Monday, October 31, 2011

Writing a Better Oz Book

Last week I shared some memories of visiting with Eloise Jarvis McGraw back in 1984. In that blog I mentioned that she donated a first edition copy of John R. Neill's The Scalawagons of Oz to the Winkie Convention auction.

I already had a first edition, but I knew the story behind Eloise's copy and much wanted to win it for myself. The bidding was spirited, but in the end I seized the day and seized Eloise's copy of Scalawagons. After the auction I asked Eloise to write down the tale of how this copy of an often-reviled Oz book played an important role in Oz history. Please note the name Gayla scribbled in pencil above the title on the front cover. Here's the tale as Eloise wrote it down:

"Gayla McCreight is the daughter of my first cousin - This book, which was originally hers, came into the possession of my daughter (and co-author) Lauren Lynn McGraw, who was reading it one day in 1962, looked up at me and said, 'We could write a better Oz book!' Whether we did or not is not for me to say, but we tried - in Merry Go Round in Oz.  - Eloise Jarvis McGraw"

So this copy of Scalawagons prompted Eloise and her daughter to write Merry Go Round in Oz.

Interestingly, Rachel Cosgrove, author of Hidden Valley of Oz, also credited her irritation with Scalawagons as motivation for writing her Oz book! I tried to acquire Rachel's copy of Scalawagons, but was never able to. I thought the two copies would make a neat set.


Scott Olsen said...

The Neill Oz books have some very vocal defenders among Oz fans (Fred Meyer, I believe, was one). I'm not one of them, though. As bad as Scalawagons is, Wonder City is worse. Lucky Bucky is the best of the three, but that's not saying much.

That said, it's easy for me to say what I think are the worst 3 Oz books, but if someone pressed me on the 4th worst, I'm not sure I could answer quickly.

Atticus Gannaway said...

Oh, I very much disagree. Wonder City at least gestures toward a plot. Scalawagons, not at all--worst Neill book by a healthy margin. Just wanted it to end.

For me, the fourth worst book would be either Ozoplaning or, sorry to say, Hidden Valley.

David Maxine said...

I agree with Atticus that WONDER CITY has a plot of sorts but that is off set by it's complete violation of character and Ozziness - and the plot is so rambling that I can't give many points for that. It should be pointed out that the book we know as WONDER CITY is not the ms. Neill wrote and it was hastily re-written by an editor at Reilly & Lee without Neill's knowledge (until he got a copy of the finished book.)

I think OZOPLANING is among RPT's very best books - though it suffers from inappropriateness to OZ like SCALAWAGONS. But it's possibly RPT's most complex plot, and features much of her best writing and vivid characterizations. So while perhaps it isn't a great Oz book, it's a superb RPT book.

I've never understood why some fans dislike HIDDEN VALLEY - it's a little slow in action but the plot and adventure are traditional, no Ozzy violations, and there aren't any major problems with the writing - except it doesn't hook folks in like it should. I can think of half a dozen RPT books that are far, far worse. I somehow think people really dislike HV because of Dirk's terrible artwork.

So what's my vote for worse Oz book? Probably COWARDLY LION, followed closely by GRAMPA. Many like YELLOW KNIGHT but the book is so unmemorable I have trouble remembering anything about it except that RPT killed off one of her better characters by turning him into a generic prince. And it's hard not to list PURPLE PRINCE among the great offenders when RPT manages the coup of visiting THREE!!! horrible, unforgettable, little countries in ONE chapter!

David Maxine said...

I notice that we all seem to be shifting our judging criterion a bit. The worst written Oz books are not usually the same as the worst (most un-Ozzy) "Oz books."

Bill Campbell said...

At any rate, what fun to have the book that inspired another Oz book!

Glenn Ingersoll said...

The illustrations alone raise the Neill books above some of the slapdash Thompsons. It's probably been close on 30 years since I read any of the Neill books (or any but a handful of the Thompsons) so I'm really not up to putting in a critic's opinion, though. A rereading is on the agenda ...

David Maxine said...

@Glenn - Indeed - Neill's art became much stronger for his own three books and it adds much to their quality.

Nathan said...

I think it's quite true that the illustrations in Hidden Valley drag it down. They're just so much rougher than those of the other artists (even Frank Kramer, who leans in that direction himself), and it makes going back to the book a little depressing when compared to most of the others. Still, I don't think the writing style is that great either. With the Thompson books, I like the way she writes so much that I tend her enjoy her Oz books even when the plots are weak. Scalawagons, on the other hand, has poor writing, practically no plot, and some rather un-Ozzy concepts. Good illustrations, though, even if there are quite a few more contradictions than you'd expect what with the writer and illustrator being the same person. So yeah, Scalawagons is my overall least favorite.

saintfighteraqua said...

I feel like everything after Ozoplaning was lacking in the famous forty, but that's just my opinion.

While Thompson's books did drive me insane with the annoying little kingdoms and the need she had to turn everyone into royalty, I still enjoyed most of her books.

Neill's were pretty bad, I really enjoyed the art though, and a lot of his ideas and characters were fun!
Hidden Valley was so boring and influenced by the movie, I'm pretty sure (since the witch rode a broom).
Merry Go-Round seemed so un-Ozzy to me.

Jack Snow...I like Mimics, since I feel the dark tone was nice, but it's been years since I read Shaggy man, it was pretty boring then.

At any rate, it must be so nice owning a piece of Oz history like that!

David Maxine said...

@Nathan - While I agree that Cosgrove's writing was not that great (she was young, it was her first book, and R&L had no real editor) but to me its just a little hum-drum but it's a very traditional Oz book as far as the characters and plot. RPT may well write better, but her characters are so often one dimensional and one note, and the tiny towns just go on and on and on. And so often, IMHO she violates Baum and sacrifices good characters for no good reason. Sir Hokus, Peg Amy, Tattypoo, were interesting - who cares about them after she normalizes them.

David Maxine said...

@ SFA - I find about half the RPT books unreadable at this point. And I really think the two Snow Oz books and HIDDEN VALLEY were far better Oz stories than any of the RPT titles - even if Cosgrove's writing wasn't as good as RPT's.

Are you confusing something else with HIDDEN VALLEY? There is nothing movie-liek I can htink of in it. And Rachel detested the MGM film. There is also no witch in it.

I have a hard time seeing how MERRY GO ROUND in un-Ozzy. To my mind its pretty much just a superbly written Thompson Oz book.

saintfighteraqua said...

It has been sometime since I read that book, but I was almost positive
that there is a mention of the Wicked Witch of the West riding a broom...I'll go get my copy for reference...brb...

Okay, I'm using the IWoOC version and on page 95, the chapter where he visits the Kites they talk about the WWW riding over the Winkie Country on her broom.

That may not be much of an MGM reference so much as a Wicked Witch stereotype I guess, but I remember when I read that part I was a bit annoyed since I equated it with MGM.

I haven't read her other Oz book, but I certainly want to!
That thing is hard to find.

And as for RPT violating characters, I agree. While I enjoyed many of her original characters, her treatment of them and Baum's characters was often borderline blasphemous, such as Tattypoo's origin...which I still find very hard to swallow.

I also had this thing with hearing her characters speak in British accents, even her Dorothy, which was annoying to me.