November 5th, 2007

Kabumpo

The Blue Emperor Strikes Back

Finally, maybe twelve years after first hearing about it, I managed to get my hands on a copy of Henry S. Blossom's The Blue Emperor of Oz. I guess this book was somewhat of a Holy Grail for me. My original Holy Grail of Oz Books was Pirates in Oz. Back when I first joined the International Wizard of Oz Club, the only four Famous Forty books that weren't available from them, Books of Wonder, or ordinary bookstores were Yellow Knight, Pirates, Purple Prince, and Ojo. I believe Random House is now doing print-on-demand versions of the old Del Rey editions of these books, but at the time they were rather hard to come by. I found the latter two at libraries, and bought a cheap copy of the first one at a convention, but Pirates continued to elude me for some time. The cheapest copies I could find were around $40, which was pretty steep for me at that point. I tried interlibrary loan, but the local library refused to go outside the state in looking for a children's book. Finally, while on a visit to Washington with my mom, I read a large portion of the book at the Library of Congress. We went back a few months later and I planned to read the rest, but their copy was apparently missing. It wasn't until someone at a convention offered to give me her old Del Rey edition that I managed to finish the story, and I think that was around six years after I'd finished reading all thirty-nine other books in the more or less official series.

Blue Emperor is a book that I'd actually passed up the chance to buy for a relatively low price on a few occasions, due to their all occurring at times when I didn't consider such a purchase to be financially prudent. I definitely wanted to read it, though, and it was just recently that I was able to do so. The book was actually one of the earliest Oz pastiches. Well, they called it a pastiche, and I guess in some ways it was (Blossom did seem to stick to imitating the style of the traditional Oz writers more than some other modern authors have), but I think the more appropriate term is the more modern "fan-fiction." It was written with the typical fannish desire to tie up loose ends and contradictions in the canon, in this case primarily the identity of the Blue Emperor who had given Kabumpo to King Pompus. Ruth Plumly Thompson had originally said that the Elegant Elephant was a gift from a "friendly stranger," but in subsequent references had referred to the Emperor as the elephant-giver. Blossom tied in these references to ones to another mysterious figure from the past, Ozma's grandfather. All in all, I think Blossom did a good job, but there were a few oddities. Chapter 2 has Pompus not remembering he has a brother, even though Kettywig, his canonically established brother, is mentioned right at the beginning of the chapter. The Gump initially refers to the title character as "the ruler of Seebania and the Blue Forest of Oz," but almost all subsequent references identify him as the former ruler of all Oz. There are even some mentions of his being the FIRST ruler of Oz, which would seem to contradict Ozma's statement in Dorothy and the Wizard that the land had been ruled by a succession of kings and queens named Oz and Ozma. Even more confusing is that the bibliography also implies that the Emperor might be the same as the old King of the Munchkins mentioned in Giant Horse. Was he a local ruler who was eventually elevated to reign over the entire country? It's not really clear.

As far as the actual story and writing go, I'd heard of people not really liking it, but I thought it was good. Blossom reused some old locations (like the Fiddlestick Forest) and introduced new ones that really fit in with those in the Famous Forty. Electracity was characterized by the same sort of humor that Baum had used in Utensia. The established characters (particularly Kabumpo, who's always been a favorite of mine) stay true to form. While the Emperor himself makes only a brief appearance, other characters' memories of him establish him as a character who fits quite well into the Ozian cast. On the other hand, I think most of Blossom's totally original characters are somewhat weak. I didn't get much of a sense of personality from Muab or Gussun. And Mossolb was pretty much just a stock evil Ozian magician character, all frantic ranting and absurd threats. And as those names indicate, Blossom was one of the first Oz authors to utilize a cheap, easy way to come up with new names--just spell other people's names backwards. Chris Dulabone would later overuse that technique in The Deadly Desert Around Oz. It isn't TOO bad in Blue Emperor, although it's sometimes hard to remember which Gump is Muab and which is Namyl.

There's certainly more I'd like to say about the book, but since I doubt anyone even read this far, I might as well quit while I'm ahead (just like Namyl the Gump should have done).
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Halloween lives on

bethje and I watched the Paul Lynde Halloween Special last night, which included guest stars Margaret Hamilton, Billie Hayes, Betty White, Florence Henderson, Donnie and Marie Osmond, and KISS. Why don't we have specials with such bizarre combinations of celebrities nowadays? There was a bit of a wait from Netflix, which is why we ended up watching it so long after Halloween. Because, I mean, who would willingly choose to watch a Halloween special in November?

Well, Fox apparently thinks we will, what with their persistence in putting the Simpsons Halloween special on after Halloween. Perhaps to reflect that, but probably actually due more to the writers running low on ideas, the segments tend to be getting more and more away from horror stories. With all the horror movies that are coming out nowadays, they choose to parody...E.T. and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Yeah...okay. Not to mention that American Dad did an E.T. parody last season, and when a two-year-old show beats a twenty-year-old one in spoofing a 25-year-old movie, you know something is amiss. Still, the "E.T. Go Home" segment spawned a few good laughs, mostly because it's hard for Kodos (or Kang, but he was hardly in this one) to deliver a line without it being funny. The second bit was weak, although Homer and Marge's excuses for being out late were kind of amusing. The last story was definitely the best, although it took a while to get to the main point, and it didn't have any real conclusion. I think they probably could have gotten away with using that as the entire show, since it sort of had three acts in and of itself (the kids' destructive rampage, Ned setting up the hell house, and the Ned as Satan part). But then, they're obviously not going to stop the tradition of three stories per Halloween episode at this point. Anyway, hell houses are pretty bizarre. If you haven't seen the documentary Hell House, you owe it to yourself to do so. It's really creepy, and not for the reasons the people who set it up want it to be.

That Family Guy had to resort to a clip show is kind of sad, but framing it with Seth MacFarlane setting up the clips and the people bad-mouthing the show was a clever idea. And the actual new FG episode was a pretty novel idea, and actually driven more by plot than gags (although it had those as well). I do think the callback to the original Kool-Aid Man appearance would have worked better if we hadn't just seen the earlier joke in the clip show, but I suppose that won't be a problem when they rerun the episode. While I'm pretty sure they'll return to the status quo at the end of Part 2, I really don't know HOW they'll do that. Well, unless they resort to the cop-out conclusion of the whole thing being a dream.