Top 10 Oz Illustrations, Part 11: The Lost Princess of Oz, Illustrated by John R. Neill

I'd like to start this entry by apologizing for not keeping up with this series for about a month. Some problems came to my attention that needed to be dealt with, and ironically, they were problems I never would have noticed had it not been for our current calamity. (I hope everyone is well and safe, by the way.)

But anyway, this is definitely one of the more exciting entries, because today we will be exploring what is perhaps the most interesting of L. Frank Baum's Oz books. I like to think of it as children's fantasy meets crime thriller. In it, Ozma is abducted. (Yeah, you heard that right! Abducted. Yikes!) And her magic picture, the Wizard's black bag of magic, Dorothy's magic belt, and Glinda's book of records are all stolen. (Incidentally, a magic dishpan belonging to Cayke the Cookie Cook, a completely new and unfamiliar character living in the remote mountain of the Yips, is also stolen.) It all happens in the dead of night, like a classic burglary, so no one is quite sure who did it, nor yet if they can catch the perpetrator.

The stage is set for a bumpy ride where many interesting twists and turns happen, along with a shocker of an ending, (much like the ending of The Marvelous Land of Oz, which likewise involves an abducted Ozma. Sheesh.. what does everybody want with her anyway??)

So here are the top ten illustrations from The Lost Princess of Oz...

10.) Full Page Illustration From Chapter 5: John R. Neill, the master of expression, is at it again, and this time, one can clearly see the look of shock and dismay across the Wizard's entire face and body. Stiff as a wood board, and yet looking like he's about to collapse, his face twisted into a paroxysm of sheer agony, he is the picture of someone to whom something terribly, terribly wrong has happened. We feel your pain, Wizard.... Hang in there...

9.) Glinda's Chariot (From Front Matter): Glinda's primary mode of transportation is a chariot drawn by graceful flying geese, and here it appears that she is preparing to assist our friends in their search for their missing talismans and their missing queen. What I love about this picture is the sense of depth it conveys. The geese in the foreground, in all their cross-hatched glory, are depicted with strong, tight lines, and more detail than their backseat buddies. The further back your eye is drawn, the less tight the lines become, and the level of detail decreases. This kind of depth can be difficult to achieve if you're drawing in pen and ink, since it's all either black or white without any shades in between, but Neill handles it very well. Finally, at the back, we see Glinda and her chariot. Not as prominent as her leading geese, but not any less important to the picture--and the story.

8.) Tailpiece From Chapter 1: Trot, Betsy Bobbin, and Dorothy have discovered a gaping hole where the precious magic picture had once been, and although you can't see their faces, you can generally tell from their body language that they are shocked and very displeased at their discovery. The composition is also very effective, as its symmetry draws our eye toward the blank spot on the wall. As we are pulled into the nothingness in the center of the composition, we can't help but feel their dismay. And we also can't help but wonder where the heck the magic picture went off to!

7.) Color Plate From Chapter 11: I'll admit, I only chose this one because of its interesting backstory, which reveals that nobody, not even the great John R. Neill, is perfect.

It seems hard to believe, but for a time L. Frank Baum was harshly critical of Neill's drawings, and he would complain about them often. This is because, in the 1910s, the Oz books weren't selling as well as he had hoped, and so Neill's illustrations were, to him, a logical scapegoat. The two met in Syracuse in 1912, hoping to resolve their differences, but Baum was relentless, snidely telling his publishers that he expected his upcoming Oz book, "The Patchwork Girl," to do well "in spite of Neill's pictures."

But not long after, he would change his tune, agreeing that "Neill is good, and perhaps we could find no better." He enthusiastically heaped praise on the drawings for the Lost Princess, in spite of the fact that he noticed one glaring imperfection: the tree in this drawing has two peaches, but the text describes it as only having one. (Source: Rogers, Katherine: L. Frank Baum; Creator of Oz. Da Capo Press, 2002. pp. 200, 212-13.)

Maybe Baum looked the other way because he realized he already complained too much and wanted to cut Neill a break, although perhaps he didn't realize how easy it would have been for Neill to simply white out the second peach. Sometimes pen and ink artists of that time period would make these kind of modifications by simply gluing a piece of white drawing board cut in the shape of the area that was to be whited out. As for the color, which might have made this process more complicated, there was none, because the printers added it in later. Chances are that Baum didn't know any of this. Otherwise, he could have made a more diplomatic attempt to request such a modification.

6.) Full Page Illustration From Chapter 1: In this fanciful drawing, Scraps, the Patchwork Girl, gets a much-needed makeover. What I especially like about this one is its use of perspective as well as the crisp level of detail used throughout.

5.) Full Page Illustration From Chapter 1: And the amount of detail in this one is about the same, but I rank it a little higher than the last one because of its very thoughtful use of composition. Trot, Betsy Bobbin, and Dorothy are close together, suggesting their close friendship, but if you were to stand back and look at it at a distance, you might notice that the whole composition is in a heart shape. Maybe he planned it that way? At any rate, one can definitely see how well they get along as friends, and the shape of the composition reflects that effectively.

4.) Full Page Illustration From Chapter 8: In this drawing, our friends are approaching a mysterious castle. Right away, we can see the effectiveness of the composition, leading our eye from the lower right to the upper left, and leaving us wondering what adventures could possibly be lurking beyond the stony walls.

3.) The End: I can only say here that I wish there were more of these full page drawings signalling the end of the whole book. But as it is, they are a rare treat, as they appear in this form in only a handful of Oz books. The end of an epic story like this, of course, deserves an epic visual treatment, and Neill accomplishes this superbly!

2.) Color Plate From Chapter 5: It's a little out of character for these two exuberant and playful boys, Ojo and Button Bright, to strut around in a glamorous and self-satisfied pose as they do here, which strongly suggests to me that this could be another one of Neill's recycled drawings. (I mention this in greater detail in my article on the Top 10 Illustrations from The Emerald City.) Perhaps this was for a fashion advertisement? It's all speculation, of course, and until we find the original drawings, we'll never know for sure. But it's still an intriguing concept, isn't it?

1.) Color Plate From Chapter 9: Maybe I'm a bit biased, but my absolute favorite thing about Neill's illustrations is their use of humor and whimsy, and this drawing has an abundance of such elements. The characters themselves, in their weird shapes (which, to my mind, look a little bit like the talking clock, teapot, and candelabra in Disney's Beauty and the Beast,) their quirky expressions, and even the little nuances such as the child on the left side, all make for a real side splitter. One that even the most serious-minded of us can't help but chuckle at.

That's it for this list. Which illustration from The Lost Princess of Oz did you like best? Are there any you wish I had included? Please leave me your thoughts in the comments, and I will look forward to reading them.

Till next time!

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