The Plane Truth


A Barnstormer in Oz, or A Rationalization and Extrapolation of the Split-Level Continuum, by Philip Jose FarmerSPOILERS! I watched a discussion of this book as part of the last virtual OzCon, and I’d considered reading it earlier, so I finally went ahead and did so. I haven’t read anything else by Farmer, except a short piece on Oz that appeared in Oz-Story Magazine. It’s kind of a weird book, certainly not a traditional Oz work, but rather an attempt to explain the Land of Oz through the means of science fiction. Of course, L. Frank Baum himself would often work in sort-of-scientific explanations for the magical elements in his books, but he still left a lot of whimsy, while Farmer’s take is rather duller. The basic idea is that Dorothy did indeed visit Oz and tell Baum about it, but while he kept the main plot intact, he also simplified things to make it work as a children’s story. For instance, rather than everyone in Oz speaking English, Dorothy had to take some time to learn the native language, which is derived from old Gothic. The other Oz books are entirely Baum’s invention, although he used some names and concepts Dorothy had told him about. This tale starts with Dorothy’s son, Hank Stover, flying into Oz through a green cloud in his biplane, and getting caught up aiding Glinda in a two-front war against a Gillikin witch named Erakna and other Americans who have found the way there in a secret army experiment and want to exploit it. The Scarecrow and Tin Woodman show up, and Hank supposes that they were brought to life by energy beings called firefoxes. What’s weird is that an Oz manuscript I wrote has a fire fox as a character as a joke on the web browser, and I wasn’t aware that Farmer had used the term well before that. One of them ends up possessing his plane, which he calls Jenny because it’s a Curtiss JN-4H. Hank insists on referring to the Scarecrow as “it,” but refers to Jenny with female pronouns, which hardly seems fair. I have to say that I found the style a bit dry. Hank isn’t all that interesting of a character, although he has his moments when he criticizes his own country, and it’s hard to ignore his horny moments. Early on in the story, he thinks he’s in love with Glinda because he sees her naked. That’s kind of the tone of the whole thing, mostly just a lot of exposition until Farmer decides to throw in a “what the hell?” moment. And some of the rationalizations, while they work within the context of the book, are rather bland. For instance, the talking animals all speak like Victrola recordings, I guess because they don’t have the right parts to make all the necessary sounds. On the other hand, Farmer does get into what a society where animals are on the same level as people might be like, which Baum never fully committed to. At one point, Hank teams up with two characters who don’t have much to do with the story or the setting, a Very Rare Beast who’s afraid of his own reflection and a parody of Doc Savage called Sharts the Shirtless. I haven’t read any Doc Savage stories, so I probably missed most of the jokes there. And at the end, Glinda assassinates President Harding to stop the American invasion of Oz, another one of those “what the hell?” moments. As I wrote before, this book was very controversial among Oz fans, with some hating the entire premise. Of course, Barnstormer‘s existence doesn’t do away with the other Oz books, but I do get seeing Oz as kind of a sacred thing. I read what’s identified as the First Mass Market Paperback, with its strange cover art of Glinda jumping into the air, the Scarecrow’s head looking like a balloon, and Nick Chopper’s face on backwards. To be fair, Farmer does say that Nick can turn his head that way, but there’s no reason for him to be doing it in this situation.

This entry was posted in Animals, Book Reviews, Characters, Conspiracy Theories, L. Frank Baum, Language, Magic, Oz, Oz Authors, Sexuality and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Plane Truth

  1. markrhunter says:

    Farmer’s Riverworld stories are great, but I still haven’t had a chance to read this one. I did leaf through it at a bookstore years ago, and I thought I remembered that the Tin Man had two faces–one on the front, one on the back. But it’s been MANY years ago. I couldn’t afford it at the time.

    • Nathan says:

      I found the relevant passage in the book: “The head was set on a horizontal disc above the thick short neck so that Niklaz could turn the head at 360 degrees if he felt like it.”

      • markrhunter says:

        That’s odd, my memory is usually perfect. (I barely got through typing that without laughing.) It seems to me a completely turning head would be very useful, while having two pairs of eyes would just confuse the human brain.

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