Review of ‘The Road to Oz’ by L Frank Baum

Have you heard of the Shaggy Man? No, he’s not Scooby-Doo’s best pal, or a character from DC Comics, or the Jamaican singer of ‘It Wasn’t Me’ and ‘Mr Boombastic’ fame. Way before all of these, he was a lovable tramp in the fifth Oz book.

The story begins with Dorothy and Toto meeting the Shaggy Man in Kansas, and then they discover that the road has split into several directions. They pick up another traveller, Button-Bright, an empty-headed boy in a sailor suit. The next to join them is ethereal Polychrome, the rainbow’s daughter. By this time, they know that if they keep going, they should arrive in Oz. Facing challenges on the way, such as almost being turned into soup, two of them temporarily having the heads of animals, and being disturbed by a man who breathes out horrible music, they are determined to cross the Deadly Desert and reach the Emerald City in time for Princess Ozma’s birthday extravaganza.

Illustration of Polychrome drinking from a cup

This is a fun story which managed to introduce even more characters that the reader quickly becomes fond of. I liked how everyone makes an effort with Button-Bright even though his standard answer is ‘don’t know’. The Shaggy Man is an interesting character because he seems to be a vagrant by choice – he is strongly against money and is pleased to discover that Oz uses kindness as currency – and being ‘shaggy’ is so essential to his wellbeing that even his new suit of clothes in Oz is bejewelled yet shaggy. I thought Polychrome – Polly for short – was quite a marvellous idea as she is a fairy with swirling hair and clothes who is always dancing and survives on dewdrops. The plot of the story went downhill once everyone reached the Emerald City, as these chapters were mostly descriptions of celebrations, finery and royal visitors. I was puzzled at the inclusion of Santa Claus, as figures with their roots in the real world have not previously appeared in the books. It was as if the author had stuck Santa in there to oblige one of his child readers, whose letters he always mentions in the preface. Perhaps he or she wrote: ‘Dear Mr Baum, I love your books! Please please can you write one with Santa in it?’

Some of the characters from previous books return in this one. Most notably we discover that Jack Pumpkinhead now has a pumpkin farm so that when his head spoils, he always has a replacement. He also lives in a giant pumpkin.

I enjoyed reading this instalment and am certainly going to continue reading the series.

First published in 1909, illustrated by John R Neill. This edition was from Project Gutenberg.

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