After the bloated The Patchwork Girl of Oz, I was happily surprised by the lean, fun, mostly successful eighth entry in the Oz series. Although not as strong as the best Oz sequels — Ozma of Oz and The Emerald City of Oz — it’s definitely one of the most entertaining.
The set-up is simple and, thankfully, not convoluted, as Baum introduces the reader to two different story-lines that quickly merge together. One has to do with a girl and a mule washing up on shore (a plot device Baum used before in at least one of the earlier books), and a queen at the outer reaches of Oz who wants to take over all the land. And then there’s the Shaggy Man, who needs to save his brother from the Nome King!
Baum piles on the characters and the drama from the get-go, and mostly keeps Dorothy out this time around. Tik-Tok shows up, of course, and plays a vital role in the proceedings. The book has its exciting and adventurous moments, and, like all the others, wraps up in a pleasing, if bit too simplistic, manner.
Baum seems to be having more fun this time around, and doesn’t have the same sour attitude in his introduction. By book 8, he probably figured he was in the Oz world for the long haul, and needed to finally accept it. One of my favorite parts of reading all these books has been seeing the author’s evolution in his little notes at the beginning of each one. Imagine what J.K. Rowling would have written before the first Harry Potter book before it became a success, as opposed to her introduction to the seventh one?
Thankfully for Rowling, she was able to finish the series when she wanted, and how she wanted. A hundred years ago, Baum had to churn out these Oz books just to live. Tik-Tok of Oz isn’t great, but it does the job fine, and young readers especially will probably enjoy this one, with all its action and large clan of eccentric characters.
With six more books to go, it will be interesting to see if Baum just does more of the same, or surprises me by taking characters we’ve come to know and love into more unexpected places. I’ll be hoping for the latter.