12.19.2010

Review: The Lost Princess of Oz, by L. Frank Baum

I picked this book up on a whim - actually, the copy I got from the library has more of a green cover than the blue pictured here, and the green caught my eye on the shelf as I was walking towards the check-out. I saw the giant frog and knew I just had to see what it was. I've never read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz or any of L. Frank Baum's works...and he was extremely prolific both in the land of Oz and outside of it.

The Lost Princess of Oz is the 11th of 14 books he wrote about the land of Oz, the penultimate Oz publication prior to his death in 1919. The plot revolves around the disappearance of Ozma, the fairy princess ruler of Oz (introduced several books earlier, it seems that when the Wizard came to Oz the first time, he had hidden Ozma, making himself the ruler of Oz). Also missing is Glinda's great book of records (like a ticker, has up to the minute updates on everything that happens in the land of Oz), the wizard's bag of tricks (the real source of his "powers", Ozma's magic picture (which acts much like the mirror in Disney's Beauty and the Beast) and, missing from another part of Oz altogether, a baking pan made of gold and decorated with diamonds (which not only is the only pan the owner seems to be able to use to make unburnt cookies, but is also magical in its abilities to transport someone, much like the use of a port key in Harry Potter.

Ozma's friends (among whom Dorothy (now a princess of Oz), the Wizard and the Cowardly Lion are counted) trek across the unknown wilds to find their fairy princess while, from the opposite direction, the owner of the cookie pan and her friend (a man-sized sentient frog) set off in search of the stolen item. The story is therefore told from two directions for the first 80% of it or so, until the two parties meet, finding that all that they are missing seems to be in the same place.

The story is told well. Baum was an excellent writer. But not having the previous 10 books in my mental archive worked against me a little bit. This is where Wikipedia came in. So I cheated a little. Don't care. It helped. Otherwise, I would have spent the entire read going "wait...why is Dorothy in Oz? And....who are all these people??" But doing so created one issue, and that was the actions of the Wizard. Without spoiling too much, in The Lost Princess of Oz the culprit is a magical being (they would have to be to steal Ozma and all of those things all in one night!) who acts out of greed.

As I mentioned before, Ozma has a history of going missing - the Wizard had hidden her as a baby when he came to Oz, removing her from the throne and essentially placing himself there. I knew this before I dug into the book. But when we get to the meat of it - when we discover who took her and how, etc. there is no sign of past remorse or any emotion really on the part of the Wizard who, now in the good graces of her majesty, should be reminded of his actions. According to wikipedia (and I read this part only after I'd finished the book) when the Wizard comes back to Oz in the fourth Oz book, he has no idea who Ozma is, and there is no mention of his actions even though, just two books beforehand, Baum explained it all. It's an issue of continuity and maybe an issue of literary license. Perhaps Baum just figured it would be easier to say that all was forgiven, etc.

But, as a reader, knowing what he had done, and then encountering the business of this book, it takes away any serious weight the book might have...it is simply cheery and good-natured, as if nothing bad could ever really happen in the land of Oz, which is a lie.

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