The Magic of Oz, by L. Frank Baum – I reread this in preparation for this year’s OzCon International. I believe it was the last of Baum’s Oz books I read, and I remember it not being one of my favorites. I think I was a little disappointed that Ruggedo and Kiki Aru‘s plot was thwarted because the Wizard of Oz happened to show up in the forest, and to hide in the same tree into which Kiki was speaking; and nothing really came of the plan recruit the animals of the Forest of Gugu to conquer Oz.
A lot of Oz books are resolved with coincidences, but here it kind of seems like this whole idea is introduced and thrown out. I think J.L. Bell considers this his favorite, and he’s mentioned how the plots intersect well and the characters are well-defined. In fairness, Kiki is a sullen teenage boy with power but no real experience, so it makes sense he’d make mistakes. The Glass Cat behaves in a rather feline fashion, being out for herself and willing to do things only if they bring her attention. She sees no problem with tormenting the monkeys and is indignant when they get their revenge, and does not get along with Dorothy’s pet kitten Eureka. The Wizard is shrewd and still a little tricky, bargaining with Rango in order to get what he wants.
Cap’n Bill plays the Batman-style role of having no special powers but being able to figure things out quickly and improvise solutions to just about any problem. And the Lonesome Duck is a quite memorable character despite having a rather small part.
As for Ruggedo, no longer a ruling tyrant, he is instead a con-artist and war propagandist. It’s interesting to me that everyone seems to realize he’s not really trustworthy, but find his ideas convincing and agreeable enough that they’ll go along with him for the time being. He’s a quick thinker and has a way of convincing others even when he ends up being contradictory. He tells Kiki he wants to be King of Oz, “which is better than being King of the Nomes,” then not long after that says he’s willing to let Kiki rule. He initially tells Kiki that the beasts will join him because they’re “savage and cruel,” but when they turn out to be fairly civilized in their own fashion, he cooks up the story about the humans wanting to enslave them. He manages to steer the conversation away from why the animals would want to be turned into humans and toward whether he’s capable of such transformations. When Kiki panics and turns against him, the Nome quickly talks him down and comes up with another plan, a desperate one to be sure, but pretty clever considering how quickly he thinks of it. Baum wrote the book while the United States was involved in World War I, and readers have drawn comparisons to the Russian Revolution; but it’s somewhat different in that the animals seem to be pretty content and only want to fight the humans when Ruggedo makes up a lie, and not all of them are convinced even then. The thing is, there could be some actual support for the animals being treated as second-class citizens in Oz, or of haves and have-nots even without money being in use, but the narrative steers clear of that.
The idea of Ozma’s friends trying to find birthday presents for her gives them a reason to explore the wild lands of Oz. I noticed that it’s difficult for some of them to come up with ideas, yet it’s still pretty early in Ozma’s reign, so it must just get harder every year. I’m terrible at coming up with gift ideas myself. Amazon wishlists help, but some people either don’t have them or don’t have much on them. I’m sure it’s even more difficult when the birthday girl can obtain pretty much anything she wants through magic. The magic word is an interesting plot device, but the fact that the Wizard and maybe Ozma still know it after the book seems like it would just make things too easy for them. Then again, you could say that about the Magic Belt, which isn’t even mentioned here despite its being the Nome King’s main goal in Emerald City.
The Wizard does say that the transformations Kiki works are “very easy to break–when you know how and have the tools to do it.” If they’re fairly weak enchantments, they might not work at breaking more powerful transformation spells. The short story “Much Ado About Kiki Aru,” by Sean Duffley, deals with this and gives some closure to Kiki’s tale. It explains that the magic word no longer works after the events of that story, and it’s never used again in the Famous Forty, but there are other fan-written tales in which it works again. Since the story has it that the transformations were done by a fairy enslaved by the Wicked Witch of the East, maybe it only works after that when the fairy chooses for it to do so. Ruggedo loses his memory and is allowed to stay in Oz, the plan being that he won’t relearn his old wicked ways there. Ruth Plumly Thompson states in Kabumpo that the effects of the Water of Oblivion wear off over time, even though there’s no indication of this in Baum. I don’t blame her for wanting to bring back the character, though, as he’s fun and adaptable. She tends to treat him in a sillier fashion, but he’s still a serious threat at times. And Thompson often follows the Magic model of having him convince someone who’s not inherently villainous to work with him at least temporarily, as opposed to the Emerald City model where his concern is that his allies are potentially more treacherous than he is. Ruggedo’s appearance in Magic leaves some gaps in his story, as Tik-Tok ends with Kaliko allowing him to stay in the Nome Kingdom, but here he starts out as a wanderer on the surface, blaming the people of Oz instead of Tititi-Hoochoo for kicking him out. I wrote my own story, “Alliance of the Elementals,” in an attempt to explain this.