Serious About Series

I’ve finished reading the latest issue of The Baum Bugle, which is largely dedicated to Kabumpo in Oz. Editor Sarah Crozter co-wrote a piece with Nick Campbell on the book and Oz as a series in general. I’ve seen a fair amount of talk about libraries banning Oz books, and while the fact that there are good witches in Oz might have sometimes been responsible (sort of like people thinking Harry Potter was Satanic, which is kind of ironic considering how there’s probably a lot of overlap between that kind of thinking and transphobia), most of it is part of a general distaste for children’s series books. Libraries don’t want to stock the whole series, the books tend to be handled so much that they wear out quickly, and there’s often a stigma for series books just generally being of lower quality and pretty much all the same. Of course, not everything needs to be a series, but I think a new series book can be like a visit with old friends. There’s a facetious quote from Edward Eager about how he “can tell one Oz book from another.” I’ve certainly heard people say that they get the books confused, more so with Ruth Plumly Thompson than with L. Frank Baum, even though Tik-Tok is sort of a rewrite of Ozma combined with elements from other early books. I don’t know that Thompson set out to write the same basic plot multiple times; it was just a structure she liked. And I did grow up watching cartoons where the plot followed the same basic plot structure in pretty much every episode, but there was still some new stuff each time. I can usually remember what happened in which Oz book, perhaps because I generally really concentrated on a new (to me) title when I read it. There’s some talk about how the Oz series has largely become obscure, the post-Baum ones even more so, and how that relates to the theme of disappearance in Kabumpo.

I’ve seen some criticism of Thompson’s writing in that she overuses words like “gulped” or “sputtered” when describing a character saying a line, which is perhaps a little overly precious. I don’t mind it, but what it makes me think of was when I was in sixth grade and a poster on the wall had a bunch of alternatives for “said.” Now I come across stuff online advising to just use “said” and convey the tone in the actual quote. I’m not sure I’m a clever enough writer to manage that. Anyway, I don’t know if this is professional advice or not, but it seems like every writing rule I see is contradicted somewhere else, which probably just goes to show there’s no one particular right way. I also saw something the other day complaining about using descriptions of characters instead of their names. Maybe I misread it, but I guess I figured that and the “said” issue were both about not wanting to use the same word too many times, which makes sense to me. Otherwise I just think of Ralph Wiggum.

Also in the issue are Garrett Kilgore’s defense of the Curious Cottabus, an overview of a 1943 play based on Kabumpo that omits the title character in favor of Ozwold the Oztrich from Gnome King, and the script of a 1916 Christmas play by Mary Austin that includes the Wizard of Oz as a character.

I think it’s cool that the review section includes some card games, but I’ve always been a little frustrated with how this section always lists a bunch of book titles that sound way more intriguing than the books that are actually reviewed. I wouldn’t mind a list of new stuff that’s consistent with the original series.

I now move on to something that’s consistent with the series but not particularly new at this point, although it was when I bought it, Cory in Oz, written and illustrated by Allison McBain. Like most of these books, it’s short, but since I read it between other things, it took longer to finish than you might expect. It has an interesting way of bringing its main character, Cora-Lee Marcus, into Oz. She finds out that her nasty schoolteacher is a witch, but also that she herself has latent magical powers. The teacher reveals that her crotchety personality is largely an act, and that she and her parents are from Oz, having been enchanted and banished by the Nome King years earlier. The three of them use magic to travel to Oz, where they thwart some vengeful Nomes and find out that Cory’s mother was Glinda’s sister Fabia, who had gone to live in the Great Outside World.

Cory also comes complete with an entourage of cute sidekicks, the teddy bear Dorge, the grouchy piggy bank Xerxes, and the newly hatched winged brontosaurus Dinny. There are some interesting aspects to the story. Ozma and Glinda create a chamber shielded with lead to protect against evil magic, drawing a connection to nuclear radiation. I hadn’t read anything by him when I first read this, but Terry Pratchett makes a lot of use of that concept in the Discworld books. And one of the themed communities who try to make outsiders into beings like them, in this case a city where any color is considered impure, is specifically described like a religious cult. And I’ve written before about how the description of Limbo is similar to that in another book I had as a kid. There are a few things that are difficult to square with the main series. Glinda says in Land that she’s against working transformations, but here she seems to be very much down with the idea of transformation as punishment, although she does usually say something about maybe changing the enchanted people back at some point. Kalidahs are just described as striped wildcats, with no indication of their ursine features. Hermoza, the mother of Cory’s teacher, is said to have reported an attempted Nome invasion of Oz to Glinda, who then turned all of the Nomes into lizards, which seems difficult to fit in with the history we know, especially as this would have been before the events of Ozma. The Nome King is consistently called Ruggedo, even though he would have still been Roquat at the time, and there’s no indication that the banished witches had read any of the Oz books other than Wizard. Even Cory somehow recognizes the name. The Nome King who actually appears in the book is Fumaro, Roquat/Ruggedo’s brother, who had usurped the throne from Kaliko. I remember back when I was in the Story Circle in the International Wizard of Oz Club, Allison submitted the first chapter of a tale involving Pigasus. If there was ever any more to it, though, I never received it.

A recent search brought me to a fanfic about Jinjur by Jonathan Markoff, which has more adult themes than I generally prefer in my Oz stories. But I did like some elements, including the author’s backstory for Kuma Party, that his mother was a Fuddle. And yes, Kuma does use his abilities for what you might expect in something with sexual themes. I actually saw the link because I’d seen a mention of the word “wumbo” being used in a SpongeBob episode, when in Oz it’s the name of the Wonder Worker from Gnome King, who’s also Kuma’s father.

Come to think of it, Lin Carter’s Tired Tailor has a different character named Wumbo the Watchman, and there’s the Wumbus in Dr. Seuss’s On Beyond Zebra.

I assume a lot of nonsense words are created independently, although you never know what inspiration, whether conscious or unconscious, writers might have. I also found a fanfic by Black Gold Saya that used elements from my own story “Halloween Island.”

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4 Responses to Serious About Series

  1. markrhunter says:

    But … wouldn’t a library want their books to be worn out? It means people are reading them. In any case I love a good series. I hope my own Oz book is the first in a series, although I have to sell the darned thing first.

    I try to use various kinds of description or character voice instead of “said” to identify who’s speaking, but I’m told said tends to be invisible to readers.

    • Nathan says:

      I guess it could go either way, depending on budgets and such. I’ve been to libraries that had complete sets of the Baum books, but they’re pretty much always fragmentary on the later ones. There was one library in the system I lived in growing up that had Purple Prince, but nothing else by Thompson.

      • markrhunter says:

        The library is how I found out Oz books existed outside the first fourteen. I was just browsing around and stumbled on an old edition of The Cowardly Lion of Oz. I would have been about 19 or 20–I was stunned. I had no clue any others existed after Glinda. (This was pre-internet, of course.)

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