• Nina Clare

Queen Zixi of Ix: Or, the Story of the Magic Cloak by L. Frank Baum (1904)

If you could have one wish, what would it be?

The fairy queen is bored of dancing by moonlight, and desires her fairies to think of some new diversion. The result is the creation of a magic cloak, which shall grant its mortal wearer one wish. Let the magical mischief begin!

This lesser-known work of Baum's is set in the neighbouring kingdoms of Oz, in the lands of Noland and Ix. The old king of Noland is dead, and he has no heir, but an archaic law causes a young orphan boy to be plucked from poverty and obscurity and crowned the new ruler. Meanwhile the fairies' magical cloak falls into the hands of his grieving little sister, who wishes only to be happy again. Henceforth she is no longer a grieving orphan, but the beloved Princess Fluff who can have as many pretty dresses and dolls as she wishes.

The magic cloak passes from person to person, without their awareness of its powers, resulting in a series of comic scenes as various members of the court wish for things with bizarre consequences. But over the border of the next kingdom, the witch-queen of Ix hears of this fairy gift and sets her heart on gaining it for herself. She might be an artful witch and centuries old, but she is not clever enough to outwit the young princess; her schemes of subterfuge and sneaky identity-changes fail and she resorts to war.

What chance do a pair of orphan children have against a witch at the head of an army twice the size of their own? They have only a little magical help, but the cloak never seems to be around when they need it. Talking dogs, winged ladies, and a ten-foot army general all aid the young king and add to the fun. But can they defeat a vain witch-queen whose beauty is as famous as it is false? And even if they do defeat the queen of Ix, there are still fearsome, quarrelsome creatures ready to invade the peaceful kingdom of Noland.

But this is a children's fairy tale, so fear not – there must be a happy ending. And this is Baum, so there must be humour and quirky word play and fantastical story twists and turns. Eccentric characters and foolish, or reasonably good-natured, villains make this a sweet fairy tale, a little simpler and gentler than The Wizard of Oz. L.Frank Baum considered this the most original fairy tale he had written, and it is delightful, but I would still consider Oz to be his masterwork.

A parable about the wisdom of not getting everything you wish for, beautifully illustrated by Frederick Richardson. You can still buy it, but you can also read it for free at Gutenberg.org.