The Scarecrow of Oz

Scarecrow-5You no doubt know “The Wizard of Oz”, but are you aware that Wizard is only the first in a 14-book series of books that L. Frank Baum wrote on the world of Oz? “The Scarecrow of Oz” is number nine in the series.

Two characters that appeared in other Baum works are the central figures here. Trot, a young girl, and Cap’n Bill, a retired sea captain with a wooden leg. The two of them share a fast friendship as Trot’s father was first mate for Cap’n Bill and is now captain of Bill’s former vessel. This is their third appearance together in a Baum book, the first two being “The Sea Fairies” and “Sky Island”. Trot and Cap’n Bill are out for a day on the water when they are caught up in a whirlpool and transported to a beach in Oz. Because whirlpools and tornadoes share the same inter-dimensional mechanics, I suppose. They are met on the beach by an Ork, which is, um, a weird creature. It’s like a terrifying four-legged ostrich with a large feathery plume on top of its head, four “chopping bowls” for wings, and a propellor for a tail.

At this point in the story, and after seeing the Ork depiction by series illustrator John R. Neill, I had to stop and google “L. Frank Baum” and “recreational substance abuse”. Surprisingly, I did not find any results. I think my google may be broken.

Scarecrow-3

An Ork

Anyway, I won’t bog this down in a lot of detail. The book is abstractly strange and character-dense. It’s the kind of book that if I add just a little detail, I feel like I’ll be spending the day here adding explanations.

I can nutshell it thusly: King Krewl of Jinxland has usurped King Kynd and is forcing Kynd’s young daughter Princess Gloria to marry a creepy old guy named Googly-Goo, but she loves the gardener boy named Pon, so the Krewl employs a one-eyed witch named Blinkie to cast a magic spell on her heart (and the description of which sounds like an incredible scene to see on the big screen with today’s imaging technology) making her an emotionless zombie so that she can’t love anything or anyone any more. The King’s plan worked, all too well, as since Gloria cannot love anyone, she also turns down Googly-Goo’s proposal.

Trot and Cap’n Bill pick up a posse on their way to Jinxland, including this Ork creature and a character from book five in this series, and also from Philadelphia, a four year old boy named Button-Bright. Button-Bright and Trot and Cap’n Bill had met before, in Baum’s 1912 book, “Sky Island”.

Scarecrow-4Glinda, the Good Witch, discovering what had happened, sends the Scarecrow to Jinxland, and he, Trot, Cap’n Bill and their assembled menagerie attempt to rescue the princess from her peril, which results in the Scarecrow being captured, and then freed by a ridiculous army of Orks, the King is deposed, Princess Gloria takes the throne and makes Pon her consort, and the whole gang goes to Glinda’s place to party with Dorothy. Yes, Dorothy. As in Dorothy and Toto. In the series of books, Dorothy has been living in Oz for many years at this point.

Along the way, they encounter a Bumpy Man with molasses candy in a land with lemonade rain and popcorn snow, and Cap’n Bill gets turned into a grasshopper, and they eat magic shrinking berries and other magic unshrinking berries.

Like I said, I could be here all day trying to explain this. It’s best to read it.

This book was released after the Oz Film Manufacturing Company’s 1914 silent film, “His Majesty the Scarecrow of Oz”. The book was intended to complement to the film. The Oz Film Co. produced three Oz-based films. This was the last of the three, and while Baum wrote and produced all three, this was the only one he also directed. Produced for $23,500 (about $560,000 today) it failed to make a profit. Sales of the book were moderate, but it is said to be a personal favourite of Baum’s.

Scarecrow-1The book is available for free download from Project Gutenberg, at The Internet Archive, or at Feedbooks.

You can also listen to the book in audio format at Librivox as a “Group read” where 12 different readers read the character roles which makes it easy to follow, or read by a single reader, Phil Chenevert.

You can watch or download the companion silent movie for free at the Internet Archive. They have two versions available: One of the versions is from Prelinger Archive and appears to have been adapted for classroom use, with a narrating voice over and some expanded explanation and the other is a Video Cellar copy of the 1914 film that is as close as possible to what would have been shown in the theatres. Very little of the first reel survives, so the film throws you right into Krewl trying to marry off Gloria. There is no known complete surviving copy of the original print.

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