Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum, Eric Shanower and Skottie Young

Tip is a young boy who lives in the land of Oz. He is the servant of a witch whose name is Mombi. Well, actually, she wasn't quite a witch, but she did dabble in the magical arts, and her Gilikin neighbors didn't like her very much. Tip did worse than not like her, he hated her, because she wanted him only to work all the time and not have any leisure time. So when she went off to buy groceries one day, Tip thought to frighten her by making a pumpkin-headed man to meet her on the way home.

But she wasn't frightened, and she used a new magical powder she'd bought to bring the man to life. He became Jack Pumpkinhead. But when Mombi brought him to life, she decided she'd had enough of Tip and made a potion to turn him into a marble statue. However, her mistake was in telling him what the potion was for. Instead of staying around and drinking the potion, Tip stole Mombi's food and magic powder and freed Jack Pumpkinhead, for the witch was going to use him as a servant in Tip's place, and the two of them ran off for the Emerald City.

Along the way, Tip and Jack Pumpkinhead discuss the world and the Emerald City. They also find a horse-like creature carved from wood, and with the help of Mombi's magic powder, Tip brings it to life, with the intention of riding it to the Emerald City. But when he attempts it, the tail he is clinging to breaks off, and Jack doesn't notice, meaning that Jack arrives in the Emerald City to meet with the Scarecrow that rules it long before Tip can make his way there.

Once in the city, Jack speaks with the Scarecrow through the "aid" of the interpreter Jellia Jamb, who at first mixes up what they are saying to each other, and then reveals that they have been speaking the same language all along. The Scarecrow reveals that there is trouble in Emerald City. a contingent of women, led by a girl named Jinjur, is agitating for control of the city, and she and her all-girl army have the women of the city on their side.

Meanwhile, Tip has encountered "General" Jinjur, and she conscripts him as a dogbody for her army. She leads him to the rest of her girls, and they storm the city. And quite easily, since the gatekeeper has no weapon and the troops who guard the gates don't have any bullets in their guns, to prevent accidents. When Tip finally makes his way to the palace, he informs the Scarecrow of this, and the Scarecrow decides to flee. He, Tip and Jack flee the city on the back of the Sawhorse, and make their way to the Kingdom of the Winkies, where Nick Chopper, now known as the Tin Woodsman, rules as Emperor.

He agrees to aid the Scarecrow in regaining his throne, and they begin their return to the Emerald City, and along the way, they meet the Thoroughly Educated, Highly Magnified Woggle Bug, who becomes their companion. But Mombi has decided to join General Jinjur, now Queen Jinjur, and agrees to aid her, as long as she gets Tip. Jinjur, afraid of Mombi's magic, agrees, but she doesn't like it. Mombi uses her magic to try and prevent the Scarecrow and his allies from returning, but the Tin Woodsman calls on the aid of the mouse Queen who once aided them before, and gets twelve of her subjects to come with him, hidden in the straw that makes up his body.

They make their way into the city, where the women have forced the men to do all the tasks they once did while the women enjoy themselves. Even Queen Jinjur is lying around eating chocolates and other savories. She scoffs at the Scarecrow when he shows up again, but he routs her and her women with the aid of the mice, which makes them scream and flee. But once again, the Scarecrow is locked into his castle and surrounded by JinJur's army, and once again, they must flee, this time on the back of a flying creature they construct from some couches, a broom, clotheslines, palm fronds, and a stuffed head of a Gump, a deer-like creature native to Oz, along with the last of the powder of life that Tip took from Mombi. This time, they go to Gilikin country, and its ruler, Glinda the Good Witch. She is sympathetic to their pleas, but she will not help restore the Scarecrow to the throne, Not when the daughter of the previous King is still alive. The daughter is named Ozma, but she disappeared with the death of the old King, and nobody knows where she is, except Mombi- who is still in the Castle of Queen Jinjur.

Glinda will only lead her army if it is to put Ozma, the rightful ruler of Oz, on the throne. But Mombi also holds magic, and is very evil and cunning, besides. Can Glinda, her army, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, Tip, Jack Pumpkinhead and the others discover where Ozma has been stashed and restore her to her rightful throne? Or will Mombi and Queen Jinjur be able to outwit the good Witch and retain the throne? And will Ozma, if she is found, be able to be a good and just Queen?

I found this an interesting follow-up book to the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. As I rather suspected, the Scarecrow. pins and needles in his head to give him "sharp wits" or not is not the best ruler of Oz. Oh, he gets good ideas occasionally, but he's essentially a figurehead, and to top it all off, he's not really happy with his position. But then, the entire society of Oz is pretty much a joke, and JinJur taking over because she and the other women of Oz are tired of doing all the hard work is also played for laughs.

The upshot of all the story is that hereditary rulers make the best rulers, but even they aren't really necessary except as figureheads. Men would have a hard time doing women's jobs, but women have no place ruling anything, as they just want to lord it over men. And those are messages I have a hard time accepting. It smacked a lot of "Women should know their place, which is doing all the hard jobs because men couldn't do what they do, and men are suited for being figureheads." It's sort of a slam at the whole of society that just made me slightly angry and feel disagreeable. I mean, what suited Ozma for ruling? As we see her in her hidden form, she didn't seem to have all the answers and made just as many stupid choices and mistakes as the rest of the characters. And suddenly, when she is restored to being Ozma, all her decisions are wise and just? I didn't feel that this could be said about the character, because there was nothing to base that conclusion on.

The art continues in the same cutesy style of graphic novel as the previous volume, and can even be slightly creepy-looking on the non-human characters like Jack Pumpkinhead and the Scarecrow. Even creepier are some of the human characters, like Mombi, who occasionally bears more resemblance to a mushroom than a human in form. Only the children, like Tip and Ozma, and the cute characters, like Jinjur, actually look attractive.

I found the politics of this story troubling, and wonder what the author was trying to say about people when the only one who comes off as being described as wise and just didn't exhibit that behavior and judgement in her other form, and we don't get any examples, we're just told that it is so. It left me feeling conflicted about the book. In short, it's okay, but if you are anything but a kid reading this, the story will leave you with lots of questions and not so many conclusions. Good, but not really recommended for any but younger readers.

No comments: