June 10, 2013

Lucky Bucky Revisited, By Steve Shilstone

Editor's note: I am a huge Oz fan, and by Oz, I mean the entirety of the Oz canon, not just the first and most famous book. With little time on my hands, I asked Steve Shilstone to do some work with a book by the official Oz illustrator, John R, Neill, and was delighted with the results!

So in 1955 there was this 5th grader in Seattle, Washington. He read horse books, fairy tale books, dog books, Oz books, and he particularly adored Lucky Bucky in Oz. Why was that? Take a look at the cover. That’s a wooden whale pictured there. That’s the Lucky Bucky guy eating a pie. He was blown from the top of a tugboat in New York Harbor all the way to Oz. He lives in a cabin in the head of the whale. Cupboards in there are full of pies. He eats pies. He lives in the head of a wooden whale. He’s in Oz. That’s as far as you had to go for that 5th grader in 1955.

So now it’s somewhat later than 1955, and the former 5th grader gets to look out his window and see forested mountains and a lake. He decides to reread his childhood favorite, does so, and pens the following letter to his 5th grade self.

Dear kid in Seattle,

You never knew John Neill, one really fine illustrator, was not technically the greatest writer, and you didn’t care, did you? After all, wooden whale, live in head cabin, eat pies, right? But why does Lucky Bucky, New York kid, 1940, say things like: ‘What in the mischief ails you fellows?’ ‘Me? Turn back? Do I look like a pifflepuff? No!’ ‘Of all the star-spangled nerve! What in blazes do you fellows think you are doing?’ 1940 New York tugboat kid? Ummm, no. Okay, shoving bad dialogue aside, Neill’s imagination was up to the task of building an Oz story, and he eagerly served the Oz punning tradition of L. Frank Baum and Ruth Plumly Thompson. Witness: The icy zerons say, ‘Just consider your selves ice-olated forever, both of you.’ And Bucky has to play and defeat a crow in a game of crow-kay. And later there’s the Octopuss, the 8-legged underwater cat. Oh, and there are the pesky dollfins below.
I guess you didn’t notice how Neill rushed from escape to escape without a lot of detail. Fewer and better developed confrontations might have served him well. For a start, he should have gotten rid of that mass of Uncles met by Bucky and the whale as they neared Emerald City. Do they do anything at all for the story? I mean, come on. Pad out the dollfin bit and the gnome bit, using the space left over by dumping the Uncles. And there’s the everything ends with niceness and happiness and all, which is fine. I suggest you read Neill’s first Oz book effort, The Wonder City of Oz. The writing is just as iffy, but the plot is better. In conclusion, the Gabootch below, called The Flummux, little sister of Tom, Dick, and Harry Gabootch, was the best thing about Lucky Bucky in Oz. I don’t remember what you thought of her. You were too overwhelmed by wooden whale, head cabin, pies, and the land of Oz, weren’t you?
Yours later,
Elderly fellow in the mountains
P.S.: Why did everyone refer to the whale as a fish, up to and including Davy Jones, the wooden whale himself?
Bio: On his journey to becoming an elderly benign hippie lite loon, Steve Shilstone earned a degree in Anthropology from UCLA, coached youth baseball for 25 years, enjoyed fatherhood, distributed mail for the US Postal Service, and sketched and painted and cartooned and wrote with varying degrees of success.
You can learn more about Steve's writing at his site, Fiddleeebod and at his publisher's site, Wild Child Publishing.


  1. One of the most original and effective critiques I've ever read-- I did appreciate it

  2. Isn't it interesting to look back over books we loved when we were kids? As adults, we becoming more critical of what we read and tend to expect more when it comes to plotting, character development, etc. But when I look back on the things I loved as a kid, what they seem to have in common was that they fired my imagination. And even if other aspects were not as great, I can often times still appreciate that aspect. Thanks for the great review, Steve:)