Shadows of the Emerald City, edited by J.W. Schnarr – This is a collection of Oz-themed horror stories by various authors. They vary in quality, but many of them show clear knowledge of the original Oz books on the part of the writers, which is good. As might be expected, there are several pieces dealing with the Wicked Witches, and the Tin Woodman gets his share of starring roles as well. Who knew a heartless metal man with an axe could inspire horror stories? :P I’m not going to review every story in here, but I will mention some of my favorites.
“Pumpkinhead,” by Rajan Khanna – A companion Jack Pumpkinhead made but had to put down comes back for revenge, leading to strange goings-on in the pumpkin patch.
“A Heart Is Judged,” by Kevin G. Summers – This prequel to the first Oz book offers a possible background for Dorothy. It doesn’t match up entirely with what we know from the books (for instance, it indicates Uncle Henry never knew Dorothy’s mother, while The Emerald City of Oz says he did), but it picks up on many details while still maintaining a dark tone. I’m not entirely sure what I think of the Wicked Witch of the East’s castle containing a tapestry depicting Princess Langwidere performing fellatio on the Nome King, but it works in context. I just don’t think I’d actually want to see it. The Crooked Magician and Pigasus are both here. Well, not THE Pigasus, but A Pigasus, with rhyming powers intact. There’s also an origin story for the Scarecrow.
“Mr. Yoop’s Soup,” by Michael D. Turner – This was actually the first story from this collection that I came across, as I found a sample of it after Googling Mr. Yoop. It sticks to the rules established by L. Frank Baum while also being nothing like Baum would have written. The main theme is the downside of how Ozites remain alive even when chopped into pieces, with Mr. Yoop escaping from his cage and eating parts of Munchkins. The Munchkin wrestler Zeb fought in Dorothy and the Wizard makes a return appearance.
“One Wicked Day,” by Frank Dutkiewicz – While this story is based more on the MGM movie, including as it does the Lollipop Guild and the the ding-dong song, it’s definitely worth a mention due to its amusing satire. It presents the Munchkins as cannibals, and deals with different kinds of tyranny. In this take on Oz, the Good Witch of the North isn’t as good as she makes herself out to be, and indeed has quite a bit in common with Josef Stalin and his ilk.
“The Fuddles of Oz,” by Mari Ness – You might know Mari from her recent comprehensive reviews of the Oz books, and here she shows her knowledge of more obscure Oz characters by focusing on the Fuddles from Emerald City. As with “Mr. Yoop’s Soup,” the tale deals with a downside to one of Baum’s whimsical ideas, in this case a whole town of people who scatter themselves into pieces when anyone comes near.
I have to say that, as someone who’s generally not too keen on the darker, bleaker Oz stories, I did enjoy this collection. I think it’s largely because most of these writers clearly “got” Oz, and worked with what Baum told us instead of going off and totally redefining everything. I suppose you could say the better parts of this volume were Baum-affirming rather than Baum-denying. It’s sort of the opposite of Todd MacFarlane’s dark Oz stuff, as he’s gone on record as saying he hated the original story. There’s some good humor in the book, too, if mostly a bit on the black side.