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The Emerald City of Oz (Dover Children's Classics) Paperback – June 1, 1988
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You may be reading this review on one of the individual pages for the original books on Goodreads or Amazon, and if so, all I did was cross-link the books along with the correct dates we read the original texts. The only book I did not cross-link with original dates was the Woggle-bug book, which if you know, is short. Instead, I counted that final book as the review for Doma's Kindle version. You may notice that some books have longer reading spans – probably for two reasons. One, I traded off reading with my wife sometimes, and two, sometimes we needed a little Baum break and read some other books. It did get a little old sometimes, and there are fourteen books totaling 3500 pages in their original library printing.
The first thing I think is worth mentioning is that when I first read these books, it was as a child would read them. I remember them being repetitive but familiar. Comforting and revealing. An antiquated adventure, but a serial adventure with recurring characters unparalleled in any other literature. As an adult with an MA in literature (and soon and MFA in fiction), I am actually somewhat unimpressed with the series. Baum wrote a whimsical set of tales, but they are torturously repetitive and would be easy to plug-and-play by replacing characters and moments with a computer to make an entirely new book. But, they are children's books, and we are completely enthralled and comforted by the familiar. Is not Shakespeare the same play-to-play structurally? Are not Pixar or Star Wars movies definitively archetypal in timing, execution, structure, and character so that they can be completely replaced and reapplied to a new story? Even the films – heck, even the trailers - are cut the same, and if you play them all at once, magic happens (see: youtube, "all star wars movies at once").
I suppose where the real magic of these books happens is in their origin. Baum wrote something completely original that took the world by storm and continues to be a whimsical American bellwether for children's fantasy. It is one of the original series specifically for children, spanning fourteen books written almost yearly and gobbled up by a hungry public. It still remains at the forefront of American culture in many revisits in Hollywood (let no one forget the horrific beauty that is Return To Oz) and capitalizing on nostalgia (as recently as six months ago I received a mailing from The Bradford Exchange that was selling original library-bound volumes signed by – get this – Baum's great-grandson... I love an autographed book if only for the idea of the magic it transmits even though it is somewhat meaningless, but maybe someone can convince me where the magic is in having it signed by a probably elderly great-grandchild who likely never met his great-grandfather?).
So, while some of the books were awesome and some of them were difficult to slog through, I have my favorites. I will also say that the introductions that each volume opens with were sweet letters from the author to his fans, and it was easy to tell that he truly, truly loved his job writing for children. He knew his audience, he knew what worked, and he sold books. Furthermore, I imagined with great sentimentality mailbags upon mailbags arriving at his house filled to the brim of letters from children all over the world, and the responsibility he probably felt to personally respond to each of them. For my career, that is the best anyone can hope for.
What follows is my (and my son's) short reviews of the individual books in the series.
The Original and Official Oz Books by L. Frank Baum
#1 The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) READ November 26, 2013 – December 1, 2013
My Kid – At first I thought it was crazy, but then it started getting awesome. I remember the movie, but there's a lot of parts that are different.
Me – I mean, classic, right? The book pretty much follows the film almost entirely with few exceptions. In hindsight after finishing the entire series, it is worth nothing that it is considerably one of the best books in the series, while many others are of questionable quality.
#2 The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904) READ December 1, 2013 – January 9, 2014
My Kid – It was scary... Jack Pumpkinhead and Tip escaped and it was really cool.
Me – This is one of the books Return to Oz was based from, The Gump and The Powder of Life coming into play to help Dorothy and Jack Pumpkinhead outwit Mombi. An enjoyable book, quite different than the first book but engineered beautifully with plot and characterization. Enjoyed this one. What was most engaging about this text was Ozma and Tip, and what this book says about gender and youth. I think there is a lot that can be examined about gender at birth and the fluidity of gender as a social construct, witch curse or no.
#3 Ozma of Oz (1907) READ January 9, 2014 – February 22, 2014
My Kid – The boat crashes and they have to ride in the box with the chicken... I like TikTok. They saved the Queen.
Me – This is the second book that Return to Oz was conceived from and a very engaging book. This one requires more understanding and construction of the Oz Universe including the transformation of several of our characters into ornaments and the outwitting of the Nome King in order to save our friends. This was one of my final favorites before the quality of the books fell, as far as I am concerned.
#4 Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz (1908) READ February 22, 2014 – August 12, 2014
My Kid – I kinda forgot this one. There was the vegetable people underground and nothing really happened?
Me – Yeah, this one was a bust for me. I think Baum was making some kind of satirical point lost to history... Or maybe the obvious non-referential one, but still, just seemed like the episodic nonsense that didn't have a point most of the time. Keep the beginning, I guess and then skip to the final third, and there's your story.
#5 The Road to Oz (1909) READ August 12, 2014 – February 22, 2015
My Kid – The love magnet was pretty awesome, and Dorothy meets the rainbow girl and Shaggy man... I guess I'll leave off there.
Me – Another one that I thought was a little redundant and repetitive without much of a point. They get lost, they make it back, there are some weird artifacts that help them... Meh. I did like the new characters, however, who make many more appearances in the future books. Shaggy Man and Polychrome are great.
#6 The Emerald City of Oz (1910) READ February 22, 2015 – September 14, 2015
My Kid – The Emerald City was cool and Dorothy was in charge. If I lived there I would sell it all and be rich. There was a war.
Me – This one was pretty good until the end, where everything was buttoned up (apologies, button bright) pretty quickly without there being much of a solid reason. The conflicts were all contrived and there were some more ridiculously ridiculous new characters who never showed up again in the series. A great diversion, but with little substance toward the end.
#7 The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1913) READ September 14, 2015 – December 22, 2015
My Kid – It was pretty weird how the quilt doll became a patchwork girl and she was really funny. In the end, it didn't matter that they found all the stuff, so it was kinda crazy and funny.
Me – This was relatively silly. I enjoyed it, and the Patchwork Girl is a character I can really get behind as a foil to some of the other characters and somewhat mischievous. The plot is ridiculous, but the powder of life and the glass cat are somewhat illuminating elements of this text. Scraps made this a fun one.
#8 Tik-Tok of Oz (1914) READ December 22, 2015 – April 2, 2016
My Kid – The whole story of the shaggy man's brother being missing and ugly didn’t make sense, but... there was a war and Tik Tok was rescued. There was a man who was not as evil as the other army general guys. It was weird.
Me – This one was primarily about The Shaggy Man and his adventure to resolve a variety of political and interconnected issues happening surrounding everyone's messing around with the Nome King. There is a huge tube that goes through the center of the earth that everything centers on, and Shaggy is trying to get the Nome King to release his brother the whole time. There are a lot of characterization, detail, and plot errors in this that postdate some facts from the earlier books – which is kind of weird – and the intrigue surrounding the plot is somewhat complicating for kids. What I thought was the coolest element was the character of Quox, who passes more than a coincidental resemblance to Catbus from Miyazaki's Totoro.
#9 The Scarecrow of Oz (1915) READ April 2, 2016 – September 1, 2016
My Kid – First of all, there's a lot of people getting lost. Second, if I was in Jinxland, I think I would rather be back in oz.
Me – This one was interesting as it had little to do with The Scarecrow and was mainly about Button Bright, Cap'n Bill, and Trot. This one is probably the height of the ridiculousness, with little shallow plot item after little shallow plot item heaped upon one another. At the end, The Scarecrow has to (and succeeds) in recapturing Jinxland for Gloria, its rightful ruler, and returns to the Emerald City for a celebration. Eh...
#10 Rinkitink in Oz (1916) READ September 1, 2016 – December 1, 2016
My Kid – All these books have someone wicked in them and it's so crazy. I liked the name Kaliko, and the way Dorothy comes to the rescue of everyone being clever solves the problem. What's with all the problems? I feel like there's thousands.
Me – This one was pretty good, as it seemed to deviate from the regular universe of Oz and focus on a different set of locations and characters. It had a very Tolkienian feel in terms of plot, structure, and internal political commentary. It felt very different from the others, and most elements in the text had a point and a long-term purpose. I enjoyed this one.
#11 The Lost Princess of Oz (1917) READ December 1, 2016 – January 19, 2017
My Kid – First of all, they've gotta be responsible for the diamond pan, and that's why they lost it. They weren't responsible. At the end they searched for the tools and didn't need them and it was useless.
Me – Lost Princess was fun. It surrounded the story of Ozma being kidnapped and the Wizard, Button Bright, Trot, and Betsy Bobbin to go rescue her. Everything in this one felt a little random, but it all ties back together in the end. This one was pretty diversionary but not as bad as some of the others.
#12 The Tin Woodman of Oz (1918) READ January 19, 2017 – March 13, 2017
My Kid – Woot is a weird name, and everyone was changed to animals and monkeys and none of them matched up. It was all pretty weird because they all had their new needs as animals and it didn't match with what they were. The love story was kinda weird since the girl didn't want the tin woodmen anymore and the fact that they left and it was all for nothing didn't make sense.
Me – A lot of randomness in this one as well, but there is a love story at its core as we learn of a twin brother that the Tin Woodman had all along who shares the love of a long lost young lady named Nimee Amee. A lot of diversionary stories, adventures, and one cool twist by the end, and everyone arrives back where they started. Not the best, but entertaining. This one, while random at times, was a quality read.
#13 The Magic of Oz (1919) READ March 13, 2017 – April 25, 2017
My Kid – I wish you could transform yourself. Like... What if you wanted to turn yourself into a pea shooter from Plants Vs Zombies? I don't even know how to pronounce the word. I never heard of it, this nonsense word.
Me – This one had a funny gimmick in it with a secret word that when spoken could turn anyone into anything. There is a war on, and a secret force is transforming monkeys into superhuman soldiers (and there is a complication that no one in oz can be hurt but what happens when someone is chopped into a hundred living pieces?). This one was enjoyable, but the gimmick is honestly the only thing holding it all together.
#14 Glinda of Oz (1920) READ April 25, 2017 – May 23, 2017
My Kid – This one was kinda like a world of them figuring out what is going on with the big glass house-world under-water. The opposite of everything and they couldn't figure out how to get it back to normal, so what was going on with the war the whole time? Then they fix it. Everything is all set.
Me – This posthumous volume seemed to be pieced together from notes, as there is a clear difference between the tone of prior volumes and this one. The cadence and structure of the language and story is quite different in parts, and I found it takes itself seriously by comparison. Beautiful art and architecture present this journey, and I have to say, the fact that this was in new hands really shows because there is some wonderful structure that is absent in the other volumes, as well as even reintroductions to the characters when they show up. The end was a little too tidy with another deus ex machina, but the fact that it came from something that was surprising and there all along was different.
*BONUS Oz Works by L. Frank Baum, 'the Royal Historian of Oz'
The Woggle-Bug Book (1905) READ May 23, 2017 – May 24, 2017
My Kid – Actually, I don't have a review for my kid... See below.
Me – This book started cute and had a cute premise. When I began reading it at bedtime, the kid had fallen asleep. I tend to keep reading and save our spot, and then pick it up where he fell asleep the next night. Lucky for me, the terrifyingly racist parlance in this book started after he fell asleep. I read through to the end, with no intention of going back with him tomorrow... It was... shockingly indifferent to complete disregard for everyone. From switching between "Oriental" and "Chinaman" and having a character with a dialect that wasn't just a stereotype but also a stereotype of a racist's impression wasn't nearly as bad as the way Baum used the N-word (and had the character as a monkey's monkey). It was offensive and seemed ridiculously gratuitous for even the time it was published. Not a shining moment for his work at all... But it was pretty cool to learn the Woggle Bug was from Boston, anyway. This one was pretty awful.
In this story Uncle Henry and Aunt Em, finally come to Oz with Dorothy and they meet many new and interesting creatures, such as: the Cuttenclips, the Fuddles, the creatures of Utensia, Bunbury and Bunnybury, and the Flutterbudgets. However, the Nome King has become very angry at the loss of his Magic Belt, that Dorothy took from him when she, Ozma and her friends rescued the royal family of Ev, and decides, with the help of some fierce warriors (the Whimsies, the Growleywogs and the Phanfasms), to build a tunnel under the deadly dessert and invade and conquer the Land of Oz. Ozma knows that even though they are fairies they won't be able to defeat the invaders, and so decides not to fight, because she believes that no one has the right to destroy any living creatures, however evil they may be, or to hurt them or make them unhappy. So, they all must come up with a plan that will save them and the Land of Oz, without fighting. The Scarecrow, probably the wisest man in all of Oz, has an idea that involves the Magic Belt and the Forbidden Fountain, which could prove to not only save Oz, but could prevent all of the invaders from ever hurting anyone ever again.
I love these versions from For Your Knowledge. It is the only one that contains an introduction by Robert A. Baum, the great-grandson of L. Frank Baum (although not all copies have it). You get to learn about the author's life in a one and a half page introduction. You feel like you really get to know the author and are therefore able to appreciate his story that much more.