The Tin Woodman of Oz, which is a century old this year and hence the main theme of the upcoming OzCon, was the third Oz book I read, way back in 1989. After reading Wizard and Land, I checked to see what the local library had, and it was this and Cowardly Lion, as well as The Sea Fairies and Sky Island. So I knew about Ozma, and I think I’d heard before that Dorothy eventually returned to Oz to live, but there were a few mentions of characters I was unfamiliar with, like Polychrome and Tiny Trot. It actually ties in pretty well to the first Oz book, not just because the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow are main characters, but because it gives a resolution of sorts to Nick Chopper’s original back story concerning his old sweetheart, here given the name Nimmie Amee. When a boy called Woot the Wanderer visits the Woodman and hears this story, he convinces Nick that it’s his duty to find Nimmie Amee, and they set out to the Munchkin Country with the Scarecrow. The three of them blunder into a few new locations, including the former home of the giant Mr. Yoop (who appeared in Patchwork Girl), still inhabited by his wife. Mrs. Yoop transforms and imprisons the travelers, but they manage to escape along with another prisoner of hers, Polychrome.
When they reach Jinjur’s house, Ozma shows up to break the transformations.
The party goes on to the forest where Nick used to live, finding along the way another Tin Man, this one a soldier named Captain Fyter who was also in love with Nimmie Amee and also had his body parts gradually replaced with tin ones by the same tinsmith, Ku-Klip. On his advice, they go to Nimmie’s last known residence at Mount Munch, and, in a weird twist, find her married to a man made from the cast-off parts of the Woodman and Soldier.
It’s another unsuccessful quest like Ojo’s search for magic ingredients in Patchwork Girl, although here it really makes sense. Nick no longer loves Nimmie, and it makes sense that she would have moved on by this point. It’s mostly his ego that leads him to believe she still pines for him, and might also contribute to how he and the Scarecrow have no problem entering places without being invited, which repeatedly causes trouble. It’s not one of the more fun or exciting Oz stories, but it has a pretty tight narrative for the most part. When going back and reading earlier books in the series, I found it interesting that Ozma and Polychrome don’t show any particular skill at magic until this one.
L. Frank Baum had gradually established in earlier books, starting with Road, that death is practically impossible in Oz. Here, he gives an explanation for it with an origin myth that an enchantment by the Fairy Queen Lurline halted death and aging in the land. It’s not entirely consistent with everything else we’ve been told about the subject, but it’s a vital piece of history all the same. This story is a digression from the main plot, but it does help to establish the idea that Nick’s old flesh body parts are still alive, which becomes central to the resolution. He talks to his own former head, and finds that the two of them don’t get along.
Even more problematic is Nimmie’s husband Chopfyt (I still think “Chopfyte” would have made more sense), a lazy, surly individual made up of parts of both Nick and Captain Fyter.
Hey, Neill, where’s the tin arm? And why is he dressed like a UPS delivery man?
The thing is, while he’s rude to them, it still doesn’t merit the reaction the Tin Men have where they offer to cut him back into his component pieces. Jealousy mixed with confusion over identity can lead to some dark thoughts. Not only is their old girlfriend married to someone a lot like them, but someone who at least partially IS them. Chopfyt does seem to be a failure as an experiment in person-making, although Dorothy defends his existence by saying the body parts would have otherwise gone to waste, a bizarrely whimsical and amusing notion. In these later tales, Baum’s humor is less broadly comic in a vaudevillian sense and more subtle, even if there are characters named Bal and Panta Loon.