They’re Coming to America

The question of what counts as canon occasionally comes up in Oz discussion forums. Although there is a strong contingent that accepts only L. Frank Baum’s books, it seems that most fans throw in the others that were published by the same company with permission from Baum’s widow. Since this makes for a series of forty books, they’re often called the Famous Forty. Even this is a bit misleading, though. Baum himself wrote several short stories about Oz, and why would we exclude these when accepting works by other authors? Little Wizard Stories of Oz, a collection of short stories intended for somewhat younger readers than the main books in the series, is sometimes considered Baum’s semi-official fifteenth Oz book. He also made references indicating that the events of The Magical Monarch of Mo, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, Dot and Tot of Merryland, Queen Zixi of Ix, John Dough and the Cherub, The Sea Fairies, and Sky Island all take place within the same world as the Oz stories, so even though they’re not Oz books, they are essentially part of the Oz canon. Strange how that works out, but certainly not unheard of, particularly among authors who like to do crossovers with their own characters. There is an oddity, however, in the Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz newspaper comic series, which has several Oz characters visiting the United States. These stories were written by Baum, but they’re never referred to in the main Oz series. Granted, Baum wasn’t someone who took continuity all that seriously, but there are some pretty major contradictions here.

Perhaps most difficult is that the Ozites pay a visit to Dorothy and Toto in Kansas, but none of them mention this meeting when they cross paths in Ozma of Oz. Indeed, she’s introduced to the Sawhorse for what appears to be the first time, even though he’s one of the visitors in the comic pages, and in fact saved her life from Uncle Henry’s charging bull. For that matter, even though I don’t think the Visitors stories ever specifically mention the Ozites meeting Uncle Henry and Aunt Em, they do stay on the farm for several days, so it would be rather odd if they didn’t. In Emerald City, however, they don’t believe her tales about Oz. If this visit never happened, though, did the other adventures of the Ozites in the States? If anyone ever asked Baum the question, his answer is presumably lost to history. The approach Baum used in the stories strikes me as being quite different from that of the series, both in that the Ozites have access to a lot of magic and that they become celebrities in America. Granted, people might have just taken it as a publicity stunt. Nonetheless, it does somewhat conflict with Ozma’s later policy of keeping Oz a secret from the mundane world. So I’d say I’d generally come down on the side of the Visitors stories not being canonical. Other fans disagree with me, and I’ve seen stories that incorporate elements from them. I suppose that, even if they’re not entirely accurate, they could contain some hoztorical truth. This story by Jared Davis helps to tie the Visitors tales in with the main series.

In addition to these stories themselves, newspapers that ran the comic also included some promotional material that might or might not have been written by Baum, which had the Ozites visit other planets before arriving in the States, stopping at Argo and Polaris before reaching our own solar system. Does this mean Oz is located somewhere out in space, or just that the Gump took a route that took him considerably out of the way? And since when can a creature made of sofas with palm leaf wings navigate through the void of space? It’s also interesting to note that the comic pages and related material indicate that the visit is taking place at around the same time Baum is chronicling the adventures, and that this begins within the second year of Ozma’s reign. So if that’s in 1904 when the comic started, what does this mean for the already tricky timeline of the first few books?

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10 Responses to They’re Coming to America

  1. Good post! I no longer use the Famous Forty designation. It’s too confining and doesn’t accurately reflect the contributions that Baum and the later historians made to this universe. By the same token, I recognize the need for a measuring stick to designate what constitutes legitimate histories of this realm, so, for me, I say the Sovereign Sixty. And when including the Borderlands books (which I do), it’s the Supreme Seventy-Five (which constitutes the following: Famous Forty The Formidable Fifty-Five and the Sovereign Seventy)

    On the subject of Queer Visitors, you raise some important points that shouldn’t be overlooked. There are continuity discrepancies, but I’d argue that rather than throw the baby out with the bath-water, readers can apply creative solutions (like Jared’s) to make it work in their own minds. When all is said and done, it’s Baum. If fans can make allowances for Neill’s books, they can do it for the original Royal Historian.

    Getting into Queer Visitor’s a bit, the Sawhorse and Dorothy’s two introductions is reminiscent of the same problem with the Shaggy Man and Polychrome. Some things just have to be regarded as historian-error. As regards the Visitors stay at Dorothy’s farm, one good fix is to say that Henry and Em weren’t home, perhaps they were making a trip into the city to see about getting a second mortgage on the house.

    With the trip to the planetary bodies, my view is that these are the same kinds of “planets” that we encounter in The Silver Princess of Oz. They’re fairyland planets (for lack of a better word) that encircle the dimension wherein Nonestica resides.

    Finally, the dating of these events. You’re correct in that the Interplanetary Dispatches designate these events as taking place in 1904, the second year of Ozma’s reign. That gives us a cardinal date for The Marvelous Land of Oz as occurring in 1902. This actually doesn’t pose as much of a problem as you’d think for those of us who believe that the early books must take place in relatively short succession after each other (and not once a year, a conceit that Thompson definitely eschewed). That means that this storyline takes place several books later. I have it after Road to Oz.

    • Nathan says:

      So you’re saying that the Queer Visitors stories might take place after Ozma? I hadn’t thought of that before, but it would rectify the contradiction with the Sawhorse. She wouldn’t have known him in Ozma, then, but she would have at the time he visited Kansas.

      • Yep, and I hadn’t even thought of it in those terms. It just made more sense chronologically to place the events of the newspaper strip afterwards. But I’m glad it also fixes that problem!

  2. Alas, there’s a problem with that: In Ozma of Oz, Dorothy is clear that she’d never heard of Ozma before. Yet, the official proclamations and the Ozmapolitan make it clear that Dorothy’s plea to Ozma was the reason she left the Scarecrow and others visit the U.S. So, Queer Visitors has to be after the events of that book.

    There’s an additional snag in that first issue of the Ozmapolitan: Dorothy sends a letter (with greetings to Ozma) and saying that she’s looking forward to seeing the Scarecrow, etc., again, and meeting the Wogglebug, Jack and Sawhorse. A retcon has to be twofold, because in the Queer Visitors strip, Jack asks who Dorothy and Toto are. But Jack met Dorothy at the end of Ozma of Oz. The first fix comes from Baum who says that Jack’s head was overripe at the time.

    The second fix is that there was an editorial emendation to the letter and that instead of “I know I would love Jack Pumpkinhead and his Sawhorse,” it actually read “I know I already love Jack Pumpkinhead and his Sawhorse.” That leave the Wogglebug as the only character she hadn’t met, but as he’s noted in Ozma of Oz as being at his Royal College, that’s not a problem.

    • Nathan says:

      In Dorothy and the Wizard, Zeb and the Wizard meet the Wogglebug, but there’s no indication that Dorothy hadn’t met him before. On the other hand, she’s surprised by the Gump’s head.

      • Maybe her surprise is over the fact that his head’s on a wall, and not attached to a sofa with “wings”.

      • Nathan says:

        That could be. One oddity of the conversation in DotWiz is that the head considers the Gump to be what the flying machine was called, rather than the animal he originally was. I guess it’s hard to remember things when your brain is made of stuffing.

  3. oops, I meant to say “was the reason she let (or allowed) the Scarecrow…”

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