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Saturday, June 15, 2013

AUNT EM and UNCLE HENRY in OZ

AUNT EM and UNCLE HENRY in OZ by MARCH LAUMER



Published in 1983 Aunt Em and Uncle Henry in Oz is one of 20 books about the land of Oz published by March Laumer between 1983 and 1999. While print editions are rare (the first edition consisted of 500 numbered copies), I found the text file online at T.E.A.M.L.O.A.D.: THOROUGHLY ENTHUSIASTIC ADMIRERS OF MARCH LAUMER'S OZ ACTION DRAMAS, The Official March Laumer Online Oz Books Website and was able to read the book (sadly, without the illustrations by David Maxine) using my iPhone's Kindle app and Amazon's Send to Kindle utility.

The land of OZ and its main characters were created by American author L. Frank Baum in his first Oz book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz published in 1900. Most people know this story through the 1939 MGM movie starring Judy Garland, The Wizard of Oz. Baum's Oz books were phenomenally successful (he went on to write 13 sequels). At his death, Baum's publisher hired a young writer Ruth Plumly Thompson to continue the series. She and others after her, went on to write official Oz books for the publisher until 1963.

March Laumer takes the characters of Baum's land of Oz, and writes novels that are not necessarily for children where he speculates on what would happen to them over time. The story of this book takes place 81 years after Dorothy, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry move to Oz (told in Baum's 1910 book The Emerald City of Oz). Having adjusted to life in a fairy land where no one ages or dies, there is one small thing that still bothers Em: she lost her thimble years ago in the tornado that took Dorothy and their original Kansas home to Oz. No other thimble would ever do, and Henry has patiently listened to her complain and regret the loss of the special mother-of-pearl thimble her brother gave her.

The adventure begins when Henry suggests that Em's thimble might still be in the house that has been turned into a museum where it fell in Munchkinland. They decide to take a second honeymoon and go visit their old house to search for the thimble. Things get interesting when they get there and the remains of the wicked witch of the east, who died and turned to dust when the house fell on her, start to influence Em. Meanwhile the remains of the wicked witch of the west, melted when Dorothy poured a bucket of water on her so long ago, having settled to the bottom of the Pond of Peculiar Powers just outside the Tin Woodman's castle in Winkieland, are starting to have unexpected effects on the pond life.

Laumer's novel asks the question: since they lived in a land where people do not die or age, what happened to the two wicked witches that Dorothy destroyed. He also questions the concepts of good and evil that Baum played lightly with in his children's books, but that later writers like Gregory Maguire in his book Wicked would use effectively to bring the Oz stories to new mature audiences. Laumer appears to be a transitional author in the genre of Ozian fiction, being the first to ask the question as to whether these two sisters were truly wicked, or just misunderstood.

I found the novel confusing at first, with characters from Alexander Melentyevich Volkov's Russian novels about Magic Land mixed into Baum's Oz, but, as the story develops, it brings new maturity and wisdom to Oz. Growing up can sometimes be awkward, even for a literary genre. Laumer brings us through a transition from the official Oz series for children to something more by showing us his vision of what happens to Oz and its people in the many years since L. Frank Baum died. Nowhere near as polished as Maguire's work, but charming in its own way, I am pleased to have found Laumer's first book and look forward to reading more of this little known Ozian author.

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