Jenny Jump and Number Nine return from Neill's previous book, The Wonder City of Oz. Jenny is the book's main protagonist, but the story begins with Number Nine, who is now an assistant to the Wizard of Oz. The Wizard has a tendency to disappear suddenly, as he pursues various projects. His latest endeavor is the creation of a new form of transport for the Land of Oz — sapient flying cars called scalawagons. The Wizard has established a red-domed mountaintop facility in the Quadling Country to build the things, and makes Tik-Tok the superintendent. The scalawagons are self-aware, but not very bright; Tik-Tok pounds sense into them with a rubber mallet. His new duties wear on the clockwork man, however, and he runs down sooner than expected.
The novel's villain, called Bel-snickle, suddenly appears. This creature is shaped like a giant pancake that rolls around on its edge. It has appendages and facial features, plus a limited intelligence and a motiveless malignity — like a spoiled child let loose on the world. Finding the scalawagon factory, Bel-snickle knocks the stationary Tik-Tok out a window and down the mountain. It is intelligent enough to read the posted warning signs, and willful enough to disobey them deliberately. The monster fuels the scalawagons with "flabber-gas," and they quickly fly away. Bell-snickle carelessly soaks itself with the gas too; blowing up like a balloon, it sails away into the sky, and disappears from the plot for ten chapters.
The palace of Glinda the Good is not far away. Glinda learns of the scalawagons' existence and their escape from her Great Book of Records. A party sets out to investigate, consisting of Jenny Jump, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Sawhorse. The foursome is quickly caught up in chaotic adventures, complicated by the Sawhorse's penchant for running off uncontrolled. The story involves the usual menagerie of odd beings, including "Lollies" and their "Pops," water sprites and kelpies, talking animals and vegetables, a grumpy grandfather clock, and a chorus of aerial bells, the Nota-bells. Jenny's jumping/flying ability comes in handy. She and Number Nine find Tik-Tok, and wind him up again. Eventually the scalawagons are located, flying above the Deadly Desert; they are herded back to Oz.
Bell-snickle returns to cause more trouble. It comes to dominate a stand of walking talking trees, and drives them toward the Emerald City in a vain attempt at conquest. At the city's gate, The Tin Woodman terrifies the trees with his axe, and the threat is quickly disposed of. Bell-snickle is captured, and cowed into agreeing to a new way of life. Jenny runs the monster through the turnstyle of her style shop over and over, until it is reduced to a rubber stamp. Ozma uses the converted monster as a stopper, to stop trends she doesn't approve.
Neill brings technology to Oz in this book, as Ruth Plumly Thompson did in her final book for Reilly & Lee, Ozoplaning with the Wizard of Oz (1939). Where Thompson had simply brought airplanes, or "ozoplanes," to Oz, Neill with typical extravagance brings the flying automobile, that perennial dream of the technologically hopeful. Neill draws his scalawagons to resemble the kiddie-cars of amusement park rides; their heads and faces are in turrets on their roofs. They fly by extending their running boards into wings.
The scalawagons run of "flabber-gas" — which is a liquid, "gas" as in gasoline, but which provides the same effect as the lifting gasses, hydrogen and helium, in airships. The name is an apparent pun on "flabbergasted," but the pun is random, with no point beyond idle wordplay.
Neill never gives any explanation or origin for his Bell-snickle. To the contrary, the creature prides itself on being a mystery, and attacks every other mysterious phenomenon it encounters, out of jealousy. The thing wears bells on its ears, which helps to explain one portion of its name; but Neill's Bell-snickle has no clear connection with the German Santa-Claus figure called Bellsnickel. Here again, the wordplay is random, with no larger point.
(Neill carries punning very far in this book; his prose is often a tissue of puns. One or two of his puns are not terrible. Late in the book, the Scarecrow and Tin Man enjoy a game of "squash," which they play with ripe bananas and brickbats.)
The lack of a credible, sensible villain, and its general disorganization, make The Scalawagons of Oz one of the weakest of the "Famous Forty" Oz books.
|The final "Famous Forty" Oz books|