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The Magic of Oz (1919)
by L. Frank Baum, Michel Laporte
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L. Frank Baum is an author I have read many times since I first discovered him in second grade. I find that his books stand up to the test of time and they are books that I enjoy re-reading. Some of them are stronger than others but as a whole I quite enjoy both the stories and characters.
This has never been one of my favorite Baum Oz books, but on my first re-read as an adult, I found it surprisingly enjoyable. It's easy to dismiss as one of Baum's last four Oz stories because the other three are so startling in what they're doing differently, plot-wise; Lost Princess is a roadshow, with appearances from almost every one of Baum's protagonists, a peculiarly spiritual ending; Tin Woodman is an existential novel with moments of extreme dissonance; Glinda is female-oriented proto-science fiction. Magic is far more...well, normal...but there are still surprises: an unhappy, disgruntled protagonist; an invasion that peters out mid-book; and a generally melancholy tone for what's supposedly a book about a party. It's still not the most memorable book in the series, but it's better than I'd ever given it credit for, and more interesting than the mid-series books where Baum was clearly focusing elsewhere. If this is a "lesser" story, it's only because it's a bit more familiar; as a writer, he's clearly firing on all cylinders and perhaps, just before his death, at the peak of his abilities.
This is a darker entry? There is something bleak in our almost-protagonist's fate, but 'The Magic of Oz' is mostly incidents without any consequence.
It's almost Ozma's birthday, so everyone is scratching their heads what to give the beloved fairy princess who has everything. The Glass Cat tells Trot and Cap'n Bill about a wonderful plant and Dorothy concocts an absurd idea with the Wizard using some talking animals as cute props.
Meanwhile there is a Hyup boy who lives on top of Mount Munch with his family. He's unhappy there, and breaks Ozma's law against practicing magic to explore the world. Kiki Aru soon meets Ruggedo, the former Nome King, who convinces him to enter in on a plan to raise up the talking animals against their Ozian oppressors. The plan doesn't amount to much, but it does give the sprightly old Wizard a chance to show the animals why they're under Ozma's dainty heel.
That makes the book sound better than it is. I'm not sure if this is because Baum was an imperialist, or if he was having a bit of fun at the children's expense. Its an odd idea to promote so soon after the Great War. There is enough story here to prevent its being like the last birthday book, 'The Road to Oz', but there's little to take away.
It all ends, next, with 'Glinda of Oz'.
Next: 'Glinda of Oz'
Previous: 'The Tin Woodman of Oz'
Belongs to Series
Oz : Famous Forty (book 13)
Belongs to Publisher Series
Is contained in
Oz, the Complete Collection, Volume 5: The Magic of Oz; Glinda of Oz; The Royal Book of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Oz, the Complete Paperback Collection: Oz, the Complete Collection, Volume 1; Oz, the Complete Collection, Volume 2; Oz, the Complete Collection, ... 4; Oz, the Complete Collection, Volume 5 by L. Frank Baum (indirect)
Is an adaptation of
A young citizen of Oz who learns an important magic word falls prey to the wickedness of the Nomes' ex-king who wants to destroy Dorothy, the Wizard, and Princess Ozma.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)813.4Literature English (North America) American fiction Later 19th Century 1861-1900
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Meanwhile, the members of Ozma's court are looking for presents to get Ozma for her birthday. But what do you get the fairy princess who has everything? Trot, Cap'n Bill, and the Glass Cat travel to get a magic flower that the Glass Cat found on her travels; meanwhile, Dorothy and the Wizard go (along with the Cowardly Lion and the Hungry Tiger) to find some monkeys, because Dorothy's idea is to miniaturize some, train them to dance, and have them jump out of Ozma's birthday cake. (I guess when you live in a utopia, you have to seek what amusement you can.)
These three strands weave in and out of each other. Dorothy and the Wizard get to the Forest of Gugu right as Ruggedo is trying to assemble a beast army; Trot and Cap'n Bill get trapped on the island of the magic flower, and so the Glass Cat comes to ask the Wizard for help. I found it enjoyable to read a chapter at a time: it's nice to hear from Trot, Cap'n Bill, and the Glass Cat again, none of whom have had much to do across the past few books. I always like Cap'n Bill's practicality—he reasons some clever stuff about how to deal with the magic flower—and the flower itself is an interesting threat. I like getting to see the Glass Cat show off her stuff; Baum writes cats so well. The way the transformations are used is clever—there is some fun stuff where all the principal characters end up in weird bodies—and I like the way Kiki and Ruggedo are always trying to figure out how to out-scheme the other.
But when you finish the whole book, it all seems a bit dissatisfying, in that the book promises something more exciting than you actually got. The idea that Ruggedo might raise an army of beasts is an interesting one, but he doesn't really get anywhere with it; the beasts aren't really convinced by his rhetoric,* and the Wizard defeats them almost accidentally, and kind of anticlimactically. One kind of wishes the three plots converged in a way that made everything explode, rather than a way where they all kind of neutralize each other. The Cowardly Lion and the Hungry Tiger coming back to wild beasts after so much time living in the Emerald City seems to have potential, but Baum doesn't do anything with it.
So, overall, a solid but uninspiring late-period Oz novel. My son seemed to enjoy it, and he did not like the idea that the magic island might cause Trot and Cap'n Bill to shrink away to nothing. I think it was while reading this one that he told me how [His Name] in Oz would begin: "A magician will send me to Oz, because he doesn't know I live in Florida, he thinks I live in Oz!" Which, to be honest, seems like the way an Oz novel really could begin.
* Though it was published after the war, I am pretty sure both this and Glinda of Oz were written during it, and you can definitely see traces of it in both. Here, we have would-be dictators amassing armies.