Books

Storming The Bejeweled City

After the wonderful wizard flew away in a makeshift, silken balloon, the Scarecrow ascended the throne.

All is well in Emerald City, under the wise and benevolent rule of the intellectually-nimble, straw-stuffed man—until L. Frank Baum returns, in 1904, with his second book in the “Oz” series: “The Marvelous Land of Oz.”

The cover of the comic book edition, from Marvel Comics.

Girls, in all the four quadrants of Oz, are grumbling. Tired of churning butter and milking the cow, they want out. Under the command of the sly and defiant General Jinjur, they’re stomping their way to Emerald City.

In the land, far north, meanwhile, in the purple Gillikin Country, a boy named Tippetarius, or Tip, is balling his fist. Tired of the unmitigated meanness of his guardian, Mombi, he’s hitting back. He claps together a wooden figure, with a pumpkin for a head, hoping to frighten her with it.

But his creation, the sweetly doltish Jack Pumpkinhead, with his visage forever frozen in a carved smile, doesn’t scare her.

Instead, he becomes a prompt, reminding her to test the potency of a magical powder, which does him great good: it brings him to life.

The prank fails, but it becomes an occasion for Tip to plan his escape from the old crone. When she threatens to turn him into a marble statue, he runs away with Jack, off to the glittering, green city.

Along the way, they find an abandoned carpenter’s Sawhorse. Tip makes it into a live creature that trots with the stiff gait of a many-jointed, wind-up toy.

By the time the trio arrives in Emerald City, it’s under siege.

An angry army of little soldiers, in tetra-striped skirts, have breached the city’s fortified perimeter. Marching through the streets, with knitting needles in their hands, they’re plucking out its gems, shoving aprons on men, and making them cook.

The coup d’état has deposed the reigning monarch and installed a militaristic gynarchy. “The throne belongs to whoever is able to take it,” General Jinjur declares.

Wrestling control away from the young ladies, won’t be so easy, after all. Worse, the Pumpkinhead, the Sawhorse, the Scarecrow, and Tip are held captive.

They surmount their difficulty by coming up with their cleverest idea yet.

From whatever articles they can scour in the royal premises, they hastily build an “aerial machine,” by joining two heavy sofas, four giant palm leaves, a broom, and the head of a “Gump,” an elk-like creature, with “wide-spreading antlers” and a whiskered chin.

When Glinda the Good, the Quadling empress, intervenes, General Jinjur still doesn’t surrender. Charging her with being the interloper, the good witch tells her that the crown belongs to Princess Ozma, the daughter of King Pastoria, the original ruler of Oz.

But where is she?

Baum may have found inspiration to make his getaway vehicle, a flying machine, from a history-making aviation milestone reached in his day.

A mere six months prior to the publication of the book, on December 17, 1903, the Wright brothers had taken the world’s first airplane, on a short, four-mile spin over Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

Failing to come up with a name perhaps, for his composite contraption, he just called it the “Thing.” It may have been too early to think of anything less prosaic, for the words “aeroplane” or “aircraft” weren’t common.

Every single Oz character is unusual, but the most unusual one in this book is the pompous Wooglebug.

A “Thoroughly Educated” insect, he’s also “Highly Magnified,” the two traits he’s enormously proud of. Keenly aware of his exalted status in the arthropod family, he has airs and displays it by speaking in puns.

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