Oz Reimagined: You might not even find yourself in Oz

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsOz Reimagined Oz Reimagined edited by John Joseph Adams

Oz Reimagined is a collection of tales whose characters return as often, if not more often, to the “idea” of Oz as opposed to the actual Oz many of us read about as kids (or adults) and even more of us saw in the famed MGM version of the film. As its editors, John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen, say in their introduction: “You might not even find yourself in Oz, though in spirit, all these stories take place in Oz, regardless of their actual location.” And actually, I personally found my favorites in here mostly to be those stories that did not hew too closely with Baum’s characters or plots, but instead took the characters and skewed them, or sent them down a different path than the yellow-bricked one. Though as is often the case with anthologies, I found the collection as a whole a mixed bag, its stories evoking reactions varying from distaste to “meh” to “interesting” to “now that was cool.”

There are 15 stories in all and while I won’t go through them all, here is a quick capsule response to several:

The first, “The Great Zeppelin Heist of Oz,” by Rae Carson and C.C. Finlay, is one of those “meh” stories. It has a decent bit of humor and reads smoothly enough, but I can’t say it did much for me nor that it will stick for long in memory.

“Emeralds to Emeralds, Dust to Dust,” by Seanan McGuire, aims for some grit and noir, as a somewhat jaded and toughened Dorothy must solve a murder in Oz. But the mystery is solved far too easily and in a fashion that is a bit of a cliché. This was also the first of several stories where I felt that turning Oz “gritty” and/or vulgar was just too easy a response to “hey, can you write a story about Oz for us?” A too-easy means of getting a readerly response.

“Lost Girls of Oz,” by Theodora Goss had a premise I found that was both cute and had some depth to it, with Oz as a sort of refuge for mistreated girls/young women. Told via letters from the intrepid reporter who goes undercover to try and find out what’s happened to a group of missing girls, it’s an enjoyable and thought-provoking read, though Nell’s response to Oz and events seems a bit too simple.

“The Boy Detective of Oz: An Otherland Story,” by Tad Williams, was by far the best of the early stories, with a strong narrative voice, confident authorial presence and style with regard to how Baum’s characters were employed, and a nicely “off” view of Oz. The only flaw was an annoying frequency of references to Orlando’s earlier adventures in the OTHERLAND series of books.

“Dorothy Dreams” by Simon R. Green was too easy, obvious, and sentimental for me.

“One Flew Over the Rainbow,” by Robin Wasserman, was one of those stories where I felt the author had tried too hard to make one to one correspondences with the original tale and the whole “let’s set Oz in an asylum” felt, again, a bit too obvious.

“The Veiled Shanghai” by Ken Liu was one of the better stories. I enjoyed the Chinese analogues to the Oz world/characters and the political allegory was both interesting and original, as well as adding a sense of depth and seriousness to the story, rather than having it simply be a “clever” reworking.

“Beyond the Naked Eye,” by Rachel Swirsky, was one of my favorites and had, I’d say, one of the strongest narrative voices in the entire collection. Here, for instance, is the narrator, a jeweler, on what he would wish for, given the chance:

I’d tell her, I think, that I wish everyone had a jeweler’s loupe.

I wish that everyone would try and see things as they really are.

I wish that everyone would understand that glamour is often deceit.

I wish that everyone would realize that when you know a flaw is there, you can figure out how to work with it, how to cut around it, how to make the gem glow despite the cracks. Everyone should know how to make the most beautiful objects they can out of things that aren’t perfect.

Because nothing is perfect.

And then again, later, in a moment of self-reflection:

All my life I’ve been the one who looked for imperfections. All my life I’ve been a fool. All my life I’ve looked for the flaws in what stands before me, not for the flaws in my own thoughts.

This is one of the most fully-created characters in the collection, and while the plotting is strong (the reality-show aspect is nicely clever and cute), the writing smooth and often eloquent, and the use of jewelry and stone as metaphors is especially impressive, it’s the emotional resonance of the voice and the ending that make this one of the few stories that will linger with me for some time.

“A Tornado of Dorothy’s,” by Kat Howard, was mostly solid, its imagining of Oz and its imagery (especially of a series of Dorothys hanging as ghosts in the trees) stronger than its plot or theme, which felt a bit simple.

Jane Yolen‘s “Blown Away” has all the skilled voicing one would expect from Yolen and telling the story from the view of a minor character — one of the three farmhands — was a great decision which nicely sets us up for the story’s strength in telling the story slant, focusing on the effect of Dorothy’s absence and subsequent return on others rather than focusing on Dorothy herself. A subtle tweaking but a much more effective and original one than simply darkening the story up.

It was back to “meh” with “City so Bright,” by Dale Baily, another “grim” version that didn’t seem all that original.

Things pick up again though with “Off to See the Emperor” by Orson Scott Card, an evocative and emotionally affecting piece with wonderfully skewed versions of Baum’s characters and a great folk-tale feel to it (as well as a bit of C.S. Lewis‘ Aslan, with regard to one character).

Back to grim and gritty with “A Meeting in Oz,” by Jeffrey Ford. Again, meh.

But we close on another strong note with “A Cobbler of Oz,” by Jonathan Maberry. As with the other quality stories, this one rings true with emotion and manages to evoke an emotional response through imaginative usage of the source material. In tone, style, humor and quirkiness, its fairy-tale feel probably is closest in kin to Baum’s original, though the story itself is wholly original.

As I said, as a whole, Oz Reimagined is a mixed bag, which is usually my experience with anthologies, though there was a larger gap than usual for me between the good and the not-so-good. The poorer tales really didn’t do much for me at all, while the stronger ones were truly excellent. It’s perhaps more miss than hit, but one plus, however, is that for the most part the better stories are also the longer ones.

If one is a real Oz fan, I’d recommend it for those stand-out stories and then for the moderately interesting take on the original in the others. For others, it’s a tougher call — is it worth paying full-price for a fraction of a book? I’ll leave that to the purchaser, though at the least, I’d recommend people pick it up at the library for those standouts. Or you can purchase the stories individually in Kindle format here. There is also an audio version.


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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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