Kabumpo in Oz, by Ruth Plumly Thompson – You get two Oz posts in a row this week, because I’ve finished rereading this book for its hundredth anniversary. Thompson’s second Oz book is a clear improvement over her first, and Kabumpo himself is one of my favorite Oz characters. He’s a good mix of pompous and stubborn with kindly and funny, sometimes on purpose and sometimes not, and is good at driving the plot. It helps that I like elephants anyway.
I would have thought the title The Elegant Elephant of Oz would have been better, as no one would have known who Kabumpo was when the book first came out, but whatever. It also sets the template for many of Thompson’s later Oz books, with the small kingdom needing to be saved, someone unexpected turning out to be royalty, and what the characters were looking for being in front of them all along. These are ideas L. Frank Baum used, but not in the same way or with the same frequency. Her greater focus on relationships and marriage is also in evidence. There’s also the typical series of encounters with strange beings and communities, with a lot of puns and many of them reciting verses for no particular reason. The inhabitants of Rith Metic and the Twigs are hostile without being provoked, while the people of the Illumi Nation are friendly, but there are difficulties due to miscommunication and the general incompatibility of giant living candles with flame heads and flesh-and-blood beings who breathe and are subject to burns.
We’re told in the introduction that Kabumpo is “old and wise” and Prince Pompadore thinks “he’s usually right,” even though the Elegant Elephant is usually laboring under a misapprehension when he has a major role in a book. Here, it’s that the Proper Princess Pompa is supposed to marry is Ozma, which he’s so sure of that he doesn’t bother to check evidence to the contrary. That said, he is right about having to leave Pumperdink to find such a princess, and has odd bits of knowledge like how long it takes scroll magic to take effect. Speaking of being right, Pompa correctly guesses that J.G. and Glegg are the same person based on one initial. I guess that makes about as much sense as Trot just happening to name her doll the same name as the princess she used to be. And it’s not like either of these correct guesses really help the characters any. It’s interesting that, in only her second book, Thompson mostly features her own original characters.
In addition to Kabumpo, Pompa, and Peg Amy, there’s a giant rabbit named Wag, who’s sort of a foil to the elephant. He’s just as stubborn and irritable, but without the upper-class haughtiness.
His gimmick is speaking in spoonerisms, although a lot of his lines don’t contain them; the general idea is that he gets mixed up when he’s excited or upset. One familiar character who does play a significant role is Ruggedo, who’s somehow back to his old nasty self, Thompson’s explanation being that the Water of Oblivion wore off. Some Oz fans have theorized that he built up an immunity to it, since this was his second drink. It’s entertaining to see him still pretending to be a king, even though he’s living in a cavern under the palace with a few possessions he stole from the Emerald City, and only one subject who doesn’t have much respect for him. He’s also carving his history into a set of rocks in case he loses his memory again. It’s odd that he seems to be much smaller than usual; when a ten-inch-tall doll “shot up four feet” due to magic, she’s “four times his size.” This isn’t the case in Thompson’s later books, so I figure it must just be a mistake, perhaps tied in to her restoring the traditional spelling of “gnome.”
After he becomes a giant, most of what the Nome does is automatic or involuntary, as part of Glegg’s convoluted scheme. And Glegg, who only appears briefly, is quite a bit creepier than the old Nome King.
His fate is still pretty disturbing and described strangely casually, however.
Ruggedo runs off with the palace without intending to, and this is where other established characters come into the picture. The Wizard of Oz is inexplicably mentioned as smiling in the crisis, and Jack Pumpkinhead and the Tin Woodman are briefly mentioned as being there but don’t contribute anything. All three of them are illustrated, however, so are they present just to go with John R. Neill’s art?
One thing a modern reader might notice is that the anti-gay slur that rhymes with “maggot” is used a few times. It’s in its traditional sense meaning a bundle of sticks, but it’s still used in a way that comes across as insulting. Apparently, before it referred to homosexuality, it could mean old women, like Faleero in the book.
That seems like such an appropriate name for a cranky, unappealing woman. Not that long ago, however, I found out that there was a nineteenth-century Spanish artist named Luis Ricardo Falero, who is known to have painted witches and fairies. A lot of them were naked or nearly so, which probably isn’t a way anyone wants to see Faleero, but hey, there’s no accounting for tastes.
The King of the Twigs also uses the F-word to refer to his subjects, in a way that seems to both acknowledge that they’re made of wood and that he thinks they’re being wimps.
While I didn’t read the Oz books in order, this was one of the earlier Thompson titles I read, and I’m glad it still holds up.