21 July 2020

Plotting Magic

The Magic of Oz remains one of my most favorite Oz books by L. Frank Baum because of how its plot works so well.

The book has three narrative threads:
  • A sulky Munchkin adolescent and the exiled Nome King plot to take over Oz using a secret word that can transform anything or anyone into something else.
  • Dorothy leads the Wizard, the Cowardly Lion, and the Hungry Tiger to the Gillikin Forest to recruit monkeys as part of a birthday present for Ozma.
  • Trot and Cap’n Bill follow the Glass Cat to another wild part of the Gillikin Country to retrieve a magic flower for Ozma.
Ultimately, each of these plots intersects and helps to resolve the other two. Dorothy and the Wizard’s unexpected arrival in the forest disrupts the villains’ plans. After Trot and Cap’n Bill are trapped and dwindling away, the Glass Cat rushes to fetch help and ends up both finding the Wizard’s bag of magic and bringing him back. And the only way the Wizard can rescue Trot and Cap’n Bill, it turns out, is using the secret word of transformation.

And then…there’s a bit more book. The Magic of Oz was running short, under 40,000 words. The average of the previous six Oz books, since Baum resumed the series in 1913, was over 50,000 words. He thus still had pages to fill.

Baum therefore wrote a bit more action as the adventurers return to the Emerald City, and then as they celebrate Ozma’s birthday, and finally as they deal with the villains. That’s a long denouement that I must admit borders on the anticlimactic.

Along with how slipshod some of Baum’s other plots were, it reminds me that he probably just lucked into the cleverly intersecting plot lines I described above rather than building The Magic of Oz around them.

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