The Marvelous Land of Oz
By L. Frank Baum
Read by Roy Trumbull
Downloaded from Project Gutenberg
You might ask why I started with the second book of Frank Baum’s most famous series, a series, in fact, that was so popular that there were more stories written in the series by other authors, than by the creator and Baum wrote a fair number of them himself.
Well, on my discovery that there were some audio-books that could be downloaded from Project Gutenberg, perhaps the Internet’s best depository of digitized cultural works, I really did intend to download and listen to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz first, but something went wrong and I did not get a playable copy. I did not discover that until I went to listen to it and since I did not have it, I moved on to the first of many sequels.
I must admit that my interest in the series was sparked by a recent series of web comics called Lit Brick by John Troutman. Lit Brick is one of my favorite web comics. Both funny and intellectual, it has a deliciously sharp edge you just will not find in your Sunday funny pages. There are a lot of web comics out there by dozens of talented and aspiring comic artists, but Lit Brick is my favorite. Mister Troutman started out with the goal of satirizing all of the Norton Anthology of English Literature, one comic at a time. Along the way he has included the Norton Anthology of American Literature and also gone off on fan-supported satires of popular fiction and a few of his own tangents. If you like literature, you should check it out. If literature leaves you cold, then you should definitely check it out. In any case, he has been running through the Oz books and related volumes lately and it occurred to me that while I had actually read the first book when I was a kid and had a general idea of how some of the other stories went, it had been a while.
The Marvelous Land of Oz is a story about Tip an adopted boy who has been brought up by one of Oz’s bad guys, the witch Mombi. Tip hates Mombi and tries to scare her by making a monstrous-looking caricature of a man with a carved pumpkin for a head. Mombi turns the joke back on Tip by using a magical powder to bring the figure (aka Jack Pumpkinhead) to life. Tip them steals the magical powder of life and some magical wishing pills from Mombi and together with Jack Pumpkinhead brings a saw horse to life and the three of them go on of a journey of discovery to the Emerald City. They arrive in the Emerald City in time to find it being attacked by General Jinjur and her all-girl army. They manage to win, forcing the Scarecrow out of the city, mostly because the Army of the Emerald City is composed of one somewhat doddering soldier and because no one would hit a girl. The All-female army is a parody of the Women’s suffrage movement, which Baum actually supported, by the way.
In the end of the journey of discovery the main thing Tip discovers is that he is actually the lost Princess Ozma of Oz and after a quick transgender spell he/she ascends to the throne of the Emerald City and the fact she spent her formative years as a boy is rarely mentioned thereafter.
I found Baum’s writing to be a bit stiff and it was frequently difficult to tell whether some of the characters were speaking seriously or tongue-in-cheek, since they sounded the same either way, however, I may be the only one who feels that way since the series of Oz books was incredibly successful and while not all are canon to the series, they are still being written and released today.
Baum’s situations are quite amusing and it helps to understand the cultural milieu in which he wrote if you want to get all the jokes. The characters are amusing too, but you have to work your own imagination to find them so. This is situation comedy in its pure form, and there really are no laugh-out-loud jokes being told here. And so much of the humor seems to be that animated scarecrows-pumpkinheads and whatnot are taking everything so seriously. However, I must mention that the only reason I know the Scarecrow is wise and Jack Pumpkinhead is foolish is because the other characters tell them so, none of their pronouncements seem any wiser or more foolish than anyone else’s
But this is an early pioneer in modern fantasy and a children’s book, so perhaps I was expecting too much?
The Audio Book:
I downloaded this from Project Gutenberg with some trepidation. After all, I am a firm believer that you get what you pay for and this was costing me nothing, but then I remembered I had listened to audio-books primarily recorded for the visually impaired and while some of the readers of those recordings may not have been a polished as some of those who read for commercially released audio-books, they had mostly done creditable jobs and, in fact I have had fewer complaints with their performances than with those of more well-known actors.
Roy Trumbull had a down-home, folksy reading style that matches Baum’s text very well indeed. I do not think I would want to hear him read Beowulf… No, I take that back, I think it would be a hoot, but it would not be a good match of voice to text. But while Dorothy Gale of Kansas does not appear in this story (a rare lack of occurrence in an Oz book), there is a lot of corn in the voices of the characters and somehow Mister Trumbull’s folksy delivery hit the mood of the story just right.
So… All told, The story has some interesting scenes and characters, but the story itself is a bit flat, but I have to admit that there are a lot of Oz fans out there and if you think you might be one of them, do not let my coolness to Baum’s writing deter you. Roy Trumbull might be the wrong guy to read Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but he hits the spot nicely in this book. If you have read and liked it, I do recommend listening to Trubull’s reading.