Top 10 Oz Illustrations, Part 10: Rinkitink in Oz, Illustrated by John R. Neill

Ever wonder why Rinkitink in Oz barely makes any mention of the land of Oz at all? It's because Rinkitink wasn't even intended to be an Oz book in the first place.

In 1905, when L. Frank Baum's writing career was at its height, he wrote a fantasy novel called King Rinkitink. But for some reason, he decided not to publish it, and instead put it aside for later.

Eleven years later, with Baum's declining health, and the constraints imposed by his work with the Oz Film Manufacturing Company, he was unable to find the time or the energy to write another Oz book. Only trouble is, he was under contract with his publisher, Reilly and Britton, to produce a new Oz book each year. Remembering his 1905 manuscript, he revised the ending to work Oz into the narrative, and then changed the title from King Rinkitink to Rinkitink in Oz.

Of all the later Oz books by Baum, I like this one the best. There's something invigorating and original about it, most likely owing to its back story, and you almost forget it's even part of the Oz series at all. Now, that is not to say I don't like the later Oz books, but, by then, Oz was becoming stale to Baum, and you can generally tell that he found writing them to be a chore. He wrote them because he had to, but, as he himself said many times, there were other fantasy stories he wanted to write. So, since this book wasn't originally an Oz book, we get a rare glimpse into what he might have written if he weren't under so much pressure to keep writing about Oz.

As much a relief as this book must have been to Baum, (it meant he didn't have to do much Oz writing at all in 1916,) you can generally tell that Neill had quite a field day with it as well. For this reason, coming up with a top ten list was a much more instinctual and instantaneous process than it usually is for me.

This will be a fun romp, so let's get to it!

10.) Tailpiece from Chapter 5: By this time, Neill was beginning to go back to drawing pictures that don't serve any actual purpose other than to embellish the pages with a few decorations here and there. This was, of course, common practice for illustrators of that time period, but it doesn't make Neill's page decorations any less charming. These are always welcome, especially in the Oz books, where illustrations are so vitally important.

9.) Tailpiece from Chapter 6: I remember discussing this particular image with my high school art teacher sometime in 2006-7, and she used the term "wistful" in describing it. Looking back, I agree, but what I also like about this image is that Neill leaves out what Prince Inga is looking at. Any image where your mind has to fill in the blanks inevitably creates a sense of wonder and intrigue. Wistful and intriguing are definitely good terms to describe the image. Thanks for the tip, Ms. Preston!

Full page illustration from Chapter 4

8.) Full page illustration from Chapter 4: The main characters are safe--for now. That sense of safety is further emphasized by Neill's use of composition, which envelopes the characters into a kind of cocoon. The two black cats he adds towards the bottom of the image definitely make for a charming touch.

7.) Full page illustration from Chapter 11: Similarly to Number 9 above, we can't see where this young woman is going. The narrative probably tells us that, but the image nonetheless conveys a kind of intrigue around what it leaves out. By this time, it's evident that Neill is a master at this.

6.) Full page illustration from Chapter 18: The most appealing part of this image, by far, is the suspense it conveys. The prince has his back to us, and you can see the door he is going toward. We know from the narrative that behind this door lurks something dangerous. The rocks on either side of the image, with frightening faces carved into them, further conveys the ominous mood of this image. Be careful, Prince Inga!

5.) Full page illustration from Chapter 16: The technique used in this image is what I like the best about it. To further darken the edges and the figures in the foreground, he uses charcoal in addition to pen and ink. What we get is a rich, vibrant texture that almost elevates this image to a work of fine art.

Aside from this, the ominous mood of this image is also very well done, owing in no small part to the above mentioned charcoal and ink technique. The dark figures in the foreground appear to be fiercely forbidding the characters in the boat to ever return. Or perhaps they're spying on them. Either way, there's a brooding tone to this image that we just can't seem to shake.

4.) Tailpiece from Chapter 3: I present this image to you as a challenge. Neill was very proficient and creative in his use of detail, so I've decided to make this one into a game of I Spy. I spy, with my little eye, someone who is not too happy about the presence of these warriors.... Please let me know in the comments when you find him.

3.) Full page illustration from Chapter 3: The king is evidently threatened by the unwelcome new arrivals, and this illustration clearly conveys the tension, fear, and imminent danger of that situation. The symmetry of the composition, with the candlesticks jabbing upwards at either side, along with the king's erect posture and fearful facial expression, pretty much says it all. We hope he makes it to safety.

2.) Full page illustration from Chapter 20: Neill's illustrations sometimes included whimsical elements that add a degree of charm, and in this case, we see a perfect example of this in the tree branch at top right. It's in the shape of a head with an arm and hand tipping a hat. Who else but Neill could come up with something so fanciful?

1.) Title page: Aside from Neill's hand lettering, (which those of you who've read the other articles in the series know I'm crazy about,) his use of whimsical elements (such as those described in Number 2 above) abound here. The narrative describes King Rinkitink as someone who has a decidedly bad sense of humor, which mildly annoys everyone else, but is ultimately harmless. At bottom, we see what look like anthropomorphic pieces of fruit, plus a bottle with arms and legs, and they don't seem like they're very happy with the joke King Rinkitink just told.

Do you agree with this list? Which Rinkitink in Oz illustrations do you like the best? As always, please let me know in the comments section.

Stay well and safe!

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