In 1906, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit San Francisco, destroying, by some estimates, 80% of the city, and resulting in the deaths of over 3,000 people. Naturally, that WOULD inspire someone to write a cheerful children’s book, and who better than natural-disaster fetishist L. Frank Baum? “Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz” lives up to its reputation as one of the most violent, rousing, action-packed entries in a series that would afterwards become known for its bloodless inanity (er, “child-friendliness.”) But here we open with an earthquake that swallows Dorothy, her pet cat Eureka (apparently, Toto was asking for too much money), her cab-horse Jim, and a hayseed kid named Zeb.
They drop down a crack in the ground to the land of the Mangaboos (not to be confused with the Weeaboos, although that would make sense). Before long, they’re joined by the old Wizard of Oz, whose biggest trick is that he has somehow transformed into a bad-ass switch-blade expert; his blades can join to form a giant sword that he uses to battle a treacherous vegetable sorcerer in order to save Dorothy from being thrown into a garden of lecherous, flesh-eating, tentacled plants. Also, the Wizard now sports an entourage of comic relief kawaii piglets. (The land of the Mangaboos is looking more and more appropriately named with every word I type.)
Even more frantic action ensues when the gang is forced to fight the invisible bears that have been eating Mangaboo’s greatest heroes: one of those bears slices open poor cab-horse Jim, so that blood spurts from his ribboned sides. This isn’t even the big-budgeted fight in the novel: that prize goes to the epic stand against the wooden Gargoyles. (Or “Gurgles,” as Dorothy insists on calling them. Don’t be harsh on the girl; she’s survived tornados, tsunamis, earthquakes, lions, tigers, bears and oh who knows what the hell else. It’s a wonder she can function at all.)
Anyway, the Gurgles are monstrous winged stumps that attack brainlessly and en masse; the Wizard is ready for these kind of situations:
“Right,” sighed the Wizard. “There’s going to be trouble, and my sword isn’t stout enough to cut up those wooden bodies — so I shall have to get out my revolvers.”
Compared to the (relative) mayhem of “Dorothy and the Wizard…”, “The Road to Oz” is a veritable hippie love-fest, and not just because it’s all about throwing a birthday party for Ozma of Oz, or because the new characters include a dazed dancing girl who calls herself the Rainbow’s Daughter and a homeless “Shaggy Man” who carries around a “Love Magnet.” There’s just a lot of love going around, so much so that when official illustrator John R. Neill gets to the scene where Dorothy and Ozma finally meet up, he feels that this is a perfectly appropriate depiction of the moment:
Unfortunately, all those good vibes lead to minimal conflict: Since Dorothy is traveling with Shaggy “Love Magnet” Man (Dorothy, when WILL you learn not to run off with disreputable older men?) there are no big obstacles in her new journey to Oz. Potential enemies, like Dox the King of the Foxes and Kik-A-Bray the King of the Donkeys, simply “love” the crew and ask for nothing more than invitations to Ozma’s party. That’s pretty low-stake for a fantasy novel. In the book’s sole moment of excitement, (one reminiscent of earlier battles with the Wheelers and the Gurgles) our travelers duke it out the treacherous, two-faced, cannibalistic Scoodlers, who also “love” the travelers…but for SOUP.
That excitement is too brief: a full third of the novel is dedicated to Ozma’s lavish birthday celebration, where characters like Queen Zixi of Ix and John Dough awkwardly cross over from L. Frank Baum’s less successful fantasies in a transparent sales ploy. By the time Santa Claus himself shows up spreading cheer and joy to everyone, readers young and old will be pining for Gurgles and Nome Kings and other mild monstrosities of the previous books.
Although “The Road to Oz” is the weakest of the books so far, there IS one thing to recommend it: by popular demand, Eureka the Cat is out and Toto the Dog is back in. If there’s an explanation for Dorothy’s fluctuating affections, it’s not in the book.
RATING: COOL! and GOOD ENOUGH, respectively.