The further adventures of L. Frank Baum’s beloved characters are more fatefully connected with the political history of Oz in this third installment of Maguire’s justly praised revisionist series.
In Wicked and Son of a Witch, we were treated to engagingly comic melodramas that followed (respectively) Baum’s heroine Dorothy and the fugitive son (Liir) of Wicked Witch Elphaba Thropp through an endangered fantasyland blighted by mad power struggles. This time around, the major conflict is engineered by an intellectually challenged puppet emperor addicted to waging multiple wars (hmmm…). And our protagonist is the Cowardly Lion (named Brrr)—bereft of his family, Brrr is traveling through Oz undercover as an imperial spy, in exchange for immunity from draconian Animal Adverse Laws that target talking animals. Brrr’s investigations take him to the Mauntery (i.e. cloister) of St. Glinda, where a moribund seeress (Yackle, who’s presumably too ornery to die) unfurls information in a narrative neatly juxtaposed with Brrr’s unhappy memories and compromised present plans. The cast of characters also includes a clan of forest bears, a beauteous maiden or two, the rebellious citizens of Munchkinland and a surly dwarf who (in quite Wagnerian fashion) guards an ancient book of magic (the Grimmerie) and the Clock of the Time Dragon. Most of this is superbly entertaining, but Maguire has bitten off more complex interactions than he can chew, and his story’s seams frequently show. No matter. Brrr and his acquaintances are irresistible company, and issues of legitimate and responsible rule are herein really rather subtly grafted onto the venerable free will vs. predestination conundrum (“With so much written in magic, how can we hope to become agents culpable for our own lives ?”).
Maguire’s inspired world-building strides from strength to strength.