Nathan (vovat) wrote,

Change may be good, but is it Ozzy?

One topic I find myself frequently coming back to is that of apocryphal Oz books (which is to say books not considered part of the canon; I believe Steve Teller might have been the first to use the term). People have been writing their own Oz stories since long before fan-fiction became the common activity it is today. Of course, most of them were either self-published or printed by small presses, both because of copyright issues and the fact that they were niche publications. Today, the copyrights are less of a concern, what with all of the Baum Oz books and some of the Thompson ones having entered the public domain, but there still isn't much of a market for new Oz books consistent with the Famous Forty. Random House made a few attempts, most recently with some books written by Sherwood Smith, but the fact that there are no known plans to publish the third one suggests that they didn't meet expected sales. On the other hand, the fact that there ARE so few people writing and reading new Oz stories suggests the possibility of communication between them that would be impossible with larger fandoms. Obviously not everyone would want to get on board, and I'm certainly not saying Oz authors should have free reign to use each others' characters and ideas without permission. But I do think that, if there's already a good explanation for some Ozzy mystery, then I don't see any reason why later writers shouldn't just go along with it, rather than inventing their own. There have been some excellent attempts at coming up with a more or less consistent line of Ozian history, most prominently the Royal Timeline of Oz and the Historically Accurate Chronological Chain. It's fine if writers don't want to utilize these resources, and just go off in their own directions, but I think a certain amount of consistency makes Oz seem like a still-vibrant fantasy land, and not merely a product of the early twentieth century.

With this in mind, I also have to question how much change to Oz should be allowed in books that are attempting to be consistent with the Famous Forty and at least some of the apocryphal works. I know Dave Hardenbrook, the maintainer of the old Ozzy Digest and Nonestica mailing lists, was irritated by the idea that Oz stories all had to end with a return to the status quo. Of course, authors can do whatever they want, but even disregarding the continuity issue, I think there are certain things readers expect to remain constant. And I don't think that's limited to Oz, either. I've heard tell of comics that get really bizarre plotlines, and then are somehow reset to how they were before, since that's what people grew to love. Admittedly, Oz is a bit of an extreme example, because it doesn't even allow for characters to die or grow older (with some exceptions). Even some attempts to essentially kill off a character without physically killing them, like the Frogman being forced to give up his human traits in Eric Shanower's "The Final Fate of the Frogman" and Percy the Personality Kid being returned to his original size and the Outside World in Ray Powell's The Raggedys in Oz, aren't all that popular. And I think changes like the Emerald City being destroyed or Ozma being replaced with a new ruler are pretty much right out if you want your story to fit the spirit of the official Oz books. Still, I don't think this means change is impossible, just that it means it should be done in ways that don't profoundly affect what fans love about Oz. Maybe having Ozma get married and/or have a child would be taking things a little too far, but that doesn't mean other characters can't do these things. Hey, Thompson did essentially just that with her Princes Pompadore and Randy. Also interesting could be familiar characters being given new roles that don't necessarily interfere with their old ones. For instance, David Hulan's The Glass Cat of Oz ends with the title character being named Ozma's Special Investigator (or something like that), which could easily allow for further adventures on Bungle's part with her personality remaining intact (and even Baum himself was unable to effectively change her personality, as we can see by comparing the end of Patchwork Girl to the Cat's part in Magic). It's a judgment call, of course, but I think writers who seem to think there are no further plot possibilities without having Dorothy grow up or Ozma find a husband really aren't exercising their imaginations fully.
Tags: books, oz
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