Edited by John Joseph Adams & Douglas Cohen 

47 North 


380pp/$14.95/February 2013

Oz Reimagined
Cover by Galen Dara 

  Reviewed by Steven H Silver

John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen have collected fifteen stories which take their inspiration for L. Frank Baum and Ruth Plumly Thompson’s series of books set in Oz.  While a few of the stories seem mostly inspired by the film, most of them do draw from the rich and broad world that was created through the numerous books published throughout the twentieth century. Many of these stories, fit the anthology’s title, Oz Reimagined, by taking the characters and situations and looking at them from different points of view or bringing the tropes of a different genre to them.

Rae Carson & C.C. Finlay manage to present the Wizard of Oz, Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkle Emmanuel Ambrose Diggs with the correct amount of arrogance and the air of a con artist in “The Great Zeppelin Heist of Oz,” while also showing how the various residents of Oz, from a Munchkin to a field mouse, to the Wicked Witch of the East see through him to the bunkum existing not too far beneath his superior exterior.  They tell the story of Diggs’s arrival, as witnessed by the Patchwork Girl, and his attempt to set himself up as the King of the four kingdoms, which he sees as lacking a king, for a kingdom must have a king.  The story is told with wit and a mixture of the Wizard’s character from the books and the film, providing an excellent beginning for the anthology.

Seanan McGuire presents a detective story with “Emeralds to Emeralds, Dust to Dust.” Dorothy and Ozma’s relationship has deteriorated and Dorothy, now both Princess of Oz and Wicked Witch of the West, is called upon to do Ozma’s dirty work when a corpse is discovered in the Underworld, a ghetto mostly made up of others who have crossed over to Oz and formed a permanent underclass.  McGuire’s ideas are interesting, but she doesn’t seem to have decided if the main focus should be on the procedural nature of the story or an examination of Dorothy and Ozma’s complex relationship, with the result that the story doesn’t quite gel on either level, at the same time indicating that McGuire has more than enough material for a longer, more nuanced exploration of both.

If J.M. Barrie’s Neverland is the place lost young boys go, Oz is where to look for missing girls in “Lost Girls of Oz,” by Theodora Goss.  Goss related the story of a Eleanor Dale, newspaper reporter who is trying to discover what is happening to girls who have disappeared from San Francisco in an epistolary manner.  Comparing Goss’s vision of Ozma with the previous view offered by McGuire is interesting, and is indicative of the way each other brings their own spin on L. Frank Baum’s world.  Both versions of Ozma are striving for the protection of their realm and its citizens, but McGuire’s Ozma is shown as far more capricious, partly due to the narration being provided by a former lover, while Goss’s Ozma has a much more militant nature. Both versions of the character, however, are scheming to achieve security for the Land of Oz.

And while all of the stories are helped by an understanding of Baum’s novels (and, to a lesser extent, those of Ruth Plumly Thompson, Tad Williams adds another level of prior knowledge needed by incorporating his own Otherland series with “The Boy Detective of Oz: An Otherland Story,” although he does an adequate job of providing the necessary background of how that world works, which also allows him to twist Oz in manners which could be considered inconsistent with the canon since his Orlando Gardiner is traveling through a simulation of Oz, not Baum’s actual land. Williams follows McGuire’s lead by presenting his tale as a murder mystery, having Gardiner trying to figure out who might have killed Omby Amby, the Soldier with Green Whiskers.  His companion for his investigation is the Glass Cat, who offers help if Orlando can figure out what questions to ask.  The two offer a tour of Otherland’s Kansas, which has been reversed with Oz, and includes encounters with the most famous characters from the books.

In Oz, Dorothy is an eternal girl, but in “Dorothy Dreams,” Simon R. Green takes a look at Dorothy after the passage of many years.  Rather than the girl who explored Oz, she is now an old woman in a nursing home, remembering her old friends, and occasionally questioning the reality of her experiences and wondering if they were all a dream of her youth.

David Farland is only one of many authors who presents a less than positive view of The Wizard of Oz in his story “Dead Blue.”  Told from the Tinman’s point of view, it offers up a more realistic vision of the type of charlatan that the Wizard is exposed as, looking at his solicitatious advice to those who come to him for assistance with an eye on the damage his advice and lack of help really does when paired with the hope that the legends around him inspire.

Robin Wasserman took her instructions to reimagine The Wizard of Oz to heart and has done so, placing Dorothy and her companions into a mental hospital in “One Flew Over the Rainbow.”  The characters, all of whom have been committed, receive nicknames based on their personalities and psychoses, which just happen to match up to the names of the characters in Baum’s classic, with the Wizard being a patient with the ability to work the system and the Wicked Bitch of the West Wing a nurse whose role in life seems to be to confound the desires and activities of the inmates.

Ken Liu reimagines Oz in a manner similar to that applied by Pat Murphy to Middle Earth in “The Veiled Shanghai.”  His version of Oz follows the storyline of Baum’s classic fairly closely, although it is set in a version of China in 1919, along with an Ozian analog.  Liu uses the story to explore the growth of legend, for just as the Wizard’s reputation grew in Oz, and can mean different things to different people, Liu’s version of the Wizard is based on Sun Yat-sen and uses Dorothy and her companions to show four different images people had of Sun as his legend grew and morphed based on different people’s political agendas and experiences.

Rachel Swirsky views Oz as a land of reality television, with four teams trying to reach the Emerald City first to receive the prize in “Beyond the Naked Eye.” It is a clever and satirical idea, especially as she reveals that only one member of the winning team will be able to have their wish granted.  Swirsky offers up a wonderful idea which is shortchanged by the brevity of her story.  Swirsky does not have time to fully flesh out all of the competing teams, focusing her attention on Dorothy’s team as they make their way to the wizard. Swirsky’s story does work, but it hints at the possibility of being so much more than she is able to provide in the limited framework of a short story.

Kat Howard plays with the concept of narrative in “A Tornado of Dorothys.”  While Ken Liu took a look at the way legend formed about reality in “The Veiled Shanghai,” Howard treats narrative as an imperative.  L Frank Baum’s version of Oz includes Dorothy, therefore Dorothy must be included no matter what.  Not only is the narrative imperative, but Howard’s tale also includes a strong element of predeterminism.  Glinda knows that a house will fall, the question remains, who will it fall on and who will be the Dorothy. Despite the predestination implicit in Howard’s vision of narrative, the Dorothy of this story does make an attempt at individuality

Jane Yolen focuses more on the family Dorothy left behind when she was “Blown Away” by the twister, one of only two according to Yolen.  While Dorothy does have adventures, they are very different from the ones depicted by Baum and only come to light as the family slowly learns what happened to Dorothy after she was taken away, and then relearns as the truth of her adventures comes out.  Nevertheless, the key to the story is less about what happened to Dorothy, but the manner in which It affected Em and Henry, who had to rebuild from scratch even as they had lost the child they had taken in.  Narrated by one of their farm hands, Yolen is able, in only a few words, to provide insight into the type of close knit community that existed on the Kansas plains during the early years of the twentieth century.

In many of the stories included in Oz Reimagined, the Wizard is made out to be much more malevolent than the mostly ineffectual conman best known from the film version.  Perhaps his darkest portrayal is in “City So Bright,” by Dale Bailey.  This is the story of the workers who not only have built the Emerald City, but have become a permanent underclass. This is also the most political story as Bailey takes on the Wizard’s actions when a group of the Emerald City’s wall polishers begins to talk about the possibility of unionizing. Not only does Bailey explore the underclass of Oz, but he also takes a look at the relationships that form when people, even of disparate backgrounds, work closely together and the way paranoia can sunder even the closest friendships.

In “Off to See the Emperor,” Orson Scott Card explores the possible genesis of the Oz stories when L. Frank Baum lived in Aberdeen, Dakota Territory in the 1880s.  Although told from the point of view of Baum’s 6 year old son, Frank Joslyn Baum, the model for Dorothy, and the gateway to Oz, is an older, local girl, Dotty, who escapes from the harsh reality of Dakota by looking at the world in a slightly less-than-direct manner, an appropriate way to move to the strange world of Oz.  In their adventure, Frank, Jr. meets several of the characters who, with the reimagining of his father, would feature in the Wizard of Oz books.  Frank’s initial relationship with Dotty is based on Dotty’s forthrightness and her comments about how generous Baum was in offering her family credit at his store, neglecting to realize that his generosity and her family’s taking advantage of it resulted in Baum’s bankruptcy.  Dotty’s insistence that it was never too late to pay back a debt, of course, ties in to the wealth that Baum would eventually realize from the adventure she shares with Frank, Jr.

While Bailey dealt with the dark side of Oz and Yolen looked at Dorothy’s real adventures, Jeffrey Ford combines the two in order to create “A Meeting in Oz,” an exceedingly bleak look at the way her adventures in the land of Oz would affect Dorothy in the real world, where she was unable to come to terms with the reality of a Depression, the Dust Bowl, and individuals who wouldn’t, or couldn’t, live up to the memories she has of the Munchkins, Quadlings, Winkies, and other citizens of Oz.

Silver (or ruby) slippers don’t make themselves and Jonathan Maberry envisions “The Cobbler of Oz,” who has a pair of silver slippers, long after they have become old and worn.  He entices Nyla, a young Winged Monkey with stunted wings, who wants a pair of magical traveling shoes to make up for the fact that her wings are not large enough to let her fly.  The cobbler, Bucklebelt, offers her the shoes with the stipulation that she must use them to travel across the Deadly Desert to find replacement dragon scales for the shoes for those it has lost.  Maberry examines the way potential enemies can work together for the common good and indicates an essential goodness in people who want to help, even as they have their own goals to achieve.  Overall, his story provides an uplifting conclusion for Reimagining Oz.

Rae Carson & C.C. Finlay   The Great Zeppelin Heist of Oz
Seanan McGuire   Emeralds to Emeralds, Dust to Dust
Theodora Goss   Lost Girls of Oz
Tad Williams   The Boy Detective of Oz
Simon R. Green   Dorothy Dreams
David Farland   Dead Blue
Robin Wasserman   One Flew Over the Rainbow
Ken Liu   The Veiled Shanghai
Rachel Swirsky   Beyond the Naked Eye
Kat Howard   A Tornado of Dorothys
Jane Yolen   Blown Away
Dale Bailey   City So Bright
Orson Scott Card   Off to See the Emperor
Jeffrey Ford   A Meeting in Oz
Jonathan Maberry   The Cobbler of Oz

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