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Pirates in Oz

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Piratesinoz
Written by  Ruth Plumly Thompson
Illustrator  John R. Neill
Published  1931
Publisher  Reilly & Lee

Pirates in Oz is the twenty-fifth installment in the Oz book series, and the eleventh Oz novel written by Ruth Plumly Thompson.

Thompson's sixteenth Oz book, Captain Salt in Oz, is a direct sequel to this book, and employs some of the same characters.

Summary

Ruggedo, the former Nome King, has spent the past five years wandering the outer countries of Nonestica as a mute peddler. (He lost the power of speech seven years earlier when Peter Brown hit him with a silence stone at the end of The Gnome King of Oz.) Traveling from Ev to Rinkitink, Ruggedo finds a narrow cleft in the mountains; on the other side he reaches the tiny kingdom of Menankypoo. He is astonished to see a wanted sign posted on a castle gate, soliciting a "Dumb King." Naturally, he applies for the job.

He learns that Menankypoo is a place of silence; none of the inhabitants can speak. They are looking for a monarch who will be an idle figurehead. Their last king was too active for their tastes, and "accidentally" got thrown into the Nonestic Ocean. Ruggedo controls his normally tempestuous emotions, well enough to pass the "dumb tests" that show him to be silent, stupid, and feckless. He is accepted as the new king of Menankypoo.

Exploring his new kingdom, Ruggedo comes upon the cave of Kadj the Conjurer. Kadj is absent; Ruggedo is able to enter the treasure-strewn cave and sample its offerings. A happy accident restores his power of speech. He finds a man with a clock for a head; this is Clocker, the Wise Man of Menankypoo. Clocker can communicate only once every fifteen minutes, when his clock sounds and the cuckoo in his forehead emerges with a note. Clocker has been confined to the cave "for putting bright ideas into the head of the former king." The two ambitious individuals quickly form an alliance, with the ultimate goal of conquering the Land of Oz.

Their plans are forestalled by a sudden attack of pirates, who sweep over Menankypoo and force all 600 residents to jump into the sea. With some of Kadj's magic and Clocker's guidance, Ruggedo convinces the pirates to appoint him their leader, and follow him in his project conquest of Oz. Before they can set out, the pirates are joined by a party of deserters from Octagon Island, who collude in the conquest scheme.

Octagon is an eight-sided island in the Nonestic Ocean, ruled by King Ato the Eighth. Ato is a lazy and benign character; his subjects abandon him and sail away precisely because he offers them no adventure or gain. Ato is left alone with his companion Roger the Read Bird; but they are quickly joined by two wanderers. Captain Samuel Salt comes looking for his pirate crew, who mutinied and deserted him because he was too mild and un-piratical; and Peter Brown shows up once again as well, with a mysterious bottle labelled "Do Not Open." The foursome unite and set sail in Salt's ship, the Crescent Moon; Ato is cook, Peter is cabin boy, and Roger is an effective lookout. Salt searches for his mutinous crew, Ato for his mutinous subjects, while Peter eventually hopes to find his way to the Emerald City and then home to Philadelphia again.

The foursome's voyage takes them to exotic locations in the Nonestic Ocean, from Shell City to Nowhere At All, from Snow Island to Mount Up; they encounter strange beings like an imprisoned ogre, a Banany Goat, and a winged and flying pig named Pigasus. The pig joins their crew; its aerial skills prove useful. One drawback: anyone who rides of Pigasus's back must talk in doggerel rhymes.

They eventually reach Menankypoo, and learn of Ruggedo's plan of conquest, which is well under way. Peter flies to Oz on Pigasus, hoping to help counter the attack. Captain Salt accidentally opens the "Do Not Open" bottle, which transforms his ship into a flying vessel. Salt, Ato, and Roger follow Peter to Oz in the Crescent Moon. Salt captures Ruggedo on the verge of conquering the Emerald City. When Princess Ozma and her followers are released from Ruggedo's borrowed magic, the rightful order is restored to Oz.

Ozma turns the pirates into seagulls, and sends the contrite Octagon Islanders home with her Magic Belt. The Menankypoos are fished out of the ocean the same way. Clocker is kept for re-programming, and Pigasus is welcomed to Oz as a new resident. Salt gives up piracy to be the official explorer for Oz. Ato returns to his throne, with planned future vacations as Salt's cook. Peter is sent home to Philadelphia once again, with heartfelt thanks.

Background

The people of Menankypoo cannot speak — but they can communicate. Their "high and broad" foreheads light up with their thoughts, in "long sparkling sentences, each message as clear and distinct as words flashed upon an electric sign." (Chapter 2) When they are submerged, their communications continue (they do not drown, since like residents of Oz they are death-resistant). "Soon the waves for miles around were lighted with the electric flashes from their conversation." The resulting lights "play like phosphorescence" in the water. (Chapter 4)

Thompson introduces a similar effect in a later book, Ozoplaning with the Wizard of Oz. There, the Stratovanians have transparent foreheads that show their internal moods in weather imagery, sunny or cloudy.

Language matters

As Thompson points out in several of her books, the diverse peoples of the Nonestic region speak the language "Ozish" — which is the same as English. When the heroes of this book reach Shell City, they are surprised to find that the inhabitants have a native language of their own. Fortunately, the Shell City people speak Ozish as a second language.

Thompson tries for atmosphere and verisimilitude in this book by indulging in pirate and nautical terms — but her efforts are uneven at best. She equips Captain Salt with a "scimitar." In his illustrations, John R. Neill gives Salt a weapon that is more like a cutlass — a better match for a pirate. Peter Brown, as noted above, arrives with a mysterious "bottle" or "flask" — but Thompson also calls this object a "cask," and uses the terms "flask" and "cask" interchangeably, though they mean different things. And she is unaware that the word "abaft," as in "abaft our beam," indicates something in back of the ship and not in front. The result: when the heroes sail toward a new place, it is somehow behind them.

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The Yellow Knight of Oz The Purple Prince of Oz

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