Classic Children's Literature · Once Upon a Time · Reading

Completed: Tales of Magic Land 1

Tales of Magic Land 1: The Wizard of the Emerald City & Urfin Jus and His Wooden Soldiers by Alexander VolkovThe Wizard of the Emerald City
1939, U.S.S.R.
Urfin Jus and His Wooden Soldiers
1963, U.S.S.R.
Alexander Melentyevich Volkov
Translated from Russian by Peter L. Blystone

Waaaaay back in January when I hosted the Wonderful Wizard of Oz readalong, Ekaterina reminded/informed us about the existance of a Russian version of the original Baum story. (She posts a comparison HERE.) Some years after The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published, Alexander Volkov released his own version, part translation, part re-imagining of the Baum. Intrigued, I decided, to search out a copy. It doesn’t seem to be well-known at all in the U.S., but my library came through: after my Interlibrary Loan request, they purchased a copy. It took a while to arrive, but came just in time to serve as my first two completed reads for Carl’s Once Upon a Time challenge–I read the Volkov sequel Urfin Jus and His Wooden Soldiers as well.

Now, given my so-s0 feelings towards Baum’s original, I’m perhaps not the best person to be reading The Wizard of the Emerald City. Sure enough, the reading simply dragged on. I’d read (most) of this before, just a couple months back. But (as Ekaterina’s post shows) they are not quite the same book. Although at times it felt like I was reading a text that had been run through translation software twice–from English to Russian and back–Volkov selectively edits and adds. He has a completely new chapter prior to the arrival at the Emerald City, in which the Dorothy character–named Ellie here–is snatched by an ogre and nearly eaten. I felt before that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz didn’t have high enough stakes–Volkov certainly raises them! But on the other hand, I have a feeling that Baum would not have cared for such a blood-thirsty addition, at odds as it was with his own desires for a new sort of fairy-tale.

One benefit to the comparison of the two stories is that it gave me a new appreciation for Baum’s actual writing. I can’t say for certain–knowing not a lick of Russian–how many of the little irritations I found here are products of translation, but one thing I felt was that Volkov overwrites. He seems to feel a need to provide an explanation for everything, rather than letting the “magic” of the story–and his “Oz,” which he calls “Magic Land” take over. Sometimes less is more. Of course, this could be a “your mileage may vary” sort of thing and others far prefer the extra explanations. The other thing I noted was that, at least in The Wizard of the Emerald City, Volkav has a tendency to use adverbs with his “saids,” such as “said sadly.” (I don’t remember seeing this in Urfin Jus and His Wooden Soldiers, but it could have happened and I was just more caught up in the story and didn’t notice.) He also seems to like to use every synonym for “said” he can find. I’ve seen recommendations against both of these practices in writing, and while I’m sure there’s a time and place, in this instance, I was able to see just how annoying it can be! I don’t know though…maybe this is a lost in translation sort of thing and it comes across better in Russian?

In contrast to Wizard, Urfin Jus and His Wooden Soldiers was completely new to me. Rather than adapting one of Baum’s own sequels, Volkov invented his own completely new Magic Land adventure (and I believe there are another four as well). The translator packaged them together, and despite how long it took me to get through the first, I decided that since I had it, to try the sequel. Volkov certainly had his own vivid imagination and Urfin Jus feels like a story that fits with Oz. The basics of the plot: Urfin Jus, an unsociable Munchkin, comes by a magical powder that brings inanimate objects to life. He creates an army of wooden soldiers and a plot to  conquer Emerald City, and Ellie finds that she must return to Magic Land with her uncle Charlie to help defeat Urfin Jus. This of course means all sorts of new adventures for Ellie and her friends–but also has an interesting echo of The Wizard of the Emerald City when we follow Urfin’s journey from Munchkinland to the Emerald City. The same challenges are still there, only Urfin must find a different way to solve them.

I enjoyed the second selection much more, largely, I think, because it was completely new to me and I could just focus on the adventure rather than the comparisons.

A note regarding the translation: from all I can tell, these translations were a labor of love for the translator, Peter L. Blystone. When I was looking for The Wizard of the Emerald City online, the only available English edition I found was from a print-on-demand publisher, and in his acknowledgements Blystone mentions that when he started it was “basically a one-man production.” I am grateful he took the effort–if not I would not have had to opportunity to try out these books.

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