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Dorothy Must Die: 04/13/18

Dorothy Must Die

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige is the first of a modern day Oz series of the same name. I originally bought the book new, well before the kerfuffle, and then decided to let the book sit until the kerfuffle had blown over. In that time four more books, plus a bunch of novellas have come out. My husband has purchased and read the novels and wants me to read them so we can have discussions.

In those intervening years, I've also restarted my road narrative project and I have been reexamining Oz (see my essay on crossing the cornfield), both Baum's take, as well as the Ruth Plumly Thompson books. Basically I'm looking at Oz as it was from 1900 to 1972. Despite an entire lifetime of Oz books it seems that modern tellers of Oz stories always want to go dystopian and Dorothy Must Die is just one of many that envisions Oz post Dorothy as a smoky wasteland of its former Technicolor glory.

I've posted an essay, the splendid dystopia in the Marvelous Land of Oz, on why I don't think the concept of a dystopian Oz works. My critique of Paige's book isn't hinging on her following this cultural trend. If anything, she has done the best job of imagining an Oz in decline, one that is actually based on the books that came after The Wizard of Oz. Another good (but weird) take on Oz post Dorothy is A Barnstormer in Oz by Philip José Farmer. Interestingly, Farmer and Paige share similar visions of Glinda, though Paige's version is more Glam Big Brother and Farmer's is more Mae West with a magic wand.

The conceit to Dorothy Must Die is that Dorothy has been given too much power. By book 11, The Lost Princess of Oz (1917) of the original series, Baum has elevated Dorothy to a Princess of Oz. My personal take on it is that Dorothy was Ozma's paramour. Regardless, she was as close to Ozma as was possible and had access to Ozma's various magical items. Paige extrapolates on the old addage that absolute power corrupts absolutely and sees how that would affect the Ozian landscape.

Originally when reading Dorothy Must Die I was adamant that Dorothy could never be as power hungry as she appears to be in this first installation. But then I read Speedy in Oz (1934) by Ruth Plumly Thompson and near the end of the book there is this line: "'Oh, are you a wizard now?' Dorothy, who was herself a Princess of Oz, could not help feeling bit envious of Speedy's new position on this strange island." (p. 290-291) So there it is, an officially sanctioned, moment of Dorothy being hungry for power — albeit it briefly and to no consequence. But what if a better carrot were dangled in front of her?

Over all though, the set up has some weird conceits. First, Dorothy is still alive (or else, why would she "must die?") Granted, Baum and Thompson weren't exactly precise with their timelines — either with time elapsed on Earth or with time elapsed in Oz. Nor did they ever really state what the time differential between the two worlds was (if any). There's still a one hundred fourteen span of time between The Wizard of Oz and Dorothy Must Die.

Assuming Dorothy was around the age of ten at the start of the series, she would be one hundred twenty-four years old! If the book series followed the six months story gap between books that say a lost of mysteries series do, that gap in years would be more like fifty-seven years, making Dorothy sixty-seven. Or if you ignore the time after the last Thompson book, then there's only seventy-two years, meaning thirty-six years of plot time, thus making Dorothy around forty-six. This last option is closest to how Dorothy is presented in Paige's book, in that she's older but she's not elderly or geriatric.

Discounting the mental math needed to figure out how old Dorothy might be and how much time has elapsed on Earth vs. in Oz, there is just a general lack of pacing. Rather, there seems to be a lot of hurry up and wait in this book. Much of that waiting period is filled with numerous dropped names to show that Paige has read many of the original series, and possibly some of Thompson's too. But often these dropped names feel more like they are there to be checked off a master list, than to actually be living in post Dorothy Oz or be plot relevant.

Finally there is just the on-going similarities to the three part dystopian Oz miniseries, Tin Man (2007). Amy, the protagonist in Dorothy Must Die acts and talks so much like D.G. that I just started picturing her as Zooey Deschanel. But I think that's more telling of how lasting of a cultural influence that miniseries has on modern day visions of Oz — especially when there's a need to make the kingdom darker and edgier. I will address why Oz would probably never be darker and edgier in that upcoming article.

Three stars

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