02 February 2012

The Second Oz Series

When L. Frank Baum returned to the Oz series, he had left Dorothy and Ozma in a good place. Too good a place, in fact. Supposedly he wasn’t even able to contact them any more. Solving that problem (through the new technology of wireless) was less challenging, however, than coming up with a new fuel for stories about Oz now that Dorothy could live with her family in the Emerald City and Ozma could feel safe about Oz.

Furthermore, since Baum evidently now planned to keep writing Oz books as long as he could, he was no longer thinking ahead to a series end. He needed to keep his characters interesting, or come up with new ones.

With a story called “Little Dorothy and Toto” in The Little Wizard Stories of Oz (written for younger readers than the novels), Baum found a new unresolvable foundational conflict for Dorothy. Though she has a perfectly comfortable, safe home in the royal palace, she insists on wandering into the countryside and heading off on dangerous missions. In that story, the Wizard tries to cure Dorothy of this bad habit. It doesn’t work.

Thus, in The Magic of Oz, Dorothy’s idea of birthday shopping means going into a forest of wild beasts and asking to borrow a dozen monkeys. In Glinda of Oz she’s eager to go to the edge of Prof. Wogglebug’s map to get involved in a war. In The Patchwork Girl of Oz she invites herself on Ojo’s quest, and in Rinkitink in Oz she heads to the Nome Kingdom.

As for Ozma, she continues to be so kind-hearted that she has trouble governing. In Glinda of Oz, the title character advises her to stay out of the turmoil in one corner of Oz, and she insists on heading there anyway and telling her subjects they should be nice. In The Lost Princess of Oz she gets kidnapped, and Dorothy (of course) heads out to rescue her.

But for most of in his second series of Oz books, Baum had antagonists drive the plot, or found other young protagonists: Ojo, Betsy, Trot, Button-Bright, Inga, and Woot. Most of those new kids didn’t hold up for more than one adventure because they didn’t have unresolvable foundational conflicts. Once Inga rescues his parents, or Betsy finds a home, there’s nothing left for their characters to do.

The two young characters who play important, distinct roles in more than one of Baum’s novels came with foundational conflicts that continued to drive them into adventures. Trot is little, but curious and just as brave as Dorothy. Button-Bright gets lost whether he means to or not. If either of those sources of conflict ever disappeared, so would their stories. Like Dorothy and Ozma, Trot and Button-Bright are built for an open-ended series.


Mark R Hunter said...

Thanks for giving me a look at character motivation that I hadn't thought of with the Oz characters before. It explains some of the concerns I've had with my own novel sequel! Here's hoping Dorothy is always reckless, in her own way.

J. L. Bell said...

A certain recklessness definitely works for Dorothy. She calls herself “small and meek” in Wonderful Wizard, but by the end of that book she’s left a trail of dead or deposed rulers, and all her friends have crowns. Why would she stay meek after that?