Tagged: oz

Book Review: Glinda of Oz

p_glinda_of_ozxTitle: Glinda of Oz
Written by: L. Frank Baum
Series: Book 14 in the Oz series
Publisher: Reilly & Britton
Publish Date: 1920
Genre: Middle Grade Classic!
Pages: 279
Source: Borrowed from Library
Buy the Book: Glinda of Oz

Synopsis: Peace, prosperity, and happiness are the rule in the marvelous Land of Oz, but in a faraway corner of this magical domain dwell two tribes–the Flatheads and the Skeezers–who have declared war on each other. Determined to keep her subjects from fighting, the Ruler of Oz, Princess Ozma, along with her dearest friend, Princess Dorothy Gale (formerly of Kansas), embarks on a quest to restore peace.

When the Supreme Dictator of the Flatheads refuses to cooperate with Ozma, she and Dorothy seek out Queen Coo-ee-oh of the Skeezers, hoping she will be more reasonable. But the queen imprisons Ozma and Dorothy in her grand city and then traps them by submerging the whole city under water. Now it is up to Glinda the Good to save the day. She assembles all of Ozma’s counsellors–including such beloved Oz friends as the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, Cowardly Lion, Patchwork Girl, Shaggy Man, Tik-Tok, and Wizard of Oz–and they set out to rescue their friends. Will the magic powers of Glinda and the Wizard combined be enough to free Ozma and Dorothy?

A rousing tale of suspense, magic, and adventure, Glinda of Oz is the fourteenth and final Oz book by L. Frank Baum. It’s a grand conclusion to his chronicles of America’s favorite fairyland. (Via Amazon)

Brian’s Review: Well, as they say, everything comes to an end. Glinda of Oz is the fourteenth and final Oz book penned by L. Frank Baum, who passed away soon after the completion of this novel in 1919, and I found the reading of his last work an emotional experience. Emotional because I finally did what I set out to do twenty years ago, which is read all fourteen Oz books back to back, and emotional because these were the last words Baum ever put to paper. I haven’t loved, or even liked, some of these books, so I was wary of the last one being a disappointment; I knew, however, within the first few chapters that this was easily going to be one of the better Oz sequels.

One of the most heartbreaking elements about the book is the opening To Our Readers, which up until this book was always a fun little letter written by Baum about what inspired the newest installment of his series. In Glinda of Oz, it’s a downbeat, impersonal note from The Publishers essentially apologizing about the fact that Baum has passed away and is to write no more. The reading becomes more uplifting and engaging, however, once the words of Chapter One begin. Glinda of Oz is one of Baum’s most fast-paced and entertaining stories, one that gets almost every major character from the previous books his or her own storyline or memorable scene. Unlike some of the books that follow new or minor characters we don’t care about, Glinda of Oz follows Ozma and Dorothy on a perilous journey toward the outskirts of Oz, and Glinda, who gets the title this time out, plays a major part, too, and is never relegated to the sidelines.

As always, Baum’s descriptions are superb and delightful, especially in the way he describes the Flatheads, new villains introduced in this piece. I loved over fourteen books his imagination never ceased, and there is the feeling when the last page of this one is closed that he probably had another fifty Oz books in him, if he had lived forever. (Of course, many more Oz books were written after this. Ruth Plumly Thompson wrote 19 more, and others wrote an additional ten or more over the years. While I’m sure there is entertainment value to be found in these, my journey in the Oz series stops here.) While I couldn’t decipher anywhere in the text that Baum knew this was to be his last book, there is one scene in Chapter 14 called Ozma’s Counsellors that puts almost every character we’ve come to meet over fourteen books at a big roundtable, and it is in this chapter that Baum gives the characters their final bow. Everyone from the Tin Woodman, to the Patchwork Girl, to Tik-Tok, to Jack Pumpkinhead. It’s a beautiful chapter that gives the reader one last good-bye to these beloved characters. On the other hand, strangely enough, the book has kind of a non-ending, one that pays more attention to the restoration of the Flathead characters and that doesn’t give any proper closure to the series as a whole. Maybe he had no idea this was it. Either way, I enjoyed this book immensely, and I am sad my journey is over.

Now that I’ve finished, I thought I would rank the Oz series, from worst to best. Here goes…

14. Rinkitink of Oz

13. The Scarecrow of Oz

12. Tik-Tok of Oz

11. The Road to Oz

10. The Patchwork Girl of Oz

9. The Magic of Oz

8. Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz

7. Glinda of Oz

6. The Marvelous Land of Oz

5. The Lost Princess of Oz

4. The Emerald City of Oz

3. The Tin Woodman of Oz

2. Ozma of Oz

1. The Wizard of Oz

If you love The Wizard of Oz and want to read more in the series, but don’t want to read every single installment, the sequels that get my highest recommendations are Ozma of Oz, Book 3; The Tin Woodman of Oz, Book 12; and The Emerald City of Oz, Book 6. These are the three that I loved. And what’s great about Baum’s series is that you don’t have to read the sequels in order to understand what’s going on. Dip into any story you want, and it can easily be read as a stand-alone. But if you want true enchantment, try one of those three titles. You won’t be disappointed!

Reading all of Baum’s Oz books these last fourteen months has been a wonderful journey, one that I’m very glad to have taken. As a writer myself, I learned from Baum how to write simple, imaginative descriptions for characters and how to keep readers turning the page. Mostly I learned how writing fantasy stories for children is absolutely a worthwhile venture to take on. There’s more to Oz than the 1939 movie, boy do I know that now, and I urge all of you to give one of these many joyous books a try. Long live Oz!

Book Review: Tik-Tok of Oz

068813355x-01-lzzzzzzz1Title: Tik-Tok of Oz
Written by: L. Frank Baum
Series: Book 8 in the Oz series
Publisher: Reilly & Britton
Publish Date: 1914
Genre: Middle Grade Classic!
Pages: 258
Source: Received as a Child
Buy the Book: Tik-Tok of Oz

Synopsis: Book 8 in L. Frank Baum’s immortal OZ series, in which Betsy Bobbin and Hank the Mule are shipwrecked on the coast of Oz, meet up with the invading army of Queen Ann of Oogaboo, and help the Shaggy Man rescue his brother from the evil Nome King.

Can the queen of Oogaboo, a small country in an isolated corner of Oz, take over all of Oz? Talking roses, Shaggy Man and Betsy from Oklahoma are but a few of the unusual characters in Tik-Tok of Oz, the eighth Oz novel by L. Frank Baum, and the first to bring a girl other than Dorothy to that enchanted land. (Via Amazon)

Brian’s Review: After the bloated The Patchwork Girl of Oz, I was happily surprised by the lean, fun, mostly successful eighth entry in the Oz series. While not as strong as the best Oz sequels—Ozma of Oz and The Emerald City of Oz—it’s definitely one of the most entertaining. The set-up is simple and, thankfully, not convoluted, as Baum introduces the reader to two different story-lines that quickly merge together. One has to do with a girl and a mule washing up on shore (a plot device Baum used before in at least one of the earlier books), and a queen at the outer reaches of Oz who wants to take over all the land. And then there’s the Shaggy Man, who needs to save his brother from the Nome King! Baum piles on the characters and the drama from the get-go, and mostly keeps Dorothy out this time around. Tik-Tok shows up, of course, and plays a vital role in the proceedings. The book has its exciting and adventurous moments, and, like all the others, wraps up in a pleasing, if bit too simplistic, manner.

Baum seems to be having more fun this time around, and doesn’t have the same sour attitude in his introduction. By book 8, he probably figured he was in the Oz world for the long haul, and needed to finally accept it. One of my favorite parts of reading all these books has been seeing the author’s evolution in his little notes at the beginning of each one. Imagine what J.K. Rowling would have written before the first Harry Potter book, before it became a success, as opposed to her introduction to the seventh one? Thankfully for Rowling, she was able to finish the series when she wanted, and how she wanted. A hundred years ago, Baum had to churn out these Oz books just to live. Tik-Tok of Oz isn’t great, but it does the job fine, and young readers especially will probably enjoy this one, with all its action and large clan of eccentric characters.

With six more books to go, it will be interesting to see if Baum just does more of the same, or surprises me by taking characters we’ve come to know and love into more unexpected places. I’ll be hoping for the latter.

oz2_086TikTok

Grimes & Rowe Watch a Movie: Oz the Great and Powerful

oz-the-great-and-powerful-poster4Title: Oz the Great and Powerful
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Distributed by: Walt Disney Pictures
Release Date: March 8, 2013
Rated: PG

Synopsis: A small-time magician arrives in an enchanted land and is forced to decide if he will be a good man or a great one. (Via IMDB)

Brian: From the moment I heard about this movie, I was hopeful. I love the Oz stories. I love James Franco. I love Michelle Williams. I love, love, love Sam Raimi. And yet there was rarely a time, despite all the great elements, that I thought this was going to be good. The trailers were pretty but seemed to depend more on visuals than a good story. And i couldn’t ignore that the film was opening the same weekend as the dismal Alice in Wonderland three years ago. It’s been seventy-four years since The Wizard of Oz, and I found it a little sad that this big-budget prequel doesn’t have five percent of the charm as that original classic. The best part of the movie is the beginning, with Franco appropriately cheesy as a lame small-town Kansas magician. His scene with Michelle Williams, who plays Dorothy Gale’s mom (!) in this early moment, has more entertainment value just in their dialogue than in all the special effects the film has to offer from there on. I’m reading the entire Oz series throughout 2013, and the book I wrote last summer is a subversive modern day update of The Wizard of Oz. I love this world, and despite my concerns walking in, I really wanted to love this movie. Oz the Great and Powerful is a pleasant moviegoing experience, certainly not a bad one. But it just could have been so much more.

Shaunta: I was actually the hopeful one. Brian had a feeling this one wouldn’t be as good as it could be–I kept telling him, no, no, it’s going to be awesome. It’s so pretty! The colors! And, I loved Alice in Wonderland three years ago. I did not love this movie, though. It was cartoony and too silly. James Franco’s character was too much of a douche, all the way through, starting with abandoning Dorothy Gale’s eventual mom and ending right at the very, very end when suddenly he was redeemed. Meh. I wanted to love this movie. I was prepared to. It was entertaining, but it was not great. Brian and I talked afterward about another movie, one that I hated and he loved, and how sometimes the expectation of greatness can reduce whatever merit a movie has. Like, if you go in not expecting much and the movie is okay, you’re pleasantly surprised. If you go in expecting something on par with The Wizard of Oz, and you get an okay movie, it’s disappointing.

Brian: Even the greatest of directors can fall under the weight of a CGI extravaganza, and it’s finally happened to Sam Raimi, easily one of my ten favorite directors. A master storyteller who has given the world such varied gems as The Evil Dead, A Simple Plan, Spider-Man 2, and Drag Me to Hell, shows no personal style in Oz the Great and Powerful. His sense of humor, his sense of pacing; nowhere to be found. It doesn’t help that many of the actors are miscast. James Franco is fine in the beginning but he’s a little too corny, and and strangely non-reactive, once the character arrives in Oz. Within minutes he meets a witch, a talking monkey, a colorful magical land, and he has almost zero reaction. Mila Kunis is similarly mis-cast, given the weight her role needs in the second half. She can play a lot of things, but evil, not so much. Rachel Weisz is OK but about fifteen years older than the other main cast members, and feels a little out of place. The one who fits and really does try is Michelle Williams, who deserved a better script and sparring partner. Once Franco arrives in Oz, the film’s lazy plot kicks into gear, involving Franco needing to kill off the wicked witch in order to become the ruler of the Emerald City; the stakes are set so low that it’s a struggle to work up interest in what’s going to happen next. There’s no wonder, no joy to this film. Just pretty images, pretty actors, a film passable enough to make a profit and guarantee a sequel. It’s too bad, because after this and the 80’s Return to Oz, I’m wondering if the world of Oz will ever get the second film treatment it deserves. I’m still hoping.

Shaunta: Oh yes, Mila Kunis is entirely mis-cast. Her voice is too recognizable, so even when she transforms into what is supposed to be a scary, green-faced witch, all I hear is Jackie yelling at Kelso on That 70s Show. Not scary. Not even a little. I thought Michelle Williams was better cast, except that she had exactly zero chemistry with Franco. Franco’s lack of reaction to his strange surroundings really hit me when he was tenderly gluing a living china doll’s legs back on. No freak out at all. I mean, he hopped off a balloon, which he’d just ridden through a tornado, and just bounced right into Oz like it was no big thing. So weird. The movie was pretty, but too cartoony. It didn’t have the feeling of wonder that comes, even now, when you watch The Wizard of Oz and Dorothy steps into the colored world of Oz. The awe she feels is what is missing from the prequel, so it’s missing from the viewing experience as well. On the plus side, though, we brought my daughter and her friend with us and they loved the movie. Ruby is still talking about it. And the rest of the audience were audibly enjoying the film, so it’s entirely possible that us Story Carnivores are just too jaded, I suppose.

Book Review: Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz

dorothy-and-the-wizard-of-ozTitle: Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz
Author: L. Frank Baum
Series: Book 4 of 14 of the Oz Series
Publisher: Reilly & Britton
Publish Date: 1908
Genre: Middle Grade Classic!
Pages: 222
Source: Received as a Child
Buy the Book: Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz

Synopsis: A California earthquake sends Dorothy Gale and her new friends–Zeb the farm boy, Jim the cab-horse, and Eureka the mischievous kitten–tumbling through a crack in the ground. Deep beneath the earth, Dorothy is reunited with her old friend the Wizard of Oz and his troupe of nine tiny piglets.

Together, Dorothy, the Wizard, and their friends travel through many fantastic lands, where they encounter the Mangaboos, people growing like vegetables in the ground; cross the Valley of Voe, where dama-fruit has turned everyone invisible; and are captured by mysterious flying Gargoyles. At last, the intrepid travelers reach Oz, where they have many unforgettable encounters with such favorites as the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion and the Hungry Tiger, Princess Ozma and the wooden Sawhorse. (Via Amazon)

Brian’s Review: I’ve owned about half of the original 14 Oz novels for most of my life. All of the copies I own, that I still have on my bookshelf, are copyrighted 1992, when I was eight years old, which sounds about right. The fun part of this monthly trip back to Oz is that I’m discovering stories that are brand new to me. Even though I’ve owned Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz for twenty-one years (!), I’ve never actually read it. I probably read the original Wizard of Oz about ten times in my lifetime, and I’m positive I read Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz at least once before, I have yet to read any of the books beyond Book 3, which made this trip into the fourth Oz book a joy.

Does Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz stand up at all to the original, or the splendor of Ozma of Oz (easily the best sequel so far)? No. I would rate this one notch above Land of Oz, just because we get to spend time with Dorothy and the Wizard, who are just more interesting characters than Tip and the Sawhorse in Book 2. At a slim 222 pages, this fourth entry is certainly entertaining all the way through, but it doesn’t offer the same power of the third, mostly because Baum reintroduces us to Dorothy and the Wizard, and then just puts them through a somewhat routine adventure story as they find themselves at the core of the Earth and have to work their way out. Basically every other chapter they run into another bad guy, until they reach the top. There’s not much more backstory revealed about either Dorothy or the Wizard, and I personally would have preferred something a little bit more intimate between the two characters.

DorothyAndTheWizardInOz

Around page 150, I was thinking this fourth entry would be the least of the series yet, until Dorothy, the Wizard, and the others, are whisked back to Oz, to see all their old friends again, like Ozma, Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. The last fifty pages are the most fun of all; once Baum does away with the fantastical but kind of cutesy “plot” of Book 4, the real fun begins, just in spending time with all the lovable characters. There’s not even a big crisis in the final pages (Dorothy’s cat is put on trial!), but I’ve found these books work best when Baum brings all of the characters together. Listen to me, I’m sounding like all those kids who wrote to him, asking him questions like, “Could you write a book where Dorothy and Ozma meet up and have a pleasant time together?” It’s almost to the point where I’d rather Baum do away with a plot and just have Dorothy and Scarecrow go to lunch together, then have Ozma and the Cowardly Lion go to the movies after work.

One further element that troubles me about this book, and potentially all the sequels, is that Baum makes it extremely clear in the introduction of this book that if it weren’t for the rabid fans writing him on a daily basis, he would’ve stopped the Oz books and moved on to other things hew as interested in. In those early days of the 1900’s, he was so bombarded with fan mail, who not only didn’t care for his other works outside of Oz but suggested plots for more Oz books, that in the end he had to acquiesce to the public’s hunger for more. So many writers and filmmakers are pigeonholed into one thing for years and years, and in some respects, it appears that Baum was almost forced into cranking out these sequels, versus him actually pursuing the stories themselves. As I read more of the Oz books, I hope they don’t feel too cookie-cutter, too thrown together to make an extra buck. Baum is such a talented writer, and I hope he continues to build on the world of Oz and give us more daring, complex stories, as opposed to him merely repeating the same thing over and over. As long as Dorothy and the Tin Man and the Wizard are all along for the ride, I and all those countless kids of the early twentieth century will be pleased.