Thompson dedicated the book to her "best and only brother," Richard Shuff Thompson.
The country of the Ozure Isles, in Lake Orizon in the Munchkin Country of Oz, was formerly an idyllic place; now it is plagued with the malevolent presence of the aquatic monster Quiberon, sent by the evil witch Mombi. For twenty years, the monster has harassed the inhabitants of the five islands; suddenly, it demands that a "mortal maiden" be delivered to it in three days, or it will destroy the Ozurians.
The only mortal children in Oz are the three American girls who live in the Emerald City — Dorothy Gale, Betsy Bobbin, and Trot. Separately, two Ozurians decide to do something about the dire situation they face. King Cheeriobed's son and heir, Prince Philador, seeks help from his friends the blue gulls, to fly to the Good Witch of the North for help; he gets a ride on their king, the grand Mo-gull. Akbad, the royal soothsayer, eats the magic pear that grows in the garden of the King's castle; it endows him with a pair of golden wings, on which he flies to the Emerald City. He plans to kidnap one of the three girls and deliver her to Quiberon.
In Boston, meanwhile, a bit of accidental magic brings to life a stone statue in a park. The statue, of a Public Benefactor, begins to explore the world, but finds himself unwelcome. He stumbles into a excavation and falls through the earth until he reaches Oz. There he meets Trot and the Scarecrow, and is present when Akbad arrives on his magic wings. Akbad seizes Trot, but the Scarecrow and "Benny," as they call him, try to resist; the magic of Akbad's wings is so powerful that he lifts all three of them to the Ozure Isles. There, they confront and escape from Quiberon, and proceed on a string of adventures involving strange places and beings — Cave City, the Roundabouties, and the Shutterfaces — as they make their way to the capital to seek Ozma's help.
Prince Philador reaches the cottage of Tattypoo, the Good Witch of the North; but she is missing. He encounters Herby the Medicine Man, an enchanted person with a medicine cabinet incorporated into his chest cavity. They too head for the Emerald City to seek aid; along the way they meet Joe King, the monarch of Up Town, who loans them his horse High Boy to help them on their journey. High Boy is a remarkable beast, with telescoping legs and an umbrella tail. With High Boy's legs extended, they cover the ground with great speed.
The two parties run into each other, and combine. They gain the help they need from Ozma and her court; a large party is magically transported to the Ozure Isles. Tattypoo resurfaces in her original form, as Orin, Queen of the Ozure Isles and Philador's missing mother. Akbad redeems himself by rescuing Orin from Quiberon on his golden wings. The Wizard of Oz turns Quiberon into a silver and bronze statue. Also, the Wizard uses a magic spell that reconstitutes the Hippocampus (that Quiberon devoured into extinction) from their bones enabling them to live again. Cheeriobed and Orin are promoted to the King and Queen of the Munchkin Country, under Ozma's supervision.
The book makes an interesting but not entirely sensible distinction between the "mortal" children from outside of Oz and the native inhabitants. Since they benefit from the general enchantment of Oz and do not age, Trot and Dorothy and Betsy are not "mortal" at all in the usual sense of the word.
At one point, both Trot and Philador note that they remain ten years old because they want to. (Philador was two years old when Mombi sent Quiberon to Lake Orizon. Twenty years later, he should be twenty-two.) The refusal to age is an option for both children, whether "mortal" or Ozian. (Chapter 14)
King Cheeriobed maintains that "We who are magically constructed can be destroyed without pain, but a mortal can be hurt...." (Chapter 2) As far as is known, though, the humans of Oz were normal humans prior to Queen Lurline's enchantment, which turned Oz into a fairyland; it is unclear how they are "magically constructed" differently from outsiders.
Benny arrives in Oz by falling through the Earth, rather in the same way that the Scarecrow arrives in the Silver Island in The Royal Book of Oz.
Herby the Medicine Man concocts treatments — not for normal human diseases, which Ozians do not suffer, but for the conditions that do afflict them, like inappropriate laughter or cross tempers. Some of his notable remedies are used by Philador, High Boy, and the other travelers on their journey — appetite suppressants, and "Keep Awake pills and yawn lozenges." Trot and Philador take these pills at one point, "and immediately they both felt wide awake and full of energy." (Chapter 15)
It is startling to observe this use of Ozian amphetamines by children.
The book's message
Thompson wrote primarily to entertain her young readers, with no overt message, moral, homily, or didactic purpose. Yet the Oz literature does have its own underlying message, which is expressed more plainly in The Giant Horse of Oz than in other books of the series.
Trot, the Scarecrow, and Benny suffer through their encounters with the shadow people of Cave City, who try to turn them into shadows, and the Roundabouties, who try to turn them into Roundabouties. Afterward, Benny ruefully observes, "Everyone wishes to make us into a being like himself." To which the Scarecrow replies, "A fault you will find with people everywhere, even in your own world.... Everybody thinks his way is the right way." (Chapter 13)
Yet the regime of Ozma in the Emerald City is the antidote to this coercive impulse. Consider the fate of Benny the animated statue: when he comes alive in Boston, he is chased through the streets by a mob and pelted with sticks, stones, and bricks. When he reaches Oz and falls in with Emerald City people, he is welcomed and accepted for what he is; and his admirable character and good actions win him approval and friendship at the highest levels of society.
Like other writers of previous generations, Thompson and Baum are now sometimes criticized for failing to meet modern standards of political correctness. The Oz literature they created, however, is fundamentally a literature (perhaps the ultimate literature) of individuality, diversity, tolerance, and inclusivity.
|Ruth Plumly Thompson's Oz books|