Grrl Riot : L. Frank Baum – “The Marvelous Land of Oz” and “Ozma of Oz”(Oz #2 and #3)

ABOVE: You say you want a revolution?

L. Frank Baum based General Jinjur, (the hottie, haughty leader of the girls-only Army of Revolt that sweeps through “The Marvelous Land of Oz”) on his personal observations of the suffragette movement’s more salient figures. Jinjur is a proto-feminist tsunami; fed up with the patriarchal rule of the Scarecrow King, she marches into Emerald City ready to rule… but her gentle-sexed soldiers are easily seduced by all the pretty emeralds that litter the place. It’s all in good fun. Baum was ahead of his time in supporting women’s rights: his wife Maud was the daughter of Matilda Joslyn Gage, who toiled elbow-to-elbow with Susan B. Anthony; Baum was atypically close to his mother-in-law. (By contrast, Baum was grossly behind his time in his opinions about Native Americans – don’t look that up unless you want to further ruin your childhood memories.)

General Jinjur is far from the most daring gender-switcher in “The Marvelous Land of Oz,” book 2 in the Oz series, which was marketed at the time as “the continued adventures of the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman,” as a warning to readers who expected Dorothy to return for the sequel.

They weren’t warned about other revolutionary developments in the novel.

(SPOILERS AHEAD?) Throughout the novel we assume we’re following the adventures of a boy with the Dickensian name of Tip. Tip stands in for the missing Dorothy Gale from Kansas but follows a similar journey toward centrally-located Emerald City. He’s accompanied by the Halloween horror that is Jack Pumpkinhead; a pun-loving Woggle-Bug; a Sawhorse come to life; and a Gump, which is basically a moose-head tied to two complementing sofas. Stopping the Army of Revolt and meeting up with beloved  characters from the first book is only tangential to Tip’s true mission, which is one of self-awareness.

ABOVE: Golf is played quite differently in the land of Oz.

You see, in a plot twist that anticipated “Metroid’s” Samus Aran by 80 years, it turns out that our boyish hero Tip had been a girl all along; and that he is actually PRINCESS  Ozma of Oz, the rightful ruler of the magical realm. I will not hazard guesses as to how confused the young readers of 1904 must have felt at this sexual switch-a-roo.  Tip himself – Ozma herself, I mean- approaches her momentous change with some understandable trepidation. Her fantastic friends are quite supportive, though:

“Never mind, old chap,” said the Tin Woodman, soothingly; “it don’t hurt to be a girl, I’m told; and we will all remain your faithful friends just the same. And, to be honest with you, I’ve always considered girls nicer than boys.” “They’re just as nice, anyway,” added the Scarecrow, patting Tip affectionately upon the head. “And they are equally good students,” proclaimed the Woggle-Bug.”


That Woggle-Bug, by the way, was such a turn of the century sensation that he earned himself a spin-off title, “The Woggle-Bug Book” (not to mention a Parker Brothers board game.) Transported to New York City, the Woggle-Bug has himself a grand-old-time, a sort of offensive reversal of Dorothy’s adventures: while indulging his perverted infatuation on a traveling dress, he encounters such fantastic American denizens as Oh Lawdy Mammies; wily yellow Chinamen, and fertile, penny-pinching Swede widows.


 

One of the first signs of Baum’s impatience with the whole concept of Oz comes in a preface where he outright begs his Oz-loving audience to let him write stories that aren’t Oz-related; his imagination compelled him to introduce new wondrous worlds on a constant basis. The audience, of course, wasn’t listening. So Oz it was. Baum was clearly of two minds, busy negotiating between his muse and commerce. On the one hand, he began to take seriously the idea of creating a chronicle of that country, to be the Balzac of children’s fantasy; but some other part of him wanted off Oz, and he would have gladly destroyed his most famous creation, making him the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of children’s fantasy.

ABOVE: Our little Tip really blossomed between books!

1907’s “Ozma of Oz,” the third novel in the series, is a compromise of sorts. Due to popular demand, Dorothy Gale is back as the heroine. While on a cross-ocean trip to our own earthly, down-under  land of Oz, a storm sweeps her off her ship and she winds up… elsewhere… this time accompanied by a talking yellow Hen called Bill. (Outraged by the inappropriateness of the name’s gender, Dorothy dubs the hen Billina, but that doesn’t make the clucking thing any more interesting; she’s no substitute for Toto.)

The thing is, Dorothy doesn’t land in Oz, and the title of the novel is as accurate as a carnival barker’s claims. In”Ozma of Oz,” Ozma only appears late in the game – and the action takes place not in Oz, but in the neighboring land of Ev. The Queen of Ev and her children have been kidnapped by the mischievous  Nome King, Roquat, who’s transformed them into ornaments. Dorothy’s mission is to rescue the Queen by guessing the Nome King’s fiendish riddle. (One serious weakness in the novel is that Dorothy doesn’t find the solution to the  riddle through deduction or ingenuity or any kind of effort: Billina the Yellow Hen just happens to eavesdrop on the blabbering King by accident.)

The Wonderful Land of Ev has half-amazing, half-disturbing sights that I suspect speak to Baum’s uneasiness with the “modern times” of 1907. In Ev the natural is (unnaturally) melded with the artificial. Lunch baskets and dinner pails grow on trees. There are Wheelers in Ev, terrifying humanoid/automobile hybrids, (this was a year before Henry Ford’s Model T erupted from the assembly line into the mainstream.) There’s face-shifting princess Langwidere, who practices an extremely advanced form of plastic surgery. And, most significantly, there’s Dorothy’s friend the wind-up Tik-Tok Man, one of the earliest robots in popular fiction, (again, Baum was ahead of his time; Karel Kapek wouldn’t even coin the word ‘robot’ for another 13 years.) Throughout, John R. Neill’s illustrations more than make up for any weakness in Baum’s ability to evoke the fantastic through description.

ABOVE: “Come with me if you want to live.”

So? is Ev short for Evolution? Or for Evil?

RATING: MASTERPIECES!!!

P.S.: “The Marvelous Land of Oz” and “Ozma of Oz” were adapted for an unjustly forgotten 1985 Disney movie, which doled out delightful dollops of nightmare fuel for children in need of dark fantasy. (The 80s were good in that area: see “The Neverending Story,” “The Last Unicorn,” “Labyrinth” and “The Dark Crystal.”)

ABOVE: This is not a horror movie, children. Promise.

 

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2 thoughts on “Grrl Riot : L. Frank Baum – “The Marvelous Land of Oz” and “Ozma of Oz”(Oz #2 and #3)

  1. Pingback: The Executioner’s Song : Gene Wolfe – “Shadow of the Torturer” and “Claw of the Conciliator” (The Book of the New Sun #1 and 2) | THE PAGEAHOLIC

  2. Pingback: Mangaboos and Love Magnets : L. Frank Baum : “Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz” and “The Road to Oz” (Oz #4 and Oz #5) | THE PAGEAHOLIC

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