King Kojo, by Ruth Plumly Thompson – Published in 1938, toward the end of Thompson’s tenure as Royal Historian of Oz, this book is an attempt at a children’s fantasy on her own terms. She had been writing Oz books for years, and was not at all satisfied with how Reilly & Lee was handling the series. Kojo was published by the David McKay Company, and had illustrations by Marge, creator of Little Lulu. It’s been out of print for some time, and while Hungry Tiger Press has announced a new edition being in the works, it hasn’t been forthcoming. As it is in the public domain, John Troutman went ahead and scanned the whole thing, so you can read it online.
For a book written at least partially to break away from Oz, it’s obvious that the famous fairyland was still very much on Thompson’s mind. There’s a parrot named Nickadick and a goat named Buttonbite, and she had even used the name of Kojo and his kingdom of Oh-Go-Wan in her own Oz books. The former was a minor character in The Purple Prince of Oz, and the latter an unidentified location mentioned in Pirates in Oz (although she spelled it as the slightly less silly-looking Ogowan). Her writing style is very similar to her Oz work, although perhaps even more so to her other non-Oz children’s fantasy, featuring a jolly kingdom with a weird mix of old-world style and modern sensibilities. King Kojo is a childish, fun-loving monarch with a good heart and a tendency toward naivete, a type we find throughout her work. The book is episodic, detailing the experiences of the King and his subjects throughout the course of about a year and a half. Some chapters are self-contained, while others end with cliffhangers. Kojo himself, who seems to get kidnapped about once a month, tends to be the focus of most of the plots.
Probably the most interesting character, however, is Dorcas, a wooden ship’s figurehead that lay at the bottom of the ocean for 500 years before being brought to life with a magic staff. While somewhat belligerent at first, she soon settles into being someone who, despite her size and unusual appearance and history, just wants to fit in.
Puns, magic, and jokey dialogue abound; at one point, Kojo finds an easy chair that makes things easy to do. It’s mostly fun throughout, but there is kind of an odd theme about not trying to rise above your station in life. A kitchen boy who takes initiative to try to gain a fortune through magic is reprimanded, and a soldier who takes the King’s place for a joke turns traitor and rules the kingdom himself for a while. It seems common in Thompson’s cozy kingdoms that, while the bosses tend to be kind, the court is informal, and nobody works too hard, challenging the social order is pretty much always wrong. Kind of strange for a fantasy land that celebrates Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter in ways American readers of the time would have recognized; but I guess that’s Thompson for you.
By the way, there are also three other King Kojo stories that aren’t in the book, all available in the collection The Wizard of Way-Up and Other Wonders. In these, Oh-Go-Wan acquires a court wise man who’s actually a dog and a carpenter who pretends he’s a wizard. Marcus Mebes ties in the kingdom with Oz in his Royal Explorers of Oz trilogy and includes several of the locations from the tales on his map of Tarara. Not included are Beckadore (located on the opposite side of Big Enuf Mountain from Oh-Go-Wan/Ogowan), Faru, the Ordney Isles, Eightpenny Isle, or the desert land of Whyness. Dorcas mentions Zittycoo and Zundersnutch, but since these are from her seafaring life centuries earlier, there’s no real way of knowing where they are or if they even exist anymore aside from just making it up. Since Dorcas’ ship was called the Dork, it’s possible it has some link to the Isle of Dork and its Duke from Pirates.