In this fall season, as people put out their pumpkins and scarecrows, it seems fitting that I should read L. Frank Baum’s Scarecrow of Oz, book #9 in the Oz series.
As a child, I made several attempts to read the classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
One of my older brothers was and still remains a big fan of the movie, and he had a copy of the book. This same brother gave me a record of the movie soundtrack one Christmas. As a child, I discovered a stash of my then college-age brother’s childhood books in a storage crawl space. That crawl space became my “fort” and my secret reading nook. (One of my friends became fascinated with how the crawl space led directly into said brother’s closet, much to my brother’s annoyance, but that is another story.)
I think, at the time, I was disappointed with the differences I noticed between the familiar movie and the less familiar book. For instance, it is fairly well known that the ruby slippers are actually silver slippers in the book.
As an adult, I gave it another try and bought the full set of Oz books on my Kindle for $.99.
Even if you’ve only seen The Wizard of Oz movie and have not read any of the books, you will remember that the one thing that the scarecrow fears is fire. In this book, Baum seems to emphasize that nothing short of fire could really destroy the Scarecrow.
In this story, the Scarecrow stands up to King Krewl, a wicked king who rules over Jinxland. Jinxland is part of the Quadling country in Oz, but the land is divided from Oz by a Great Gulf and mountains. For this reason, King Krewl feels he can rule, although Jinxland is technically part of Oz and under the rule of Queen Ozma.
It seems that all that is needed to keep the Scarecrow a living being is for his head to remain intact. He stands up against King Krewl and is stabbed with spears. These only make holes in his clothing. Later, as he escapes Jinxland in the company of some characters new to this book, he is nearly drowned in a waterfall. The other characters discuss whether it’s actually possible for the Scarecrow to drown, and most think he can’t.
He can be weighed down with water. He can have all his straw tossed out because it’s “full of polliwogs and fish eggs” and get new straw, but, even in this condition, without any of his stuffing, he is still able to talk. His intact head is put on the shoulder of another character in order that the Scarecrow might be able to see and lead the way.
Although the Scarecrow is the hero and namesake of the story, he really doesn’t come into it until Chapter 13. At first, we are introduced to new characters from the outside world, a girl named Trot …
and her friend Cap’n Bill …
They enter magical lands through a whirlpool and, at first, have adventures in magical lands outside of Oz, including the land of Mo, where it rains lemonade and snows popcorn, already buttered and salted. It sounds a bit like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, doesn’t it?
Baum also introduces a new unusual creature called an Ork. I found this interesting because it sounds similar to Tolkien’s Orcs, although spelled differently. Then, I remembered I first heard this word as the name of a planet in the old Mork and Mindy TV show … Mork from Ork. It’s interesting to me that there are three fantasy uses of this word that are unrelated to each other.
The Ork is a strange bird-like creature with four legs like a stork’s legs, wings “like an inverted chopping bowl” that are covered in tough skin instead of feathers and a plume of red feathers on top of its head. It also has a strange tail like a propeller. Perhaps, because I’m not familiar with a chopping bowl, my mental picture did not match W.W. Denslow’s illustration.
The Ork brings Cap’n Bill and Trot into the Jinxland part of Oz, but first they eat some berries that cause them to shrink in order that they might be carried in Trot’s sunbonnet and not weigh down the Ork. They carry with them the antidote berries to make them grow back to their regular size once they reach their destination.
The Ork then finds his way back or Orkland but returns with a flock of Orks to save the Scarecrow from getting burned at the stake by King Krewl.
There is also a love story in this Oz book.
The gardener’s boy, Pon, is hopelessly in love with King Krewl’s daughter Princess Gloria. Gloria has another suitor, an old man named Googly Goo, who pays a witch to cast a spell on Gloria to freeze her heart so that she can not love Pon.
There is an interesting description of this spell, how Gloria turned transparent except for her heart which was frozen in icicles. It made me wonder how modern movie makers would depict or animate the scene. Under the spell, she is cold towards everyone, including Googly Goo.
Later, the Scarecrow forces the witch to undo the spell and does some magic which shrinks her size and turns her into an ordinary old woman without any special power. I wish there had been a different way of overcoming the evil, for instance, Pon himself being able to melt her heart.
There are places in the story where Baum seems to be simplifying the complications in favor of the good characters being successful and, even by a modern standard of writing, seeming to make the mistake of telling rather than showing what could be an exciting conflict, summarizing bits of action that could make the story more exciting. Even so, I enjoyed it.