In Chapter Four the scene shifts to a ship caught in a terrible storm. Betsy Bobbin is introduced and falls overboard in one sentence, followed by a thin, sad-faced mule named Hank. Then the ship explodes and sinks (well, it is 1914 . . . ). Betsy and Hank climb onto some floating wreckage. Betsy falls asleep, and when she wakes up the storm has cleared and he makeshift raft is approaching a coastline covered in flowers.
If you read Ozma of Oz, this section may strike you as kind of . . . familiar. In that book, Dorothy is swept overboard from a ship bound for Australia (which does not explode), and floats to safety in a chicken coop, accompanied by the incomparable hen Billina. Turn Dorothy into Betsy and Billina into Hank, and rush through the whole thing as if you're trying to save typewriter ribbons, and you've pretty much got this chapter.
And if you know anything about the stage and early film versions of the Oz stories, you know how often small animals were replaced by larger ones, as hiring some aspiring comic actor like Hal Roach to wear an animal costume was a lot cheaper than getting trained dogs or live donkeys to behave on stage or on camera. So Billina had to become Hank, and since Dorothy has already become a Princess of Oz, she's not going to be cruising around on exploding ships, with or without a mule. Enter Betsy Bobbin.
It would be easy to say that Betsy is just a "re-skinned" Dorothy — she's a little girl from Oklahoma with a devoted animal friend and a tendency to get into dangerous situations in magical lands. But Betsy, while certainly courageous, lacks Dorothy's aura of unstoppability. It's difficult to imagine her tossing a bucket of water at a Wicked Witch, or telling off Princess Langwidere when threatened with decapitation.
Betsy and Hank wash ashore in a pretty countryside, but there is no one around. There is, however, an imposing greenhouse, and the two castaways take a look inside, hoping to find a gardener. Instead they find a bunch of giant Roses (note the Baumian Capital Letters) with the faces of pretty girls. The Roses inform Betsy that she and Hank have arrived in the Rose Kingdom (duh) — and that non-Roses are not allowed in that land.
Now since the Roses are plants growing in pots inside a greenhouse, and don't seem to have hands, you'd think that Betsy and Hank aren't in much peril. But you'd be wrong: enter the Royal Gardener (capitalized). He's a funny little man dressed in rose-colored costume with ribbons in his hair, who repeats the warning that Betsy and Hank must leave — when he isn't having hysterics and falling over at the sound of Hank's bray.
The confrontation with this entirely un-terrifying threat is interrupted by the shattering of the glass roof of the greenhouse as a man falls from the sky. It's not just any man, though, it's the Shaggy Man, with his Love Magnet. Unlike most people who smash through a glass roof (in either direction) the Shaggy Man is quite calm and unhurt. The Royal Gardener immediately demands that the Shaggy Man also leave the Rose Kingdom on pain of death, but Hank kicks the little man outside long enough for the Shaggy Man to inform Betsy of some key points:
1.) The wonderful Land of Oz she has read about in Baum's books is real,
2.) The Shaggy Man is a pal of Ozma et al (evidently Betsy only read the earlier books in the series), and
3.) He's looking for his brother, who disappeared in a mine in Colorado.
The Shaggy Man is convinced that his brother was captured by the Nome King, and has come to the Rose Kingdom looking for a way to find the Metal Monarch. The Gardener insists they must leave, and even the Love Magnet can't dissuade him from his duty, but he does admit that at the moment there isn't actually a Ruler of the Rose Kingdom, because none of the royal Roses in the Royal Garden are ripe yet.
. . . Except that Betsy comes across a Princess who looks ripe, and picks her. But the Roses of the Rose Kingdom insist on a King rather than a Princess, and poor Ozga (the Rose Princess) is obliged to accompany Betsy, Hank, and the Shaggy Man into exile.
It's hard not to notice how "stagy" this whole sequence is. The Roses could be played by chorus girls in costume, the Royal Gardener scenes are full of comic slapstick, and most of the action is conveniently indoors. As usual, Baum even helpfully gives costume details for the speaking parts. Most of Baum's ventures into stage and cinema were financial disasters, and it's kind of a shame to see him constraining his fantasy stories to fit a medium he never really got the hang of.
It's also hard not to notice that Mr. Baum is really blatantly recycling material here. The whole Rose Kingdom sequence is taken almost verbatim from the Mangaboo section of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. You've got a kingdom of plant people, a political crisis due to a lack of ripe rulers, and the brash outsiders defying the rules to pick a vegetable Princess. There's also the crash-landing of a familiar character which interrupts a tense moment.
Self-plagiarism aside, we can assume that the sentient plants of the Rose Kingdom are related to the Mangaboos — either a closely-related subspecies or a strain cultivated by generations of (non-Rose) Royal Gardeners. Interestingly, it appears that only the Royal Roses are fully humanoid and capable of movement; the other Roses grow in pots. This makes me wonder if the Royal Roses are sort of like the "royalty" of ants and wasps: the mobile, reproduction-capable members of the hive. Perhaps Royal Roses can travel about to cross-pollinate with other Rose colonies.
Anyway, Our Heroes cross over the drawbridge leading out of the Rose Kingdom, now intent on locating the Shaggy Man's brother.
Next time: Even More Characters!
For two stories which don't involve any talking plants, have a look at my new ebook!