March 5th, 2007


The war on terriers

I finished reading Toto of Oz today. The first thing I have to say about it is that Gina Wickwar stole my ideas! {g} Okay, not really, but I was considering using a gravy boat in an Oz story, as well as a country based on oil (something I'm kind of surprised Baum, being the son of an oil man and a former axle grease salesman himself, never did) and one inhabited by condiments (mostly just because I liked the idea of its being ruled by someone called Sultan Pepper). Ms. Wickwar's Isles of Sandwich and Grease are largely along these same lines. I guess that, when dealing with puns and themed kingdoms, a lot of people are going to come up with similar ideas independently. Still, Ms. Wickwar managed to work some puns I hadn't actually come across before into Toto, including a guinea pig who produces golden guineas.

The plot of Toto is rather Thompsonesque, using her template of a few characters from a small kingdom setting out to get help from one or more of the famous Ozites, and encountering a lot of weird little towns along the way. In this case, the kingdom in trouble is the Scottish-themed Kiltoon, and the poet Sonny Burns sets out equipped with magic bagpipes and tam-o'-shanter. There are also some very similar elements to Wickwar's The Hidden Prince of Oz, especially the American child arriving in Oz with an enchanted companion and a magic item. Since she actually wrote Toto first and didn't get it published for years, I suppose I can forgive her for incorporating some of its ideas into Hidden Prince. And while Toto is much shorter and less involved than Hidden Prince, it also avoids the latter's problem of having too many characters in the active party.

While I do like the new characters, some of them aren't all that well-defined. Davy, the boy from Kentucky, is largely a cypher. We're repeatedly told that MacTavish the owl is grumpy, but this personality trait is only demonstrated occasionally. And while Finna, the book's antagonist, has an interesting back story, she generally comes off as a pretty typical villain (an archetype that I'll admit to using a little too often myself). I think we could have used a little more development for most of the characters. My favorite of the new ones is probably Gladstone, the aforementioned guinea pig. And many of the characters do get to use their individual talents to get out of scrapes, which is cool.

The book is illustrated by Anna-Maria Cool, who had also done the artwork for Hidden Prince. Considering her work as a comic and greeting card artist, it's not too surprising that some of her best drawings are of the more cartoony characters, like the dog catcher and the live jars of the Isle of Sandwich. She does a good job with other characters as well, though, and the wealth of illustrations makes Toto feel like a real Oz book. There's also a map (something Hidden Prince was sadly lacking), and I'm sure you all know how much I love maps.

Despite its flaws, Toto was a good read, and I hope it's successful. I remember Marcus Mebes saying he hoped to have the Club put out more original Oz books in the future, but after all they've published as of late, I have to wonder whether they'll have the funds anytime soon. In a way, it's a good time to be an Oz fan, what with a fair amount of new material being released. I have to wonder whether any of it is selling that well, though. I guess when you're trying to sell new additions to a series that peaked in popularity some time ago, you're pretty much going to have to sell to a niche audience.
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