Travels in Fairyland: Oz reread

Private Armies in Fairyland: The Purple Prince of Oz

In The Purple Prince of Oz, Ruth Plumly Thompson returned to the tiny kingdom of Pumperdink, to let us know the fates of the characters she had created in Kabumpo of Oz.  Kabumpo, the Elegant Elephant, had made several previous appearances, often complaining that he was bored with his post-adventuring, domesticated life. He could make no such claims in this book, where he takes center stage in a plot with (almost) non-stop action.

Notably in a land where, in theory, no one ever ages or dies, the royal family of Pumperdink has aged, if not very much.  Prince Pompadore and Peg Amy have settled down into a happy family life, with an adorable young daughter, rather startling in Oz, where most characters tended to form family relationships with friends, and where even Uncle Henry and Aunt Em have vanished for several books now.  (This is, I think, the first baby born in the entire series.) Perhaps to illustrate the looseness of family ties in Oz, an Evil Uncle, untouched by the utter cuteness of the baby princess, decides to usurp the throne with the help of the old fairy from Kabumpo and a bit of evil magic. (No, nobody follows Ozma’s anti-magic laws. Nobody.)

The only ones left to save the royal family are Kabumpo and his new found page/servant, Randy, a boy with a touch of sarcasm and some self-esteem issues.  (Thompson later implies that Randy’s father took off without saying a word to his son, possibly explaining the issues.)  With misguided optimism, they head towards Ozma for help. A soothsayer (he says “sooth! sooth!” a lot) warns them that Ozma will be of absolutely no use to them. (I have to agree.)  Instead, he advises them to seek out the Red Jinn—the owner of the magic dinner bell introduced in Jack Pumpkinhead of Oz.

Jinnicky, as he prefers to be called, takes an instant and mutual dislike to Kabumpo. The two spend the next several chapters exchanging sarcastic barbs as they attempt to rush back to save the Royal Family of Pumperdink—an attempt delayed by the now almost inevitable detours and sidetrips, including a meeting with yet another unauthorized magic user.  This one defends his actions by loftily explaining that he is not a wizard, but a wozard.  (Ah, semantics. Is there any law breaking that you can’t help us with?)  The wozard is also building a private army of unstoppable wooden soldiers, something I would think would be illegal regardless of spelling, but after a few token protests about Ozma’s anti-magic laws, Kabumpo, Randy and Jinnicky merely nod in delight, and rush on to save the day and reveal Randy’s none-too-secret secret identity. (It probably helps that the wozard bribes them with a gift of a wooden soldier.)  And none too soon, either—under the evil fairy, “Everything was against the law, and the law was against everything.”  Sigh. Some evildoers just don’t know how to have fun.

The least interesting part of all of this is Randy’s “reveal,” which, as noted, is not all that revealing, given that the book is sorta named after him, a rather major giveaway. And, to further keep this from being a surprise, Thompson also inserted a chapter listing the various Things the Purple Prince Must Do To Earn His Kingdom, which not surprisingly just happens to follow the plot of the book), a list so long that she apparently felt impelled to repeat it at the end of the book, with explainations, probably from her awareness that her readers would have long forgotten the list by that point.

And, of course,the book has the now pretty much inevitable Ozma fail: quite apart from being unable to rescue the Royal Family, enforce her anti-magic laws, or prevent one of her subjects from creating an unstoppable private army, one able to disarm and imprison fairies, she allows a subject from another land to hurry off with one of the wooden soldiers with every stated intention of building his own army. If this army decides to conquer you, Ozma—and by all indications that won’t be too difficult—you can take comfort in knowing that it was entirely your fault.

But the rest of the book is considerably more intriguing.  Published in 1932, the book focuses on the concepts of rightful rulership, and the dangers of rebelling against authority—a pointed message in the face of growing fears about the Soviet Union and the slow rise of facism in Italy and political turmoil in Weimar Germany. Like her contemporaries, Thompson was well aware of the evils that had resulted from the revolution against the established, aristocratic Russian tsars (if perhaps less aware of the multiple issues of Nicholas II’s reign that sparked the revolution in the first place). Pumperdink, under the rule of the evil fairy, draws clear parallels with the cheerlessness of the Soviet Union. Those who overthrow their rulers and leaders, the conservative Thompson notes, may not be all that happy with the results.

The book also reflects Thompson’s awareness of modern military developments. Along with the unstoppable wooden soldiers, she introduces a race of bad tempered people made of torpedos, so focused on weapons that they have become weapons themselves.  But any qualms the torpedo people might raise about a focus on weapons—especially in a country at least verbally focused on peace, with an all powerful magic belt at its disposal eliminating—in theory—any need for advanced weaponry—is quickly overcome in the admiration for the unstoppable wooden soldiers, a striking contrast to the pacifism embraced in the Baum books.  It’s a taste of the themes of military and conquest still to come.

Not that the book is entirely or even mostly serious; for the most part, it’s a delightful piece of froth, with one particularly marvelous detour to a dinner with a sad giant too small to live with giants, but too large to live with anyone else, delighted to finally find friends.  Thompson was always at her best when she focused on her own characters, not Baum’s, as she does here. Alas, she was to return to Baum’s characters in her next book, with not always happy results.

Mari Ness admits that she sometimes wants an unstoppable wooden army, if only to do a bit of housecleaning for her. Or a lot of housecleaning. Unstoppable wooden soldiers can fight dirt, right? She lives in central Florida.


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