The Road to Oz was the last of the first five books of the Oz series that I received as a child. If I recall I got them for Easter in 1993, when I was eight. I read books 1–3 that year but never got around to 4 and 5. It might have taken me TWENTY years, but I’ve finally read them! I’m so happy I never gave any of them away, because these are delightful reads I hope to share with my own kids one day.
Is The Road to Oz as good as the first book, or the enchanting third entry of the series, Ozma of Oz? Unfortunately no. This is easily the weakest book of the bunch so far, with lots of new characters and adventures but very little in the way of peril and stakes. There’s a lot of imagination to be spared, but it should be obvious to anyone over the age of twelve that Mr. Baum is going through the motions here. Just look at what he said in his introduction:
“In the preface to Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, I said I would like to write some stories that were not Oz stories, because I thought I had written about Oz long enough; but since that volume was published I have been fairly deluged with letters from children imploring me to write more about Dorothy and more about Oz and since I write only to please the children I shall try to respect their wishes.”
Imagine if this were happening to J.K. Rowling right now, pumping out a new Harry Potter book a year, each one dwindling in quality, with an intro to each book saying, “Well I’d like to do other things… anything else really… but you all are forcing me to continue with a story I feel is finished. Speaking of finished, Baum goes on to say…
“Since this book was written I have received some very remarkable news about the Land of Oz, which has greatly astonished me… but it is such an exciting story that it must be saved for another book — and perhaps that book will be the last story that ever will be told about the land of Oz.”
He basically finishes his intros giving the readers his hope that maybe the next book, or the one after that, will be the end of Oz. Of course at this point he would go on to write nine more Oz books, and he only didn’t write thirty more… because he passed away. It’s hard to feel too sorry for him, because besides the joy of all the children who loved these books, they were obviously paying the bills for the man in spades. But there’s something sad about someone who can’t pursue other interests in the profession he loves and feels forced to just write the same story over and over.
The Road to Oz IS the same story, basically, of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, except Dorothy meets a new array of characters and doesn’t fall toward the center of the earth but instead just finds a road that magically leads toward Oz. (One part that really made me laugh was when Dorothy says her Uncle Henry and Aunt Em won’t worry about her because they’re used to her disappearing for days at a time!) The best part of this fifth installment is the instruction of three new memorable characters, the Shaggy Man, Button-Bright, and Polychrome, who is the Rainbow’s daughter. Unlike some of the more outlandish new characters in the fourth book, these three were a little more down to Earth and provided great new friends for our lovable Dorothy.
My main issue with The Road to Oz is that there are basically no stakes, no crisis at all. There are a few small moments of danger in the middle portion of the book, and of course it’s a little disconcerting in the beginning when a tall, strange man confronts Dorothy all by her lonesome, but there’s not a whole lot in this one to keep you flipping through the pages to see what happens next. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy needed to get home. In The Road to Oz, she’ll go home when she feels like it.
The last fifty pages of this book consists of pretty much every Oz character from this and all the previous books gathering for Ozma’s birthday, a lavish spectacle filled with great food and dance and fun. Plus there’s a few brand new characters introduced at the end. (Alert! Alert! The Road to Oz jumps the shark! Many crazy characters are introduced in each new Oz book, but in this one, the craziest of them all strolls into Oz. SANTA CLAUS is in The Road to Oz!) What if Ozma got kidnapped right before the birthday? What if she came down with a strange illness they have to cure? I don’t know, something, anything. These books are for kids, but kids still need a little conflict in their stories, right?
I’m still excited to read the rest of Baum’s Oz series. I remember loving parts of Patchwork Girl of Oz, Book 7, as a kid, and I’m certain I’ll find another gem in the books to come. My main hope is that Baum enjoyed writing these books, because with each successive one, I’m having the sad realization that maybe he didn’t.