AEL: Tik-Tok of Oz, Watership Down, Tales from Watership Down

29 days ’til I turn 38! Now for some bookities.

Tik-Tok of Oz by L. Frank Baum — When I was a kid reading these books, I abandoned the series after this installment. It just made me so angry that Baum seemed to be out of ideas and repeating himself. This time, as an adult, I looked it up and discovered that this book is based on a play he’d written, which itself took events from various previous Oz books. So the annoying mystery was explained and I forgave him to a certain extent.

And in fact, once he stopped copying his own ideas from previous books, this turned into one of the best installments in the series. The new characters introduced are more engaging than new Oz characters typically are, and some of them are extremely funny — Ann Soforth especially. And because Baum was forced to throw in some explanations for things — why, for example, the Nome King has a new name — the book felt more tied into the continuity (if I may use that word :\) of the Oz series than most others.

One thing that’s struck me as odd in this series is the glossing over of any romantic content. I think I mentioned in my thoughts on Patchwork Girl that I’d get to this, and here it is: every time romance comes up, it’s only hinted at and never given any direct treatment, and little to nothing comes of it — such as with the interest between the Scarecrow and Scraps that was a bit of a joke when it first evinced itself but then never came up again.

In this book, the Rose Princess and Files clearly fall in love during the course of their journey, and it’s pretty cute. However, it’s never positively stated; their love is never mentioned as such. In fact at the end, when Ozma sends the Rose Princess to Oogaboo to live with Files, she remarks, “They have become such good friends that I am sure it would make them unhappy to separate them.” And I’m like, Really -__-

There’s a certain school of thought that says romance should be excluded from children’s art, and Baum evidently belonged to it up to a point. I’ve looked at it every which-way, and I just can’t agree. Obviously the inclusion of a romantic plot or subplot changes the feel of a story, so some types of stories are simply not going to have them… but I don’t think there’s a problem with including them. And when I was a kid I ate that shit up; I’ve been a heart-throbbing fan of romance as long as I can remember. Maybe that’s why it so irritates me now not to see it given its proper names.

Watership Down by Richard Adams — As everyone knows, this is tied for my favorite book of all time. And when I got to it in this instance, I realized that I view it as a sort of wonder of the world. The audiobook narrator declares the title and the author, and I get shivers all over me and a sense of I can’t believe I’m really here similar to when you visit some attraction you’ve long heard of but never seen before. I laughed at myself for this reaction, but it was a very real feeling.

Anyway. You may remember that, back when I did a Christmas movie breakdown last year or the year before, I thought I would have a lot to say about White Christmas because I love it so damn much but then found I didn’t because I’ve been over it so thoroughly year after year with my family. That’s about the case here. I love Watership Down so much and am always so moved by it, you’d think I’d have plenty of gushing to get out here… but I don’t.

It’s just about perfect. The only complaint I’ve ever had is that it’s such a male-dominated story, and that the author chose to retain the aspect of natural rabbit life that objectifies women despite their being anthropomorphized in so many ways. This seems especially odd in a story he was telling his daughters, but I get over it every time. It’s so moving and engaging and tense and adventurous and fulfilling… it never sinks in my estimation; I thoroughly enjoy it from beginning to end with every read.

Tales from Watership Down by Richard Adams — All right, confession: this was actually the first time I’ve read this book. Y’all know how bad I am about reading with my eyes, and this one doesn’t have an audiobook version yet. So I’ve had it kicking around for ever and ever, but never actually read it.

But since I got my Echo Dot (which I lOoOoOoOve) and can have Alexa read Kindle books out loud to me (though she reads dreadfully slowly), I look out upon an uncharted vista full of books I’ve never been able to read before, or at least haven’t read very frequently because they lack an audiobook version. This is extremely exciting, and since I happened to get my Dot just as I was reading Watership Down, I was very pleased to go straight on to the follow-up via this method.

And, you know, sometimes a sequel written in response to numerous fan requests (rather than in the natural course of ideas) is… not as good as it could be.

The biggest problem I found here was that the book (at least the third part, which is the most interesting) falls somewhere between a collection of short stories and a continuous narrative, resulting in a meandering plot that is choppy on the one hand and lacking in the tightness of properly formatted short stories on the other. It kinda wandered along and then ended abruptly, and never felt like it really went anywhere — which is fine when each chapter has the punch of a discrete story with beginning, middle, and end… but these didn’t.

The other problem I had with it was the tales of El-Ahrairah it opens with. These tales are pure, classic faery tale, with the exact feel of real human faery tale all about them, so kudos on the author for mimicking that old style so well… but they’re not in keeping with the tales of El-Ahrairah we heard in the main book. They feel totally different, and involve an entirely new set of storytelling conventions. I didn’t overtly dislike them, but there was a strong sense of disconnect from Watership Down and the character and legends of El-Ahrairah as established there.

So, yeah. I enjoyed this book, but it was pale and weak in comparison with its predecessor. I definitely liked how does had a greater part in the story and were acknowledged to have equal powers of intelligence and leadership as bucks, but the problems mentioned above were considerable and dragged the work back down.

I’m still about current with this AEL’s — there are only two more books I need to write up thoughts on right now — but the next one has a ton of stuff I want to say about it, so I’m putting it off because it’s time to go work on TLY.

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