We Seven Kings of Ore-Diggers Are

The Seven Underground Kings, by Alexander Volkov, translated by Peter Blystone – This is the third book in the Russian Magic Land series, the earlier ones being The Wizard of the Emerald City and Urfin Jus and His Wooden Soldiers. This one came across as more obviously a product of the Soviet Union than the first two, with its strong anti-monarchical theme. The story concerns the Underground Land that had been introduced in Urfin Jus and His Wooden Soldiers, which, through a series of odd events and a strong adherence to tradition, ended up with seven kings at the same time. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s telling that the kings eventually have their memories wiped clean, and are reeducated as laborers. L. Frank Baum had some similar ideas in the original Oz books, but they weren’t quite as communist in flavor. Overall, this tale doesn’t borrow quite as heavily from Baum as Urfin Jus did. The idea of Ellie (the Russian equivalent of Dorothy) getting lost underground with her older cousin was almost certainly inspired by Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, but it doesn’t play out in the same manner at all. Also, the Soporific Water is similar to the Water of Oblivion, but doesn’t work quite the same way. When reading the story, I was struck by how Magic Land comes across as more primitive than Oz. When I mentioned this on Twitter, Gili Bar-Hillel said she thought “rugged” was a better term than “primitive,” and perhaps “rustic” would also be appropriate. It’s also interesting, and perhaps kind of sad, that Strasheela and the Iron Woodman are illiterate, when literacy seems to be pretty much inborn with the manufactured people of Oz. I suppose it’s a reflection of a different culture. One thing I appreciate about Volkov when contrasted with Baum is how his plots built on each other, not just with Underground Land itself, but also the appearance of the Deadwood Oaks that Urfin Jus had made, and some other reappearances.

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3 Responses to We Seven Kings of Ore-Diggers Are

  1. vilajunkie says:

    Are you sure about literacy being instinctive to non-meat people in Oz? I thought in Land, Tip had to interpret the roadway sign directing to the Emerald City because neither Jack nor the Sawhorse could read. I don’t remember the Scarecrow reading in Wizard, at least not at first, because his cleverness (not necessarily equivalent to book-smarts or wisdom) made him think he could interpret things without having to read them. And Scraps never really needed to read, because the overdose of Intelligence and Poesy put inside her brain gave her skills you could acquire through reading without her needing to read anything first. Tik-Tok was programmed to be able to function like an adult human without actually being one, and the Tin Man and Tin Soldier were adult humans to begin with, so their ability to read transferred over.

    • Nathan says:

      You could be right. I didn’t really think that through. Still, it seems that a lot of the non-meat people eventually learn how to read, while Volkov’s Strasheela still doesn’t know after having ruled the Emerald City for some time.

  2. Pingback: Urfin Jus Conquers the Marrans | VoVatia

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