The Marvelous Land of Oz, L. Frank Baum’s 1904 sequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is … well, it’s not dull. Actually, this makes it sound trashy, when it is a fun, whimsical journey focusing on a different portion of Oz. While some of the plot made it into the 1985 film Return to Oz, in this story, Baum picks up from where Dorothy’s clicked heels left off and gives us a different sort of tale. While the first book gave us the notion of Oz as a large place with many stories and peoples, this book gives us a new story in a new place. It also continues Baum’s interest in strong female characters as well as his embrace of the virtues of the weirdo.
This time we start with Gillkin Country, the Northern Part of the land of Oz, where a young boy named Tip lives with his aunt Mombi. Mombi does not seem to like Tip very much, making him do all the work and generally treating him poorly. Mombi is also a semi-practicing witch, which is an issue since witchcraft was outlawed. As a prank, Tip makes a scarecrow sort of figure out of a pumpkin to scare Mombi, but she is not moved. She reacts by sprinkling some life powder she got from another sorcerer and suddenly the pumpkin head moves. Tip is in big trouble here – and with Mombi threatening to turn him into a statue he steals some powder and runs away with Jack Pumpkinhead.
The book is droll throughout as we cover Tip’s journey. Jack Pumpkinhead is a kind enough soul, and he never gets tired (seeing as he is not human). However he is danger of rotting (seeing that he is part pumpkin). But clearly walking is a hard way to run away so Tip sprinkles life powder on a saw horse, and suddenly he becomes a real horse. Again, Baum does not miss details – the horse never tires but his wooden legs can wear down. This stuff keeps the journey light.
It gets even sillier when the Sawhorse gets away from Tip and Tip is almost captured in the throes of the revolt of General Jinjur and her all-girl army. The girls take over the Emerald City (and its extremely poorly equipped army) and usurp the Scarecrow who was seated as leader. So now they are all running away as Jinjur’s army (all with large knitting needles as swords) and they head to the West to find the Tim Woodman (now Nickel Plated).
All of this is good entertainment, especially for the younger readers – and what is particularly noticeable is the lack of obvious machismo, particularly for a 1904 book. Mombi, the main antagonist in the book is a woman, and certainly our heroes (let alone the Gump and Wogglebug who later arrive – never mind the details) are not any sort of “regular people”. The Emerald City is taken apart with nary a peep by an all female army, and it is up to Glinda the Good Witch to make things right. I have not even hinted at the secret about the true heir of the Emerald City (the Wizard of course was an impostor). There is nary an obvious male to be found – and it’s striking enough that Baum is probably telling us something.
The Marvelous Land of Oz is a worthy follow up to the original story, and possibly more fun. It continues Baum’s tradition of stories about unlikely heroes and strong women, and about finding the strength in oneself – and even imagining strength in others. I certainly am looking forward to the next one.