In 1910, L. Frank Baum put a firm, decisive end to his Oz series, with The Emerald City of Oz, the sixth installment, by cutting off the land of Oz from the rest of the world… for good! Three years passed, and no Oz books. Of course we all know that Baum would go on to write a whopping eight more. So what happened? From Wikipedia: “He was forced to restart the series with this book due to financial hardships.” So essentially The Patchwork Girl of Oz exists because Baum needed the money, and for me, this kind of approach to the material, not of passion or want, but necessity, is apparent all through the pages.
This is not only the longest Oz book so far, at 350 pages (Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz was 220), but it’s also the weakest in terms of originality and excitement. When the title character having a romance with the Scarecrow is the most interesting plot development in the book, you know something’s not quite right.
Of course the book is entertaining enough to please readers out there, young and old, and Baum even stated once that this was one of the two best books he ever wrote. His reasoning for being able to revisit the land of Oz is a clever one. One of the many readers who pined for more books suggested to Baum that he should correspond with Princess Dorothy through wireless telegraph, and by golly, it worked! These books were so popular that it seems surprising it took Baum three years to write the next one, but the main question I have is, did we need more?
Maybe my problem at this point is that the books are becoming just a little too routine for my taste. They always start with characters finding themselves with a crisis, a need to have something fixed, and then the characters begin their journey to the Emerald City to find the help they need. In this case we have a slate of new characters, like Ojo, a munchkin boy; Scraps, the patchwork girl, and Bungle, a Glass Cat. Ojo’s Unc Nunkie accidentally gets petrified into a marble statute, and Ojo has to set on a quest to return him to his normal state. The first big chunk of the book completely revolves around new characters.
Along the way the group meets all the beloved characters we’ve come to know over the last six books, and in the end, the Wizard of Oz ultimately saves the day. It’s fun to see all these characters again, but at some point, even though I know these are children’s books, I want some stakes, some horror, something to throw the series for a loop. It’d be like if the seventh Harry Potter novel was just Rowling introducing a couple new wizards, have them have fun with Harry and Ron and Hermione for a few days, then go home.
Of course kids will probably have a fun time with The Patchwork Girl of Oz, and all the previous entries of the series. While the original Wizard of Oz is still my favorite of the series, two sequels have exceeded my expectations — Ozma of Oz and The Emerald City of Oz. These were two sequels where Baum raised the stakes a little and gave us some real terror spread out among the more casual nature of the characters’ journeys. While this one disappointed me a little, I’m confident he’ll have some tricks up his sleeves for the remaining books. The last one as a child that I ever owned and perused over was Tik-Tok of Oz, the eighth installment, and I know absolutely zip about Books 9–14. Here’s hoping for a nice surprise!