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A review of Dot and Tot of Merryland (1901) by L Frank Baum

Posted in books, Frank Baum, reviews with tags , , , , , on December 8, 2016 by Paxton

Baum Readalong

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.

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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.

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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.

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A review of The Master Key, An Electrical Fairy Tale by L Frank Baum (1901)

Posted in books, Frank Baum, reviews with tags , , , , , on January 5, 2015 by Paxton

Following the Yellow Brick Road

Well, it’s been a while since I did an L Frank Baum review.  The last Oz book I reviewed was the first post-Baum Oz book The Royal Book of Oz (#15 in the series) back in September 2013.  I then reviewed Baum’s non-Oz The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus back in December 2013.  Unfortunately, now, I see I’d not done a Baum review in 2014.  And that’s a shame.  Really sorry about that.

So I thought it was time to check out another of Baum’s non-Oz tales.  There’s a short novel Baum wrote that always sounded interesting and has intrigued me ever since.  So I thought I’d do that book today.

In 1901, one year after Baum published the first Wizard of Oz book, he released the short novel The Master Key, An Electrical Fairy Tale.

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The book was illustrated by Fanny Young Cory who also illustrated Baum’s The Enchanted Island of Yew in 1903.  It’s a short boy’s adventure novella with some early elements of science fiction.

The story concerns a young boy, Rob Joslyn, who likes to experiment with electrical devices.  He spends his time in his workshop creating electrical inventions that spread all throughout the house.  One night while tinkering with his switchboard, he is assaulted by a bright light and sees a being made entirely of brilliant light appear.  It’s the Demon of Electricity.  Apparently, Rob has touched the “Master Key” and has earned the right to command the Demon.  For this honor Rob will receive three gifts from the Demon for the next three weeks to total nine gifts.  Over the next few weeks Rob takes the gifts from the Demon and has several adventures all across the globe.

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The gifts that Rob receives are all based on electricity and are supposed to show Rob how electricity can be harnessed in nature to do wonderous things.  Rob receives a transportation device that uses electrical and magnetic energy to physically transport someone swiftly over great distances.  He also receives a tin of food tablets that provide all the nutrition a human body needs for 24 hours (that is somehow based on electricity).  He also receives glasses that read a person’s electrical aura to tell if they are good, evil, wise or kind and a small tube that shoots out an electrical signal that knocks a person unconscious for 1 hour.  Rob uses these gifts to travel across the globe and help out people like the Kings of England and France, two shipwrecked sailors and a group of middle eastern peoples in a war with each other.

It’s a fun, fanciful read.  Typical Baum.  Rob winds up getting into a lot of his mischief because he falls asleep at inopportune moments but he’s able to use the gifts and his own ingenuity to get out of the situations.  The story reminds me a lot of Aladdin with the Demon of Electricity as the genie and Rob as Aladdin.

Baum makes a few good predictions with his gifts.  Especially considering he was writing in 1901.  The electrical tube that incapacitates people for an hour is strikingly similar to a Tazer.  In a later passage, Baum comes very close to describing intellectual piracy with another gift the Demon bestows on Rob.  It’s a small device that can look in on any event that is happening throughout the world.  At one point Rob watches a brand new play being performed and is suddenly filled with guilt because he didn’t pay to see the performance.  Rob goes on to think that if these little devices become more common then people would sit at home to watch the performances and the actors would all starve to death.  Very prescient if you ask me, Mr Baum.

Fanny Cory’s illustrations are simple yet fit the story well. Below are two of the color illustrations. There are also numerous smaller black and white illustrations throughout the chapters. The picture on the left showcases the first time Rob uses the electrical transporter to fly away from his house in front of his family. The right picture shows Rob after encountering a tribe of cannibals on an island. Click the images to see them bigger.

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I love the cover to the book, it has always intrigued me. It comes from an illustration on the inside. Here’s that illustration from inside the book.  It is the first time the Demon of Electricity appears to Rob in his workshop.

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Considering the Demon is the main thrust of the story, I’m surprised there are not really any big illustrations of him. He is only showcased a few times in some of the smaller black and white chapter drawings.

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Overall, yes, I can recommend this book. It has the typical Baum charm and is fun to read. Very much a journey story where the protagonist learns a lesson and essentially figures out that he was better off before the fantastical events of the book started.

The book is in the public domain and can be read in its entirety here.

Bionic Review: Cyborg IV by Martin Caidin (1975)

Posted in Bionic Man, books, Six Million Dollar Man, TV shows with tags , , , , , , on March 4, 2013 by Paxton

Bionic Review

SMDM Book

Martin Caidin wrote his fourth and final Steve Austin novel in 1975. It was called Cyborg IV.

Cyborg IV Cyborg IV

By this point, Caidin’s character had spun off into the famous Six Million Dollar Man TV show.  However, Caidin continued his novels as if the TV show didn’t exist.  The continuity within the novels did not overlap with the show.  Despite this fact, this particular book was included as #6 in the Six Million Dollar Man book series.  Which is confusing (is it Book #6 or Book #4?).  The Six Million Dollar Man book series were paperback translations of episodes of the TV show in which authors like Mike Jahn and Jay Barbree novelized episodes like Pilot Error, Rescue of Athena One and Solid Gold Kidnapping.  Caidin’s third Cyborg novel, High Crystal, was also confusingly included in this series.  The first two Cyborg books were not included.

For this last novel, Caidin takes the idea of “man working in tandem with machines” to a new level.  Steve is introduced to a new project within the Army in which an advanced fighter jet/spaceship is directly connected to a human pilot so that ship and man are one and the same. This setup requires that the human pilot have interface ports surgically added to his body, but since Steve already has most of that done, Oscar thinks he’s the perfect test pilot for the project.

The idea that Caidin introduces here is pretty cool.  When directly connected to the ship, Steve would “feel” and “see” what happens to that ship as if it were a part of his body.  Instead of having gauges and digital readouts tell him about the telemetry of the ship, it would be fed directly into his body and he’d know it just as he knows that it’s cold outside or that he’s hungry.  It’s a pretty crazy idea and for some reason it immediately made me think of the Clint Eastwood movie Firefox.  And the first time they test Steve and the plane, they have to dial back the connection to 30%, otherwise, Austin may lose all of his individual identity and become “one” with the ship.  The way it’s written in the book is actually pretty cool.

The problem?  Caidin is his own worst enemy.  We spend the first 1/3-2/3 of the book learning about the project and then training Steve on the equipment.  The final action of the book is really just the very first outer space flight test for the plane/cyborg hybrid.  There is a small conflict with the Russians in that they are destroying US spy satellites, but other than that, the book is just training and a few test flights of the new ship.  And the book essentially just ends not giving you any indication about the future of the project or where Steve will go next.

So, again, I’m a little frustrated reading these Caidin Cyborg books because the author has really good ideas but the written execution of the novel is seriously lacking.  And considering the books are short, (< 200pgs) Caidin still manages to drone on WAY too long about the most mundane things.  So while I’d recommend this more than Operation Nuke it’s not as good as High Crystal or the original Cybog novel.

Review of Oz Book 13: The Magic of Oz (1919)

Posted in books, Classic literature, pop culture, Wizard of Oz with tags , , , , , on February 13, 2013 by Paxton

Following the Yellow Brick Road

The thirteenth book in Baum’s Oz series was called The Magic of Oz.  It was published in 1919, one month after L Frank Baum had died due to complications after having a stroke.

Tin Woodman of Oz

This story begins with a magician who discovers a simple magical word for transforming anything and anyone into anything and anyone he wishes. The word is complex and must be pronounced exactly, but once learned is very easy to execute. After Ozma declares that only Glinda and the Wizard are able to perform magic in Oz, the magician retires but writes down his discovery in a secret compartment in his magical laboratory. Years later the magician’s son happens upon the secret word, figures out how to use it and escapes his village to do wicked things across the land of Oz. The son, Kiki Aru, joins up with the original Nome King, Ruggedo, who was exiled in Book 3 – Tik-Tok of Oz, to exact revenge on the denizens of The Emerald City, most notably Ozma and Dorothy.  The plan involves tricking the animals of Oz to revolt against the Emerald  City by convincing them that the people of Oz are going to attack and enslave the animals first.

Meanwhile, everyone in Oz is preparing for Ozma’s birthday and Dorothy and like 8 other people travel out into the Oz country side to find Ozma the perfect birthday present.  Yeah, I’m not too thrilled with that part of the story.  Trot and Capt Bill spend most of their time trying to obtain this magical flower that is floating in this island in the middle of a river in the northernmost part of Oz.  Just not very compelling.

However, the scenes with Ruggedo and Kiki Aru convincing the animals to attack the Emerald City are pretty good.  However, while out looking for presents, the Wizard and Dorothy stumble upon the plan and do their best to stop it.  All while Capt Bill and Trot are magically stuck on the island with the magical flower.

Oh, and, spoiler alert, Dorothy and the Wizard train a monkey to jump out of Ozma’s cake and dance.  That is their gift to her.  On  her birthday.

This is an oddly disjointed book.  I liked about half of it.  The rest is sort of silly, but in a bad way.  Normally Baum is able to make the silly parts endearing, but this time, not so much.  I’m not really going to recommend this book, even though we see the return of the original Nome King, one of my favorite Oz characters.  It just seems a little pointless and dull.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of imagination and cool stuff to see, but by the end of the book I was a little disappointed.

Only one more L Frank Baum Oz book would be published after this.

Below is my checklist of Oz books.  I’ve crossed off the ones I’ve currently read.  Next up is the fourteenth and final L Frank Baum Oz book, Glinda of Oz. Oz books checklist