Review of Oz Book 15: The Royal Book of Oz (1921)
L Frank Baum died in May 1919. Baum’s final Oz book, Glinda of Oz, wouldn’t be published until 1 year later in 1920. With Baum now gone, Reilly & Lee, decided to continue the Oz series with a new author. They selected Ruth Plumly Thompson to write the fifteenth book in the series. John Neill would return to illustrate the book as he had the previous thirteen books. However, Baum would get author credit on the cover and not Thompson.
It has been said that this book was written off the final Oz notes Baum left in his typewriter after he died. It has never been proven without a doubt that Baum even left final Oz notes. Regardless, it is pretty much a given that this book is all Thompson. Thompson trying a bit to write in the style of Baum, but still 100% Ruth Plumly Thompson. I really love Neill’s cover for this book.
The story itself is interesting. HM Wogglebug, TE gets the idea that he is going to chronicle the royal lines of Oz in a book called, of course, The Royal Book of Oz. While pitching the idea to Ozma, Wogglebug insults Scarecrow (former ruler of Oz and current Emperor of the Winkies) by saying he wasn’t born from a royal family and, in fact, has no ancestry. It is interesting to note that this is the first time that we see outright annoyance and dislike towards HM Wogglebug. In earlier books, characters would imply that he’s tiring to listen to, but nothing outright. In this book, the characters effectively come right out and say, “We don’t f**king like you. Go away.” Especially after he insults the Scarecrow.
So the Scarecrow runs away from the Emerald City back to the pole on the farm Dorothy found him. He slips down the pole to the Silver Islands that exist way below Oz (and far enough down to not be considered a part of Oz).
Scarecrow tumbles down the bean pole to the Silver Islands
We learn the background of the Scarecrow and how he is the vessel for the spirit of the leader of the Silver Islanders. We meet his family and learn how he came to be on the pole when Dorothy found him. However, as these things tend to do, events turn sour and Scarecrow is trapped in Silver Islands and Dorothy and company must set out to find him. And we learn other cool things like Oz characters CAN die if they are taken out of Oz. It’s Oz’s magical fairyland properties that are keeping its citizens effectively immortal. And we get to meet Sir Hokus of Pokes, an elderly, valiant, well-meaning knight who would show up in three more Thompson Oz books (one with the character center stage) and one of John Neill’s books.
Like I said, on the surface, I like this plot. I like learning back story to a main character. We see a similar back story for the Tin Man in The Tin Woodman of Oz. However, and I hate to say this, but the entire endeavor feels hollow. It feels like Thompson is mimicing Baum’s style but can’t replicate his heart. There is so much sincere, heartfelt innocence and imagination in Baum’s books, you can’t help but love them. This book felt like a shallow copy. Thompson used less of the puns and clever dialogue Baum was known for while simultaneously using multiple plot threads that Baum rarely used. So I guess, in a way, she didn’t really follow Baum’s style at all.
Overall, I was just bored with this book. I wasn’t engaged in the story and for the last half just wished it was over. This is the first time that has happened in my reading of the Oz books. There were one or two Baum books I didn’t fully enjoy, but I was never bored or wished it to end. So, no, I can’t really recommend this. However, John Neill’s artwork is again the centerpiece. Truly great illustrations.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t envy anyone following in Baum’s footsteps. And this was Thompson’s first effort. Thompson eventually wrote 18 more books after this so I assume she gets better the further she moves out of Baum’s shadow. Looking at the list of her books, a few of them do look interesting; The Cowardly Lion of Oz, The Yellow Knight of Oz and maybe Pirates in Oz, We’ll see how many I actually get to.