The latest issue of The Baum Bugle has an article by David Maxine about Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s writing process for Merry Go Round in Oz, one of the most tightly plotted books in the Oz series. Indeed, it’s so well plotted that it’s kind of surprising there’s a loose end involving the very beginning of the story. At a carnival, Robin Brown encounters a strange carousel barker who talks in rhymes. The man sells Robin a ticket, encouraging him to grab the brass ring for a free ride. When Robin does so, he flies free of the carousel, and indeed of the country, landing in Oz with his merry-go-round steed mysteriously alive.
The brass ring itself turns out to be one of the Circlets of Halidom, which had been stolen by a popinjay. So who is this odd man who sells the ticket? In the article, Eloise is quoted as having said, “I originally intended to explain him somehow or other as an exile or refugee or some such thing the kingdom of Halidom, but I simply forgot to work it in until the book was so tightly set in its present form that I couldn’t find a crack to wedge it into. So I let it remain a dangling end–something I usually would not dream of.” Of course, the Oz books are full of such dangling ends. Absurd coincidence abounds, but especially in Ruth Plumly Thompson’s books there are some elements that just seem TOO fortuitous to be matters of chance, yet are never explained. Why, for instance, would the dummy Humpy in Lost King have looked like Pastoria and had the formula to restore the former king as his serial number? He’s successfully used as a red herring, but I have to suspect there’s more to the story than we find out. Getting back to the barker, I believe Eloise said elsewhere that he was from Roundabout rather than Halidom, which makes more sense in some ways. He’s described as “fat as a butterball, no taller than Robin himself,” while the Roundheads are later said to be “all short and roly-poly.”
Regardless of where he came from, though, how much did he know? He strongly encourages Robin to grab the ring, so he must know it’s going to do something significant, and he doesn’t seem at all surprised when the boy flies off the carousel. Does he know the ring is one of the missing Circlets, and if so why doesn’t he just bring it back himself? It’s also been suggested that he was purposely setting in motion the events that led to Robin being crowned King of Roundabout, but then why did he choose Robin over anyone else? For that matter, why DID the ring bring Robin to Oz and animate the horse? That’s not an ability the Circlet is elsewhere said to have; its official power is to grant skill in handicrafts. The whole thing was presumably magically set up, but did the barker set it up or learn about it some other way? I have to wonder what the original plan was. In the Book of Current Focus discussion, Ruth Berman proposes that the carnival barker might have also consulted the Oracle in the Coracle.
Another interesting thing I found in the article is that illustrator Dick Martin suggested changing a reference to Ozma saying she hadn’t seen the Unicorn of Halidom in 1000 years to simply “ever so long,” claiming that the Oz books never had such specific mentions of periods of time. He was wrong, actually; in Kabumpo Thompson writes that “the little Ruler of Oz has lived almost a thousand years,” and in Wishing Horse she reports that “never in all the thousand years of her young life had this lovely young fairy looked more beautiful.”
While McGraw wrote that her reference was intended “to surprise and amaze” readers, I wouldn’t be too surprised if she was subconsciously remembering one of these two Thompson passages. If they’re taken to be more or less accurate, it raises the question as to how Ozma could still have been a baby when the Wizard of Oz gave her to Mombi. He certainly didn’t arrive from Omaha 1000 years earlier, as it didn’t exist then. Indeed, if Jack Pumpkinhead in his own book is to be believed (perhaps a doubtful proposition), she only lived with Mombi for nine years. I mention this discrepancy here, along with a bit in Magic that suggests Ozma has existed since the beginning of time.
At one point, Maxine mentions that “Sir Greves is written as if he’s deeply in the closet,” with his sneaking around to learn the traditionally feminine art of cooking and ignoring his masculine duties as a knight. There’s quite a bit to say about gender roles in this book, some of which J.L. Bell addresses here. For example, the Unicorn loves Fess despite thinking all other males are too rowdy. It’s also interesting to note, if perhaps not entirely relevant, that Robin’s name is gender-neutral. I’ve met Robins of both sexes in the International Wizard of Oz Club, the female Robin Olderman and the male Robin Hess. In the 1993 Oziana, there’s an excerpt from a book that Onyx Madden (Jim Nitch) was writing that featured a girl named Robin. Robin Olderman was editing it, and said that she was “jealous of the other Robin, the little girl who gets to have a real Ozian adventure.” I have to wonder what happened to the manuscript. Nitch died three years later, but the book was reportedly “in draft stage” when the excerpt was published, so shouldn’t it exist in some form? Speaking of which, Oziana also had a bit of an unfinished sequel to Merry Go Round called “Chapter Three.” If there’s a Chapter Three, there must have been a Chapter One and Two, right? Well, maybe they were stolen by a popinjay, and ended up in the Valley of Lost Things along with Jack Snow’s Over the Rainbow to Oz and the explanation for the weird carnival barker.