Nitpicking in Oz, part II

As was previously mentioned — and if you haven’t been reading my lit-crit masterpieces in order, why not, may I ask — at any rate, Oz was consciously designed as a very practical Fairyland. You notice, when the characters stop for supper on their nigh-endless journeys, how often milk is mentioned?

In other words: Tolkien, Baum was not. This is part of the reason I don’t buy into the idea of the first book as a political allegory; there’s just no evidence of that much conscious planning in the rest of the series. Really, the very idea of designing intricate languages and mythologies and making sure Celaborn was pronounced correctly would’ve seemed vaguely unwholesome, to a middle-aged Midwesterner at the turn of the 20th century.

Thus Oz grew into a truly American fantasy concept: sturdy and free and self-reliant and… not making a lick of sense, really. On the plus side, at least he didn’t attempt to turn the whole thing into a religious allegory.


He did, however, have to deal with the effects of magic — yes, even in kiddy books. This posed a special problem for Baum, since — as TVTropes explains in their splendid page on the subject — you don’t really need rules, but you do have to have internal logic. If it’s been established that the Enchanted Whatzis can get you out of a situation, it’s bad form to repeat that situation sans Whatzis.
‘Cause you just know some random critic is going to turn it intosnark fodder. Or, as in the case of Star Trek, you have to reboot an entire decades-old franchise at least partly because there was literally no way left to get the crew in trouble that couldn’t be solved by previously demonstrated tech.

Baum seemed to have an especially unfortunate gift for granting omniscience. In Oz, after the third book, there is the Magic Belt, worn by Ozma, which functions as a shameless deus et accessory. Ozma also has a Magic Picture (noticing a trend here?) which shows her anything she wants to see the instant she asks.
There is also Glinda the ‘powerful Sorceress’, who possesses the Great Book, on which everything that occurs everywhere in the world is instantly recorded. There is the Wizard, on his return, who becomes her apprentice. There is even a frelling Powder of Life that can grant sentience to whatever it touches. All this, without even mentioning the winged monkeys.

So basically the remaining Oz stories should all be about two pages long. Instead, the characters go on quests like the one in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, in which the title characters get trapped in the centre of the Earth and held captive by vegetable people, who declare their intention of ‘planting’ the visitors.
After several days of fobbing them off, Dorothy and party escape via a steep cave path up towards the surface. It’s a long, hard climb. Along the way they get attacked by bloodthirsty invisible bears and captured by wooden Gargoyles, wander unaware into a dragon’s den and get annoyed the hell out of by a crazy man half-way up who won’t let them leave without a box of his High-Grade Artificial Flutters and Rustles.

All of which is splendid fun; nobody ever accused Baum of a dearth of imagination. The kicker comes when they find themselves trapped in a cavern juuuuuust too far below the surface to reach. Even the Wizard starts lamenting their fate, until…
…Dorothy calmly announces that they’ll be OK, because she’s made a deal with Ozma: At four o’clock every day, Ozma will look for her in the Magic Picture, and if Dorothy is making a ‘special signal’, she’ll use the Magic Belt to transport her and her companions out immediately. So she does, and she does, and they do.

Right. Let me just remind the reader, this is several days later. It’s explicitly mentioned in the text.

Apparently Ozma has ethical qualms, or something, about using the thing indiscriminately; at one point in Road to Oz she tells Dorothy that she was on the verge of rescuing her, but Dorothy et al got out OK by themselves. That can-do frontier spirit in action again, I guess. But it still leaves everybody else wondering why Dorothy’s companions didn’t raise even the eensiest little question about why the @!$@#%#$ she DIDN’T MENTION THIS BEFORE THE GIANT INVISIBLE KILLER BEARS. Or, for that matter, have some choice words for Ozma’s ethics.


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