Published 11 November 2022
This continues from my previous post about The Marvelous Land of Oz. Please consider reading that one first.
Ozma of Oz, the third Oz novel, published in 1907, shows that L. Frank Baum had no talent for titles. The previous title, The Marvelous Land of Oz, is generic to the point of being meaningless. Since it is about the rise of Ozma of Oz, if anything, it should be the book bearing that name.
The title Ozma of Oz is also comically misleading: only the final two chapters of the twenty-one present in Ozma of Oz feature the Land of Oz, and our favorite transgender princess, Ozma of Oz, is not the protagonist. However, Ozma of Oz is abbreviated. Given its length, the somewhat more accurate full title seems more sixteenth century than 1907. It is Ozma of Oz: A Record of Her Adventures with Dorothy Gale of Kansas, Billina the Yellow Hen, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion and the Hungry Tiger; Besides Other Good People Too Numerous to Mention Faithfully Recorded Herein by L. Frank Baum the Author of The Wizard of Oz, The Land of Oz, etc.
Ozma of Oz is also much better than the previous two books. 👀
According to the Author’s Note, Baum’s readers wanted more Dorothy. So she would be the protagonist of every Oz novel until the seventh, The Patchwork Girl of Oz. It may be relevant to mention that Baum likely intended to end the series with the sixth book.
Dorothy Gale is aboard a passenger ship sailing for Australia with Uncle Henry when a terrible storm, and her own reckless behavior, blows her into the sea, where she clings to life in a floating wooden chicken coop that also blew overboard. Compared to the house being carried away in the first novel, this more distressing because it seems more realistic—houses do not spin around intact inside a tornado, but a storm could blow a child into the ocean. Dorothy and the one surviving hen, Bill, wash up on the shore of a strange foreign land. Dorothy quickly realizes this is a “fairy country” or “fairyland” like Oz because Bill can talk there. (Note that in the novels, Oz and the other fairy countries are real and not dreams.) Being rather unimaginative, Dorothy says Bill must be named Billina because “Bill” is a boy’s name, Billina says she doesn’t care, and then they set out into the wilderness.
Dorothy learns from a robot named Tiktok that she is in a country called Ev on the other side of the Deadly Desert that surrounds and isolates Oz. (Tiktok was constructed by Smith & Tinker, not ByteDance.) The King of Ev was a cruel man named Evoldo. Tiktok, not being alive, was the only of Evoldo’s servants he did not beat to death. After his reign of terror apparently depopulated much of the land (he killed a lot of people, and almost nobody seems to live in Ev), Evoldo sold his wife and children as slaves to the Nome King. Later, remorseful, Evoldo killed himself. This is a lot darker than the previous books! Ozma of Oz, along with fan favorites the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion, as well as the new Hungry Tiger and Oz’s twenty-seven-man army, arrive in Ev in time to rescue Dorothy and Billina from the de facto ruler of Ev, Langwidere. From here, Dorothy joins Ozma on a journey to free the Royal Family of Ev from the diabolical Nome King, Roquat of the Rocks.
(Wikipedia claims that the Nome King is named Roquat the Red, but he only takes on that name later, presumably because he becomes so consumed with rage that he turns red.)
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz drags on for a number of chapters that seem limp and dull after the climactic battle against the Wicked Witch of the West. Ozma of Oz has a brisk pace from start to finish. Also making Ozma of Oz more appealing is much tighter writing, with little of the rambling vaudevillian repartee of The Marvelous Land, and a more focused plot than either previous title. There is a degree of mystery and suspense as Dorothy and Billina figure out where they are and what has happened, even if this takes the form of an exposition dump from Tiktok. When Ozma does appear, she is on a mission closely related to the backstory Dorothy and Billina have already discovered. Then Dorothy, Ozma, and their various friends march directly for the Nome King’s lair and complete their mission. Then, after a happy ending, Dorothy teleports to Australia, and the novel closes—no slogging on after the climax. The earlier novels are also weak on plot. Baum’s main interest is not plot but providing a gallery of strange ideas. These are also present in Ozma of Oz, but in a context of constant forward narrative momentum building to a climax. Baum’s previous style is not bad, but just a different approach. However, modern readers would likely find it duller than the more involved, and more perilous, adventures in Ozma of Oz.
Some of these changes must be attributable to Baum’s skill improving with practice. Some of it also may reflect that Baum wrote The Marvelous Land as the basis for a stage production, whereas he wrote Ozma of Oz just to be a good book. A novel can only benefit if the author values words for their own sake, instead of imagining a play or, nowadays, movie they would prefer to be creating.
John R. Neill’s illustrations are less extensive, no longer appearing on almost every page, but are much more impressive. The book has a colorful inside-cover artwork showing the major characters as spectators and performers in a circus. Chapters open with text bleeding into color illustrations, and the reader is spoiled with forty-one full-page, full-color pieces that bring the world to life, or cartoon life. The linework is solid and the colors often limited, and partially falling outside their outlines, in an alluring way that recalls the look of contemporary newspaper comics.
For better or for worse, Neill’s artwork has lost much of the creepiness suffusing The Marvelous Land. Though the Wheelers are still pretty damn creepy. The Scarecrow now appears genuinely cute, and the relatively realistic Art Nouveau character designs feel less stiff and more approachable.
The only misstep, which would color the rest of the Oz series, is that Neill’s interpretation of Dorothy radically departs from Denslow’s. Denslow draws Dorothy as a little, almost toddler-like girl, with two brown pigtails and a modest calico dress. This original Dorothy exudes the innocence of childhood and a sweet simplicity.
Neill’s Dorothy looks several years older, and given the time between the books’ publications might well be. This Dorothy is an almost ridiculously beautiful girl with short blonde hair, seemingly wearing full makeup in addition to her pearl necklace.
The character design is quite a departure, and not for the better. As a protagonist, Dorothy is more appealing as a relatable anchor to the real world no matter how strange her environs. Instead of a normal kid, the heroine has herself become an idealized fantasy. A much more modest kid would also be an interesting contrast to Ozma, who is supposed to be an idealized fairyland princess. Also odd is that Neill has decided Ozma is brunette, when she was blonde in The Marvelous Land. If, for aesthetic reasons, he wanted one girl to be brunette and one girl to be blond, why did he not just keep Dorothy brunette and Ozma blonde?
Rarely, the illustrations seem less striking than the visuals Baum’s writing suggests. In particular, Neill does not imagine the jeering Nomes as strikingly as Baum describes them: “Whatever the creations [the Nomes] might be they seemed very like the rock itself, for they were the color of rocks and their shapes were as rough and rugged as if they had been broken away from the side of the mountain. They kept close to the steep cliff facing our friends, and glided up and down, and this way and that, with a lack of regularity that was quite confusing” (157). The writing suggests a gloomy cliff face squirming, as though alive, with a swarm of jagged stone-like beings. But Neill draws the Nomes as rather banal, furry elves, curved and round rather than jagged like rock.
Walter Murch and crew lifted most of the material for the (awesome) 1985 almost-horror movie Return to Oz from Ozma of Oz, also incorporating scenes and concepts from The Marvelous Land of Oz. The film’s premise of the Nome King attacking the Emerald City originates in the sixth Oz novel, The Emerald City of Oz. The Nomes in this film are literally stone, moving freely in the rocks throughout Oz, certainly a more striking visual than Neill’s illustrations and closer to Baum’s description. A few of the features Return to Oz takes from Ozma of Oz include Dorothy and Billina riding a chicken coop in a storm and washing up in a desert; the Wheelers and their threats over an allegedly stolen lunch pail; Dorothy escaping the Wheelers with a key to find a long deactivated Tiktok, who bears a plaque on his back that says “Thinks, Speaks, Acts, and Does Everything but Live” (55); Tiktok fighting the Wheelers with the lunch pail and taking one prisoner; the prisoner leading them to a princess of a desolate country; and the princess sitting around a hall of mirrors strumming a mandolin and changing her head instead of her clothes, keeping dozens of severed human heads in cabinets locked with a ruby key that she wears on her person. It’s disturbing. Of course, Return to Oz also features the Nome King, who, like in Ozma of Oz, puffs a pipe he lights with a hot coal while forcing Dorothy and her friends to play an unfair game to (in an abstract magical way) end their lives, one by one.
Baum’s version is both softer and darker, in different ways. In Return to Oz, for example, the head-swapping princess is named Mombi. She closely resembles Langwidere from Ozma of Oz but has a similar role to the Mombi of The Marvelous Land of Oz insofar as she hides Ozma away. In the end, all the women this version of Mombi beheaded are restored to life, while she is allowed to live but without her magic powers.
In Ozma of Oz, Langwidere is a “dangerous lady,” as the Scarecrow puts it (111), a surviving relative of Evoldo who has become a despot whose incompetence is matched only by her decadence. Like the film’s Mombi, Langwidere announces she will eat Billina and locks Dorothy in a tower, intending to keep her there until she can take her head for her collection.
However, Langwidere is too selfish and lazy to be a genuine threat to Dorothy. Langwidere immediately supports Ozma’s bid to free her relatives from the Nome King, “For if they were restored to their proper forms and station they could rule the Kingdom of Ev themselves, and that would save me a lot of worry and trouble. At present there are at least ten minutes every day that I must devote to affairs of state, and I would like to be able to spend my whole time in admiring my beautiful heads” (112). Baum does not directly address where Langwidere attains her dozens of heads. Considering that she tries to take Dorothy’s head, albeit in a trade, one would assume Langwidere has gathered them from large number of women and, apparently, children, a nightmarish idea with nightmarish implications. Unlike the film’s Mombi, this Langwidere faces no comeuppance. Her misdeeds are largely left to the reader’s imagination.
In contrast to Baum (perhaps) taking a darker approach, consider the Wheelers, a tribe of beings with wheels for hands and feet. The wheels are “of the same hard substance that our finger-nails and toe-nails are composed of” (44), pretty freaky. After Dorothy and Billina find an ominous message reading “BEWARE THE WHEELERS,” the Wheelers attack. Return to Oz faithfully depicts the Wheelers’ terrifying behavior: “Looking over her shoulder as she ran, the girl now saw a great procession of Wheelers emerging from the forest—dozens and dozens of them—all clad in splendid, tight-fitting garments and all rolling swiftly toward her and uttering their wild, strange cries” (46). The film even mirrors Dorothy’s dialogue with the Wheelers.
“We’ll get you in time, never fear! And when we do get you, we’ll tear you into little bits!”
“Why are you so cruel to me?” asked Dorothy. “I’m a stranger in your country, and have done you no harm” (47).
Dorothy’s reply is so innocent it is almost heartbreaking. I had assumed Return to Oz was being darker than the source material with these lines:
WHEELER: You have to come out sooner or later! And when you do, we’ll tear you into little pieces and throw you in the Deadly Desert!
DOROTHY: I haven’t done anything to you!
But no, it’s all there in the book.
However, unlike in the film, Dorothy later learns that there is more to the Wheelers. Tiktok claims, “They try to make folks be-lieve that they are ver-y ter-ri-ble, but as a mat-ter of fact the Wheel-ers are harm-less e-nough to an-y one that dares to fight them. They might try to hurt a lit-tle girl like you, per-haps, be-cause they are ver-y mis-chiev-ous” (66–67). (Baum writes all of Tiktok’s dialogue in this way to convey his robotic voice.) A Wheeler later admits his people have assumed cruel personas as a form of self-defense: “I’m not really bad, you know; but we have to pretend to be terrible in order to prevent others from attacking us” (80). Given that their neighbor was the wicked Evoldo, this seems like a reasonable precaution. The Wheelers themselves wrote “BEWARE THE WHEELERS” to scare off possible invaders.
Reprimanded for being “im-pu-dent and dis-a-gree-a-ble” (82), the Wheeler promises his people will reform. Some of them do, as in the ending, Wheelers also celebrate the return of the Royal Family: “The people shouted their approval fifteen times, and even the Wheelers, some of whom were present, loudly promised to obey the new King” (253). In the novel, when the captive Wheeler promises to behave, he means it, but in the film, as the Wheeler rolls away, he cackles, repeating “behave.” The audience understands this guy is going to do anything but. In Return to Oz, the Wheelers are cruel monster-people who serve Mombi and, in turn, the Nome King. The Wheelers remain malevolent, if pitiful, and seemingly vanish when Oz is restored. In comparison, Baum shows the Wheelers humanizing nuance.
Of course I have to talk about the Nome King. While Mombi and Jinjur do not seem evil per se, the Nome King is the single most malevolent force in Baum’s Oz novels.
The Nome King is the central antagonist of Ozma of Oz, which should really probably be entitled The Nome King. Baum devotes eight of the book’s twenty-one chapters, a little under a third of the total pages, to the battle against him. Not obviously menacing, the Nome King is a short, fat, bearded man whom Dorothy identifies with Santa Claus. The Nome King’s first lines of dialogue quote The Night Before Christmas (suggesting the Nomes are aware of Christianity). However, the Nome King’s jovial demeanor is a front for his greed and cruelty. The tone is set when, right after welcoming the comparison between himself and Santa, the Nome King has this interaction with Ozma:
“Your Majesty,” said she [Ozma], “I am the ruler of the Land of Oz, and I have come here to ask you to release the good Queen of Ev and her ten children, whom you have enchanted and hold as your prisoners.”
“Oh, no; you are mistaken about that,” replied the King. “They are not my prisoners, but my slaves, whom I purchased from the King of Ev” (165).
The Nome King, totally amicable, proceeds to counter Ozma and Dorothy’s arguments that what he did was wrong. “Cruelty,” the Nome King says, “is a thing I can’t abide. So, as slaves must work hard, and the Queen of Ev and her children were delicate and tender, I transformed them all into articles of ornament and bric-a-brac and scattered them around the various rooms of my palace” (168). Afterward, the Nome King shows off his enormous, well-armed military and industrial operations, which notably use electricity, and demonstrates that his magic is so powerful that Ozma, Dorothy, and their friends are literally incapable of hurting him. Chillingly cheerful, “his eyes twinkling merrily” (173), the Nome King challenges Ozma, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and their twenty-seven-man army to a game. He hates Billina, ignores the Saw-Horse, and wants the Cowardly Lion and Hungry Tiger to just leave lest they break his various treasures, so they are not included in the challenge:
“You shall go alone and unattended into my palace and examine carefully all that the rooms contain. Then you shall have permission to touch eleven different objects, pronouncing at the time the word ‘Ev,’ and if any one of them, or more than one, proves to be the transformation of the Queen of Ev or any of her ten children, then they will instantly be restored to their true forms and may leave my palace and my kingdom in your company, without any objection whatever. It is possible for you, in this way, to free the entire eleven; but if you do not guess all the objects correctly, and some of the slaves remain transformed, then each one of your friends and followers may, in turn, enter the palace and have the same privileges I grant you. […] If none of the eleven objects you touch proves to be the transformation of any of the royal family of Ev, then, instead of freeing them, you will yourself become enchanted, and transformed into an article of bric-a-brac or an ornament” (173–174).
Ozma agrees, against Dorothy’s advice, because she refuses to surrender and because she underestimates the difficulty of the task—the Nome King’s palace is enormous, and every room is packed with bric-a-brac. There follows more than a day of suspense as Dorothy and the others’ numbers are winnowed down one by one, all the while the Nome King merrily puffs on his pipe and laughs at them and Dorothy realizes they are all his prisoners. The sequence is effective mostly because of the Nome King, who is scary in that he seems to just be a rich sadistic sociopath. When his steward is angry that he is doing this instead of enchanting Ozma’s party all at once, the Nome King tells him outright that he is playing this game because it is “more fun this way” (192). The Nome King also becomes explosively angry the second he encounters adversity, eventually ditching his friendly act and “roaring” at Dorothy “like a savage beast” (227). And when he loses the game to Billina, the Nome King simply summons his army because he never really meant to let them leave. After all, each captive is another treasure for him. It teaches kids the valuable lesson that politeness and virtue are not the same.
After a battle against the Nome army, Ozma, Dorothy, Billina, and the rest of the crew, including all twenty-seven soldiers, escape by exploiting the Nomes’ weakness: eggs. “Don’t you know that eggs are poison?” (207). More specifically, the Scarecrow chucks an egg into both of the Nome King’s eyes, which would also work on me even though eggs are not poison to humans. With features like this, Baum maintains a sense of humor despite how frightening the situation becomes, as well as just his typical gags: “When the bell rang a second time the King shouted angrily, ‘Smudge and blazes!’ and at a third ring he screamed in fury, ‘Hippikaloric!’ which must be a dreadful word because we don’t know what it means” (226–227).
Ozma of Oz concludes with Dorothy returning to Oz with all her friends, including Tiktok and Billina, where she spends “several very happy weeks” (263). The Nome King is last seen on page 254, waving his fist at Ozma’s entourage as they cross the Deadly Desert back to their homeland. Dorothy catches up with all the characters—except Mombi, who cares about her. The Woggle-Bug is apparently the president of the new College of Art and Athletic Perfection, and Jinjur is happily married to a man she abuses.
At last, learning that Uncle Henry is alone in Australia, grieving his niece, Dorothy returns home using the power of the magic belt she stole from the Nome King. However, she does not repeat her mistake with the silver slippers from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. This time, so that the belt can retain magical potency, Dorothy leaves it with Ozma, who will use the belt’s power to check on Dorothy every Saturday and instantly warp her back to Oz in response to “a certain signal” (267).
While it is an enjoyable read, Ozma of Oz is less effective emotionally than Return to Oz. There are two reasons for this.
The first is that the Oz novels, at least thus far, are just not very emotional. The characters rarely seem to particularly care about what is going on or the peril that they are in. This may make the stories less distressing to children, but this also renders allegedly happy or triumphant moments underwhelming, because there was no sense of adversity or sadness to compare them with. Baum does emphasize that Dorothy is “trying to be brave in spite of her fears” (199), but this only occasionally comes through. Rather than saddened or distressed over her plight when facing the Nome King, Dorothy seems how almost all Baum’s characters usually seem, lackadaisical or even slow-witted: “Dear me! I wonder if Uncle Henry or Aunt Em will ever know I have become an orn’ment in the Nome King’s palace, and must stand forever and ever in one place and look pretty—’cept when I’m moved to be dusted. It isn’t the way I thought I’d turn out, at all; but I s’pose it can’t be helped” (200–201). It is difficult for a reader to care about characters who do not seem to care much about themselves or each other.
Compare Dorothy and Tiktok’s relationship in Ozma of Oz to their relationship in Return to Oz. In Ozma of Oz, Tiktok considers himself Dorothy’s slave: “I am the slave of the girl Dor-oth-y, who rescued me from pris-on” (132). Later, in the Nome King’s palace itself, Tiktok insists he has to make his guesses before Dorothy because “the slave should face danger before the mistress” (196). Dorothy never seems to particularly care about Tiktok one way or another. The climactic scene for their relationship occurs when Tiktok stops functioning before making his final guess inside the Nome King’s palace, so the Nome King sends Dorothy in to wind him up (Tiktok is a clockwork robot and hence relies on three keys being fully wound to think, move, and talk). When she finds him, Dorothy winds up Tiktok, who wishes he was better at guessing. Both seem rather sad, according to the narration (Dorothy speaks “sadly”), but Dorothy tells him, “if you fail I will watch and see what shape you are changed into” (200). Tiktok then touches a yellow glass vase, says “Ev,” and vanishes, Dorothy unable to see what the Nome King turned him into. Instead of hopeless, though, she barely seems to care, like she is on sedatives and cannot think properly.
In Return to Oz, meanwhile, Tiktok is Dorothy’s friend, not slave, whom the Scarecrow left to protect her if she returned. It helps that Dorothy is still a simple country girl, instead of the Neill Dorothy who appears to be an aspiring model. Their mutual concern for each other seems more believable in part because Tiktok and Dorothy are allowed more interactions, and in part because Tiktok seems essential to protect her in the dangerous Oz of the film. In Ozma of Oz, the titular princess/queen turns up with many other whimsical characters so that instead Tiktok rapidly recedes into the background. And consider Tiktok’s scene in the Nome King’s palace. In Return to Oz, this is Dorothy’s final temptation by the Nome King, who offers to spare her and send her back to Kansas. Going in after Tiktok is a selfless, courageous deed. Then Dorothy discovers that Tiktok is already wound up.
“It was my way of getting you in here,” says the movie’s Tiktok. “Pretend that you are winding me up anyway. I have an idea that may save us. I have one guess left, and if I guess incorrectly, you can watch and see what I am changed into. That may give you a clue.” This is much more interesting: Tiktok is being clever, tricking the Nome King, and trying to help his friend, knowing that he himself will likely fail to guess correctly. Dorothy and Tiktok seem to genuinely care for each other here: Dorothy hugs Tiktok goodbye, and Tiktok, in a moment that might be a bit overboard but I love anyway, cries what looks like windshield wiper fluid. In comparison, in Ozma of Oz, Dorothy and Tiktok seem like clueless doofuses (Dorothy survives literally by a lucky guess), and Dorothy does not seem to waste time feeling sorry for her self-identified slave.
Watching Tiktok’s crying scene in the film, I considered the only crying scene in Ozma of Oz. The Scarecrow scolds one of his soldiers for weeping over the loss of the Tin Woodman:
One of the generals began to weep dolefully.
“What are you crying for?” asked the Scarecrow, indignant at such a display of weakness.
“He owed me six weeks back pay,” said the general, “and I hate to lose him.”
“Then you shall go and find him,” declared the Scarecrow.
“Me!” cried the general, greatly alarmed.
“Certainly. It is your duty to follow your commander. March!” (183)
Instead of affection, Baum has military hierarchy, a rejection of vulnerability, and a joke about the characters’ financial pettiness. The Scarecrow doesn’t seem to care that his beloved friend the Tin Woodman might be gone forever! Why does Baum value a joke about bureaucracy over, say, the Scarecrow expressing sadness over his friend? There would be room for both. A display of sadness or compassion would make the reader happier when the Tin Woodman is later recovered, as well, because it would have felt like a genuine loss being recovered. It would have felt, in other words, like what happens to Tiktok in Return to Oz. Instead, this is all the Scarecrow says of the matter: “Poor Nick! I wonder what has become of him” (243). Did Baum forget that the Scarecrow loves the Tin Woodman? Apparently not, since Baum is convincing in showing the Scarecrow’s joy upon the Tin Woodman’s recovery: “The Scarecrow had fairly thrown himself upon the bosom of his old comrade, so surprised and delighted was he to see him again” (250).
The second reason that Ozma of Oz is a less affecting story is that it demonstrates a rather medieval hierarchical morality that is difficult to empathize with. To begin, Dorothy, Ozma, and the others are on a quest to free Evoldo’s family from slavery to the Nome King. Baum seems to assume that the ascension of Evardo Fifteenth to the throne of Ev is a happy ending. But is it? Langwidere is completely horrible, Evoldo was explicitly a serial murderer, and aside from giving these two power, the system of laws they uphold is obviously unjust, including, as the Nome King mentions, that the monarch can never be wrong, so whatever he does is right (165). They are no better than the Nome King. The problem is the very form of government, not which prince is in charge. We can’t all be so lucky as to have benevolent child dictators like Ozma. Yet Ozma restores the Ev monarchy without any further concern. What, does Ozma not want to set a precedent that would see her relinquish power to the people? This might obviously be reading too much into a fairy tale, yes, but let’s do it anyway.
Tiktok maintains that the Nome King’s actions are not immoral, given that he bought the slaves fair and square from Evoldo so that it was Evoldo alone who did wrong (129). Furthermore, as mentioned above, Tiktok makes a point that he is Dorothy’s slave. While this likely reflects Tiktok’s previous life under Evoldo, Dorothy never objects or seems to particularly care. And reconsider the Wheelers. Scary enemies when they do not obey the Ev monarchy, they gain sympathy in the ending specifically as, in a celebratory scene, they “loudly promised to obey the new King” (253, emphasis mine). Obey the king! Obey! Even though the last few were so awful no ethical person should have obeyed them.
It is as if the Nome King’s real crime is that he enslaves royalty, as opposed to non-royal beings, like Glinda the Good does the Flying Monkeys (it’s only evil when the Wicked Witch of the West does it). The rightness and wrongness of an action, except for the reckless disobedience that gets Dorothy to Ev instead of killed in the opening chapter, depends on whether that action supports or disrupts a monarchist hierarchy.
Despite all this, Baum also shows disrespect for monarchy, having Dorothy refuse to show the very unsympathetic Princess Langwidere any deference:
“I thought some one of importance had called.”
“Then you were right,” declared Dorothy.
[…] “Stop—stop!” commanded the Princess, with an angry flash of her splendid eyes. “How dare you annoy me with your senseless chatter?”
“Why, you horrid thing!” said Dorothy, who was not accustomed to being treated so rudely.
[…] “Tell me,” she [Langwidere] resumed, “are you of royal blood?”
“Better than that, ma’am,” said Dorothy. “I am from Kansas” (95–96).
The struggle with the Nome King is exciting, but, under the hood, we have a royal rescuing unsympathetic royals from another unsympathetic royal. Even this could be engaging, say if Dorothy was in a sort of Escape from New York scenario (save the president, even though he sucks). Perhaps Dorothy is simply too childish to realize the politics of the situation she finds herself in. That could be interesting. But the idealized fairy tale dictator, Ozma, suggests that Baum intends the scenario to be taken at face value. The issue is that Baum buys into his monarchy fantasy. He assumes the reader will feel particularly bad for the Royal Family of Ev, despite clearly showing why the monarchy should end, even if it is also heroic to liberate slaves from the Nome King regardless of the moral character of the enslaved people. Maybe my politics are just screaming, “HAVE THEM FREE JUST NORMAL PEOPLE WHO ARE ENSLAVED, WHY A BRUTAL ROYAL FAMILY, AAGGHH” too loudly for me to focus. Like The Marvelous Land of Oz, Ozma of Oz is full of tensions as interesting as the story itself. Unlike in The Marvelous Land, however, they are definitely not more interesting than the story.
The fourth Oz novel is Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, probably the strangest one so far and certainly the most violent. Please read my post about it too. Thank you for reading.