Oz has changed since Dorothy’s time. Nowadays the tin man is rusting, and the scarecrow is little more than a head in a bucket; the wicked witch injects herself with pure water; the yellow brick road is peppered with graves . . . such is the vision of Oz as presented in Northern Frights Publishing’s new short fiction anthology Shadows Of The Emerald City, a collection of nineteen stories all based on the mythology of L. Frank Baum’s classic fairytale.
It’s a bold concept, and one that has been executed wonderfully. The tale of Dorothy’s departure from Kansas and her journey down the yellow-brick road is common knowledge, epitomised in the collective conciousness by the sunny, innocent 1939 film; a story that’s told with lots of singing and dancing, and an inevitably happy ending. But as with many fairytales, something darker lurks beneath the surface. Shadows Of The Emerald City makes it its mission to draw out that darkness.
It’s worth mentioning that, while many of the stories draw solely from the film and the original book that inspired it, there are also several that include material and ideas from subsequent titles in the Oz series. Baum’s world is actually far wider than many imagine, including a dozen less-famous titles published after the success of his original The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz. A wide sample of the canon is represented in this collection, the familiar and the less-familiar side-by-side. It’s enough to please fans of the series without confusing those who might only be aware of its more popular elements.
The anthology, which touts itself as horror, is a varied one. Stories range from the elegantly post-apocalyptic (such as JW Schnarr’s “Dorothy Of Kansas”) to straight-up horror (as in Rajan Khanna’s “Pumpkinhead”) to the more darkly humorous (such as Kevin Summers’s “A heart is Judged”). Some stories risk being too simplistic, but they are few, and provide relief from the more heavywieght members of the collection. There’s not a single weak or uninspired story in the lot, though a few go on perhaps for longer than they should.
JW Schnarr not only edits the collection, but contributes one of its strongest stories. “Dorothy Of Kansas” is a grim and awesome gem, written by someone who clearly loves and understands both the Oz tales and the genre of horror. The eighteen other stories are picked with similar care, and make Shadows Of The Emerald City both exciting and wonderfully dark.