Reading the Oz books has become more like homework assignments than sources of pleasure readings lately, and the tenth installment in Baum’s 14-book series is no different. But it’s like getting through the last three seasons of Smallville: it may be difficult, but the end is near.
Rinkitink of Oz has sat on my shelf for twenty years. It was the last Oz book I ever got as a child. In fact, I still remember the exact bookstore in Roseville, California, I bought it at in the summer of 1993. I don’t know why in the world I would have bought the tenth book and not the ninth — I owned books #1 to #8, and #10, but for some weird reason decided to not buy #9, or any of the last four books in the series for that matter.
So I’ve looked at that strange Rinkitink cover for twenty years, only to finally take the book off the shelf and try to force myself through 300 pages of a weird, not especially involving fantasy story that has next to nothing to do with anything Oz. Dorothy pops in during Chapter 20, and proceeds to make a cameo in the conclusion. But by the time she gets there, it’s too little too late.
Of course, if you look at Wikipedia, you discover the reason why this installment in the series doesn’t feel so much like an Oz book. No one from the books appears until the final 50 pages. Why? Because this wasn’t even written as an Oz story. Rinkitink in Oz had been written ten years prior, as a totally separate fantasy book!
After the success of the Oz books, Baum tried to write stand-alone books completely unrelated to Oz, and he would be turned down by publishers time and time again. It got to the point where he had to take an unremarkable story like this one, and put in some Oz elements just to get it published. Now, let me make it clear: I don’t mind reading an Oz book that has few of the characters from previous books, or one that even takes mostly outside of the land of Oz. But I’m only going to warm up to a book like this if it compels me, if it pulls me into the narrative, and so much of Rinkitink of Oz just fell flat on the page to me.
I’ve struggled a lot with the last couple books, but I’m still hopeful one of the few remaining sequels will impress me. The next one, The Lost Princess of Oz, sounds promising, with a plot that incorporates Dorothy and Glinda from the get-go. Come on, Lyman. Give me a late-minute surprise here.