#Ozathon24: Farewell to Oz?

With the sixth Oz book, The Emerald City of Oz, L. Frank Baum did several things. He brought Dorothy, along with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, to live permanently in Oz. This opened the way for him to close the Oz saga permanently, leaving all the characters we’d met so far happily ensconced there. To ensure that happy future, he’d also revised his notions about Oz, changing it from a wild land full of danger and deception into a utopian society ruled by a good fairy who managed everything wisely. No one ever dies in Oz, no one is allowed to practice bad magic, and everyone offers the products of their work for the good of others.

To me a child, that sounded wonderful; as an adult, it sounds like a nightmare of stasis. It’s a vision of Heaven, but a very illogical one. Billina the Yellow Hen, for example, continues to hatch chickens which are never harmed or used for food. The question of how, if she was originally the only hen in Oz, she managed to have fertile eggs in the first place, is not addressed, nor is the problem of overpopulation. Even if Oz is protected from invasion by the outside world, it’s soon going to be overrun by chickens. Meanwhile, it seems as though humans are arrested at their current age, remaining children or middle-aged or old forever.

Beautiful color illustrations by John R. Neill

This doesn’t appeal to me any more; I now understand that without death, there can be no birth, no growth and development, and the latter is what gives life its purpose and meaning. But in wanting to banish the specter of death, which must have haunted him from childhood due to his diseased heart, Baum sidesteps this inconvenient truth. It’s lovely to think of everyone being happy and secure and free from care, but it’s only half of the story. The darker side has a role to play, too.

Baum does insert this dark side, with the underground threat from the Nome King, who wants to conquer Oz and recapture his magic belt (lost in Ozma of Oz). And not only the Nomes and their wicked allies, but also some of the groups that Dorothy and her friends visit as they introduce Aunt Em and Uncle Henry to their new home, show us how even a paradise can hold pockets of selfishness and greed.

Baum’s genius is to make all of this serious-sounding stuff funny and playful and endlessly diverting, while inserting a serious message about the tendency of evil beings to overreach themselves and turn on one another. If on the downside he doesn’t give quite enough consideration to logic, and tends to the superficial, on the upside every lesson is leavened with humor, and there is more showing than telling. We laugh at Roquat’s antics, but we also learn how an unappeasable appetite for tyranny will eventually devour itself.

Meanwhile, Dorothy and her friends get to enjoy some milder adventures. We meet the Rigmaroles and the Flutterbudgets, personality types you might have known in real life, here given a place to indulge their particular idiosyncrasy without harming others, and in Bunnybury, Dorothy manages to show up a rabbit ruler’s hypocrisy. I’m not sure what to make of her adventure in Bunbury, where she ends up indignant that the inhabitants didn’t let her eat them. Perhaps a surfeit of puns, which are especially abundant in this section, blunt one’s moral sense.

The climax reveals another side of the Oz ethos, pacifism, as Ozma refuses to fight the evil forces invading her country. Instead, death enters from an oblique source (the waters of Lethe, I think, must be connected to the Emerald City’s Forbidden Fountain) and reveals its salvific side. And though in his conclusion, Baum tried to make Oz as inaccessible as death’s undiscovered country, the doors would soon be opened again. I’m very glad they were, for there was still much more amusement and adventure to come.

This completes the first stage of the Ozathon, but watch for an announcement at the beginning of next month about how the readalong will continue.

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2 thoughts on “#Ozathon24: Farewell to Oz?

  1. At first, I thought Ozma was planning to use the Love Magnet to disarm the invading forces but making them so thirsty they jumped into Forbidden Fountain Also worked for me.

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