I’ve been slowly rereading the Oz books by L. Frank Baum, reviewing a few at a time as I go. Most of the books have fallen neatly into sets in numerical order, but the two I want to look at today are more random in series placement, but paired in focus: The Patchwork Girl of Oz (#7) and The Tin Woodman of Oz (#12), The Quest Duet.
The Patchwork Girl of Oz, despite its title (Oz titles rarely signify much), focuses on Ojo the Unlucky, who has grown up in the Blue Forest with Unc Nunkie. Unluckiness strikes in force when Unc Nunkie is accidentally turned to stone. Ojo sets out on a quest for the ingredients needed to create a cure, which are scattered all over Oz. He’s accompanied by the Patchwork Girl, a woman made from a quilt, and the Glass Cat. They’re soon joined by the Shaggy Man, and make their way to the Emerald City and meet numerous other familiar characters there.
Baum’s favorite device is to send his characters on a journey, and I like the focus Ojo’s quest gives to this journey. The aimlessness of some of the other Oz books has bothered me; this one has clear stakes and a goal. Ojo is a fairly typical young-boy-hero, though his determination to rescue his uncle at any cost lends him more depth. The Patchwork Girl is delightfully zany (even for an Oz character), and becomes part of one of the very few romances in the series; the Patchwork Girl and the Scarecrow manage to flirt a bit, which does make a certain amount of sense. Cotton and straw could be compatible…
I enjoy the Glass Cat especially, one of the few not-perfectly-nice characters in Oz. She’s not a villain but she is terribly conceited, frequently inviting people to admire her pink brains, visible through her glass head (“you can see ‘em work”).
As is not unusual, there’s something of a deus ex machina ending, and the ruling party of Oz is a little heavy-handed…but on the whole this is an engaging journey with enough focus to make it a proper quest.
The Tin Woodman of Oz has a surprisingly relevant title, and explores the backstory of the title character. Woot the Wanderer, a Munchkin boy in the same mold as Ojo, comes to call on the Tin Woodman, finding him visiting with his old friend the Scarecrow. The Tin Woodman tells the story of how he became tin, cursed by the Wicked Witch of the East who disapproved of his romance with her servant, Nimee Amee. Although his heart, designed for kindness, doesn’t allow him to love, he decides it would be an act of kindness and honor to go in search of Nimee Amee and marry her now. All three set off, encountering obstacles including Mrs. Yookoohoo and her transforming magic along the way.
I have the strange feeling that this should be one of my favorite books in the series, and yet it isn’t. I don’t know that there’s any especial reason for that. On the positive side, we get history filled in for one of the major characters, the book has a clear focus to its quest, and there are genuine obstacles to get in the way. I think perhaps if the book falters anywhere it’s that there isn’t quite enough whimsy. Often it’s isolated moments and bits of magic that appeal to me most in the Oz books, and somehow nothing much stands out (and this may be completely just me) in this installment.
The best part of the book is the ending, which utterly up-ends the expectations of the characters, and gives the Tin Woodman a thoroughly deserved comeuppance.
Neither of these books fall into my particular favorites, but they’re both solid installments in the series. On a purely plot-level, they’re among the best, and the characters are engaging. There may be some indefinable spark of greatness missing here, but they do achieve the status of good!
Stay tuned for a review of the remaining three Oz books soon. 🙂