The theme of the upcoming OzCon International is The Lost Princess of Oz, so I thought it might be a good idea to reread it. It’s actually been a while since I’ve done a reread of one of the original Oz books; I’ve read them all so many times in the past that I find it generally unnecessary. And I did remember the majority of the story here, although there were a few interesting bits I hadn’t thought about recently. I also reread the comments from when it was the Book of Current Focus. I didn’t leave any comments that time, and I can’t remember why not. It touches upon many of the elements I did and didn’t like about the book. Overall, I’d say it’s a pretty successful installment, very inventive and fun, with a more serious problem to solve than in some other titles. J.L. Bell discussed how, while it has elements of detective stories, it really doesn’t work as a mystery. It is possible to discern from the Little Pink Bear’s clues what happened to Ozma, or at least have more idea about it than the characters do; but otherwise they mostly just stumble upon everything.
That’s common for L. Frank Baum, and while it doesn’t make for strong plotting, it usually doesn’t bother me that much. I did find it kind of bizarre that Dorothy’s search party, which is ultimately the successful one, has so many more members than any of the others. We are told that it was originally supposed to have just six before others decide to tag along, but that’s still more than any of the other parties. Speaking of which, has anyone written about what happened to the three other parties? We know they were unsuccessful in finding Ozma, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have had other adventures.
I’ve been brainstorming some ideas, but a lot of my ideas never make it into story form.
From earlier author’s notes, it seems that Baum’s original idea with Lost Princess was to focus on the adventures of Dorothy, Betsy Bobbin, and Trot; but he ended up not giving the latter two much to do, even though they were there throughout. It suffers a bit from too many characters, although I had forgotten some clever lines from the Cowardly Lion, who doesn’t feature a whole lot in the plot but still comes off well. This is the book where Toto is at his most talkative, after not speaking at all until the end of Tik-Tok, and it seems like readers preferred when he didn’t say anything.
The lost growl provides a reason for why the dog is so vocal, but he complains about it WAY too much when everyone else is worried about Ozma. It’s sort of a loose end, too; we never find out whether Toto’s loss was only in his head or Ugu actually DID steal it, the latter presumably being possible in a fairyland, and perhaps an ingredient in some form of magic. And like some others, I was struck by how rude Dorothy and her friends are about the Little Pink Bear. I guess Button-Bright, Scraps, and even Dorothy have been established as making careless remarks to others at times; but it still kind of seems like Baum was so intent on misleading his readers as to make their objections kind of ridiculous considering what else they’ve seen. In response to the Lavender Bear’s suggestion that Button-Bright could be Ozma, Dorothy replies, “Ozma is a girl, and Button-Bright is a boy.” How does she forget a significant portion of her best friend’s life so quickly? But then, when the Wizard jumps to the conclusion that Ugu is probably the magician who kidnapped Ozma, he turns out to be right. And I’ve written before about the contradictions involving the Magic Belt.
It’s interesting that Scraps, who frequently burst out into verse in Patchwork Girl, doesn’t do so at all here. Indeed, Baum indulges in rhymes much less frequently in his later books. King Rinkitink sings a lot of songs in his book, but most of them had probably already been written before it was adapted into an Oz story. Scraps does write a poem for Ozma’s birthday in Magic, but that’s all I can remember. Ruth Plumly Thompson has Scraps make up rhymes pretty much every time she appears, and even Jack Snow gives her a verse in Magical Mimics.
As for the new characters, I liked the Frogman, who’s sort of a mix between the Wogglebug (pompous, well-dressed, and overly proud of his own knowledge) and the Wizard as he originally appeared (deceiving others in order to remain powerful and respected), but with enough of his own personality to keep him interesting. I appreciate that he still maintains his general manner even after being forced to always tell the truth. I did always find it weird that one of the first things he says is that he isn’t even as wise as Cayke; while he obviously exaggerates his wisdom (and gets worse when the Winkies don’t immediately respect him), he’s still fairly smart, and I don’t recall Cayke ever saying anything particularly wise.
Eric Shanower’s story “The Final Fate of the Frogman” has him taking his devotion to truth to extremes in an ultimately tragic way, but despite the downer ending, I don’t think it’s totally impossible that someone managed to save him from his sorry state. The Lavender Bear, while a bit underused, has the interesting trait of trying to remain dignified despite being a stuffed toy with a squeaker inside him. He’s also sympathetic in that his companions tend to ignore him except when they want to use the Little Pink Bear, then insist that the Pink Bear is wrong.
We get a peek inside Ugu‘s head when we learned how he accomplished his crime, but once the searchers reach his castle he mostly just taunts them.
I do like the various traps he sets up and how the Wizard and company manage to overcome them. I do wonder where that peacock came from, and what happened to him after Ugu was defeated.