Journey To The Center Of Earth

On April 18, 1906, roughly two years before the fourth installment of the “Oz” books came out, California was rocked by a massive earthquake. It ripped apart the ground, causing cracks as wide as 20 feet across, triggered off fires, and killed scores of people.

This catastrophe is likely what inspired L. Frank Baum to choose a tremblor as the door to his little heroine’s journeys in “Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz.”

On her trip back from Australia, as Dorothy and her uncle stop over in California to visit a relative, a calamity befalls her.

A quake shakes the ground beneath her feet and a yawning rift opens up in the road she’s traveling on. The buggy in which she’s riding drops into it, with Zeb the coachman (and her cousin), Jim the horse, and Eureka the kitten, in tow.

Although you’d never guess it from the title, this is the start of a succession of peril-fraught adventures, which commence at the center of Earth, wind their way up to the surface, literally, and terminate in a jubilant reunion in Oz.

The party of four is in free fall through a bottomless shaft of blackness, before gently floating into a sparkling landscape, where everything from doors to mountains is made of glass.

The “Land of the Mangaboos” is a vegetable kingdom, lit by six, differently colored Suns, in the configuration of a pentangle. By all appearances, this is a “magnificent city in the inner world,” but its inhabitants, all opaque, are treacherous, belligerent, and cold.

In this sequel, sorcery takes a break and Baum injects, instead, a mild doze of science into this otherwise fantasy novel. Deep down in Earth, our terrestrial dwellers begin to experience zero gravity.

To their puzzlement and delight, they find they can walk on air and fly from one rooftop to the next. They make yet another starling discovery that leaves them gawping: these creatures aren’t born, but grow in shrubs and bushes, coming alive only after they’re plucked.

Hostility breaks out instantly between the veggies and the so-called “meat people,” those made of flesh and blood and bones. When Dorothy voices her revulsion to all the greens, she’s being the mouthpiece of all kids across time.

Were Baum to write in our era, with its obsession with vegan diet, gluten-free products, and the raw-food movement, he’d have had little choice but to glorify the leafy species.

The wizard, who, in volume one, made an exit in a balloon, returns, by way of the same transport he’d left in. He remains the “humbug” he’s always been, but Baum grants him a grand stage in which to demonstrate that he’s a resourceful and compassionate little chap.

If, like me, you were wondering whether he was named after the magical nation or the magical nation was named after him, then, you’re not alone, for some of the Ozites don’t know that either.

He explains his connection:

I must tell you that I was born in Omaha, and my father, who was a politician, named me Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkle Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs, Diggs being the last name because he could think of no more to go before it.”

Taken altogether, it was a dreadfully long name to weigh down a poor innocent child, and one of the hardest lessons I ever learned was to remember my own name. When I grew up, I just called myself O.Z., because the other initials were P-I-N-H-E-A-D; and that spelled “pinhead,” which was a reflection on my intelligence.

One day, when the folks of this country looked up, they saw a vehicle, with the initials O.Z., emblazoned across it, coming in to land. They took the person standing its basket to be their ancient ruler—coincidentally, another gentleman, also named Oz.

The road to the top, seemingly unending, is paved with a string of hurdles, some mortally dangerous and others, nonsensical. As the level of threat escalates, so does the weaponry. On an occasion, a pistol is pulled out from a satchel.

This tale, though decidedly darker than the previous ones, still introduces us to a bizarre personage that would make even an adult reader smile.

Halfway up a conical mountain, lives a very strange capitalist, a factory-owner, who manufactures the most absurd of products.

He tells the lost wanderers: “Well, I have Assorted Flutters for flags and bunting, and a superior grade of Rustles for ladies’ silk gowns … On earth, I was a manufacturer of Imported Holes for American Swiss Cheese … and high grade holes for doughnuts and buttons.”


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