Man, the Rainbow is a terrible father.
Anyway, the Road to Oz. It’s a story about a wandering hobo with a love magnet that steals apples (and a dog) from a little girl, then joins her on a trek down the titular road. While perfectly innocent at the time, the first chapter of this book is one black van short of being an episode of “Criminal Minds.” But while you can of course read disturbing things into it from a 21st Century point-of-view, as I said, it’s perfectly innocent in context. The Shaggy Man (dog-napping hobo though he may be) is really a true gentleman, and Dorothy is never in any danger.
The overall book is a bit on the dull side, but it gets a pass for a few reasons. First, it introduces Polychrome, who I adore. She’s underutilized here, but pops up to great effect in “Sky Island,” which will you’ll see a few comics from now. Second, the last few chapters of the book are a mega-crossover event, in which the protagonists of Baum’s other books all show up for Ozma’s birthday party. With these pages, Baum firmly set all of his books into a single shared universe, which is pretty darn cool (even if “Dot and Tot in Merryland” still sucks).
Third, this book has the single best scene in any Oz book ever:
“Ask ‘em who they are, and what they want,” whispered Dorothy; so the shaggy man called out in a loud voice:
“Who are you?”
“Scoodlers!” they yelled in chorus, their voices sharp and shrill.
“What do you want?” called the shaggy man.
“You!” they yelled, pointing their thin fingers at the group; and they all flopped around..
“But what do you want us for?” asked the shaggy man, uneasily.
“Soup!” they all shouted, as if with one voice.
“Goodness me!” said Dorothy, trembling a little; “the Scoodlers must be reg’lar cannibals.”
“Don’t want to be soup,” protested Button-Bright, beginning to cry.
“Hush, dear,” said the little girl, trying to comfort him; “we don’t any of us want to be soup. But don’t worry; the shaggy man will take care of us.”
“Will he?” asked Polychrome, who did not like the Scoodlers at all, and kept close to Dorothy.
“I’ll try,” promised the shaggy man; but he looked worried.
Happening just then to feel the Love Magnet in his pocket, he said to the creatures, with more confidence:
“Don’t you love me?”
“Yes!” they shouted, all together.
“Then you mustn’t harm me, or my friends,” said the shaggy man, firmly.
“We love you in soup!” they yelled.
“How dreadful!” said Dorothy. “This is a time, Shaggy Man, when you get loved too much.”
“Don’t want to be soup!” wailed Button-Bright again; and Toto began to whine dismally, as if he didn’t want to be soup, either.