31 May 2007

He Could Not Play with the Other Boys of Pingaree

Sherwood Smith was commissioned to write Trouble Under Oz as the second in a series of four latter-day Oz adventures assembled by packager Byron Preiss and published by HarperCollins. The next two titles may never appear, a frustrating situation I described back in February.

Smith’s first title, The Emerald Wand of Oz, revisited scenes and characters from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. This one draws its main inspiration from a couple of later L. Frank Baum novels: Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz (1908) and Rinkitink in Oz (1916, but based on a lost manuscript written about 1905).

More specifically, Trouble brings back Prince Inga, the hero of Rinkitink, to help the young American heroine on her quest. I think Smith does a fine job with his character, which could be difficult. Not that Inga’s difficult. No, he’s a sterling prince, dedicated to truth, justice, and the Pingaree way.

Here’s how Baum himself described Inga:

Inga was often left to amuse himself, for a boy could not be allowed to take part in the conversation of two great monarchs. He devoted himself to his studies, therefore, and day after day he climbed into the branches of his favorite tree and sat for hours in his “tree-top rest,” reading his father’s precious manuscripts and thinking upon what he read.

You must not think that Inga was a molly-coddle or a prig, because he was so solemn and studious. Being a King’s son and heir to a throne, he could not play with the other boys of Pingaree, and he lived so much in the society of the King and Queen, and was so surrounded by the pomp and dignity of a court, that he missed all the jolly times that boys usually have. I have no doubt that had he been able to live as other boys do, he would have been much like other boys; as it was, he was subdued by his surroundings, and more grave and thoughtful than one of his years should be.
A quick note to the fictional characters out there: If your author has to assure readers that you’re not a prig, you’re a prig.

But Baum ascribes Inga’s seriousness to his upbringing. (Baum was always a “nurture over nature” man.) Indeed, Inga seems unique among Baum’s fantasy heroes in being heir to a throne. Other young people become rulers unexpectedly: Tip in Marvelous Land of Oz, Bud in Queen Zixi of Ix, Trot in Sky Island. And there are princes who have been deposed (Pon in The Scarecrow of Oz) or who, through a quirk of immortality, will never succeed their parents (princes in The Magical Monarch of Mo). But Inga is the only Baum protagonist who’s preparing himself for major government responsibilities, and that’s shaped his character.

Smith picks up on that side of Inga’s personality without turning him into a caricature. Some readers have developed little crushes on Inga because he’s such a paragon of brave princeliness, but Smith’s American heroine realizes that, conscientious and cheerful as he is, his idea of wild fun is rather stuffy. He makes a good foil for this series’s bad boy, an ambitious young Nome named Rik. But, alas, we may never learn whom our heroine would choose.

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