The Road to Oz

Dorothy’s fourth trip to Oz isn’t as action-packed as her previous journeys. The purpose of The Road to Oz (1909) seems to be to place the Land of Oz in the larger context of Nonestica, the magical continent on which Oz is just one of many kingdoms. Notable figures from these lands descend on the Emerald City for Ozma’s birthday – the most famous guest being Santa Claus.

Dorothy thinks her return to Oz is initially by accident. She was giving a homeless traveler, “Shaggy Man,” directions to a nearby Kansas town when the road split into numerous paths. She quickly determines they have been transported to a magical place, though she isn’t certain it’s Oz. On their journey to find the Emerald City, Dorothy and Shaggy Man meet new companions: Button-Bright, a simple-minded little boy in a sailor’s suit, and Polychrome, the Rainbow’s daughter. The dangers they face are usually assuaged when foes discover who Dorothy is, that she is chummy with Ozma, and that she could likely garner them an invitation to the big bash.

The second half of the book is devoted to Dorothy’s reunions with old friends and summaries of their adventures, smothered in early 20th-century conviviality. Dorothy learns that Ozma orchestrated her return to Oz, as a way of bringing her to this epic celebration. (Why Ozma didn’t just bring Dorothy straight to the Emerald City and save her the trouble of a dangerous journey, I don't know.) The party concludes with the Wizard of Oz sending guests home in his magical bubbles. Dorothy once again returns to Kansas via the Magic Belt.

The text is loaded with niceties and small talk, to the extent it slows the narrative. The dialogue between Santa Claus and various Ozians at the birthday party, however, was fascinating. Seven years prior to this book’s publication, L. Frank Baum published The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1902). Baum’s portrayal of Claus in The Road to Oz hails from this earlier interpretation. It includes many of the modern American trappings, with a few caveats: Claus is not traveling from a frozen northland, but from Laughing Valley, where he has lived since being raised by wood nymphs in the Forest Burzee. He attends the party with his “ryles and knooks,” creatures who watch over flowers and animals, respectively, before returning to Laughing Valley in one of the Wizard’s soap bubbles.

Overall, it’s not my favorite Oz book. But it isn’t without merit. It shows the reader just how renown – and beloved – Ozma is, and as a result, the Emerald City’s wider political power.