Letdown of Ozma of Oz

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We recently got through Ozma of Oz, L. Frank Baum’s 1907 followup to The Wizard of Oz.  Actually there was another book in between, The Marvelous Land of Oz, which does not feature Dorothy, but I decided we’d just pick up Dorothy’s continuing adventures.

It was a bit of a let-down.  The art is fantastic: ravishing, Japanese-influenced paintings by John Neill, who replaced W.W. Denslow after he and Baum had a falling out.  Wikipedia tells us that

Dorothy drawn by Denslow appeared to be a chubby five or six year old with long brown hair in two braids. Neill chose to illustrate a new Dorothy in 1907 when the character was reintroduced in Ozma of Oz. He illustrated the young girl in a more fashionable appearance. She is shown to be about ten years old, dressed in contemporary American fashions, with blonde hair cut in a fashionable bob. A similar modernization was given other female characters.

The whole book is very fashion/glamour-conscious, in fact, as in the flighty Princess Langwidere, who decides every morning which head to wear, from a closet full of dozens of gorgeous options.  She always wears the same simple white dress, however, indulging all of her need for fashion and variety in choice of head alone.  The girls found this quite interesting.

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The book has its moments.  I liked the scary (but ultimately cowardly/ harmless) Wheelers, who leave the eerie message “Beware the Wheelers” written in the sand (could this have inspired Walter Benn Michaels’s “Against Theory,” with its image of the Wordsworth poem written in the sand on the beach?).  They are subsequently satisfyingly routed by the robot Tiktok who hits them over the head with the dinner pails that grow on the food tree they guard.

But too much of the book is devoted to the tiresome Nome King (who looks a lot like Dr. Suess’s Grinch — I suspect plagiarism, in fact) and his elaborate sadistic game in which Dorothy and her friends have to guess which of the “decorations” in his castle are members of the royal family under the king’s curse.  It goes on and on and has something of the contrived feel of a Batman episode.  The book also has some weird/offputting recurring bits or jokes, like the hungry tiger who is constantly talking about how much he would like to devour a human baby (but he’s too virtuous to give into his urges).

Also irritating: Dorothy’s new tendency to speak in lispish childish colloqualisms: “A lunch isn’t zactly breakfast… I’m sure it was ripe… all, that is, ‘cept the pickle” (chosen from a random page).

When I started reading, I was thinking, “gosh, with so many books, why aren’t there more Oz movies,” but by the end I understood.  However: “It has been announced that director John Boorman will create a new CGI film of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It is set for release in 2010.”  Makes sense that they’d do a new version.  I’m more interested in this, though: Aysecik ve Sihirli Cüceler Rüyalar Ülkesinde is a 1971 Turkish film, directed by Tunç Basaran (known to bootleggers as “The Turkish Wizard of Oz”).”

Here’s Ozma of Oz on Google Books.

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