The Road to Oz, Book Five of the Oz Series

Continuing the pattern started in Ozma of Oz, Dorothy does not have an adventure in Oz but has an adventure in reaching it. Sadly, this time, the adventure is extremely boring. Hopefully my description of it will not be. The plot this time around is that while out in Kansas one day, Dorothy meets a vagrant, the shaggy man. He asks for directions to Butterfield (I suppose the town in Missouri?), where there is a man who owes him fifteen cents, and abducts Toto while Dorothy is putting on her sunbonnet. This means that when Dorothy and the shaggy man find themselves walking down the road and ending up in fairyland, Toto is once again with them. Bizarrely, Toto yet again never talks, unlike every other animal in fairyland. Rather, Toto busies himself being aggressive and attacking most other creatures, though Toto’s bad disposition might not be a surprise considering that he leads a rough life: Uncle Henry whips him for chasing the chickens (155). A bit of a chicken-and-egg situation (pun intended).

Between Toto and Eureka, Dorothy’s pets are menaces. That bumble bee is clearly a person!

Following what turns out to be the road to Oz (an accurate title for once), Dorothy and the shaggy man also pick up a pigheaded young boy named Button-Bright, who does little but indicate he doesn’t know anything, and the aforementioned Polychrome, the Rainbow’s Daughter, who slid off the rainbow when she got dancing too near its curved side. They learn, from the towns along the road, that Ozma is a renowned person throughout fairyland and that her birthday is coming up. All the monarchs want to attend. (Ozma’s birthday is 21 August. Mark your calendars.) Along the way, Button-Bright’s head is magicked into a fox head, and the shaggy man’s into a donkey head. But once the four cross the Deadly Desert on a “sand-boat,” they reach the Truth Pond in the Country of the Winkies, which transforms Button-Bright and the shaggy man back to normal. From there, Ozma reveals she is responsible for warping Dorothy into fairyland to attend her birthday. “I thought I should have to use the Magic Belt to save you and transport you to the Emerald City,” says Ozma. She continues, “But the shaggy man was able to help you out both times, so I did not interfere” (204). Then many, many fantastical guests attend Ozma’s birthday, there is a feast and music, the Wizard performs tricks, Button-Bright heads home, Polychrome returns to the rainbow, and Ozma warps Dorothy and Toto, in their sleep, back to the former’s bedroom in Kansas.

Dorothy kissing Ozma.

To a 2022 reader, it sticks out that Dorothy and Ozma seem to really, really like each other. They were already holding hands and hugging and kissing in the earlier books. When she meets Ozma in The Road to Oz, Dorothy “hug[s] and kiss[es] her rapturously” (204). Judging from Neill’s illustration (above), we don’t mean a little peck on the cheek. But they’re just friends, I’m sure.

Baum spends a large portion of the last one hundred pages gushing about how incredibly wonderful Oz is. It gets tiring. In the first two novels, Oz comes across as a place—a magical, strange land of plenitude full of kind people, yes, but a land with the verisimilitude of a place. In The Road to Oz, Baum has fully committed to Oz being Heaven. Apparently, death does not even exist there (172)! Save for capital punishment, though it seems the closest anyone came to receiving this under Ozma is Eureka. And just a sample of the effusive praise Baum cannot stop heaping on Ozma: “The royal historians of Oz, who are fine writers and know any number of big words, have often tried to describe the rare beauty of Ozma and failed because the words were not good enough. So of course I can not hope to tell you how great was the charm of this little Princess, or how her loveliness put to shame all the sparkling jewels and magnificent luxury that surrounded her in this her royal palace. Whatever else was beautiful or dainty or delightful of itself faded to dullness when contrasted with Ozma’s bewitching face, and it has often been said by those who know that no other ruler in all the world can ever hope to equal the gracious charm of her manner” (203). A lot of this kind of thing.

The resolution returns to the issue that that Magic Belt is so powerful it eliminates any stakes or risk in the narrative. What tension there is in The Road to Oz can only exist because Ozma happens to be a bit cruel, so she first causes her friend to almost die by warping her and a random stranger into the wasteland many miles from the Deadly Desert and then watches what happens. Sure is lucky Dorothy didn’t meet any of the “evil spirits” who lurk in the periphery in The Emerald City of Oz.

Or does she? A group of antagonists that only appear in The Road to Oz are the Scoodlers, nightmare horror monsters not so much because of what they do but because they are so bizarre and, in Neill’s drawings, so frightening. Toto begins barking at one in the wasteland.