Buoyed by the unexpected success of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and brimming with hopes for additional revenue from stage and other adaptations, Baum rushed merrily into writing a sequel, The Marvelous Land of Oz. The result is one of the most seamless of the Oz books, with few of the digressions that litter the other books, and a rollicking farce.
And also, a rather problematic book for feminists. But we’ll get to that.
The Marvelous Land of Oz takes off more or less from where The Wonderful Wizard ended. Dorothy, though, is absent, and her place is taken by Tip, a young boy living not all that happily with Mombi, a witch. After he creates a pumpkin-headed man to terrify her, he finds out that she plans to turn him into a stone statue. This revelation makes him decide to run away with his creation, a now-alive Jack Pumpkinhead, straight to the Emerald City—and into a revolution.
Yes, a revolution. Seems some of the women of Oz are not all that happy with the rule of the Scarecrow, left in charge of the Emerald City at the end of the last book. As their leader, General Jinjur, coolly notes:
“Because the Emerald City has been ruled by men long enough, for one reason,” said the girl.
“Moreover, the City glitters with beautiful gems, which might far better be used for rings, bracelets and necklaces; and there is enough money in the King’s treasury to buy every girl in our Army a dozen new gowns. So we intend to conquer the City and run the government to suit ourselves.”
Which they proceed to do. Suiting themselves turns out to mean giving up housework, eating candy, and reading novels. Meanwhile, Tip and Jack Pumpkinhead join the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman and new characters the Sawhorse and the Highly Magnified, Thoroughly Educated Woggle-Bug on a quest to quell this feminine revolution. (Yes. They are all male.) Finding themselves defeated, they turn to another woman, Glinda of Oz, and ask for help. She rightfully points out that neither contender (the Scarecrow or Jinjur) has a particularly strong legal right to the throne, and instead suggests seeking out the real ruler, the young princess Ozma of Oz, kidnapped by the Wizard of Oz and given into the custody of Mombi the witch. Mombi reluctantly reveals that Tip is actually Ozma, disguised by a powerful magical transformation.
The contrast between this and the previous book is astounding. Baum is both more relaxed and in far better control of his dialogue, both snappy and often laugh out loud funny. Check out, especially, the first meeting between the Scarecrow and Jack Pumpkinhead, with its chatter about language. And Baum is at his inventive best with the new characters—the pompous pun-loving Woggle-Bug, the sullen Sawhorse, and the lugubrious but ever smiling Jack Pumpkinhead. (His smile is carved on, so it never leaves him, despite his constant fear of spoilage and death.) Less a fairy tale than a farce, it should be a guiltless pleasure.
But. The villains. Mombi the witch and Jinjur the revolutionary, who takes over the land of Oz so she can eat green caramels and read novels and use the public treasury for jewelry and gowns. The women rejoicing when Jinjur is conquered because they are tired of eating their husbands’ cooking. Jinjur’s Army of girls shrieking in fear over mice.
You could almost slam Baum for using such stereotypical images, not to mention throwing a satire on the U.S. women’s liberation movement into a children’s book, possibly to poke fun at his mother-in-law, Matilda Gage, a prominent suffragette. (She brought Elizabeth Cady Stanton to his wedding.)
Except that at the end of the book, in order to seize power and restore order and goodness to Oz, the book’s boy hero has to become—a girl. And needs the help of women (Mombi the witch, Glinda the sorceress, and Glinda’s all female army) to do so. His friends assure him that girls are equally nice, or even nicer, and make excellent students. (The prospect of studying does not appear to reassure Tip.)
It’s a powerful scene, so convincing that as a child I wondered uneasily if I’d once been a boy. And Tip’s transformation becomes the first step into a greater transformation for Oz—into a feminist utopia ruled entirely by women.
So I don’t exactly know what to think, except to note that as a kid, I turned to this book when I wanted to laugh. Years later, as a grown-up, I found myself still laughing. And finding that all that girl power at the end of the book does a lot to make me feel better about the middle.
Mari Ness continues to look for a pair of shoes or a flying Gump to take her to Oz. In the meantime, she lives in central Florida, under the dominion of two cats, who if they ever did reach Oz, would undoubtedly celebrate their gift of speech by demanding tuna. Like, right now please.