July 6th, 2009


Well, I'll be a country's uncle!

The Land of Oz has been cited as the first truly American fairyland, and there's probably a good deal of truth to that. Even today, fantasy seems to be dominated by British authors. L. Frank Baum might not have been the first American fantasy author, but perhaps he was the first to create an entire fantasy world that had special significance to Americans. The only other author I know of who set out to write specifically American fairy tales was Carl Sandburg, with his Rootabaga Stories, and that was after Baum's time. Still, while there are plenty of American elements in Oz, it still has elements of fairy tales from the old country, not least of which being in the fact that it is, as the Scarecrow tells Benny in Ruth Plumly Thompson's The Giant Horse of Oz, a "magical monarchy," rather than a republic. So, all in all, it comes across as a little odd that John R. Neill would want to bring in Uncle Sam as an Oz character. He is, after all, not quite as universal as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

To provide more details, the heroes in Lucky Bucky in Oz visit Wise Acres, a country club with a membership made up entirely of uncles. Uncle Sam is the president, and he is described as "tall, not fat like the others, and had a tuft of whiskers on the end of his chin." The picture of him that appears on page 226 of the book shows him looking a lot like he does on the military recruitment posters, but without his top hat, and his clothing "not at all star-spangled" (as John Bell puts it in the Nonestica discussion of the book). Bucky immediately recognizes Sam as his own uncle, but does he mean this literally, or simply in the sense that all Americans are metaphorical nephews and nieces of Uncle Sam? We never really find out, although the explanation I've thought up is that it's a little of both. Sam was an uncle of Bucky's who somehow came to Oz, and took on the role of his famous namesake. Since Americans have been prominent in shaping the recent history of Oz, he felt at home there, and decided to stay. Whether Columbia and Brother Jonathan are also hanging around somewhere in Ozma's dominions remains to be seen.

I think the reason why the American symbol shows up in an Oz book might be because it was published in 1942, by which time the United States had fully thrown itself into World War II. The rear dust jacket flap of Lucky Bucky originally included a note attributed to Bucky himself, telling readers to buy war bonds because "[t]he Nazis and Japs are harder to beat than the Gnomes." Sam is never a major character in the story (he doesn't even show up until close to the end), but I think his presence is probably a reflection of wartime patriotism.

The Continuing Adventures of Mrs. Yoop

I finished two more Oz books in the past few days, and coincidentally enough, they both featured Mrs. Yoop rather prominently. You know, the yookoohoo giantess who transformed the main characters in The Tin Woodman of Oz, and ended up as a green monkey?

The Emerald Enchantress of Oz, by Peter Schulenburg - This is a pretty interesting Oz story, featuring an enchantress who was put under an enchantment herself by her sisters, the Wicked Witches of the East and West. The diaries of the two witches play a major part in the story, as do Mrs. Yoop and Boq. The writing is a little awkward in spots, but the story is quite good.

A Promise Kept in Oz, by Dennis Anfuso - This was actually a graphic novel, and one done in a rather comical fashion, with a lot of meta-humor about how the pictures are all in black and white (which they are, except for the cover), and how much time the various characters get on stage. There's also sort of a sitcom setup in that Mrs. Yoop (still in green monkey form) has a roommate and an obnoxious neighbor. It's still a coherent and consistent Oz story, however, with Mrs. Yoop taking advantage of a favor that the Scarecrow owes the stork who rescued him back in Wizard.

Since both books do include Mrs. Yoop, it got me thinking about how to fit her history together. Obviously, when a fan writes a story about an Oz character, they don't always check to see what other fans have already written about that character. In fact, it can often be very difficult to do so. Still, as a self-professed continuity nerd, I like to try to work these things together as well as I possibly can, and there isn't anything all that contradictory in the accounts I've read of Mrs. Yoop. Emerald Enchantress, while published in 2003, actually takes place not long after the events of Tin Woodman; the Royal Timeline of Oz places the events of both in 1916. In Enchantress, the former giantess uses her magical jewelry to temporarily take forms other than that of a green monkey, transferring the simian form to Boq when she does so. Emmy the Enchantress takes away enough of her jewelry to make her powerless to do this anymore, but the yookoohoo receives no additional punishment, so her state really isn't changed by the events of the story. Promise Kept has Mrs. Yoop end up as an ordinary brown monkey, with a ring that prevents her from using any more magic. While this graphic novel refers to the events of Tin Woodman as having taken place over ninety years previously, I also have to take into account the late Fred Otto's short story "The Fate of the Yoops," which appeared in the 1983 Oziana. In this story, Reera the Red offers to help Mrs. Yoop but actually tricks her, and transfers her green monkey form to her husband Mr. Yoop, while turning Mrs. Yoop herself into a turtle. The former giantess is green at the beginning of the story, but I think it's easier to explain how her color changed than how she would have changed back from a turtle, so it's most likely that Promise Kept actually takes place BEFORE the Otto tale. The only other story I can think of that stars Mrs. Yoop is Time Travelers of Oz (not to be confused with Time Travelling in Oz or Time in Oz), which states that Mrs. Yoop and Reera are sisters. Yeah, I know the former is (or at least was) a giantess, but the story has it that she and her husband didn't take on the forms or habits of giants until after they were married. While this would make it odd that Reera doesn't recognize Mrs. Yoop as her sister in the Otto story, but I get the impression that they would have been estranged for some time by then.

Another interesting thing to note about "The Fate of the Yoops" is that Mrs. Yoop travels to retrieve her husband with a familiar of Reera's named Thrug, who is in the form of a donkey. In the 1985 Oziana, Otto has another story called "Mombi's Pink Polkadot Vest," in which the Wicked Witch of the West has a donkey named Thrug, who had originally been a dragon. I think it's likely that Otto meant us to assume that this was the same Thrug, who presumably went to live with Reera after the Witch died. In Red Reera the Yookoohoo and the Enchanted Easter Eggs of Oz, we learn that one of Reera's other familiars is an ant who prefers to remain in the form of a horse named Bone White.