L. Frank Baum once considered The Scarecrow of Oz his favorite of all the Oz novels, but I find that surprising since this is easily one of the weakest of the series. The first half of the book doesn’t really feel like an Oz novel at all, as we follow a few brand new characters as they make (yet another) perilous journey into the unknown.
Considering how much these books were guided by his fans, it surprises me each and every time when the core group of beloved characters stay off the page, usually until the last ten percent of the book. Imagine if each Harry Potter sequel opened with a new set of three characters taking a journey to Hogwarts, and we didn’t catch up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione until Chapter Twenty. Not Chapter Two or Three, but Twenty. That’s what each Oz sequel is like.
I don’t need each book to be Dorothy and Ozma’s grand adventures together, but I’d just love things to be mixed up a bit. What if The Emerald City were actually destroyed? What if one of the beloved characters died, and revenge had to be taken? I know the Oz books are for kids, but I’d just like the stakes to go up. The last three books have basically been the same story, but with new characters, and with an ending where Ozma just snaps her fingers and saves everyone, no matter the great danger they all were in.
Of course there were some joys in The Scarecrow of Oz, and the most fun was to be had in the second half, when the Scarecrow (finally) takes center stage as the hero of the novel. By the 40% mark, I was getting nervous, because there was no sign of Dorothy and the Emerald City, or of the title character himself. But when he shows up, and goes to Trot, Captain Bill, and the Ork, to guide them toward the Emerald City, my interest in the book spiked. The Scarecrow is one of my favorite characters of the series, and in no previous book since the original did he really get much to do, so I was happy to see him play a major role here.
With five books to go, I hope Baum will throw a curveball my way, and give me an awesome sequel that could stand up against the two best books of the series, The Wizard of Oz and Ozma of Oz. But as of Book 9, he’s still just going through the motions.