Baum’s sixth Oz book, The Emerald City of Oz, has an ironic title. It was the title he’d initially intended to give his very first Oz book, but it was rejected due to a publisher’s superstition that a book with a jewel in its title would not sell. By this time, however, an Oz book was an instant bestseller, so Baum flouted the superstition, though on some level he may have been hoping this book wouldn’t do as well, because he honestly intended it to be the last of the Oz series.
Nevertheless, he pulled out all the creative stops and delivered one of the best examples of his literary inventiveness ever published. The tale has two separate strands which tie together in the last two chapters; the first two segements of this article will follow each of them individually and hopefully avoid a lot of “meanwhiling.”
Three books before, the wicked Nome King Roquat the Red had lost his Magic Belt to Dorothy, and he had been stewing about it ever since. During an afternoon of shouting at his underlings, he suddenly hit upon the idea of tunneling to the Emerald City, falling upon the people of Oz and enslaving them. His problem was that his forces were not enough to do the job, and that he would need allies. A gnarled old Nome called Guph bore a dislike of all good things and people, and personally volunteered to be Roquat’s emissary to some of the other evil races who inhabited the outer reaches of Ev and Oz.
Guph’s first foray took him to the land of the Whimsies. These were strong-bodied creatures with tiny heads; they compensated for this deficiency by wearing giant pasteboard heads with bizarre faces painted thereon. Guph promised their Chief that once Oz was conquered, the Nome King would use the Magic Belt to grant every Whimsie a properly proportioned head.
Next Guph visited the towering, seemingly spindly, but strong warriors called Growleywogs. Their leader, the Grand Gallipoot, demanded twenty thousand Ozites as slaves, and secretly plotted with his counselors to overthrow the Nome King when the deed was done.
Indeed, Guph was beginning to think that he could enjoy running Oz once old Roquat the Red had been dealt with.
Guph’s final journey was to the Mountain of Phantastico, where dwelt the oldest and most frightening of all the evil beings in the world, the shapeshifting, illusion-casting Phanfasms. Terrified himself, but brazening it out, Guph was allowed into the presence of the Phanfasm monarch, the First and Foremost, whose cooperation he secured by promising him the simple pleasure of destruction.
Of course, the First and Foremost and his Phanfasms had no intention of letting the Nomes, the Whimsies, or the Growleywogs survive.
General Guph reported back to the Nome Kingdom, where the tunnel under the desert was already half-completed. Roquat relished the idea of making Ozma and Dorothy into china ornaments to keep on his mantel.