Captain Salt in Oz Paperback – 1 Jun 1996
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The story brings back some of Thompson's characters from a previous volume. Captain Salt has been designated as the royal explorer of Oz and he stops of to pick up King Ato of the Octagon Isle to serve as his cook as he goes off exploring. Roger the Read Bird also has to come along to keep things stirred up. The crew sets off on a voyage of discovery and, of course, adventure. Oz only appears as the imperial power claiming the new lands.
Early on, the explorers pick up a young prince being held captive by savages and his guardian hippo. The young prince turns out to be the king of another fairyland on a legendary continent and the crew sets out to restore him against the wishes of the usurpers.
Thompson usually does well with her own characters as opposed to using Baum's. That is marginally the case with this book as well but it does not read as well as most of her others. It is a fair story but nothing to get overly excited about.
In this book Ruth Plumly Thompson draws, and quite delightfully, on the tradition of "pirates as explorer" brought down from real-life swashbucklers like the pirate-discoverer 17th century William Dampier. A sequel to "Pirates in Oz" (which is not quite so playful and fun), it stands alone for new readers as a lovely jaunt through uncharted seas to new nations of magic--and as such has a terrific undertone celebrating the wonders of natural discover.
It's the pair of older characters here--King Ato of Pingaree and Captain Salt himself--that give the book the meat of enjoyment for older readers. Salt is a handsome, rakish, idealistically minded pacifist with a weakness for collecting odd flora and fauna. Ato is the pragmatic, stomach-oriented king-turned-seacook who accompanies Salt on his travels while maintaining a good supply of thick books tucked under his ample arms--in case Capt Sammy needs to have them dropped on his head to rouse his anger, in the event of enemy attack. These two play off amusingly against each other, each supporting the other's work.
To a modest, and much appreciated degree, Thompson confronts, rather than avoids, the problematic issue of imperially "claiming" lands whose occupants may or may not wish to be claimed--not an overriding theme of the book, but a nice assurance that as an author she's considered the less pleasant side of all this worldly jaunting, in Empire's name! She's writing for children, and she knows it--still, it's nice to see the issues debated--and definitely helps in keeping this book from feeling dated and unreadable.
As a child, I would bring home stacks of the original '20s and '30s editions of the Oz books and devour them, getting the same satisfaction kids must get today of working their way alone through a Harry Potter book. Of course, the Oz books are simpler and have more illustrations, but they offer a similar kind of fun. Magic, spunky young characters on their way to learning something about themselves--and a supporting cast of idiosyncratic older characters who bring suggestive depth and history to the tales.
Most *certainly* worth searching out to share with younger children.
Thompson's tenure was winding down by the time she wrote 'Captain Salt In Oz' (1936), a novel that suffers, as all the worst of the Oz books do, from being in plot and theme about nothing in particular. As in Thompson's 'The Silver Princess In Oz' (1938), much of the writing is leaden and almost impossible to follow comfortably. 'Captain Salt In Oz' reads like a manuscript in which the primary story has been extracted; worse, its narrative could have been told in one-fourth of its 306 pages.
Blending together elements from Ballantyne's 'The Coral Island,' Kipling's 'Captains Courageous,' and Burroughï's Tarzan mythos, 'Captain Salt In Oz,' while occasionally lively in tone, comes to little except some very mild adventures at sea. Ex-pirate and present-day "Royal Oz Explorer" Captain Salt and ship's cook Ato, out colonizing for Ozma on the high seas, rescue petulant young king Tandy from a tropical island prison. Neurotically obsessed with maintaining his regal status while on board the galleon (the Crescent Moon, in homage to Henry Hudson's Half Moon), in time Tandy learns to discard his notions of elitism and live life as the carefree young boy he really is.
The trouble is that there is no tension, drama, or adversity in Tandy's catharsis: the waters surrounding him are not stormy and perilous, but brackish and tepid. No villains threaten; no obstacles frustrate. Considering that the story takes place in Oz, where almost anything can happen, almost nothing does.
'Captain Salt In Oz' is further out at sea that it realizes, and not waving but drowning. No members of the Oz royal family appear, and while pacifist Captain Salt is an energetic, colorful character, he is given little to do but reflect fondly on his previous life as a cutlass-wielding buccaneer. Thompson had an extreme weakness for generic boy kings, and Tandy is in no way distinguishable from any of those that came before him. Those who would like to experience what Thompson made of Oz should consider her excellent 'Kabumpo In Oz' (1922) instead.