#Ozathon24: Taking a different road

In The Road to Oz, the fifth Oz book, author L. Frank Baum eschewed the cataclysmic methods he’d previously used to get Dorothy to Oz (cyclone, storm at sea, and earthquake), and took a different tack by having the ordinary road she was walking on quietly turn into an otherworldly portal. When I was reading the books as a child I was enchanted by this idea, always looking for the subtly different pathway that might lead me into a magical world. Alas, I never found it, but I think I’m still looking.

In looking up images for this post, I discovered that there were Little Golden Book editions of some of the Oz books — with a very different vintage flavor than the classic Neill illustrations!

Dorothy’s adventures are quieter this time, too, with encounters with a city of foxes and another of donkeys providing some mild whimsy and satire. Only once does she have to escape a murderous clan of Scoodlers, one of Baum’s many menacing subgroups with a physical peculiarity — in this case being able to take off and throw their own heads.

Fortunately, Dorothy has collected a new band of traveling companions who can help her through such challenges: the Shaggy Man, who is happy to walk in any direction except the one where someone owes him money; Button-Bright, an adorable but dim toddler; and Polychrome, the Rainbow’s daughter, who provides an ethereal touch to the party.

All of these have lost something — family, home, a place in ordinary society, but they gladly form a new alliance which transcends outer differences and acknowledges that everyone has a right to look for security and love.

The Shaggy Man is the most interesting character in this respect. He carries the Love Magnet, which causes everyone to love him in spite of his unlovely outer appearance. But as it turns out, his story about how he acquired this device is not entirely true. Love and truth have to come together to achieve real integrity, and the Shaggy Man must let down the deceptive defenses which we think we need to survive in the ordinary, non-magical world. Instead, he must trust that he can be loved for his real self.

Oz is becoming more and more a place of plenty and harmony, a promised land that represents eternal values, rather than a location of deceptions and dangers — at least in its heart, the Emerald City ruled by Ozma. For the first time we hear that there is no money in Oz, whereas there definitely was, in earlier books. And the Shaggy Man’s acceptance as a citizen of Oz, once he promises to be true and gives up the Love Magnet, shows that wealth and outer appearance are not the measure of worth in this land. I think that’s another reason I always found it so compelling, while also enjoying the lavish descriptions of royal splendor that Baum paradoxically loved to describe.

The conclusion of the book, Ozma’s grand birthday party to which she’s invited many visitors, is transparently simply an opportunity for Baum to insert characters from his other books, probably hoping that readers would be attracted to them and away from Oz as he tried to wrap up the series.

That didn’t work, though he made one major attempt in the next book, which will also conclude the first part of the Ozathon.

If you’ve been along this far on the journey, please share your posts in the comments here, and I’ll include them in the wrap-up at the end of the month. And if you’ve fallen behind, don’t worry! You are very welcome to link up your Oz-related posts at any time during the year.

L. Frank Baum, The Road to Oz (originally published by Reilly and Britton, 1909)

Images from the Little Golden Book version of The Road to Oz, found here.

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3 thoughts on “#Ozathon24: Taking a different road

  1. I’ve been putting off reading this one, as it’s one of my least favorites. I did not like Shaggy Man, though I’ll reread it with an open mind. I did love the introduction of Polychrome. She’s drawn so beautifully by Neill (and who wouldn’t want to be a daughter of the rainbow?).

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