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Speedy in Oz: 01/26/18

cover art

Speedy in Oz by Ruth Plumly Thompson is the twenty-eighth Oz book and the 14th written by Thompson who took over as the "Royal Historian of Oz" upon Baum's death in 1920.

According to the Oz Club's site, Thompsons Oz books usually have an American child acting as companion to a magical creature (usually a talking animal) to an obscure corner of Oz or one of the surrounding nations. There is also an element of romance, something that is more typically devoid of in the Baum books. Speedy in Oz certainly fits this description, being about a teenaged boy, "Speedy" who is thrust into the atmosphere along with a dinosaur skeleton after the unexpected eruption of a geyser at Yellowstone National Park.

Like the whale and petunia who suddenly come into being in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the dinosaur bones on realizing its hurdling through the sky, comes to life as an animated, thinking, talking skeleton. Speedy and he, expecting to plummet to their deaths (or the dinosaur's second death), become friends on the way down.

Except, they don't die. Like Dorothy — near death experiences bring them into the realm of Oz (or at least into the dimension or whatever you want to call it) that contains Oz and its neighbors. I will address the ways to Oz in an upcoming essay on why Oz can't be dystopian. For now, suffice it to say, that Speedy doesn't die.

Speedy, it turns out, has already been to Oz and therefore comes to expect that's what's happening now as he is now traveling with a talking dinosaur skeleton. That's the set up.

For our look at Oz and Ozma's power, and the underlying feminist message, there is an interesting discussion on what to do when in trouble in Oz (or, in this case, over Oz). In floating island stories, there's often a giant living on top. For this book, though, there are regular sized people living up there and their island kingdom is snagged by a giant who happens to reside behind a mountain in Oz. Though the giant holds no special loyalty to Ozma, he is one of her subjects and under her protection. He, though, threatens island dwellers and wishes to make the crown princess his official boot-lacer.

The immediate discussion that follows takes two sides. The first is, to send someone down to Oz to request help with the giant. The second is to fix the island as quickly as possible and run away to avoid the wrath of Ozma. She is well known by now for protecting all of her subjects and she is well known for being extremely powerful. A floating island without a flight plan wandering into Ozian airspace is understandably troublesome. The leaders of the island (including the king and his advisors) know that they are in the wrong, but there is a long debate as to how to respond.

As the question of Ozma is the big lingering conflict of this novel, she and the rest of Oz remain out of the picture until the very end. What builds over the course of Speedy's time on the floating island is a picture of fear on the part of the male leadership (mostly in the form of the advisors) over projected responses and attitudes of Ozma based on what they know of her: she's powerful and she's loyal to all her subjects.

While the adventure of Speedy with the Umbrellians is a pretty standard adventure in to another world, it does offer an interesting outsider's look at Oz and the perception of Oz. It also has some observations on gender roles with (a la El Hazard) Speedy being asked to dress up like the crown princess.

It also gives some glimpses at possible chinks in Ozma and Dorothy's relationship. Dorothy near the end of the book expresses a moment of jealousy at Speedy's apparent elevation to wizard among the Umbrellians. It is the first instance I can recall of Dorothy desiring power like Ozma. I am now going back and re-reading the Oz books (as I can find them) to look at a number of things: ways to Oz, gender in Oz, Dorothy's desire for power, and possible signs of dystopia in Oz.

Five stars

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