What I Am Reading: The Lost King of Oz

I recently started reading The Lost King of Oz by Ruth Plumly Thompson and Illustrated by John R. Neill. This is the ninteenth book in the original Oz series.

This is one of the times that Thompson goes back to a single detail from one of Baum’s books and decides to build a story around it. In this case, she is exploring what happened to the King of Oz before the Wizard took over. In Baum’s second book, which is notably very different from basically every other Oz book he wrote, he more or less offhandedly mentions that there was a king before and that something happened to him, almost certainly involving Mombi, the witch. Mombi also raised Ozma as a boy, keeping her hidden (even from herself) so that nobody could restore her to the throne of Oz. Why she did this is a little unclear, but sometimes general evilness is enough.

Now, the vagueness of this story certainly does leave a fair amount of room for explaining and embroidering. But the fact that Ozma is the “rightful ruler” according to Glinda’s magic book sort of implies that either the King was not or that he’s dead. But this is an Oz book. We’re not going to have a whole adventure to find someone, only to discover they are dead. Dead isn’t really a thing in Oz, after all.

For me, it continues to illustrate how different Thompson’s version of Oz was from Baum’s. He did away with the concept of money, for example, and this book (and the last one) begins with an exploration of the economic patterns of a small kingdom inside the land of Oz. It also seems that death is a concept here, since we also start with a conversation between a cook and the goose she means to slaughter for dinner. It’s all very curious and continues to make me wonder what Thompson’s concept of Oz was and where she got it from, since it has such big differences from the version Baum created after his first two books. My guess, though, is that she could have made more or less any changes she wanted and Reilly & Lee would have continued to print them as long as they continued to sell. And it’s not like Baum himself was remarkably consistent with the details of his fantasy world…

Anyway, I haven’t read this since college and am enjoying reading it again. This time I have an original copy with all the illustrations to enjoy as well, which is a real pleasure. And bonus Christmas Ozma on the cover!

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