Review of Oz Book 5: The Road to Oz (1909)
One year after Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, Baum released the fourth Oz sequel; The Road to Oz: In Which Is Related How Dorothy Gale of Kansas, The Shaggy Man, Button Bright, and Polychrome the Rainbow’s Daughter Met on an Enchanted Road and Followed it All the Way to the Marvelous Land of Oz. Yes, that is the “official” title.
Like the other books in the series, this book is a “road trip” book. A bunch of characters start off walking and meet a bunch of other crazy characters before eventually arriving in Oz. And in this book, that summary is literally what happens. There’s really no villain in this book. No threat or conflict to resolve. The characters just journey from Point A to Point B and end up in Oz for a celebration. That’s it. So, the story is a tad thin. However, the illustrations by John Neill throughout the book are gorgeous and very detailed. In fact, in the front of the book, we are treated to a really nice illustrated map of the land of Oz and the surrounding magical countries that Baum keeps adding to the landscape in each successive book. And I’m sure this map will change as I get further into these books.
So, the story starts off with Dorothy back in Kansas. She’s out strolling around the Kansas plains with Toto (who returns for the first time since Book 1). Dorothy bumps into a wandering vagabond called The Shaggy Man. Obviously not fearing for her life that a disheveled hobo has shown interest in her, Dorothy begins giving him directions but stops because she believes this hobo to be stupid. Dorothy, again, in this book is kind of a dick. She corrects people’s grammar and, like just happened, she tells people they are too stupid to understand certain directions she is giving them. Anyway, the Shaggy Man is in possession of something called a “love magnet” (yeah, I know) that causes anyone that sees him to fall madly in love with him. Where he got it, he doesn’t say. Dorothy leads the Shaggy Man to a crossroads that should lead him where he wants to go, but as she turns to leave, the crossroads multiplies from 2 to 7 to 18 to infinity. Confused, the travelers decide to just pick a road and begin their journey to wherever the hell they are supposed to go. Along the roads they meet Button Bright, a child in a sailor suit who is anything but bright, and Polychrome, the rainbow’s daughter. It’s this group that will travel the fairy roads to Oz.
The first stop is in Foxville, home of a bunch of anthropomorphic foxes. The Fox King magically turns Button Bright’s head into a fox as a reward for being “clever” but doesn’t know how to turn it back when Button Bright objects. So the group leave and end up in Dunkiton, where a similar fate is bestowed upon Shaggy Man, except it’s a donkey head. The group is told that the only thing that will fix them is the Truth Pond, only found in Oz. So the adventurers head towards what they hope is Oz.
The group meets a group called Scoodlers who actually throw their scary, enlarged heads as weapons. They plan on eating the group in soup, for some reason. The group evades becoming dinner and winds up at the edge of the fairy land and the infamous Deadly Desert. They must cross this desert to get to Oz. And, since Book 3, if they touch the desert sands, they will be turned into sand themselves. Not sure how to get across, Shaggy Man calls on a magical carpenter to build them a boat and they sail across the sands. Once across they are greeted by Tik-Tok and Billina the hen and taken to the Truth Pond so Shaggy and Button can fix their wonky heads. They now begin their way to the Emerald City and pick up old friends Nick Chopper (Tin Woodsman), Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion and Hungry Tiger along the way. As they enter Emerald City they see everyone preparing for the upcoming birthday celebration for Ozma. As a princess of Oz, Dorothy must greet the incoming guests.
The arrival of the party guests is truly intriguing in this book. The guests that come to the party are a veritable parade of characters from other Baum fantasy books. We get to see Santa Claus himself arrive at the party. Baum wrote a fictional biography of Santa Claus back in 1902. We get an appearance by the King of Merryland, a land that appears in the 1901 Baum book Dot and Tot of Merryland. Another arrival is Queen Zixi of Ix who appeared in her own Baum story in 1904. A group of characters arrive including a living gingerbread man, John Dough, an androgynous child, Chick the Cherub and giant rubber bear named Papa Bruin. They are from the 1906 Baum story John Dough and the Cherub. You can tell Baum was really trying to drum up interest in his other fantasy books by having his characters appear here in these Oz celebration scenes. However, only Santa Claus gets multiple mentions as well as several speaking scenes.
Here’s a Neill illustration showing the guests at Ozma’s party. You can see Santa prominently on the left.
(Via Hungry Tiger Talk)
Overall it this was a harmless group of cameos for Baum enthusiasts. We also get an appearance by the original humbug Wizard who has been living in Oz as Ozma’s advisor.
After the party, the Wizard sends people home using these magical bubble transports. Button Bright goes home with Santa who will deliver him to his proper parents. The Shaggy Man is granted permission to stay in Oz permanently. And Dorothy is sent home via the Nome King Magic Belt. Which, btw, begs the question why Ozma didn’t help Dorothy throughout the book with the Magic Belt. She supposedly is keeping an eye on Dorothy via a magic mirror (per Book 3) and even helps Dorothy escape trouble in Book 4. However this time, Ozma decides to play it cool and let her figure it out. Interesting choice, Ozma.
So, we can add magical roads to the types of transports to and from the Fairy Land of Oz. To be fair, though, the magical roads were really just a manifestation of the power of the Nome King’s magical belt. However, I’m still going to count it. Which that makes seven different types of transportation methods to a fairy land and we are only in book 5. I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Honestly this overall story was thin, but that doesn’t mean a lot didn’t happen. Baum manages to keep the story interesting with cool characters and interestingly weird situations. I’d like to see a little more over-arching story, but I’m perfectly fine just seeing what comes out of Baum’s imagination.