The Royal Book of Oz

by Ruth Plumly Thompson
Series: Oz 15
Reviewed date: 2020 Dec 22
263 pages
cover art

I have been reading the Oz books in order. I've read the fourteen original books by L. Frank Baum, as well as Little Wizard Stories of Oz and The Woggle-Bug Book. Now I have arrived at Oz book #15, the first Oz book written by Ruth Plumly Thompson. Is The Royal Book of Oz a good book? Does it retain the Oz flavor? Does it feel like something Baum could have written?

Baum's characters
Thompson wisely chooses not to include all of Baum's characters. There are too many. She picks a few to focus on: the Scarecrow, Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion. Others get smaller parts: Ozma, Scraps the Patchwork Girl, Jellia Jamb, the Sawhorse, Betsy Bobbin, the Tin Woodman, and Professor H.M. Woggle-Bug, T.E.

Sir Hokus of Pokes
RPT introduces her own characters. The most prominent of these is Sir Hokus of Pokes, an Arthurian knight who finds himself in Oz and pledges himself to Dorothy. I never liked Sir Hokus or found him amusing. He talks in old-fashioned language that my son couldn't understand, so more than once I had to edit on the fly as I read aloud. Sir Hokus wants nothing more than to fight a dragon, but RPT doesn't play this up enough.

The Comfortable Camel and the Doubtful Dromedary
Two other characters that make an impression are the Comfortable Camel and the Doubtful Dromedary. The Doubtful Dromedary is her most successful creation. His habit of always saying "Doubt it" and being skeptical is funny. The Comfortable Camel I found unnecessary.

The new characters: not as fun as the Glass Cat
My son did not find the new characters nearly as fun as the classic Oz characters. He smiled a bit at the Doubtful Dromedary's penchant for doubting everything, but it wasn't a squeal of delight like Baum's Glass Cat elicits every time she brags about her brains. (You can see 'em work!) Sir Hokus of Pokes is bland and boring, I'm sad to say. I did find the A-B-Sea Serpent and the Rattlesnake amusing (my son didn't), but they were nothing more than pun characters that only appeared in one chapter.

Speaking of puns, Ruth Plumly Thompson employs them. Everywhere. She uses puns more than Baum ever did. I like puns, so for the most part that's OK with me. But sometimes it may be overdone. For example, she introduces a character named Pid for the sole reason that he can be ordered to go fetch some stew: "Stew, Pid."

The Odd and the Queer
It wouldn't be Oz without magic items, odd places and queer characters. Ruth Plumly Thompson delivers. There is a magic parasol and a magic fan. There are the Middlings. There are the Pokes. There is Fix City. There is Bangalore the candy giant. There is Wish Way. There is the Scarecrow's pole. And most of all, there is Silver Island.

Silver Island and the racial stereotypes
The bulk of the story happens on Silver Island, where the Scarecrow discovers that he is their long-lost Emperor Chang Wang Woe. (Oh, Woe is me! Ha ha.) The Silvermen are stereotypical Chinese, with funny names and long queues and robes and the whole works. Because, get it, they are not Chinamen, they are Silvermen. China, Silver? Get it?

It's lazy writing and I didn't care for it. Baum wasn't above using racial stereotypes to humorous effect. I remember the phonograph in The Patchwork Girl of Oz, and I read The Woggle-Bug Book. But this is on another level. Ruth Plumly Thompson's entire plotline and most of the humor in the Silver Island section of the book (which is most of the book) is predicated on the idea that, ha ha, aren't foreigners funny? They have funny clothes and funny hair, strange customs, their names are hard to pronounce, and they eat gross food. It's so funny, right? I mean, I guess, sometimes, but that's lazy writing. I want intriguing ideas and societies like the Wheelers from Ozma of Oz, not a tired stereotype. It's not mean-spirited per se, just lazy writing.

The Silver Islanders are a mixed bag of folks. The Scarecrow finds one honest person, a servant named Happy Toko, who becomes his confidant and whom the Scarecrow later installs as the new Emperor. But, haha, the Scarecrow can't get his funny foreign name right and calls him Tappy Oko. That opens the door for a lot of tapioca jokes, but seems a bit insensitive. Well, I guess Dorothy did force Bill the yellow hen to change her name to Billina, so it seems Ruth Plumly Thompson was not the only one to decide that our heroes get to decree what their friends should be called.

Besides the loyal and good Happy Toko, there is the Grand Chew Chew, General Mugwump, the Grand Gheewizard, and the Emperor's three scheming good-for-nothing sons. Oh, and Princess Orange Blossom who is old and ugly, ha ha. The regular citizens of Silver Island are just that: regular folk. Not good, not bad, just folks.

A genuinely funny scene
The funniest sequence was when the Scarecrow, now Emperor of the Silver Island, entertained his grandchildren. They aggravated him by their constant bowing and prostrating, their obsequious politeness, and their earnest disbelief in the existence of the land of Oz. I suppose this is part of the racial humor--the idea that bowing and scraping and politeness is aggravating, but it is also genuinely funny.

"Yes old Grandpapapapapah!" chorused the Princes bending over as far as they could.


"It is not on the map, great Grandpapapapah," he announced solemnly, and all of the other little Princes shook their heads and said dully, "Not on the map."

I was not so sure that that Scarecrow's reaction--to fly into a rage--was quite in character:

[The] Scarecrow tried to continue his story, but every time he mentioned Oz the little Princes shook their heads stubbornly and whispered, "Not on the map," till the usually good tempered Scarecrow flew into a perfect passion.

"Not on the map, you little villains!" he screamed, forgetting they were his grandsons. "What difference does that make? Are your heads solid silver?"

"We do not believe in Oz," announced the oldest Prince, serenely. "There is no such place."

Despite it being rooted in cultural stereotypes and not being true to the Scarecrow's character, it is the most memorable and enjoyable sequence in the whole book. I like the image of fifteen perfectly-behaved, unfailingly courteous little children working a grown man (well, Scarecrow) into a fit of rage with nothing but their politeness and demands for academic rigor. "It is not on the map." Ha ha. The Scarecrow got fact-checked by his grandchildren.

The verdict
The Royal Book of Oz is promising. Compared to Baum's Oz books, it's nowhere close to my favorites, but it compares favorably with the weaker entries in the series. It has the right feel, that is, it feels just like an Oz book. I can see Ruth Plumly Thompson's influence, but it's acceptably Ozish. There is more racial humor than I'd like, and a few more puns than I'm totally comfortable with, but Thompson has kept the essence of Oz--our favorite characters, the whimsy, the humor, and the parade of odd societies and characters. She has also improved on Baum in a few ways, most notably by not feeling compelled to shoehorn every single character into the book.

Oz, ranked
And now, what I've wanted to do for some time, here is a ranking of the first fifteen Oz books from my favorite to least favorite.

The good

  • #2, The Marvelous Land of Oz
  • #3, Ozma of Oz
  • #12, The Tin Woodman of Oz
  • #7, The Patchwork Girl of Oz
  • #1, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz


  • #4, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz
  • #14, Glinda of Oz


  • #15, The Royal Book of Oz
  • #13, The Magic of Oz
  • #11, The Lost Princess of Oz


  • #6, The Emerald City of Oz
  • #8, Tik-Tok of Oz
  • #9, The Scarecrow of Oz
  • #10, Rinkitink in Oz
  • #5, The Road to Oz

So, Ruth Plumly Thompson's first entry into the Oz canon just barely misses the cut of books I'd consider re-reading. But at that, it's still better than half of Baum's Oz books, so that's not all bad. There are good signs--her willingness to jettison useless characters--and some bad signs--her overreliance on racial humor. I'm intrigued to see what she comes up with next.

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