Thu
Dec 3 2009 12:00pm

Falling Though Plots: Tik-Tok of Oz

Tik-Tok of Oz began as a musical, not a book.  Vestiges of these origins remain, including unusually awkward introductory chapters (where characters who should know one another do not) and, for the first time ever in an Oz book, actual hints of a—gasp—romance.  (Based on his own interactions with children, Baum believed that most would be utterly bored by romantic stories, and thus deliberately kept his Oz books romance free. Stage musicals, however, were a completely different thing.  Early 20th century musicals demanded a romantic couple, and Baum, always eager to please an audience, deliberately provided one or two.)

Like a few of its predecessors, Tik-Tok of Oz takes place mostly outside of Oz, although the book features three returning characters: Tik-Tok (here treated more comically, losing his status as a moral guardian); the still rather bland Shaggy Man; and the lovely ever dancing and laughing Polychrome.  And, as was now customary, Baum introduces a host of new characters: Queen Ann and her army of Oogaboo (quite possibly my favorite name for a tiny, powerless fairyland kingdom ever), Ozga the Rose Princess, and Betsy Bobbin and her friend Hank the mule.  The last two had been created for the stage musical specifically to take the place of Dorothy and Toto, to avoid arguments over stage rights, and like any characters copied from another source, they lose something in the copying.

That’s not the only element lost in the transformation from musical to book, which results in one large problem: too much plot. Plot one tells of the Army of Oogaboo, bent upon conquering the world. Since said army consists of a total of seventeen men plus Queen Ann, this goes about as well as could be expected.  Plot two focuses on the Shaggy Man’s quest for his lost brother, the Ugly One.  These plots are kinda connected, although not well, through plot three, featuring the now familiar returning villain Ruggedo the Nome King.  The Nome King has imprisoned the Shaggy Man’s brother, and Queen Ann decides to conquer the King because he’s there. (Seriously. That’s her main motivation.)  Plot four introduces Betsy Bobbin, who, like Dorothy, is lost, but who, unlike Dorothy, seems to have no particular plans to get anywhere or do anything, and mostly just hangs around and makes occasional comments, and plot five tells of the Rose Princess, Ozga, and her exile.

As you might imagine, all this does not make for an entirely smooth book, and indeed, Baum ends up forgetting most of his plots from time to time—particularly that involving the Rose Princess. Early on, Ozga does inspire the ambitious Private Files of the Oogaboo Army to inexplicably switch from thoughts of conquest and glory to a life of kindness and peace, mostly on the thin grounds that conquering Betsy, Polychrome and the lovely Ozga would be “impolite.”  (Again. Seriously. That’s his motivation.)  But after shocking Private Files into this display of good manners, the Rose Princess mostly disappears from the book until the end, and even then, has little to do. Queen Ann, meanwhile, hires Tik-Tok as Private Files’ replacement, although the clockwork man is supposedly a loyal subject of Ozma and...yeah, this doesn’t make a lot of sense either.

Alas, the lack of sense doesn’t end there. For instance, a few chapters later the great Jinjin, Tititi-Hoochoo, said to be implacably, terribly and irrevocably just, decides to punish Ruggedo for dropping his annoying would be conquerors/hopeful lost brother rescuers/various hangers-on down a hollow tube stretching through the earth.  (Tik-Tok was written before much was known of the inner geology of the earth, even assuming Oz and its surrounding countries are on precisely the same earth that we are.)  It’s an unquestioned breaking of the “do not drop people down through the center of the earth” law and certainly deserves at least some punishment (although sending a dragon after Ruggedo seems like overkill).  But the Jinjin also decrees that the little travelling group—including Queen Ann of Oogaboo and her world conquering army—are completely innocent of any wrong doing. Hello? What about Queen Ann’s deliberate embarking on a plan for not so innocent world conquest and plundering?

But despite these flaws, Tik-Tok still contains magical moments: the lands of the great Jinjin, where great fairy kings and queens bow down to a Private Citizen; the grumpy yet resigned dragon, defending the delicious smell of brimstone; the laughing Polychrome, the marvelous Metal Forest; and an explanation for why, in a land of talking animals, Dorothy’s little Toto only barks.

Oh, and after her usual fail which ends up sending poor Tik-Tok down a well, Ozma finally thinking about the future and asking some sensible, thoughtful questions. And asking advice. It had to happen at some point!

The questions center on Ozma’s immigration policy, which until this point has been a little haphazard. So far, Oz has offered permanent homes to only a few mortals from outside lands: Dorothy, her uncle Henry and aunt Em, the Wizard, the Shaggy Man and Billina the chicken. Now, she is asked to allow four more mortals to enter: Betsy, Hank the Mule, the Rose Princess, and the Shaggy Man’s brother, and she hesitates. None, except the Rose Princess (an inexplicable cousin) have a claim upon her, and if she allows everyone who asks to enter, Oz will soon become overcrowded. What should be the guidelines for allowing mortals into Oz?

It’s about time someone asked the question, and if I found the answer disappointing (namely because Ozma’s decision meant I couldn’t go), at least it was asked. It’s a sign that maybe, just possibly, the Ruler of Oz is starting to think.  She might have hope yet.


Mari Ness is still hoping that Ozma will change her mind and allow more visitors in Oz. Meanwhile, she contents herself with conversations with her cats in central Florida.

Travels in Fairyland: Oz reread: ‹ previous | index | next ›
6 comments
Eli Bishop
1. EliBishop
Appreciative note: I'm really loving your Oz rereads. Nice combination of respect for the books and genteel teasing about their weak spots. The background on Baum's career decisions is partly familiar but nicely presented too.
Teka Lynn
2. Teka Lynn
Well, the stage-adaptation romance does explain why Private Files and the Rose Princess were making out like bandits in the back seat of the dragon.

I always wanted to know more--much more--about Tititi-Hoochoo and the society of fairy kings and queens. The Lady of Light chapter was always one of my favorites.
Teka Lynn
3. Jim Henry III
It seemed to be implied, if not stated outright, that Betsey's parents drowned in the shipwreck at the start of the book, so she doesn't really have a home to go back to, unlike Dorothy in the first, third, fourth and fifth books.

This has always been one of my favorites, mainly for the tube through the Earth and the weird country at the other end. The plot is messy, but this book still manages to have a stronger ending than any of the books since The Marvelous Land of Oz.
jon meltzer
4. jmeltzer
Ah, so that's the explanation for Betsy, and why I never saw much reason for her to be in the books. At least Trot had a back story.
Mari Ness
5. MariCats
@Elibishop - Much thanks!

@Teka Lynn - I loved that chapter too, with all of the various light maidens coming and going. My one quibble is that I would have added a seventh - Candlelight. But I've always been amused by Baum's clear assumption that electric light is clearly inherently superior to all other lights, who are inevitably jealous as a result...

@Jim Henry - The fate of Betsy's parents aren't clear to me. But unlike the other kids - Dorothy, Button-Bright and Trot - she never once mentions other family members, so I suppose we can assume, or are supposed to assume, that they are dead, which may partly explain Ozma's invitation at the end of the book. Betsy seems fairly cheerful for a girl whose parents just died, though - although perhaps she didn't like them much. I more think that Baum just didn't spend a lot of time worrying about her background.

@jmeltzer - I always liked Trot more than Betsy, quite possibly because Trot's background made her feel more "real."
Teka Lynn
6. Writebastard
For just a glancing moment I thought this was about about the book by the late John Sladek. I don't mind Baum, but I loved Sladek's wacky Tik-Tok.

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