The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum

I continue my Oz reading with this second installment of Baum’s fantastical world.  I know that I’ll read at least one more if not two in the series.

Plot:  Let’s get one thing out of the way: Dorothy is not in this one.  Our story opens in the Country of the Gillikins, the northern land of Oz, and follows a boy name Tip as he escapes from his cruel master, the witch Mombi.  Before leaving, Tip steals some magic powder which he uses to animate a pumpkinhead man that he has made.   Their plan is to travel to the Emerald City to meet the Scarecrow, who is now the ruler of that place.  Along the way, they animate a saw horse and ride him to the City.

They meet the scarecrow who unfortunately is not much help as his city is quickly overthrown by an army of girls with knitting needles.  They all escape to the land of the Winkies where they meet the Tin Woodsman who rules there.  They return to the Emerald City but are quickly surrounded by the girl army, escaping by creating a flying machine out of various items including the head of a gump.  Eventually they make it to the south country where they meet with Glinda the Good who accompanies them take back the Emerald City from both the girl army and Mombi.  There is an excellent plot twist at the end that I will not spoil for you.

Personal Reaction:  I felt that this book was different from the first in that L. Frank Baum seemed more sure of the tone that he wanted to strike.  In the Wizard of Oz, the story often overwhelmed a great deal of character development (“and then this happened…and then this happened…”).  But Baum allows The Marvelous Land to breathe a bit more and lets the characters have extended conversations that illuminate their personalities.  One dialogue that I found enjoyable was early on in the book when the Scarecrow and Jack Pumpkinhead are first meeting.  They talk themselves into the idea that, because they are from different lands of Oz, then they must need an interpreter to understand each other.  Of course, they are speaking the same language the entire time.

I also appreciated how each character was proud in their own way of their uniqueness, but also inclined towards sensitivity on this matter.  The Tin Woodsman, for example, has himself nickel plated and is careful to avoid scratches to preserve his lustre.  Jack Pumpkinhead is careful not to damage his head and is constantly worried about spoiling.  The Sawhorse is embarrassed when one of his legs is damaged and must be switched out with another piece of wood.  Baum’s characters wear their weirdness on the outside, but just like people, are inclined to be self conscious about it.

Taken all together, I believe that this book holds up (a bit of sexism concerning the girl army notwithstanding) over a hundred years later.  I can cheerfully recommend The Marvelous Land of Oz to 7 year olds and up.

Themes:  uniqueness, diversity, character identity, female empowerment, gender identity, the trials of teamwork,

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Any children’s librarian worth her salt (or his salt, in my case) needs to be familiar with L. Frank Baum’s classic The Wizard of Oz.  For my part, I have decided recently to read at least the first 3 or 4 books in the series.  I wanted to move beyond the initial book that Hollywood has so well acquainted us with and truly experience the strangeness of Baum’s imaginary world.  With this in my mind, I put the Wizard of Oz in my suitcase as I packed for my vacation last week.

We are all by now familiar with the story: a cyclone sweeps up the Kansas prairie girl Dorothy, her dog Toto and their house and deposits them in the magical world of Oz.  Upon landing in the country of the Munchkins, Dorothy learns that she must travel to the City of Emeralds and seek the help of the great Oz.  She meets some companions along the way in the form of a scarecrow, a tin man, and a lion. That is all that I will say about the plot, because you know it anyway.

My own reaction to Baum’s classic is that it holds up pretty well since its publication in 1900.  I sometimes felt that events were a little forced (“and then this happened…and then this happened…”), especially near the end when the party travels through a land of living ceramic people.  I couldn’t help but wonder why Baum inserted that in there unless he was trying to set up plot points for future books.

Ultimately I liked the message of uplift that pervades the story.  As Edward Wagenknecht writes in the Afterword, “all these people, and the cowardly lion too, when they wanted something, they went out after it and in the end they found it.”  And it’s true.  Each of the characters attains that for which they search.  The irony of course, often lost on children but clear to adults, is that each of the characters already had what they wanted.  The Scarecrow had brains, the Lion courage, the Tin Man had heart, and Dorothy had an adventure to deliver her from the tedium of the Kansas prairie.  What is Baum telling us?  That adventure is here and now?  That we already have what we so want?  I’m not certain, but I love when a children’s book pushes me into deeper waters like this.

So, even an adult reader in 2012 can enjoy The Wizard of Oz.  I look forward to tackling at least the next two in the series.