Since physical gatherings are a bad idea these days, OzCon International in California was canceled this year, but some attendees decided to do a virtual one, live from the Valley of Virtula. No, not really; that’s the prehistoric name for what’s now Yellowstone Park. (Maybe someone will get that reference.) The rule nowadays is apparently that anything that can be streamed will be. It was chaired by Colin Ayres and Erica Olivera, and parts of it were done over Zoom, while others were pre-recorded and placed on YouTube. The videos, as well as a few recorded Zoom sessions, will be up on the YouTube channel for about a week. I didn’t get a chance to watch all of them myself, as sessions ran opposite each other, and I made a few dumb mistakes like forgetting to turn the volume on while watching a video. I’ve gone back and seen most of them since the official convention ended. A few of the videos are Erica’s commentaries on L. Frank Baum’s silent films. I wrote a bit before about The Magic Cloak of Oz and The Patchwork Girl of Oz. Dina Massachi discussed the oft-mentioned theme of Oz as utopia, pointing out that Oz as Baum wrote about it is in many ways more similar to Thomas More’s Utopia (which I haven’t read, for what it’s worth) than to modern definitions of the word. The main difference she mentioned is that the Utopians constantly prepare to defend themselves, while the Ozites, especially in The Emerald City of Oz, do not. Both are monarchies, and both have an abundance of resources. Since More’s work was social commentary rather than fantasy, he couldn’t fall back on magic, but there are certainly some elements to his society that probably wouldn’t work outside fiction. The benevolent monarchy sounds decent on paper, but when there’s no omniscient narrator assuring us of the ruler’s intentions, there’s no way to guarantee they don’t have a hidden agenda. Besides, we all know how resistant people are to anyone being told they should do things for their own good, even when this advice is actually right.
In addition to other programs, Angelica Shirley Carpenter talked about Baum’s mother-in-law Matilda Joslyn Gage; Colin, Erica, and Peter Hanff had a short discussion on Glinda of Oz; and Colin and Peter reminisced about the history of the convention. A live discussion had John Bell, Mari Ness, Caroline Spector, and Atticus Gannaway express their thoughts on the character of Glinda, a very powerful, well-informed, and mysterious presence in Oz who only interferes in events when she sees fit. Eric Shanower did a presentation on the connection between Walt Disney and Oz, including Walt’s desire to make an Oz film that never came to fruition within his lifetime. One such intended project, The Rainbow Road to Oz, was supposed to star the Mouseketeers and be based primarily on Patchwork Girl. There were also plans for an attraction at Disneyland called Rock Candy Mountain where Casey Jr. (the train from Dumbo) would take riders past a cavern full of animatronic characters from the Oz books. Once again, this never came to fruition. Disney released Return to Oz in 1985, but it wasn’t promoted very well. And there’s Oz the Great and Powerful, which just wasn’t that good. I largely agree with Eric that the China Girl is the only part of the film that works.
Eric Gjovaag gave a quiz on the character Glinda and the book with her in the title, including questions about who played her in various media. I was tripped up by questions about Journey Back to Oz and The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz, as I didn’t know her voice or puppeteer in either one. Then there was an after party with various topics of discussion. I feel like I might have said more if there had been pauses, but that’s not something that can really be prepared. I did talk quite a bit on the text chats during the video presentations. While hardly the experience that an in-person convention is, it was pretty fun, and provided a chance to interact with people I don’t see that often.