28 September 2011

Filling the Big Hole in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz

Yesterday I quoted from Newsarama’s interview with Eric Shanower and Skottie Young about their new adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s fourth Oz novel for Marvel Comics. Shanower also spoke of the narrative hole that Baum left in the plot of this book:
The main challenge of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz is the scene where Ozma rescues Dorothy and her friends. I don’t want to give anything away to those who don’t know the story. But this point is a major disappointment to a lot of readers, and I’m trying to finesse it so it works better in the story.

In this book and in several of the other Oz books Baum has actually supplied me with the details to make it work better, so I’m taking advantage of that. I admit, however, that while previous Marvel Oz comics were steadfastly true to Baum’s texts, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz will depart slightly from that practice because I’m trying to solve this plot problem that Baum left me with.
Eric and I have talked a bit about this challenge, and I look forward to seeing how he’s worked it out. I presented what I’d do in a 2008 centenary essay on the book in the International Wizard of Oz Club’s  Baum Bugle.

At the end of Ozma of Oz, Baum established that Ozma would use her Magic Picture once a week to make sure Dorothy was okay:
every Saturday morning Ozma would look at Dorothy in her magic picture, wherever the little girl might chance to be. And, if she saw Dorothy make a certain signal, then Ozma would know that the little Kansas girl wanted to revisit the Land of Oz, and by means of the Nome King’s magic belt would wish that she might instantly return.
As heedless of consistency as usual, Baum revised that arrangement in Dorothy and the Wizard to say that Ozma looks in on Dorothy every day at four o’clock. That allowed him to have Ozma pluck Dorothy from danger as soon as he ran out of ideas.

But what if the timing of Ozma’s checks was as originally described—once a week? Baum could have reminded readers of Dorothy’s arrangement early in Dorothy and the Wizard with a conversation like this:
“We won’t be down here with the Mangaboos forever,” Dorothy explained. “My friend Ozma looks for me ev’ry Saturday morning in her Magic Picture. This Saturday, I’ll give her my signal, and she’ll wish me out of here, and then I’ll ask her to bring you to the Em’rald City, too.”

Zeb frowned and looked around at the glass city. “It’s only Monday now.”

“And I don’t think these mangelwurzels will keep us around till Saturday,” grumbled Jim.

“Plus, how will you know when it’s the right time to signal?” asked Zeb. “The suns down here don’t work like the real one, up above.”

“Well, we’ll just have to keep track of the time,” said Dorothy. “Don’t you have a watch, Wizard?”

“I do,” said the old man, who had been looking most thoughtful since Dorothy mentioned Ozma. He pulled a big silver watch out of his vest pocket. “I’ll have to be very careful to keep this wound up and protected from shock, and to look for the right time to arrive.”
Such a conversation would prepare readers for the possibility of Ozma’s rescue. It would start a clock ticking—which adds tension to almost any plot. It would even fit with the themes of movement and time established in the book’s first line (“The train from ’Frisco was very late”).

Could Dorothy and her friends stay alive until Saturday? Could the Wizard track the days and hours correctly? Would Dorothy be able to send Ozma the signal at the right time? Imagine the travelers, say, stuck in a cave, waiting for Saturday morning to arrive at last, and hearing a mother dragon scrabbling through the tunnel behind them!


ericshanower said...

Yes, these are the issues and for the Marvel comic I incorporated a lot of the basic ideas you discussed in the Bugle, J.L., and others discussed on whatever the Oz list-serv was called at the time. Had to add a couple wrinkles to still make the story work and to compensate for time zones. I will credit you in the hardcover.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

Ooh. I've got the shivers.

J. L. Bell said...

I bet a lot of Oz fans have had the same basic thought about this plot hole. I had the pleasure of channeling the thought into a version of Baum’s narrative voice for the Bugle, but eleven years earlier others had voices the same basic idea on the Ozzy Digest. David Hulan came up with a good reason for why Dorothy and friends didn’t just eat dama fruit and stay in Voe until Saturday. And Ken Shepherd counted the number of days that pass in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, so I could count backward from Saturday.

I gave up long ago trying to reconcile time zones and seasons with an Oz on Earth, as I know it must be. I’m looking forward to how you address that challenge!

Hungry Tiger Talk said...

Well, regarding timezones, I think DOROTHY AND THE WIZARD is probably the only Oz book where we know with a certainty exactly what time and day the story begins.

J. L. Bell said...

Is that based on the idea that the earthquake that swallows up Dorothy and Zeb and the Wizard is the same one that destroyed San Francisco in 1906?

Hungry Tiger Talk said...

Yes, since Baum sent Dorothy through San Francisco and had her get caught in an earthquake I can't imagine readers would make any other assumption.

J. L. Bell said...

I agree that Baum expected his readers to think of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 when he wrote Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz two years later. I believe I thought of that disaster when I read the book in the 1970s.

I’m not so sure whether Baum wanted his readers to believe Dorothy was traveling in California in 1906, though. He might have wanted them to think, “Oh, yes, California is prone to earthquakes the same way Kansas is prone to cyclones, so I can believe this story.”

I wonder what Baum’s prefaces hint about any time lapse between when he got news from Oz and when he published the resulting tales. I really should check that because it affects my idiosyncratic interpretation of Rinkitink in Oz.

ericshanower said...

I think Hungry Tiger Talk was basing his statement on the second sentence of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz where Baum writes, ". . . but it was already five o'clock and the gray dawn was breaking. . . ."

J. L. Bell said...

The words “what time and day” (though the book doesn’t mention days of the week) made me jump straight to the Hungry Tiger Press hypothesis.