#Ozathon24: A colorful new character

In The Patchwork Girl of Oz, another animated character is added to the roster of inanimate objects brought to life in Oz: the Patchwork Girl, created out of a crazy quilt to be a servant to a magician’s wife. “Scraps” resists that dreary fate, though. Due to the intervention of a boy named Ojo, she’s been gifted with an assortment of qualities not desirable in servants: she’s independent, imaginative, and maybe a bit crazy. Scraps loves to be active, sings ridiculous songs, and proclaims “I hate dignity!” She’s basically the exact opposite of the feminine ideal of the time.

Scraps enlivens the basic quest narrative of the book, which takes Ojo on a journey through Oz looking for ingredients for a potion to save his Unc Nunkie, turned into stone through a magical accident. Though this book is marred by a couple of examples of racial stereotyping (very much of their time), on the other hand, the celebration of Scraps’ liberation from servitude seems to make a comment on the injustice of slavery, as well as on the limiting social expectations of women.

Scraps meets the Scarecrow

The notion of affecting people’s capabilities and personalities by giving them “brains” is a recurring theme in the series. And this has undergone some changes. In the first book the idea of “brain-substance” was treated as an absurdity — the Wizard only pretends to give the Scarecrow brains because he demands a material symbol for his intelligence, unable to believe it exists otherwise. But his ability to think actually appears to be innate and not connected to matter in his head.

By this book, the manipulation of brain-substance is an accepted fact, and brains can be a liability as well as an advantage. While the Patchwork Girl’s wild and unconventional nature is mostly accepted by the other characters, another animated creature, the Glass Cat, is so annoying with her constant talk about her pink brains (“you can see ’em work!”) that she ends up having them forcibly replaced at the end, to make her more docile and less vain.

A dance version of the story from LA Choreographers and Dancers

This is not the only morally questionable event in the Oz books; in her reread series on the Tor.com blog, Mari Ness has done an amusing job of tracking many incidents of “Ozma fail.” Ozma is continually eulogized as a wonderful ruler, but she is also an authoritarian who tells people what they can and can’t do. She picks favorites who get to be exempt from her rules (the Shaggy Man, for example, doesn’t have to do any work), arbitrarily ignores her own strictures at times (Ojo is jailed for thievery, while said Shaggy Man, an unrepentant thief, was accepted into Oz), and neglects to reveal important information (Ojo’s theft would not have happened if Ozma had bothered to explain the reason for the law forbidding it).

But never mind! What seems to keep the people of Oz from resisting Ozma’s authority is that the general goal of her authority is to meet everyone’s needs, with intentions that are kind if not always consistently worked out. Ojo’s jail is not a dank cell but a cozy home where a motherly wardress feeds him and plays with him. The idea is that anyone who has done something wrong in Oz — an exceedingly rare occurrence — is to be pitied and given the comforts they must be lacking, in order to do such a thing. I liked this idea as a child, and I still think there’s something to be said for that theory, although it’s not so easy as Baum makes it sound.

Baum, who moved to Hollywood in midlife, kept trying to turn Oz into a movie business (though he always ended up losing money). This still is from the 1914 film of The Patchwork Girl of Oz.

American-style, Baum’s notion of what people need is on the materialistic side — all marble bathtubs, jewelled ornaments and silk and velvet outfits — but the outer splendor and luxury can be taken as a metaphor for inner wealth. In Oz, everyone has an equal right to possess these riches, and a responsibility to share them, a rather radical notion for the time. Just don’t do magic without Ozma’s permission…

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5 thoughts on “#Ozathon24: A colorful new character

    1. Feel free to skip any you don’t enjoy so much. There are some I read over and over as a child and some I barely know at all (Rinkitink is one of those) so it’s been interesting to do them all in order.

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