Torture.

(Which, come to think of it, is an intriguing concept. "Hey, don’t sweat it, boy! You still have nine fingernails left! Whoops! OK, make that eight. Still, think of all the money you’ll save on manicures!")

‘Tennyrate, I got intrigued by the possibilities and did some further digging. As it turns out, not only is there a Pollyanna sequel, there are Five Little Peppers sequels. There are Further Chronicles of Rebecca. Heidi Grows Up, too. The Betsy/Tacy series actually continues on until both are married and one is expecting. It’s kind of funny really; from this vantage point we’re thinking ‘timeless once-in-a-lifetime-classics’, and it turns out that back in the day they were thinking ‘Sweet Valley High’. Only, y’know, with  fewer crazed spa owners wanting to steal Mrs. Pepper’s face.

It becomes especially amusing when you realise many of the best-known of these women are iconic for the one  novel that isn’t representative of their output.

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Let’s face it, Ozma’s kind of an idiot.

Really, she is. I know this, because I have lately been on a course of Oz sequels (in eBook form) and I have been experiencing that prickly sort of irritation that twigs only in the presence of a Purity Sue. It’s been building for a couple rereads now, but this time this Author on Board-sense is just off the charts. Also, this time I have a journal in which to rant about stuff like this.

Disclaimer: I love the Oz books. I really do. It is the one fairyland in which you are absolutely confident that anything can happen, and can never tell what might be around the corner – for the very good reason that the author couldn’t either. There is a sort of naiive charm about that. Having not hung himself up in a web of Rules for his World, Baum’s imagination was free to roam in a way that even Tolkien himself might… well, nod thoughtfully at.
It’s just that every time the Ruler of Oz shows up – and a smart few times when she’s offscreen – all this amused tolerance comes bang! to a screeching halt. You can’t get away from Ozma, not least because you’re implied to be a terrible person if you try. Baum goes on and on and on about how beautiful and sweet and dainty and beloved she is, to the point where it basically amounts to older man in love with ideal young creation.

Think I’m being unkind to a classic of kidlit? There’s an entire book, The Road to Oz, that’s actually built around all the Ozites and every single character from Baum’s other books attending Ozma’s super-spectacular birthday party, the like of which the world has never seen. Dorothy is clearly too deep in the throes of a girlish crush to notice, but one might expect the Shaggy Man to be a trifle more bemused:

"You got me totally lost, saddled me with a couple of kids, which half the time one’s a damn fox – yeah, let’s give the dumb one the sharp teeth, that’s not a problem, noooooo. Plus one rainbow sprite – you ever tried collecting the perfect dewdrops at six am? And if it’s not perfect, she starts up that damn dancing again, and it’s like Oh, God, my stomach’s gonna add a brand-new colour to the spectrum right here. So here we are, completely lost…Oh, and the Scoodlers, did I mention them? ‘We love you in soup’, yeah yeah, most hilarious thing ever. Until they give me the donkey head. By then I thought that was a nice touch, actually.

"And so I have to swim in the Truth Pond – yeah, love that magical moss or whatever it was, bring it on – because I still have to keep the kids from picking up every random whatsis they find by the side of the road and we FINALLY get here and I’m staring at a little kid …and it’s her frelling birthday… hey, everybody, welcome to a Very Special Episode in Oz! Firearms are bad! Ha ha ha hahahahah…"

That said, this is not the nadir. It is close – especially the ending, where after spending a couple days in All Hail Ozma the Super-Specially Sparkly mode all the potentially interesting people just sort of float home in super-strong soap bubbles – but not yet.

No, the nadir is The Emerald City of Oz. In which Dorothy finally decides to bring her family to fairyland for good, at the same time as Evil finally decides that those ‘disgustingly goody-good’ Ozites need a thorough conquering. As a child, this is frankly terrifying. As an adult, especially a snarky-minded one, it’s… a bit less so. During the recent reread, I started mentally compiling a list of Ways This Kiddie Fantasy Novel Has Been Bugging the Crap Out of Me For Years Now, and since as noted I do have a journal this time…

…you might want to look out for the next entry. In the ‘Ooh, lovely!’ sense or the Wile-E-Coyote-with-tiny-little-umbrella sense, works fine either way.

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