Books

In A Land, Off Oz

There’s no telling an “Oz” book by its title. It’ll never prepare you for what’s inside. So it is with this one.

You might think that in “Ozma of Oz,” the third volume in the “Oz” series, L. Frank Baum turns the focus on Ozma, the new ruler of Oz. While she does have a grand presence on the stage, she doesn’t steal the show. The story isn’t even set in Oz.

As in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” this adventure, too, begins with wild weather. While sailing to Australia, with her Uncle Henry, a raging storm throws Dorothy overboard.

Tossing and tumbling on the waves, sitting on the floor of a wooden chicken coop, she, along with a yellow hen, named Billina, drift ashore to the Land of Ev. The castaways discover inside a rock, a copper figure, with a “body as round as a ball.”

Dorothy winding up Tik-Tok, as Billina perches on his head.

Made by Smith & Tinker’s, Tik-Tok, a “mechanical man,” who “thinks, speaks, acts, and does everything, but live,” he’s widely believed to be one of the first robots to appear in modern literature.

A low-maintenance character, he simply requires to be wound up every now and then and is “guaranteed to work perfectly for a thousand years.”

His country has been kingless, for some time, and in the grip of inertia. When he escorts Dorothy to meet the lazy and narcissistic princess Langwidere—the sole member of the Ev royal family—she locks them up in a tower, in a fit of anger.

This title, unlike the previous two, has more speed, suspense, and mystery.

Like a bolt from the blue (or, green, in this case), comes striding princess Ozma, from the neighboring, desert-enclosed Land of Oz, on a mission to free the queen and her kids from the gnomish King Roquat of the Rocks.

The tsar of the dark underground, he rules over the Nome people: shadowy, shape-shifting sprites, who toil away in hot smithies, making gold, silver, and other precious metals; and resent the surface dwellers, who dig down for those valuables.

She and Dorothy lead a motley cavalcade of a smart machine, a loyal lion, a conscientious tiger, a feisty bird, a wise scarecrow, an able tin commander, and a battalion of twenty-seven warriors, to his sprawling subterranean lair.

“The generals commanded the colonels and the colonels commanded the majors and the majors commanded the captains and the captains commanded the private, who marched with an air of proud importance because it required so many officers to give him his orders.”

It doesn’t take them long to see that their contingent is heavily outnumbered by the martial array of their enemy. They strike a deal to secure the release of the hostages.

The cunning Nome king tells them that he has no objection to their rescuing their blue-blooded allies with them—on the condition that they’re able to guess them in their enchanted state, scattered among his collection of dazzling figurines, engraved platters, gems mosaics, placed on mantles, brackets, and shelves.

If they fail, however, they run the risk of turning into objects, themselves.

The task proves easier said than done. One by one, nearly every one of the rescuers is converted into a lifeless ornament.

In the end, the king has egg on his face, both literally and otherwise, when Dorothy’s fowl friend, defeats his chicanery with her freshly laid eggs. And everyone goes home to Oz.

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