A review of Dot and Tot of Merryland (1901) by L Frank Baum
It’s been a while since I’ve done a Baum review, so let’s do this.
The illustrator of the first Oz book was WW Denslow. If you recall, he illustrated only the very first Oz book before John Neill took over in book two and illustrated over 30 Oz books in his career. Denslow and Baum had a falling out in 1902 over royalties from the first Wizard of Oz musical. However, before that happened, Denslow had also illustrated Baum’s books By the Candelabra Glare, Father Goose: His Book and another children’s fantasy story called Dot and Tot of Merryland.
Dot and Tot of Merryland was published in 1901, the very next year after The Wonderful Wizard of Oz although it was actually written around the same time. As I mentioned, the book is a children’s fantasy book written in the same style as Wizard. Child protagonists visit a magical fairy land and must find their way back home when they become trapped there.
Yes, that sounds awfully familiar but it’s Baum style, it’s straight up in his wheelhouse. He managed to make this concept work for like four or five of his Oz books, so I’m not too worried he’ll make it work here.
The story begins with Dot who is a bit of a sickly child. She’s sent to live in her father’s palatial mansion in the outskirts of town. While there she has the run of the estate. She starts playing with the gardener’s little boy, Tot. They are having a picnic out by the stream that runs through the back yard and they are swept away in a rowboat which takes them through a tunnel in the mountains where they emerge in a fairy land called Merryland. They meet a crazy cast of characters including a guy with long whiskers called the “Watchdog” that oversees the entrance to Merryland and they meet the ruler of the land who is a walking, talking wax doll. Dot and Tot are adopted by the queen and go with her to tour the seven valleys of Merryland.
This is where Baum usually shines. Coming up with crazy “areas”, for lack of a better term, within his crazy fairy land. The first valley is the Valley of the Clowns which is populated by hundreds of clowns who want nothing but to entertain children (insert modern joke about horrifying clowns, nightmares and children). The leader of this land was Flipityflop who was nothing but helpful and gracious.
The second valley is the Valley of the Bonbons. Essentially this is “candy land”. Everything is made of candy. Including the people. They are so sticky that they have to cover themselves in powdered sugar to keep from sticking to everything. Oh, and the servants in this “candy land” are made of chocolate.
And they are described as “being lazy”. I know that around this time writing usually had racist overtones like this, but it’s still jarring to read now especially in a children’s book.
After the candy valley, we get the Valley of the Storks from where babies are delivered to the real world and then in the fourth valley we get the Valley of the Queen where the ruler of Merryland lives. It’s populated by dolls. Here, Dot and Tot are put up in rather weird rooms. Tot is assigned the “laughing chamber”.
The laughing chamber has literally hundreds of laughing baby faces on every surface of the room. And they aren’t silent, you actually hear the laughing. Say what you want about the Valley of the Clowns being terrifying, this room has “nightmare fuel” written all over it.
The Queen then takes the kids on a tour of the rest of the valley. Next we get the Valley of the Cats which is populated by giant, friendly….well, cats. Next has a bunch of wind up animals which are looked after by Mr Split. And the final valley in Merryland is called the Valley of Lost Things which is where everything that is lost ends up.
So, as you can see, Baum is not short on imagination. And from my samples you should see Denslow is at the top of his game. However, that being said, the book isn’t a page turner. There’s no conflict. The kids show up, are adopted by the Queen, go on a tour of the valleys, then realize they could go home all along whenever they wanted to. That’s it.
Usually for me, Baum is more about the journey. His hyperactive imagination and world building mixed with excellent accompanying art is usually fine with me. But this particular story is so noneventful, I have to say pass on it as a recommendation. Baum would later perfect this “nothing happens” plot in his middle Oz books like The Road to Oz where it is much more fun to read than here, early in his career.
Speaking of The Road to Oz, Baum would later retcon many of his early non-Oz fantasy stories into actually being part of the larger Oz landscape. In The Road to Oz, Ozma would have a birthday party where many of Baum’s non-Oz characters showed up to celebrate. Included in that party are the Queen of Merryland as well as the leader of the Valley of the Bonbons. If you click back to my review of The Road to Oz, you’ll see that book included a map of Oz. On that map of Oz are a bunch of lands added to the perimeter of Oz that were actually created in non-Oz books. Merryland is on the upper right.