21 April 2010

Exploring New Themes in Oz

From the Winkie Convention email update comes news of a new Oz comic: The Royal Historian of Oz, by Tommy Kovac and Andy Hirsch. The publisher’s copy:

Frank Fizzle wishes his father would have just a single original idea, instead the Jasper Fizzle sees himself as the new “Royal Historian of Oz” as he insists on writing new Oz stories.

When the failed writer discovers that Oz really exists, he makes an error in judgment that brands him a criminal in two worlds. Frank, may be doomed to pay for the “sins of the father” at the hands of the axe-wielding Tin-Man and the ghost of the Wicked Witch. Can Frank save the day and redeem the Fizzle family name, or will the drizzly ghost of the Wicked Witch of the West destroy them all?
That description suggests this comic will bring a couple of themes to Oz that are notably absent from the original novels. The first is a postmodern discussion of storytelling within the story itself. L. Frank Baum portrayed his fairyland as either a real place or a setting he’d invented to entertain young readers, but not both.

The second is familial tension. Such conflicts drive a lot of old European fairy tales: Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Snow White, and so on. But it’s largely absent from the official Oz series. None of the American children who travel to Oz appears to have any siblings until Twink and Tom in Jack Snow’s The Shaggy Man of Oz (1949), and those twins travel together.

Many of those kids are missing parents, but they appear to have good relationships with the relatives who care for them. (One comes out of an orphanage.) The single possible exception is Baum’s little girl Trot, whose mother when she first appears in Sea Fairies (1912) is a short-tempered scold, but who basically vanishes from the page when Trot enters the Oz series in The Scarecrow of Oz (1915).

Nor are Baum’s young heroes from inside Oz having problems with their parents. They’re orphans or young people out on their own. The one exception to prove this rule is Kiki Aru, antihero of The Magic of Oz (1919), and his biggest problem is that when he’s in an adolescent snit and refuses to attend a community picnic, his parents sigh and leave him at home. (So annoying!)

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