November 9, 2007

Return to Oz: The Book

Kids couldn't get enough of Oz. They pestered Frank Baum for further Oz adventures and wanted to hear more about Dorothy in particular. LFB was only happy to oblige, and set to write the greatest Oz epic yet. Ozma of Oz follows the further adventures of the new princess and her allies. Although a little shorter than the previous two stories, this one pits our friends against their greatest challenge ever.

Here is the cast this time around:
Dorothy Gale of Kansas- Traveling with Uncle Henry to Australia via ship, Dorothy falls overboard and uses a lost chicken coop to survive the storm-swept waters.
Billina- a yellow hen who also survived being lost overboard with Dorothy. She has the ability to talk, and is a proud bird who doesn't take guff from man nor nome.
Tik-Tok- a mechanical man made of copper. His brain, movement, and speech require winding up with a key to work for a twenty-four hour period and is a loyal friend.
Princess Langwidere- the only member of the Royal Family of Ev left to rule the Land of Ev. She hates her position and wishes to be absolved of her responsibility. She also owns a large array of heads of beautiful women, which she is able to switch with her own as her mood sees fit.
Princess Ozma- the courageous Princess of Oz who sets out with her army to free the Royal Family of Ev from imprisonment in Nome King's palace.
The Scarecrow-Joins Ozma on her mission.
Tin Woodman- Commands the Army of Oz on behalf of Ozma.
The Cowardly Lion- Helps pull Ozma's chariot along, and also is ridden by those slower than he is.
The Hungry Tiger- Friend of the Lion who hardly ever eats because he knows he'll only get hungry again. He refuses to eat living things because of his strong conscience.
The Sawhorse- Resumes his role as a transport, mainly for the Scarecrow. Since his last adventure, he has been plated with gold.
The Army of Oz- Comprised of twenty-seven soldiers: eight Generals, six Colonels, seven Majors, five Captains, and one private. Each rank commands the one below it, until it's up to the lone private to carry out the orders. Fortunately, that private is braver than his officers.
The Nome King- the ruler of the underworld, this deceitful king only wishes to expand his collection of ornaments by enchanting living things into them. He commands magic with a belt of jewels.

The majority of this story doesn't even take place in the Land of Oz, but is set in fairy lands that border it called the Land of Ev and the Dominion of the Nome King. After being cast overboard when the ship taking them to Australia is struck by a powerful storm, Dorothy and Billina are washed up on the shore of Ev. After they are menaced by Wheelers, a race of humanoids with wheels instead of hands or feet, they discover the copper man named Tik-Tok, who formerly belonged to Evoldo, the King of Ev. Evoldo committed suicide over the guilt of selling his wife and ten children to the Nome King. Tik-Tok easily dispatches of the Wheelers and takes Dorothy to the castle of Ev, ruled by the vain niece of the King and Queen. Named Langwidere, she owned a collection of thirty female heads of extraordinary beauty which she could interchange with her own noggin whenever she wanted. It just so happened that she was wearing one of her more bad-tempered craniums when she met Dorothy and her allies. When Dorothy refused to exchange her own pretty head for one in Langwidere's collection, the princess locked her in a tower. Fortunately for little Miss Gale, Ozma and her Emerald City entourage just so happened to be on their way for a visit with Langwidere about setting the Royal Family of Ev free from The Nome King. Dorothy is released, and she joins her friends from Oz along with Tik-Tok and Billina in order to liberate the Queen of Ev and the five princes and five princesses from the Nome King's underworld.

My favorite character in this story is Tik-Tok, a strong and smart robot who knows he is not alive and seems to be proud of that fact. It's at this point that both the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman start to become full of themselves just because of the "gifts" the Wizard gave them. They claim to be better than Tik-Tok just because they're alive, and tell him they are smarter and more caring than he is. The Lion is more humble because he knows that the Wizard really did nothing more than hand them knick-knacks to symbolize the traits that they desired, as he claims he is still a coward. Tik-Tok does a lot more with the qualities he is programmed with than Scarecrow and the Woodman and doesn't brag about it, even going as far as to congratulate them on their so-called advantages. We saw their attitudes coming in the previous book too, with both Scarecrow and Woodman treating Jack Pumpkinhead poorly, who also made due with what he had better than those guys.

In 1985, the greatest year in the history of time, Return to Oz was released by Walt Disney Pictures. It stars a very young Fairuza Balk, who resembles a Dorothy much closer to the stories than the sixteen-year-old Judy Garland did in The Wizard of Oz. The framework of the movie is based on Ozma of Oz, although it contains certain characters, elements, and storylines from The Marvelous Land of Oz. I guess you could say they took ingredients from two different recipes, mixed it up with a few original spices and came up with a damn good cake. Using another food analogy, if The Wizard of Oz was chocolate, Return to Oz is dark chocolate. This definitely was not a musical, and the setting was far gloomier than the shiny happiness in the first movie. Younger audiences may have been frightened by the cruel Mombi, screeching Wheelers and the hideous nomes. But I was a fan when I first saw it, and still am today. If you're the kind of person who may turn their head to Return to Oz and the entire Oz book library because of the bright cheeriness that was the first movie, keep in mind that it's that first film that was a major departure in mood to the source material. As much as I recommend the Oz stories, I also say you should check out Return to Oz if you enjoy the fantasy genre. Like I said for The Wizard of Oz, I believe the Disney sequel is different enough from its source material to avoid having "book better than the movie or vice-versa" arguments.

Differences between Ozma of Oz and Return to Oz:
-No magical slippers this time, those artifacts are replaced with the bejeweled belt.
-Jack Pumpkinhead, The Gump, The Powder of Life, and the storyline about the missing Ozma are carried over from The Marvelous Land of Oz.
-The Scarecrow, The Tin Woodman, and The Cowardly Lion didn't have as big of roles in the movie, the latter two's appearances could probably be called cameos.
-The Emerald City and the yellow brick road are shown torn asunder from chaos in the film, but they are unaffected in the book and only seen at the conclusion.
-I understand there are references to later Oz books in the movie, but I have yet to get that far in the series to call attention to them.

And that's just the way it is.
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