Two more book reviews, both Oz-related this time:
Finding Oz, by Evan I. Schwartz – On the positive side, this is a pretty lively book that held my attention, and I learned some interesting new things. One thing I particularly enjoyed was the focus on L. Frank Baum’s mother-in-law Matilda Joslyn Gage. On the negative side, the thesis really brought it down. The basic idea of Schwartz’s book is that pretty much everything in Baum’s life was leading up to his writing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, even minor incidents. Some of the ideas Schwartz suggests, like the various people who inspired the character of the Wizard, were interesting, but the author seemed too eager to insist they were true. Other connections that Schwartz made came across as desperate, or showed a lack of research. For instance, Toto was a pretty common name for dogs at the time Wizard was written, while Schwartz calls it an “unusual name.” Even odder is when Schwartz tries to tie aspects of the MGM movie that weren’t in the book to events in Baum’s life. At one point, he gives the rather flimsy excuse that Baum’s widow Maud was credited as a consultant for the film. While I don’t know exactly what that role entailed, I have to suspect it was more along the lines of making sure the movie wasn’t offensive to Baum’s memory, and not making sure it contained an incredibly subtle reference to the time Frank brought home some Bismarcks he didn’t finish. For that matter, while Wizard was Baum’s best-selling and most enduring book, he wouldn’t have known this would be the case when he was writing it. So why would he have chosen this story to reflect his life experience any more than any other? And while Baum did have an interest in spiritualism and the occult, I can’t say I think much of the idea that Dorothy’s trip to Oz has anything to do with astral projection. She actually went there in her own physical body, and it’s not like the idea of an ordinary person somehow ending up in an extraordinary place was anything new in fantasy at that point. Not a bad read, but there’s a lot of stuff in it that needs to be taken with a grain of salt.
The Fairy Circle in Oz, by Chris Dulabone – In this book, the heroine of Wooglet in Oz teams up with the Love Fairy, a character Baum mentioned in an inscription to his son. Also featuring are Egor and his friends from the Fantastic Funhouse, whom Chris had created in his childhood. Overall, I’d say it’s a good indication of how much Chris has added to the Oz universe. While I appreciate his desire to keep his original characters active instead of letting them fall by the wayside, it’s kind of disappointing when something billed as an Oz book focuses very little on Oz itself. Yes, Ozma and the Emerald City are there, and Jellia Jamb travels with Wooglet and the Love Fairy, but most of it deals more with the mystical world of the devas and Egor’s group of monsters. It was a fun story, but could have been Ozzier.