Party Like It's 1909!
The guests begin to arrive for Ozma's birthday party, and L. Frank Baum demonstrates an early mastery of the Superhero Crossover subgenre. All the guests are either characters from other Oz books, or from some of Baum's non-Oz fantasies. This book solidly cements all of Baum's fantasies into a single fictional universe. It's tempting to identify this as the first all-star team-up in modern literature.
Actually the "crossover" concept goes back centuries. Consider the stories of King Arthur and his knights. All the secondary characters -- Gawain, Lancelot, Tristan -- were the heroes of their own stories. If they were comic book superheroes each one would have his own title. But the urge to fold them into Arthur's Round Table was too great, so the court at Camelot was a medieval version of the Justice League. (I have a suspicion that Robin Hood's Merry Men are another example, but I don't know enough about medieval comic ballads and folktales to be sure.)
Earlier still, consider the voyage of the Argo. Jason's crew just happens to include nearly every notable hero of ancient Greek legend. Heracles shares an oar with Mopsus, Castor and Pollux have the bench across from Atalanta and Meleager, and Jason has trouble managing them all.
At the very dawn of literature we have the story of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh is a great hero. He keeps peace and order in his city. He encounters the wild man Enkidu, and at first they fight. But when they've judged each other's qualities they become fast friends, and overcome mighty enemies together. Sound familiar? It's the ur-plot of every comic book superhero team-up issue ever. That's the first piece of literature known! I'd bet money that in ancient Mesopotamia there was a story-cycle about the adventures of Enkidu, long before his "crossover" appearance in the Epic of Gilgamesh.
As soon as storytellers created more than one fictional hero, the audience wanted to know what would happen if they met. Who'd beat who? The storytellers knew their market, and obliged. Today the Internet allows fan writers to create stories crossing characters over from very different fictional settings. Doctor Who encounters the Enterprise, X-Men meet Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Harry Potter visits Narnia, Winnie the Pooh meets Dracula . . . I suspect this will be a feature of storytelling as long as humans create fiction.
Anyway. Back to Ozma's party. The guest list:
• The Scarecrow (his face newly repainted and his body stuffed with fresh straw for the occasion)
• Jack Pumpkinhead (who brings Ozma a necklace of pumpkin seeds set with gems)
• Glinda the Good
• Professor H.M. Wogglebug, T.E. (who has composed an Ode in honor of the occasion which the Scarecrow refuses to let him read aloud)
• Billina the hen, and her chicks (all named Dorothy)
• The delegation from Hiland and Loland: King John Dough (a gingerbread man), Chick the Cherub (his androgynous "Head Boolywag") and the rubber bear Para Bruin. Their gift is a gingerbread crown set with pearls.
• A troop of Ryls and Knooks accompanying Santa Claus (Baum really should have saved him for last)
• The wax doll Queen of Merryland and her consort the Candy Man (no, he doesn't make or sell candy, he's made of candy)
• The Braided Man, from Dorothy and the Wizard In Oz (who has brought along some of his finest flutters)
• The Queen of Ev, young King Evardo, and the rest of the royal family, from Ozma of Oz. They've got the best gift of all: a necklace of diamonds set in radium. Since Ozma is an immortal fairy, this isn't the sinister assassination attempt it sounds like to modern readers.
• King Dox of Foxville
• King Bud and Princess Fluff of Noland, and Queen Zixi of Ix (the main characters of the novel Zixi of Ix; interestingly Zixi is the villain of that story, but she's also such a cool character Baum apparently couldn't resist throwing her in)
• King Kik-a-bray of Dunkiton
• Johnny Dooit (who may be delayed by work)
• The Good Witch of the North, in her first appearance since Dorothy's first arrival in Oz
The party is a grand two-day affair, full of adjectives. There's a banquet the first night, with entertainment by some of the guests. Everyone sleeps over at the palace and on the following day there's a big public celebration with a parade, performances by the Wizard and other notables of Oz. The grand finale involves a giant bubble-blower invented by the Wizard, which blows giant bubbles around people. The bubbles then transport them back to their home country, rather like the Rovers in The Prisoner.
It's pretty obvious from this section that L. Frank Baum had some experience managing children's birthday parties, because this is an absolutely awesome idea: "And now for the big final event of the party you all go home!"
Santa Claus takes charge of making sure Button-Bright gets home (since he knows where everyone lives), and passes the word to Polychrome's father to let down his rainbow in the Emerald City. Dorothy, however, doesn't appreciate bubble-riding, and plans to return home via Magic Belt. Ozma agrees to wish her home while she's asleep, so she'll wake up back in her bed in Kansas. And that's it.
Rereading Road to Oz, it's startling how little story there really is. We have one mild moment of tension when Dorothy and friends encounter the Scoodlers, but otherwise it's entirely a tourism narrative. They go places, they see things, they meet people. No conflict, no mystery, no real goals. It's barely a story at all. Perhaps Baum himself felt that this was rather thin stuff, because his next book is chock-full of suspense and conflict. We'll tackle that one next.