Friday, October 28, 2011

Kill the Dog, Win a Medal: Or, Toto's Lucky Break

"Death By Newbery Medal"

"There is a Slice of Life story about childhood and coming of age. The main character has a best friend (an animal, another child, or a family member) who is a source of joy, wisdom, and understanding in their life. This friend is often frailer, more unworldly, or otherwise more 'special' than the main character. Bonus points if the character is cute or adorable.

"At the end of the story, this very special best friend is abruptly killed off, usually in a clear-cut case of Diabolus ex Machina. A favorite trick is to have the death happen entirely offscreen. The more horribly poignant the tragedy the better.

"All this is generally accompanied by lots of 'end of the innocence' angsting from the main character, along the lines of 'That was the day my childhood ended...' Really, it's just the author's way of having a child suddenly make the jump to adulthood via a single defining tragedy.

"The Newbery Medal is a prestigious award given to American novels written for children. To win one, it helps a lot to use a story like this.

"Bridge to Terabithia won a Newbery..."

The Lemming hastens to add that not every Newbery Medal book involves the littlest cancer patient dying of pneumonia because the main character left a window open. Or a loyal dog being killed by its owner.

Back to that page from

"...Remember, one reader's predictable, Narm-filled Award Bait can be another's Heartwarming-Crowned Childhood Classic that will always hold a special place on their bookshelf...."

Before wandering off on a suggestion for the next "Wizard of Oz" remake, a little background on Oz and all that:

"The Wizard of Oz" and an Appreciative Lemming

For the record, the Lemming likes L. Frank Baum's original "Wizard of Oz," and the sequels that the Lemming's read so far. The Lemming also likes the famous 1939 "Wizard of Oz" movie - and some of the subsequent ones.

But the Lemming realizes that none of the above are 'literary.' At least not by the standards that the Lemming had to learn, back in the 'good old days.' Good grief: Toto survives, Dorothy survives: what's the fun in that, for a 'serious thinker?'

It's not to late to turn this around, though. Maybe it's time for some frightfully earnest chap to re-write "The Wizard of Oz," transforming it from mere escapist literature (or a trenchant metaphorical discussion of American history, railroads, and all that: no, really, someone said that).

There Might be a Pulitzer in This

From Toto's point of view, it's a good thing that he and his owner, Dorothy, weren't in a 'deeply moving,' or 'meaningful' story. The Wicked Witch of the West's demise was a little edgier in L. Frank Baum's story, compared to the 1939 film adaptation - and the Lemming is wandering off-topic.

The basic "Oz" story doesn't need to change much - orphan Dorothy goes to Oz, meets weird people, and returns home. What could transport Baum's book to a higher (or lower?) plane is the details. Here's what the Lemming came up with, after a late-night cup of coffee:
  • Dorothy
    • Dropped on Auntie Em's doorstep as a baby
    • Precociously perceptive
    • Frees Toto from an animal research facility
    • Pursued by
      • Police
      • Scientists
        • Evil, of course
      • Corporate ninjas
  • Auntie Em
    • Operates an endangered wetlands preserve
      • With no visible means of support
    • Divorced
    • Wants to be a lawyer
      • Corporate
      • High-powered
      • Or a starship captain
  • Toto
    • Cute
      • Really, really cute
    • Starts communicating with Dorothy
      • Canine mind-meld?
      • Writing
        • On the ground?
        • Using Dorothy's laptop?
  • Suddenly, a tornado
    • Destroys Auntie Em's sustainable cabin
    • Uproots half the trees in the endangered wetland
    • Pulls Dorothy off the ground
      • Toto too
What is Toto trying to say? What happened to Aunti Em? And why do the corporate ninjas all look like agents from Men in Black?

Meanwhile, Dorothy and Toto are dropped into the middle of a planned community: apparently a collaborative effort by M. C. Escher and Salvador Dali. They meet the residents: most of whom wear green and violet bib overalls and carry banners with slogans like "PARCHEESI NOW!" and "LEGALIZE CONFETTI."

The Emerald City Goes Green

The residents tell Dorothy that her way home lies through the Emerald City, where the great wizard Oz will surely help her: while maintaining a small carbon footprint and using only sustainable resources.

While Dorothy and Toto travel to meet Oz, minions of the Wicked Witch of the West capture Toto. W. W. of the W. has a photo taken of herself petting the dog, and returns Toto to Dorothy: during a press conference.

Meanwhile, Dorothy has discovered that the great and mighty Oz is a mere imposter: with a disturbingly complete collection of Powerpuff Girls key rings.

Kill the Dog, Save the Planet

Then, just as the glitzy Good Witch of the North is about to send Dorothy and Toto home, Toto finally tells Dorothy what he was doing at that animal research facility.

Toto was one of twelve genetically altered dogs. The evil scientists had tried using monkeys, but the primates escaped. To Oz.

This dire dozen was programmed to spread chaos and destruction: and a plague that would convert all animals to greenhouse gasses, dooming life on Earth. Including pandas and fur seals.

Toto is powerless to overcome his programming: but there is one last hope. Oz may be a charlatan wizard, but he's also a top-notch biochemist: who just happens to have a fully-equipped lab right there in the Emerald City. Toto tells Dorothy that by vivisecting him, Oz may find a way to stop the remaining 11 dogs of doom before it's too late.

Dorothy of Kansas then helps Oz disassemble Toto. Oz stops the dogs, and Dorothy is returned to Kansas. In this version, it's the Lemming's guess that she'll go through years of therapy: which gives opportunities for sequels. Lots of sequels.

And the Pandas Live Happily Ever After

Oh, right: and the pandas are okay. Fur seals, too.

On consideration, the Lemming thinks that maybe this re-write is a little too serious.

The Lemming is also re-considering the wisdom of nocturnal imbibing of coffee.

Vaguely-related posts:


Brigid said...

Uh. Wow.

Oh, and you seem to be missing a word here: "Toto was one twelve genetically altered dogs."

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...



That's what I was aiming for.

And the missing word is fixed: Thanks!

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