The Road to Oz by L. Frank Baum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I've been reading my way through the Oz books lately in order to fill in some gaps of children's literature I'd missed as a kid. I wasn't too happy with the previous story because it felt like Baum didn't really feel any of it and just wrote Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz because he was pressured by a publisher as well as ravenous fans who wrote him imploring for more Oz. I found myself more than a little peeved that he allowed children to dictate what he put in his book. Sure, he pleased his fans, I suppose, but that never makes for good storytelling. There was no conflict and was just a series of bizarre encounters. There's also no question of whether or not Dorothy will return home anymore (spoiler alert: she does). Our girl Dorothy is getting rather used to her visits to fairylands and seems all rather chill about it all.
So, again, with this book, we have a series of bizarre encounters and no real conflict, danger, or desire. We've stopped worrying whether or not Dorothy will get back to Kansas, and so has she. There is no dramatic arc going on. Everything is all hunky dory, except for a run in with the Scoodlers (who remind me of the Fireys from "Labyrinth") who want to make Dorothy and her pals into soup. Other than that, it's just Dorothy and a bunch of weirdos on their way to see Ozma for her birthday (which is August 21st - mark your calendars, folks!) In this adventure, it's Dorothy's three new companions that need to find their homes: The Shaggy Man to a new home, Polychrome back to the rainbow, and Button-Bright back to wherever the hell he came from.
The story opens with Dorothy's encounter with the Shaggy Man, which is totes creepy. He and Dorothy meet when he passes by her home in Kansas and asks her for directions. She attempts to oblige him, but it isn't going so well. Dorothy decides the best way to get him there is to take him herself. She excuses herself to run inside to grab her bonnet -- something I was hoping was just a ruse to yell for Aunt Em and Uncle Henry to call the cops. But, no, I guess Stranger Danger wasn't an issue in early 1900s Kansas. For some reason.
And away they go. As soon as the Shaggy Man (who doesn't have a name, that we know of, and just answers the "Shaggy Man") has gotten Dorothy far enough away from home to realize she's lost, he reveals he has a super special magic token called a "love magnet" that makes people love him no matter what and in any circumstance.
RUN, DOROTHY, RUN.
Well, hang in there, folks, it turns out it's not meant to be creepy at all and it's actually good that he has this object because it ends up helping the out of a few tight spots. And, really, I do appreciate what Baum was trying to do here and show that this guy is really a sweet, good man beneath his shaggy appearance and just wants to be seen for more than that without changing who he is. But, lordy, that is not the way this reads today.
Soon afterwards she meets the idiot Button-Bright who I just can't even. No.
So I only adored about one-third of Dorothy's new companions.
"A little girl, radiant and beautiful, shapely as a fairy and exquisitely dressed, was dancing gracefully in the middle of a lonely road, whirling slowly this way and that, her dainty feet twinkling in sprightly fashion. She was clad in flowing, fluffy robes of soft material that reminded Dorothy of woven cobwebs, only it was colored in soft tintings of violet, rose, topaz, olive, azure, and white, mingled together most harmoniously in stripes which melted one into the other with soft blendings. Her hair was spun like gold and floated around her in a cloud, no strand being fastened or confined by either pin or ornament or ribbon."
I am a sucker for colors and rainbows and fairies, so, of course, I am a sucker for Polychrome's adorable spirit - even though the poor girl doesn't get anything to do (except dance to keep warm) (and be adorable all the time).
Some other observations:
-I couldn't help but think that the chapter headings resembled the female reproductive system.
-"Everything about Ozma attracted one, and she inspired love and the sweetest affection rather than awe or ordinary admiration. Dorothy threw her arms around her little friend and hugged and kissed her rapturously."
Whoa. Should I be shipping Dozma?
"You have some queer friends, Dorothy." [Polychrome] said.
"The queerness doesn't matter, so long as they're friends," was the answer."
"It isn't what we are, but what folks think we are, that counts in this world."
-The Hungry Tiger, page 185
I love that dude.
And this passage:
"There were many people on these walks - men, women, and children - all dressed in handsome garments of silk or satin or velvet, with beautiful jewels. Better even than this: all seemed happy and contented, for their faces were smiling and free from care, and music and laughter might be heard on every side.
'Don't they work at all?' asked the shaggy man.
'To be sure they work,' replied the Tin Woodsman; 'this fair city could not be built or cared for without labor, nor could the fruit and vegetables and other food be provided for the inhabitants to eat. But no one works for more than half his time, and the people of Oz enjoy their labors as much as they do their play.'
The Emerald City is a shining beacon of socialism, huh?
And I'm going to end this mess with this image of His Royal Foxiness.
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