#Ozathon24: An Infernal Adventure

Be sure to visit The Book Stop for this month’s Ozathon hosting posts!

In Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, the fourth Oz book, Dorothy, who has twice arrived in magical lands through natural disaster (a cyclone and a shipwreck) is sent tumbling underground by a California earthquake. Her companions this time are a farmhand named Zeb, and a cab-horse, Jim, who were conveying the girl to meet her Uncle Henry at the time — along with a new animal friend, the kitten Eureka. As the group journeys through underground regions, they meet many strange and dangerous beings while trying to get back to the surface. A less threatening, but equally improbable encounter is with the former Wizard of Oz, who happens to have been caught by the earthquake too.

Baum constantly contradicted and revised what he’d set up in former books as he went along. In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the wizard was portrayed ironically as an example of how people gladly fall in with deception if it gives them something they need, or think they need. In The Marvelous Land of Oz, his backstory grew even worse, a dastardly usurper who robbed a young princess of her throne and handed her over to an abusive guardian.

“The Man Behind the Curtain” by Jared Andrew Schorr

In this book, gone is the coward who hid behind a threatening image and had to be unmasked by a dog and a little girl. This wizard, while still a bit of a charlatan, can also be brave and resourceful, and he deceives in order to save others, not just himself. When he makes it back to Oz, he’s received as a beloved former ruler, well-known to his people (in the first book, hardly anybody had ever seen him). The little episode of his stealing Princess Ozma has been forgotten by all, including him.

His gifts to the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman appear to be morphing into something like real brains and a real heart, instead of the make-believe that played upon their gullibility and lack of self-knowledge. Even the Emerald City is now really covered in emeralds, instead of its universal green being a trick caused by the Wizard’s requiring everyone entering it to wear green glasses.

“The Emerald City” by Nicole Gustavsson

When I read the series as a child, these shifts bothered me not at all. I suppose I took each book on its own terms, and accepted changes as part of the general theme of magical transformation and shifting reality that pervades the books. Baum didn’t have a series in mind when he wrote the first books, but was pushed into one by their popularity. Some alterations were pure carelessness, others were made consciously to suit what he himself wanted to emphasize, or to meet children’s requests. As readers wanted the Wizard to be brought back, he chose to rehabilitate him rather than develop him into a thoroughgoing villain.

In spite of containing a less morally questionable Wizard, this is the darkest of the books so far. Did that reflect Baum’s underlying reluctance to write more Oz books, even as he signed a contract to complete a total of six? Certainly, this book takes a long time to get to Oz — an unnecessarily long time, given the deus ex machina device that saves the group when Dorothy finally remembers about it!

Instead of exploring Oz, we’re mostly stuck underground with nasty vegetable people, invisible bears, horrid gargoyles, and rapacious dragons, in episodes which, though imaginative and exciting, lack the humor, wonder, and even the friendly comradeship that mark the earlier adventures. Zeb and Jim are both fish-out-of-water characters who don’t belong in a magical land and just want to be sent back to California — in contrast to the magnificent Bill(ina) from the previous book, Ozma of Oz, whom we find happily settled in her new home when we arrive in the Emerald City at last.

“Billina” by Cuddly Rigor Mortis

There are still dangers to be faced once the party makes it to Oz. Jim is cruelly humiliated by the untiring Sawhorse, and Eureka put on trial as a murderer — which it turns out she wasn’t, though not for lack of trying. The Ozites in attendance at the trial find it a fine source of entertainment, even though it didn’t end in a death sentence.

This trial scene seems to owe something to Alice in Wonderland, and the underground setting and morbid humor also remind me of Carroll’s masterpiece. Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth was another likely inspiration, maybe even Dante’s Inferno.

In all, this is not the most typical Oz book, more nightmarish than most, and certainly not the most amusing. First-time readers may be daunted and unsure if they want to continue. I’d encourage them to keep going — there are better times ahead.

Images are by John R. Neill and from the Gallery Nucleus exhibition “Not in Kansas Anymore”

The Wizard’s tricks save the children from the menacing Mangaboos

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6 thoughts on “#Ozathon24: An Infernal Adventure

    1. I’ve been surprised how many readers don’t know that there are more Oz books. Glad to bring them a bit more attention.

  1. it has been absolutely ages since I read Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, but I do remember it as being a bit darker, and not one of my favorites. Is it too late to join #Ozathon24? I think I would enjoy rereading the series in company, as it were.

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