Wamego # 67 Mar 4, 2016





[Above left: This is the colorful John R. Neill cover portrait that graced “the Oz book for 1916,” RINKITINK IN OZ. Neill depicts the title character, blithely straddling a not-especially-sympathetic Bilbil the Goat; courageous little Prince Inga stands behind. Above right: An interior Neill color plate shows King Gos and Queen Cor -- heinous rulers of the island of Regos and Coregos -- in the act of bribing the villainous Nome King. They implore him to keep the innocent king and queen of Pingaree as eternal prisoners in his underground caverns.]


Sing a song of kiddies

Simply tickled pink

With the jolly doings

Of King Rinkitink.

When the book is opened

Hear the Oh’s and Oz!

Pictures! And a story –

The gayest ever was.

All the Ozland oddities

Funny as can be –

Give the kiddies youngsters RINKITINK:

You’ll enjoy their glee.

-- From an advertisement for the tenth Oz book in PUBLISHERS’ WEEKLY, July 15, 1916; the jingle may have been written by author L. Frank Baum himself.


Here's something of a "pOZzle" to ponder. This year marks the centennial of perhaps the least Ozzy -- yet one of the most inventive and best-told stories -- of all the L. Frank Baum Oz books: RINKITINK IN OZ.


But much of the tale was written more than a decade earlier. And it sat, non-Ozzified, until 1916. What is its mysterious back story?


As history has it, Baum composed a full-length fairy tale with the title KING RINKITINK circa 1905. Whether or not he actually finished it remains uncertain; it's quite possible he did -- but then he filed it away. It just wasn’t needed, as Baum at that moment reveled in the midst of a phenomenal outburst of product: the author’s output from 1902-1907 was and remains a phenomenal achievement.


In addition to writing and overseeing the stage musicals of THE WIZARD OF OZ (1902) and THE WOGGLE-BUG (1905), he penned the full-length children's fantasies, THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS (1902), THE ENCHANTED ISLAND OF YEW (1903), THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ (1904; the first sequel to THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ), QUEEN ZIXI OF IX (1905), THE WOGGLE-BUG BOOK (1905), JOHN DOUGH AND THE CHERUB (1906), and OZMA OF OZ (1907; Dorothy's first return trip "over the rainbow"). There also were twenty-six short stories -- reproduced as Sunday newspaper comic-page pieces -- "Queer Visitors from The Marvelous Land of Oz" (1904-1905), and not forgetting nine short-story "Animal Fairy Tales," which appeared once a month in the DELINEATOR magazine (1905).


All of the abovementioned journalese was issued under Baum's name, but -- so as not to compete with himself in the marketplace -- he also wrote an additional six short stories in 1906, disseminated under the pseudonym Laura Bancroft. Each appeared in book form as one of "The Twinkle Tales” and told of a little girl of that name and her sometime-companion, a boy named Chubbins. A year later, another “Laura Bancroft” effort, POLICEMAN BLUEJAY, took the same two children through a full-length novel of further fanciful adventures. (All seven of Twinkle’s stories involved escapades in nature, whether the youngsters sojourned among magical woodchucks, prairie dogs, birds, a turtle, random additional animals, or the denizens of a sugar kingdom.)


Almost unbelievably, and at the same time, Baum's output expanded to include three adult novels: THE FATE OF A CROWN (1905) and DAUGHTERS OF DESTINY (1906), both "as" Schuyler Staunton, and TAMAWACA FOLKS, "as" John Estes Cooke (1907). He polished off the first two titles in (what became) a ten-book series for teen girls: AUNT JANE'S NIECES and AUNT JANE'S NIECES ABROAD, both 1906 and penned "as" Edith Van Dyne. There also were two books for teen boys, SAM STEELE'S ADVENTURES ON LAND AND SEA (1906) and SAM STEELE'S ADVENTURES IN PANAMA (1907) – attributed to Capt. Hugh Fitzgerald; another story for the teen market, ANNABEL, cited its Baum-y author as Suzanne Metcalfe.



[Two more 1916 John R. Neill illustrations from RINKITINK IN OZ. Above left: Unwittingly unaware of their powers – but thanks to the aid of Prince Inga’s magic pearls -- Nikobob the charcoal-burner manages to defeat the hitherto invincible monster, Choggenmugger. Above right: Princess Dorothy of Oz (formerly Dorothy Gale of Kansas) discusses the problems of Rinkitink, Inga, and Bilbil with long-time friend and counselor, Glinda the Good.]


Beyond these seventeen full-length books and forty-one short stories, there also was a multitude of unproduced Baum theatrical attempts between 1902 and 1907. The man wrote outlines and synopses (and in some cases went so far as to do actual scripting and/or lyric writing) for THE MAID OF ATHENS, PRINCE SILVERWINGS, KING JONAH XIII, THE WHATNEXTERS, FATHER GOOSE, THE PAGAN POTENTATE, THE KING OF GEE-WHIZ, THE SON OF THE SUN, DOWN MISSOURI WAY, and OUR MARY.


Is it any wonder that KING RINKITINK somehow fell by the wayside?

And at this point, do you even remember the top-of-the-blog reference to KING RINKITINK?!


Well, fortunately, Baum remembered him. At the dawn of 1916, the author was coming off another three-years-plus of strenuous effort. He'd written (under his name or others) an additional six full-length books, six short story books, seven stage productions (including the long-touring THE TIK-TOK MAN OF OZ), and oversaw the ultimately unsuccessful Oz Film Manufacturing Co. and its features and one-reelers. Thus, for his necessary and now-annual Oz title of 1916, he dove into the trunk; dusted off that circa-1905 manuscript; finished, amended and/or rewrote the ending to bring in Dorothy herself, the Little Wizard, Princess Ozma, Glinda, and notable Emerald City celebrities; and changed the title to RINKITINK IN OZ.


Despite its long-time aborning, RINKITINK IN OZ endures as an exciting, involving tale of a young island prince and his determination to save his parents and people from slavery at the hands of a conquering king and queen. The lad is abetted in his efforts by a rotund visiting monarch (Rinkitink!), the king's pet goat-under-enchantment, Bilbil, and three magic pearls, whose powers are among the most astonishing in fantasy history. There's a penultimate challenge from the nefarious Nome King, as the prince and his companions fall subject to the perils of a bottomless pit, a hair-covered giant, a cavern floor of burning coals, imprisonment in chains, a magic and strangulating string, and an attack by darting knives. There's elsewhere a carnivorous and humongous snake-like beast, finally destroyed by a woodsman/charcoal burner, who falls briefly (and mercifully) to possession of two of the magic pearls. 



[Above left: Prince Inga, at the moment bereft of the magic pearl that protects him from all harm, must face the Nome King’s horrific wrestling giant. (Original 1916 illustration by John R. Neill.) Above right: More than six decades later (and across a half-dozen years), the cherished Judy-Lynn and Lester “Del Rey” imprint of Ballantine Books issued paperback editions of the first twenty-nine of the forty official Oz Books. Artist Michael Herring was commissioned to create new cover art for their series; delighted by the assignment, he expertly portrayed Rinkitink in magical defiance of the tempestuous Nome King – and the latter’s otherwise unavoidable bottomless pit.]


Such summary can’t do justice to Baum’s masterful command of language for such exploits. By all reports – and by the evidence on virtually every printed page -- the man was the eternal charismatic entertainer, and his desire to enthrall is apparent throughout RINKITINK, as in essentially all his work. It's an extremely well-constructed tale, and its brave boy hero makes for an excellent role model in terms of courage, perspicacity, and faith.


So, here's to RINKITINK IN OZ on its centennial! As I hope is obvious by the foregoing, it’s worth celebrating as a quality Oz Book all on its own -- but perhaps especially so as it’s an Oz tale that almost didn't get told!


Article by John Fricke


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