After two Oz books that were a little light on conflict, the stakes finally rise in The Emerald City of Oz, the sixth in the series. Why? Much to my surprise, this was to be the final book of the series!
Something felt different as I read The Emerald City of Oz. It was by far the longest book in the series, at 300 pages, and it featured events that seemed geared toward ending a franchise, not steering it toward another eight books. After countless entries of Dorothy just taking off and leaving her Uncle Henry and Aunt Em behind, this book opens with her deciding, with all the financial troubles her uncle is facing, to take them to the land of Oz, where they can live forever. Meanwhile, the Nome King wants his Magic Belt back, and he forms an army to storm the city, get back his belt, and destroy precious Oz and all who live in it. Baum cuts back and forth between Dorothy and the others giving Uncle Henry and Aunt Em a tour of the land (where they bump into all the characters we’ve loved from the previous books, including the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion), and the Nome King gathering his army and preparing for battle.
I was more invested in this book than the last two because of the back-and-forth of perspectives, a first for the series. Sometimes 250 pages just of Dorothy on her adventure can get a little tiresome, and Baum thankfully mixes things up a little in this one, giving us lots of material with the Nome King, his selfish decisions to embarrass all his minions around him, and his recruitment of allies, because he can’t take Oz down all by himself. A little bit too much of either of the stories might be too much, but the mix of the two makes for an entertaining read that easily triumphed the rather lackluster books 4 and 5.
This book felt so big in scope, certainly the biggest since Ozma of Oz, that I wondered if Baum originally intended for this sixth entry to be the last. The forwards in the previous two books showed in great detail he wasn’t happy churning out sequels and wanted to work on other things. I probably would have sped past these “painfully dull” author’s notes as a child and jumped right into the story, but as a twenty-eight-year-old author, I’m fascinated by them. Look at what he says in this entry’s author note:
"Perhaps I should admit on the title page that this book is 'By L. Frank Baum and his correspondents,' for I have used many suggestions conveyed to me in letters from children. Once on a time I really imagined myself 'an author of fairy tales,' but now I am merely an editor or private secretary for a host of youngsters whose ideas I am requested to weave into the thread of my stories."
And then after a very rousing adventure — The Emerald City of Oz is easily the best Oz book since Ozma of Oz — we reach an ending where Baum, with the hard stroke of his pen, did everything in his power to end this story. He has Glinda the Good Witch wave her magic spell and make Oz invisible to all those outside of it. And then he ends with these words, apparently from Dorothy herself, and I’m paraphrasing… “You will never hear anything more about Oz, because we are now cut off forever from all the rest of the world! Love ya!”
This isn’t Dorothy Gale talking. This is Baum saying, “All right, all right, enough! I’ve given you six beloved stories in this world. Now let me move on to other things.” He tried, really did, but apparently “financial pressures” forced him to commit to the seventh book, The Patchwork Girl of Oz. My joy of Baum’s writing and his stories keeps me committed to reading the further eight entries in this series, but it saddens me that Baum didn’t want to write exactly what he wanted to write. He reminds me of Paul Sheldon in Misery in a way, a guy who’s written a hugely successful romance series and kills off the main character so he can try something new. That’s what we want out of life, new experiences, new adventures. As soon as something starts to smell stale, we try to reinvent ourselves. It’s my biggest enemy; as soon as I write a book in one genre, in one vein, I want to try something totally new and different. Film directors often get to try new genres (just look at the filmography of Ang Lee), but writers are so often pigeonholed into one specific genre, one kind of book essentially just retold over and over and over.
I’m hopeful Baum found joy in writing the further entires of the Oz series. I guess we’ll never really know. All I know is that he was a fantastic writer, whose stories a hundred years later are still being read and cherished by millions of kids and adult the world over. At the end of the day, there’s not much more as an author you can hope for than that.