|From the website of the Cardiff Theosophical Society|
These themes were important to Baum, who along with his wife Maud was personally involved with the first three movements on my list. The Baums were at least partly devotees of Theosophy, joining the Theosophical Society in 1892, with the encouragement of Maud’s mother, Matilda Gage (about whom more below), who had joined in 1885. The Baums also held Spiritualist séances at their house, and sent their children to Ethical Culture Sunday School.
Baum makes clear his opposition to traditional Christianity (though not, he clarifies, to the “beautiful religion of Christ” which Christianity had corrupted) in his newspaper editorials:
While everything else has progressed, the Church alone has been trying to stand still, and hang with a death-grip to medieval or ancient legends. It teaches the same old superstitions, the same blind faith in the traditional bible, the same precepts of salvation and damnation. And all this while the people have been growing more liberal in thought, more perfect in comprehension. They feel unable to reconcile with their common-sense, their intuition, their heart-emotion, the doctrines and dogmas of the priests. Their reason revolts from the blind and superstitious faith upon which rests the structure of the Christian religion. (Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, 18 October 1890; quoted in Koupal, Baum’s Road, p. 125)
“The age of Faith is sinking slowly into the past,” Baum believes, giving way to a new form of spirituality based on “an eager longing to penetrate the secrets of Nature,” an “aspiration for knowledge,” focused on a deity who is “not necessarily a personal god” since “God is Nature and Nature God.” (Pioneer, 25 January 1890; Koupal, pp. 107-109) Baum also supports the separation of church and state, condemning “the attempt to place God in the Constitution, an encroachment on the sacred liberty of thought, a departure from the intentions of the founders of the government” (Pioneer, 5 April 1890; quoted in Schwartz, p. 156)
Baum stresses that he regards the new religious movements as spiritual pathways rather than as final answers: “Theosophy is not a religion. Its followers are simply ‘searchers after Truth.’” (Pioneer, 25 January 1890; Koupal, p. 108) “Spiritualism is a stepping stone to something higher which shall yet be revealed to mankind.” (Pioneer, 17 January 1891; quoted in Schwartz, p. 191)
Baum’s religious interests are reflected in his novels. Theosophy teaches a kind of fusion of science and magic, a naturalisation of the supernatural and/or supernaturalisation of the natural; such a perspective is appropriate to the Land of Oz, which contains both magic wands and mechanical submarines, both animated trees and clockwork robots, both magic pictures and optical projectors. The fact that the four petitioners to Baum’s Wizard receive nothing valuable from him and already possess what they have been seeking could also be a nod to the theosophical teaching what we should not look to external authority. The Good Witch of the North’s magic slate (Wizard, ch. 2) essentially functions like a spiritualist’s Ouija board; and Schwartz suggests (p. 109) that Dorothy’s silver shoes might be intended to represent the silver cord that is said to enable astral voyagers to return to their bodies.
|Baum disliked his first name and went by Louis on stage.|
Despite Baum’s strictures on “blind faith in the traditional bible,” his writings are not without the occasional Biblical resonance. In particular, the Emerald City resembles the Bible’s New Jerusalem, whose towering walls are “garnished with all manner of precious stones,” including “emerald” (Revelation 21:19); and the land of Oz itself, with its friendly carnivores and child ruler, echoes the Biblical description of the reign of the Messiah: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6) In short, we have met the promised Messiah – and she is a young girl of mutable gender, raised by witches and fairies.
Baum seems to have had no personal interest in Mormonism, but there may be a Mormon connection to his work nonetheless. According to LDS tradition, Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by looking through mystical spectacles fitted with transparent stone lenses and given to him by an angel. This well-known story might have inspired both the humbug green spectacles in Wizard and the genuinely magical spectacles, the gift of a demon, in Master Key.
|With enough LSD you too will see OZ|
I think one can probably make just as good – or bad – a case for the seal of the Theosophical Society, with the serpent again being the O and some carefully chosen segments of the Star of David being the Z. But it’s hard to put too much stock in any of this.
|Swastikas – less scary in those days|
Baum’s own claim was that he got the name “Oz” from the O-Z drawer of his filing cabinet; but his wife dismissed this as nonsense. Others have suggested that the name came from gold ounces, or the Biblical land of Uz, or the Greek pagan prayer O Zeu, or the first two letters of “Zoroaster” reversed (the Wizard’s full name eventually includes a “Zoroaster,” referencing the founder of the “Magi” and thus of “magicians”), or the “Ahs” of wonder, or “NY” shifted one letter to the right. Given Baum’s use of “Noland” (No-Land, essentially one of the two meanings of utopia) in Queen Zixi of Ix, and of the Nonestic Ocean (from non est, “does not exist”) in the later Oz books, “OZ” could even be “NO” flipped on its side (or conversely, “Oz-land” becomes “No-land” – or, adding a zag, “Mo-land”).
My own preferred hypothesis, however, is that “Oz” derives primarily from Shelley’s Ozymandias; the similarity between Baum’s “I am Oz the great and terrible” and Shelley’s “I am Ozymandias, king of kings; look on my works, ye mighty, and despair,” is too great, especially considering that both are meant to represent hollow boasts by political rulers. (Shelley was an admirer of the anarchist ideas of his father-in-law, William Godwin, and in exposing the pretensions of an Ozymandias he is making a point about authority in general.) Both Oz and Ozymandias are moreover vast and trunkless; and just as Shelley points to Ozymandias’ “shattered visage ... on the sand, half sunk,” so Baum shows us a “corner, in which lay the Great Head, made out of many thicknesses of paper, and with a carefully painted face.”
Victor Herbert’s then-recent comic opera The Wizard of the Nile (1895) has no particular connection to the story of The Wizard of Oz (Herbert’s titular wizard is not a humbug so much as a “sorcerer’s apprentice” figure, unleashing powers he cannot successfully control), but might have served to link “Wizard” and “Egypt” in Baum’s mind, and given the further natural link between “Egypt” and “Ozymandias,” might have led Baum to “Oz” if he started with “Wizard,” or else to “Wizard” if he started with “Oz.”
I also suspect that the name “Ozma” derives partly again from Ozymandias and partly from Anthony Hope’s 1896 novel The Heart of Princess Osra (a prequel to The Prisoner of Zenda). (The cover even has an O containing a Z – Z for Zenda.) But there may also be something to Hearn’s suggestion that the last syllables of Ozma and Ozga (Ozma’s cousin, introduced in Tik-Tok of Oz) refer to the first and last syllables of Baum’s wife’s maiden name, Maud Gage.
|The key to all mythologies|
There is a widespread tendency to think of philosophical issues as too mature for children; that is presumably why philosophy is one of the few college-level subjects not taught in grade school (by contrast with math, science, history, literature, and social science). This is of course a massive blunder. As Gareth Matthews points out in his excellent book Philosophy and the Young Child (as well as its successors, Dialogues With Children and The Philosophy of Childhood), the kinds of questions that children, especially preteen children, typically ask – how do we know we’re not dreaming? where does the light go to when you turn off the switch? how can something have a name if it doesn’t exist? is my hair still part of me after you cut it? – are paradigmatically philosophical questions (even if unrecognised by their elders as such), showing that children are intensely interested in philosophy (at least until they are socialised out of it). This is why the most successful children’s literature tends to deal with philosophical themes; Matthews points to examples in the writings of Baum, Lewis Carroll, and other classic children’s authors.
|The dragon’s ire more fierce than fire|
laid low their towers and houses frail.
But the sorts of philosophical issues to which the two authors gravitate tend to be different. Carroll’s focus is on logical and conceptual and philosophy-of-language puzzles, like the difference between “I eat what I like” and “I like what I eat,” or the difference among a song, what the song is called, the name of the song, and what the name of the song is called. Baum’s focus is more on issues in metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and moral psychology, such as: what changes can someone undergo and still be the same person? does the continuity of one’s personality depend on what material one is made of? what distinguishes the living from the non-living, the conscious from the non-conscious? what is the nature of happiness? is it achievable? is it compatible with moral commitments?
Baum’s attraction to body horror dovetails nicely with his philosophical interests. After all, many of the most popular thought-experiments in philosophy are examples of body horror: the person who is merely a brain in a vat, being fed the illusory experience of being a normally embodied person (an idea variously employed by Hilary Putnam, Daniel Dennett, and Robert Nozick); Judith Thomson’s people growing from seeds in the carpet, and violinists plugged into your kidneys while you’re sleeping; Donald Davidson’s Swampman, an exact physical replica of you created at the moment of your destruction; Harry Frankfurt’s intervener, prepared to manipulate your neurons to force you into compliance should you show signs of acting in undesired ways; or Mary Anne Warren’s space explorer whose alien captors transform every cell in his body into a developing fetus. Body horror is philosophically useful because it focuses our attention on the nature of the self and its relation to the body.
|Tigers love babies.|
In presenting this character, Baum raises a problem for his own moral perspective. There’s a long tradition, going back to Plato’s Gorgias, of debate between the view that happiness is a matter of having strong desires but being able to satisfy them, and the view that happiness is a matter of restraining one’s desires so as to be more easily satisfied with whatever one already has. Baum appears to be firmly in the restraint camp. He has the Scarecrow say: “the beasts are happier than [humans], for they require less to make them content.” (Lost Princess, ch. 26) In Queen Zixi of Ix, the titular queen declares, “We long for what we cannot have, yet desire it not so much because it would benefit us as because it is beyond our reach. ... So hereafter I shall strive to be contented with my lot” – and Baum adds: “This was a wise resolution.” (Zixi, ch. 14)
Nerle, in The Enchanted Island of Yew, concurs: “I find wherever I go people are longing for
just the things they can not get, and probably would not want if they had them.
So, as it seems to be the fate of most mortals to live unsatisfied, I shall try
hereafter to be more contented.” (Yew, ch. 25) In the Oz
books, the Fox-King counsels: “Be contented with your lot, whatever it happens
to be, if you are wise.” (Road, ch. 3) A house in
which the protagonists stay overnight “had only one room and no furniture
except beds of clean straw and a few mats of woven grasses; but our travelers
were contented with these simple things because they realized it was the best
the Donkey-King had to offer them.” (ch.
7) And Ozma tells the Scarecrow and Tin
Woodman: “You are both rich, my friends
... and your riches are the only riches worth having – the riches of
content!” (Land, ch. 24) And in propria voce Baum declares: “No one is so unfortunate that there is not
some enjoyment to be extracted from his daily life, if he makes an endeavor to
obtain it.” (Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, 15 February 1890; quoted in Koupal, Baum’s Road, p. 115)
|Socrates tells Plato how to pose for Raphael|
Baum in effect adheres to what philosophers call an “adaptive conception of happiness,” according to which the path to fulfillment is not to strive harder to achieve what one lacks, but rather to be content with what is presently available.
Yet the Hungry Tiger threatens to destabilise the very concept of contentment, by treating discontent as the inevitable result of having any desires at all, and thus as an ineradicable part of the human condition. The Tiger thus represents a viewpoint like that of Thomas Hobbes, who pens one of the most famous critiques of the idea of happiness as contentment:
[T]he felicity of this life consisteth not in the repose of a mind satisfied. For there is no such finis ultimus (utmost aim), nor summum bonum (greatest good), as is spoken of in the books of the old moral philosophers. Nor can a man any more live whose desires are at an end than he whose senses and imaginations are at a stand. Felicity is a continual progress of the desire from one object to another, the attaining of the former being still but the way to the latter. (Leviathan I.11)
There are philosophies – e.g., Buddhism, Stoicism, Schopenhauer’s own theories – that accept the idea of desire as something like a recurring disease, but still hold out the hope of achieving contentment through a kind of detachment. But the Hungry Tiger sees no hope of a noble path to successful detachment.
In addition to challenging the coherence of the ideal of contentment, the Hungry Tiger also challenges the idea – one that Baum ordinarily seems to accept – of a harmony between the requirements of happiness and the demands of morality. For the Tiger. the moral life is one of perpetual self-abnegation:
I’m a savage beast, and have an appetite for all sorts of poor little living creatures, from a chipmunk to fat babies. ... Don’t they sound delicious? But I've never eaten any, because my conscience tells me it is wrong. ... No; hungry I was born, and hungry I shall die. But I’ll not have any cruel deeds on my conscience to be sorry for. (Ozma, ch. 8)
In his 1913 Island of Dr. Moreau, H. G. Wells would satirise human society as a collection of “animals half wrought into the outward image of human souls,” for whom a “long list of prohibitions” laid down by their maker “battled in their minds with the deep-seated, ever-rebellious cravings of their animal natures.” The Hungry Tiger embodies this pessimistic conception of the relationship between morality and human nature, sitting in perpetual tension with the overall thrust of Baum’s ethical thought, neither refuted nor embraced.
|Life may be suffering but I am totally baked|
If Nerle and the Hungry Tiger, in their different ways, challenge the possibility of Baum’s ethic of contentment, another character, Mrs. Yoop, challenges its desirability, by taking Baum’s customary advice and giving it a sinister turn. As she imprisons the protagonists, Mrs. Yoop tells them: “you are all helpless and in my power, so you may as well make up your minds to accept your fate and be content,” for “discontent leads to unhappiness, and unhappiness, in any form, is the greatest evil that can befall you.” (Tin Woodman, chs. 5-6) However salutary the advice to seek contentment may be, Baum recognises that it can also be used to defuse resistance to oppression and injustice.
Baum’s best-known metaphysical conundrum, itself likewise an instance of body horror, is Nick Chopper, who becomes the Tin Woodman through the successive replacement of his parts with tin ones. Nick’s case is often compared with that of the Ship of Theseus. a well-known philosophical puzzle laid out by Hobbes as follows:
[I]f, for example, that ship of Theseus, concerning the difference whereof made by continual reparation in taking out the old planks and putting in new, the sophisters of Athens were wont to dispute, were, after all the planks were changed, the same numerical ship it was at the beginning; and if some man had kept the old planks as they were taken out, and by putting them afterwards together in the same order, had again made a ship of them, this, without doubt, had also been the same numerical ship with that which was at the beginning; and so there would have been two ships numerically the same, which is absurd. (Elements of Philosophy II.11.7 )
The point of the puzzle is that the replacement is gradual. A ship cannot lose its identity simply by having a plank or two replaced; but if Theseus’s ship never has more than one or two planks replaced at a time, it must survive each replacement, and so will apparently still be the same ship – even if all the original planks have been kept and reassembled into a ship that also seems to have a strong claim to be the original.
The same principles applies – had better apply – to our own continued identities as human beings. After all, our bodies undergo constant renewal just as Theseus’s ship did: old cells die off and new ones grow, old matter is excreted and new matter is ingested, throughout our lives. What makes our body today the same as our body ten years ago?
Some philosophers, like David Hume, or Derek Parfit – and some entire traditions, like Buddhism – think the answer is nothing, that identity over a time is really a kind of fiction or illusion. René Descartes, on the other hand, thinks that sameness of body is determined by sameness of soul:
[W]hen we speak of the body of a man, we do not mean a determinate part of matter, or one that has a determinate size; we mean simply the whole of the matter which is united with the soul of that man. And so, even though that matter changes, and its quantity increases or decreases, we still believe that it is the same body, numerically the same body, so long as it remains joined and substantially united with the same soul .... (Letter to Mesland, 9 Feb 1645)
That being then one plant which has such an organization of parts in one coherent body, partaking of one common life, it continues to be the same plant as long as it partakes of the same life, though that life be communicated to new particles of matter vitally united to the living plant, in a like continued organization conformable to that sort of plants. ... An animal is a living organized body; and consequently the same animal, as we have observed, is the same continued life communicated to different particles of matter, as they happen successively to be united to that organized living body. ... This also shows wherein the identity of the same man consists; viz. in nothing but a participation of the same continued life, by constantly fleeting particles of matter, in succession vitally united to the same organized body. He that shall place the identity of man in anything else, but, like that of other animals, in one fitly organized body, taken in any one instant, and from thence continued, under one organization of life, in several successively fleeting particles of matter united to it, will find it hard to make an embryo, one of years, mad and sober, the same man ....
(Essay Concerning Human Understanding II.27.4-8)
Locke also draws a distinction between being the same man and being the same person; but the latter, for him, still involves continuity of a process (consciousness), not of an entity like the soul.
Nick’s case differs from that of the ship, or of Locke’s animal bodies, in that his parts are replaced, not just with new material, but with new material of a different kind: metal instead of flesh. But this does not seem to matter; we have no reason to doubt that psychological states exhibit compositional plasticity, that is, that they are capable of being realised in more than one kind of stuff. Or, as Hilary Putnam memorably puts it: “We could be made of Swiss cheese and it wouldn’t matter.” (The further twist, mentioned by Hobbes, of reassembling the original pieces also gets dramatised in Tin Woodman of Oz, and in a different form in Magical Monarch of Mo.)
|I forgot to include this picture last time when talking about Neill, so I’m inserting it randomly here.|
The gradualism of the changes seems crucial to the case for continued identity; if every plank in the ship were thrown out all at once and replaced with an entire assembly of new planks, there would be little temptation to say that the ship had survived. Hence Nick stresses the gradual character of his own transformation:
A man with a wooden leg or a tin leg is still the same man; and, as I lost parts of my meat body by degrees, I always remained the same person as in the beginning, even though in the end I was all tin and no meat. (Tin Woodman, ch. 2)
But of course Nick’s transformation is not really as gradual as we may think it needs to be. If the neurons in Nick’s brain had been replaced one by one with tin substitutes, we might agree that he is still Nick by the end of the process. But instead his head goes all at once:
When I began chopping again, my axe slipped and cut off my right leg. Again I went to the tinsmith, and again he made me a leg out of tin. After this the enchanted axe cut off my arms, one after the other; but, nothing daunted, I had them replaced with tin ones. The Wicked Witch then made the axe slip and cut off my head, and at first I thought that was the end of me. But the tinsmith happened to come along, and he made me a new head out of tin. (Wizard, ch. 5)
Or, as Nick describes the chain of events (slightly differently) in a later book:
When I returned to my work the axe slipped and cut off my head, which was the only meat part of me then remaining. Moreover, the old woman grabbed up my severed head and carried it away with her and hid it. But Nimmie Amee came into the forest and found me wandering around helplessly, because I could not see where to go, and she led me to my friend the tinsmith. The faithful fellow at once set to work to make me a tin head, and he had just completed it when Nimmie Amee came running up with my old head, which she had stolen from the Witch. But, on reflection, I considered the tin head far superior to the meat one .... (Tin Woodman, ch. 2)
Indeed, the humour of Baum’s account – as likewise of the cartoons by Larson (right) and Silverstein (below) (and see also the Orson Scott card story “Memories of My Head”) – is precisely that of treating the loss of one’s head as being on a par with the loss of one’s other body parts, and of treating personal identity as going with the body rather than with the brain. (And we may well wonder why it isn’t Nick, rather than the Scarecrow, who complains of lacking a brain. After all, the Scarecrow at least has some sort of stuffing in his head, while Nick’s head is presumably hollow; at least the conversation between Nick Chopper and Captain Fyter in chapter 19 of The Tin Woodman of Oz strongly implies that Fyter, the Tin Soldier, has a metal brain in his head while Nick has nothing at all in his head – confirming Nick’s claim “my head is quite empty” from chapter 5 of Wizard. Lacking a heart seems like the least of Nick’s troubles.)
Baum’s account goes against our common presumption that the brain is the seat of personality. This presumption has its critics, though. Gretchen Weirob, the central speaker in John Perry’s Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality, gives an able defense – drawing on the ideas of Bernard Williams – of the thesis that personal identity resides in the body as a whole, so that if A’s brain is transplanted into B’s body and vice versa, it is the person with A’s body, not the person with A’s brain, who has the best claim to be the continuator of A.
Weirob grants, however, that the brain transplant is likely to leave the possessor of A’s brain believing himself or herself to be A, and having (false) memories of being A, whereas the Tin Woodman not only counts as the real Nick Chopper but takes himself to be Nick and remembers Nick’s earlier life.
Weirob grants, however, that the brain transplant is likely to leave the possessor of A’s brain believing himself or herself to be A, and having (false) memories of being A, whereas the Tin Woodman not only counts as the real Nick Chopper but takes himself to be Nick and remembers Nick’s earlier life.
Katharine Rogers suggests that Nick Chopper’s career embodies the “theosophical doctrine, according to which one’s true self, the continuing ‘I,’ exists separately from the physical body, which it acquires on being born into the physical world.” On this interpretation, Nick’s “spiritual body,” which is “not changed or lost in birth or death,” has somehow accompanied his tin parts rather than his meat parts, which even reassembled will be only “the material body” (Creator of Oz, p. 225) – in short, the Cartesian option.
I don’t think this is the right way to interpret Nick’s transformation. Views on the relation between mind and body sort roughly into six categories. I’m simplifying here a bit, ignoring various qualifications and distinctions, so please bear in mind that things are a little more complicated than what follows, but this should be enough for a first approximation:
eliminative materialism: there are no mental states, only bodily states
reductive materialism: there are mental states, but they are reducible to (or are the same thing as, or are fully explicable in terms of) bodily states
nonreductive materialism: mental states are not reducible to bodily states, but they supervene on bodily states (i.e., it’s impossible for two entities, or one entity at different times, to differ in mental states without differing in bodily states)
property dualism: mental states do not supervene on bodily states, but they cannot be separated from the body
substance dualism: mental states can be separated from the body
idealism: there are no bodily states, only mental states
(The frequent claim that mental states are “nothing but” or “nothing over and above” bodily states is ambiguous between eliminative materialism, reductive materialism, and nonreductive materialism, and so is best avoided.)
Descartes’s “I think therefore I am” strikes me as a pretty good argument against eliminative materialism; I can’t coherently embrace any thesis that requires me to suppose my own mentality to be nonexistent. Hilary Putnam, a nonreductive materialist, presents a more complex, but to my mind equally convincing, argument against reductive materialism.
According to Locke, we have just as much evidence that God might have “given to some systems of matter, fitly disposed, a power to perceive and think” (as in property dualism) as we have that God instead “joined and fixed to matter, so disposed, a thinking immaterial substance” (as in substance dualism), since it is “not much more remote from our comprehension to conceive that GOD can, if he pleases, superadd to matter a faculty of thinking, than that he should superadd to it another substance with a faculty of thinking.” (Essay, IV.3.6)
|Descartes, Locke, Hume|
Rogers’ interpretation of the Tin Woodman story assumes a substance-dualist reading. Such a reading is tempting for a biographer like Rogers, since Baum appears to have been a substance dualist himself. After all, as we’ve seen, Baum was at least to some degree a believer in spiritualism and theosophy, both of which on the most straightforward reading seem to involve the separability of the soul from the body (though some versions of theosophy do gesture in the direction of a kind of idealism). And in one of his newspaper editorials, Baum wrote:
A clairvoyant is a person so constituted that through lapsing into a trance the soul is freed from [its] confines and allowed to roam at will through space. ... Their power lies simply in the ability to divorce temporarily body and soul .... (Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, 5 April 1890; quoted in Koupal, Baum’s Road, pp. 121-122)
But what Baum personally believed and what he put into in his books are two different things; and it is notable that soul-body separation seldom, if ever, plays a role in his fiction. The stress in Baum’s stories is on embodiment and corporality (in a manner more reminiscent of Mormonism than of Theosophy or Spiritualism); bodies may be transformed, but they do not get left behind. Even the Ouija-board-like magic slate in Wizard is not presented in such a way as to imply that disembodied spirits are using it as a tool to communicate; for all we’re told, it is the slate itself that is conscious. Perhaps Baum was exercising his right as a “sub-creator” (in Tolkien’s sense) to construct a more materialist world in his fiction than the one he thought existed in fact.
Likewise, although Baum appears to have been a personal believer in an afterlife (perhaps of a reincarnationist sort), the idea seldom makes an appearance in his stories. (One exception is the early ghost story “My Ruby Wedding Ring.”) Indeed, in The Sea Fairies (which takes place in the same universe as the Oz books and involves some of the same characters), Baum mocks the idea of an afterlife, thus apparently implying that nothing of the kind exists in the world of Oz:
Presently they came upon a small flock of mackerel, and noticed that the fishes seemed much excited. When they saw the mermaid, they cried out, “Oh, Merla! What do you think? Our Flippity has just gone to glory! ... We were lying in the water, talking quietly together when a spinning, shining thing came along and our dear Flippity ate it. Then he went shooting up to the top of the water and gave a flop and – went to glory! Isn't it splendid, Merla?”
“Poor Flippity!” sighed the mermaid. “I’m sorry, for he was the prettiest and nicest mackerel in your whole flock.”
“Why, he was caught by a hook and pulled out of the water into some boat,” Merla explained. “But these poor stupid creatures do not understand that, and when one of them is jerked out of the water and disappears, they have the idea he has gone to glory, which means to them some unknown but beautiful sea.” ...
“Why don't you tell ’em the truth?” asked Trot.
“Oh, we do. The mermaids have warned them many times, but it does no good at all. The fish are stupid creatures.”
“But I wish I was Flippity,” said one of the mackerel, staring at Trot with his big, round eyes. “He went to glory before I could eat the hook myself.”
“You’re lucky,” answered the child. “Flippity will be fried in a pan for someone’s dinner. You wouldn’t like that, would you?”
“Flippity has gone to glory!” said another, and then they swam away in haste to tell the news to all they met. (Sea Fairies, ch. 7)
If the mind-body relation that prevails in Oz is something more corporeal than substance dualism, what is it? Clearly not eliminative materialism, because the characters have minds. Equally clearly not reductive materialism, since Nick’s mentality has remained the same, even though his bodily states have been utterly transformed. So the two likeliest options are nonreductive materialism and property dualism. But it’s hard to believe that Nick’s thoughts so much as supervene on any physical processes; since his head is hollow, there are no brain states to alter as his thoughts alter. And since, after his decapitation, Nick’s consciousness and sense of self go with the tin parts rather than the meat ones, his locus of mentality seems to be his body as a whole, and independent of any particular part of it. This sort of emergent holism looks more like property dualism than nonreductive materialism.
|Nick Chopper visits a head shop|
This is not to say that such transformations have no effect on mentality. Nick does stop loving Nimmie Amee when he loses his heart (though this may be psychosomatic), and Langwidere’s personality is definitely affected by which head she is wearing at any given moment. Still, personal identity appears to go with the body as a whole, not with any individual part.
All the same, it is not quite true that Nick’s mind goes with his tin parts rather than his meat parts. That seems to be what Baum intended in Wizard, but when he revisits the story in Tin Woodman, we learn that Nick was actually split, with his “meat” head likewise retaining mentality and remembering being Nick: “I used to be called Nick Chopper, when I was a woodman and cut down trees for a living.” The tin Nick’s response is apposite: “If you are Nick Chopper’s Head, then you are Me – or I’m You – or – or – What relation are we, anyhow?” (Tin Woodman, ch. 18) Star Trek fans will recall the episode “Second Chances” in which Riker found himself in a similar situation.
|The ultimate slash|
One possibility is that neither of them is the original Nick; the “fission” (as philosophers call it) instead destroyed Nick, replacing him with two successors who came into existence with Nick’s destruction. (The opposite of fission is “fusion.” Incidentally, here’s a great story – not by Baum – about fusion. Also, one of Baum’s less successful stories, Dot and Tot of Merryland, features a character, the appropriately named Mr. Split, who undergoes periodic fission and fusion.) Another possibility is that one of the two – the one that is the “closest continuer” of the original – is the original Nick while the other is not. Meat-head Nick is a closer continuer in terms of physical composition; but tin Nick has greater continuity of consciousness, since despite his possessing a brain, meat-head Nick’s memory has grown “quite hazy” ever since, as he puts it, “my separation from the rest of me,” and in particular he, unlike tin Nick, cannot remember chopping off his limbs. Yet another possibility is that each Nick is only half of the original Nick, with the whole Nick surviving as a scattered object made up of both of them. A person existing as a scattered object is possible in Oz; in Glinda, for example, we’re told that Dorothy, though now invulnerable to being killed, might be “cut into pieces,” which “while still alive ... could be widely scattered.” (ch. 1)
(Of course, if Dorothy were indeed to be reduced to still-living but scattered pieces, that would not be a “horrible and blood-curdling incident,” since Baum doesn’t write those.)
|Mixed and matched|
Baum prided himself on writing “modern” and “American” fairy tales. Yet his books are filled with kings, princesses, castles, woodcutters’ cottages, and other such trappings of a premodern, preindustrial, European economy. Dorothy also meets lions and tigers, the fauna of the old world – not the mountain lions and buffalo of the new. Yet Oz does occasionally contain machinery (such as the phonograph in Patchwork Girl and the submarines in Glinda); and if democracy has no place there, versions of feminism and pacifism do.
Vivian Wagner mistakenly writes that the “Oz novels do not explicitly refer to electricity” (“Unsettling Oz,” p. 30; Lion and the Unicorn 30 (2006), pp. 25-53) In fact, Ozma’s throne room contains “two electric fountains” that send “sprays of colored perfumed water shooting up nearly as high as the arched ceiling” (Emerald City, ch. 5); the Nome King’s soldiers “each wore a brilliant electric light” on his forehead (Ozma, ch. 11); and the Queen of Light tells Betsy Bobbin: “electricity was a part of the world from its creation, and therefore my Electra is as old as Daylight or Moonlight, and equally beneficent to mortals and fairies alike.” (Tik-Tok, ch. 12)
Baum’s other fairylands feature electricity as well. In Merryland we find houses “lighted by a soft glow from hidden electric lamps.” (Dot and Tot, ch. 7) There are several cases of electricity in Mo, including “a diamond-covered chandelier, with hundreds of electric lights.” (Monarch, ch. 7) The inhabitants of the mermaid kingdom “use electric lights in our palaces and have done so for thousands of years.” (Sea Fairies, ch. 8) Even Mr. Woodchuck’s house has “an electric door-bell.” (Twinkle Tales, ch. 2)
Many interpreters of the Oz books stress the differences between Oz and the United States, suggesting that Oz is a kind of utopia where America’s defects are corrected. Yet Baum sometimes describes America as a kind of Oz. In Tik-Tok of Oz, the Shaggy Man says: “All the magic isn’t in fairyland .... There’s lots of magic in all Nature, and you may see it as well in the United States .... Is anything more wonderful than to see a flower grow and blossom, or to get light out of the electricity in the air? (ch. 15) Likewise in Queer Visitors, the Scarecrow tells an American audience that his own history is “not more marvelous than your own tale of the wire rope that carried words across the ocean” (ch. 13), and the Woggle-Bug observes: “You people also do wonderful things ... but no one here seems surprised at moving-pictures, talking-machines, or telephones ....” (ch. 15) Baum explains that “everything here seems as wonderful to [the Ozites] as they themselves are wonderful to us,” since, lacking magic, we “do so much by means of machinery alone.” Echoing theosophy’s fusion of science with magic, Baum concludes that “perhaps the United States is, after all, as great a fairyland as the kingdom of Oz, if we look at the matter in the right way.” (ch. 5)
In a 1906 interview, Baum adds that “there is nothing more wonderful in fairy stories than the steam engine, the telephone, wireless telegraphy, and the air ship.” And elsewhere Baum offers his tales of Oz as a tool to build the technological future here in the real world. “Imagination,” he tells us, “has given us the steam engine, the telephone, the talking-machine and the automobile, for these things had to be dreamed of before they became realities.” Since “fairy tales are of untold value in developing imagination in the young,” young readers of fantasy, daydreaming with “eyes wide open” and “brain-machinery whizzing,” will be those “most apt to create, to invent, and therefore to foster civilization.”
But Baum’s attitude toward machinery is complicated. Baum was fascinated by machinery; for one of his plays he designed a rocking stage to simulate a ship at sea, described by newspaper accounts at the time as “a triumph of mechanical art” and “one of the finest and most elaborate pieces of stage-mechanism ever presented to the public.” (quoted in Loncraine, Real Wizard, p. 66) Baum also helped to develop the special effects – or “fairy photography,” as he called them – for the first Oz film (now lost) in 1908. (pp. 230-234)
|“Tea, Earl Grey, hot. Not as hot as the sun this time.”|
Like the Federation in Star Trek, Baum’s Oz is sometimes envisioned as a moneyless, boss-less, post-scarcity socialist utopia (at least from the start of Ozma’s messianic reign), as here:
No disease of any sort was ever known among the Ozites, and so no one ever died unless he met with an accident that prevented him from living. This happened very seldom, indeed. There were no poor people in the Land of Oz, because there was no such thing as money, and all property of every sort belonged to the Ruler. The people were her children, and she cared for them. Each person was given freely by his neighbors whatever he required for his use, which is as much as any one may reasonably desire. Some tilled the lands and raised great crops of grain, which was divided equally among the entire population, so that all had enough. There were many tailors and dressmakers and shoemakers and the like, who made things that any who desired them might wear. Likewise there were jewelers who made ornaments for the person, which pleased and beautified the people, and these ornaments also were free to those who asked for them. Each man and woman, no matter what he or she produced for the good of the community, was supplied by the neighbors with food and clothing and a house and furniture and ornaments and games. If by chance the supply ever ran short, more was taken from the great storehouses of the Ruler, which were afterward filled up again when there was more of any article than the people needed. (Emerald City, ch. 3)
From each according to his ability, to each according to his need, in short. This is not a purely post-scarcity society, however; for as Ozma tells Dorothy:
If every one could wave a wand and have his wants fulfilled there would be little to wish for. There would be no eager striving to obtain the difficult, for nothing would then be difficult, and the pleasure of earning something longed for, and only to be secured by hard work and careful thought, would be utterly lost. (Glinda, ch. 4)
Yet despite this paean to the virtues of work, we never actually see much in the way of work done by Dorothy or her fellow expatriates.
It’s not entirely clear how Oz does without money. The chief function of a pricing system, and thus of money, is to enable consumer preferences to direct the allocation of production goods to their most needed uses. The way post-scarcity utopias are usually imagined as getting around this is through the use of some technology (like the replicators in Star Trek) that can produce large quantities quickly at low cost near the point of consumption, thus maximally streamlining the stages of production. Given the availability of magic in Oz, one might suppose that this is just how matters are handled there; but Baum’s talk of distributing goods from government storehouses in times of shortage, and then returning them to the storehouses in times of surplus, suggests that Baum is imagining all this to be arranged by ordinary means (despite his disclaimer that “I do not suppose such an arrangement would be practical with us”). Of course Baum was writing at a time when the chief obstacle to state-socialist central planning was thought to be incentival rather than epistemic.
|Anarchy in Oz!|
Continuing Baum’s description:
Every one worked half the time and played half the time, and the people enjoyed the work as much as they did the play, because it is good to be occupied and to have something to do. There were no cruel overseers set to watch them, and no one to rebuke them or to find fault with them. So each one was proud to do all he could for his friends and neighbors, and was glad when they would accept the things he produced. ...
There were all sorts of queer characters among them, but not a single one who was evil, or who possessed a selfish or violent nature. They were peaceful, kind hearted, loving and merry, and every inhabitant adored the beautiful girl who ruled them and delighted to obey her every command. (ch. 3)
This portrait of Oz is, of course, less than fully accurate. There are frequent references to money in the early books – presumably before Ozma’s reforms, but Baum has a tendency to backdate those reforms – and in the later books we find that money is still in use in some parts of Oz. Ojo and his uncle live in poverty in Patchwork Girl. And of course Baum peoples Oz with plenty of “selfish” and “violent” characters, from Kiki Aru to Mrs. Yoop. (How else are the books going to get their villains? One can’t bring back the Nome King every time.)
Baum is just as capable of painting the United States is similarly unrealistic utopian colours. In an 1890 newspaper editorial, he writes:
Our citizens derive their origin from every nation and every clime, yet they live together in perfect harmony. No feuds of ancestry, no prejudice of birth mar the tranquility of their daily interchange of courtesies. Every man falls naturally into the niche for which his education and abilities fit him, and his neighbor has pride in his success, or sorrows for his misfortunes, no matter from whence he came. ... Many religions prevail throughout the land, but no one quarrels with a friend because he chooses to worship God through different channels than those he himself believes to be the true ones. Bigotry, if not wholly unknown, is so intolerable as to be nearly entirely suppressed. (Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, 1 February 1890; quoted in Koupal, Baum’s Road, pp. 109-110)
Yes, that’s the USA he’s writing about, not one of his imaginary countries. Bear in mind that in the very year – 1890 – that Baum wrote of America as a fairyland of tolerance, Moses Harman was languishing in prison (as his daughter and son-in-law had done four years earlier) for the crime of protesting the existing laws on marriage and freedom of the press; the Mormon church was being legally bullied into giving up polygamy; and Jim Crow and lynch law were reigning supreme in the South (and to a lesser degree the North), where “prejudice of birth” had a somewhat greater impact on the “daily interchange of courtesies” than Baum seems prepared to acknowledge.
|Somehow I doubt they really want my opinion.|
Despite the authoritarian structure of Ozma’s government, many critics find a highly democratic aspect to Oz society. Katharine Rogers writes:
Manners in Oz are those of rural America at its best – pleasant and friendly to everyone one meets, but disregardful of decorum or deference to rank. Dorothy speaks politely to a hen and outspokenly defies Princess Langwidere. Her unconsciousness of conventional status distinctions is the prevailing attitude in Oz. ... When problems appear in the Oz books, the characters apply their traditional American self-reliance and practical common sense to solving them. If a group is involved, everyone contributes something: human adults and children, stuffed or metal people, animals, robots. They discuss the problem logically, everyone is free to give his or her opinion, everyone is listened to. When anyone thinks of a promising suggestion, the rest of the group agrees to follow it. It is spontaneous democracy, without a formal structure. Very often it is the least prestigious member of the group who comes up with the best ideas. … Children in the Oz books are reasonable, responsible, and deserving of the respect they get .... Over and over, Baum’s work deflates self-important adult authority figures .... (Creator of Oz, pp. 245-246)
Charity Gibson likewise observes that “there is no class consciousness in Oz,” since “Dorothy, a lowly farm girl, is treated with a sense of equality by the rulers of the land” – though unlike Rogers, Gibson takes this as a point of contrast between Oz and America. Baum’s Oz, for Gibson, is “a land with hierarchical roles but devoid of hierarchical attitudes.” (“The Wizard of Oz as a Modernist Work,” p. 112; in Durand & Leigh, Universe of Oz, pp. 107-118) And Andrew Karp finds in Oz a culture of “cooperation and respect not just between [sic] human beings but between human beings and the world around them, a world that includes animals, vegetables, minerals, and machines” – a vision that Karp deems essentially useful for our “world of clones and genetic engineering, of virtual reality and artificial intelligence,” where “the boundaries ... between biological and mechanical are becoming more and more blurred.” (“Utopian Tension in K. Frank Baum’s Oz,” p. 119; Utopian Studies 9.2, 1998, pp. 103-121)
Baum’s books indeed belong to a well-established tradition of stories conveying philosophical/theological ideas and political satire via journeys through fantastic kingdoms – a tradition that includes More’s Utopia (1516), Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso (1516-1532), Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532-1564), Campanella’s City of the Sun (1602), Bacon’s New Atlantis (1624), Cyrano’s States and Empires of the Moon and Sun (1657-62), Cavendish’s Blazing World (1666), Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726), Holberg’s Niels Klim (1741), Voltaire’s Micromegas (1752) and Candide (1759), Johnson’s Rasselas (1759), Cabet’s Voyage to Icaria (1840), Thackeray’s Rose and the Ring (1854), Bulwer-Lytton’s Coming Race (1861), Butler’s Erewhon (1872), Lane’s Mizora (1881), DeMille’s Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder (1888), and Howells’ Traveller from Altruria (1893), and indeed runs all the way back to Lucian’s 2nd-century True History. Closely allied to this tradition is the futuristic utopian genre (with roots in Plato’s Republic, Timæus, Critias, and Laws): e.g., Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888), Morris’s News from Nowhere (1890), Gillette’s Human Drift (1894), and Craig’s Ionia (1898). (Sorry, I’m too lazy to link to all of those.)
Richard Tuerk argues that Oz is not a utopia at all, because a) some inhabitants are discontented, b) there are dangers menacing the country from both within and without; and c) the government functions as something “closer to being a totalitarian state,” ruled by “a kind of marriage of technology and magic that Orwell’s Big Brother would have envied,” since between the magic picture and Glinda’s great book of records,” Ozma is “able to spy on every action of her subjects,” while her “monopoly on magic” enables her to “exert total control.” (Oz in Perspective, pp. 103, 191) As Tuerk points out, the vision of Oz as a police state in such recent works as Gregory Maguire’s Wicked and Edward Einhorn’s Paradox in Oz are simply developing potentialities already present in Baum’s text. (Einhorn also explores the question of the justice of Ozma’s monopoly on magic in his sequels “Unauthorized Magic” and The Living House of Oz.) In Foucauldian terms, Oz’s rulers seem to maintain control through a mixture of the disciplinary, pastoral, and biopolitical models of power.
But I don’t think these considerations are an obstacle to calling Oz a utopia. As regards (a) and (b), the term “utopia” is ambiguous; it can mean “ideal” in the sense of being flawlessly perfect, as when David Friedman says that “Utopia is not an option.” This is what the term generally means when it is used pejoratively. It is not, however, how the term is used by utopian advocates themselves, for whom it means an ideal society in a much more ordinary-language sense of “ideal” – a society that is a radical and systematic improvement on our own, but not one without defects or dangers. It is this more constrained sense of “utopia” that is in play when Friedrich Hayek praises “the courage to be utopian,” or John Rawls defends a “realistic utopia,” or Robert Nozick calls for a “framework for utopias.”
As for (c), I think a utopia in the literary sense is one that is presented as ideal, not necessarily one that the reader – or even the author – is prepared to regard as ideal in reality. (William Morris created his utopia because he found Bellamy’s utopia unbearable.) In any case, as Tuerk himself notes (pp. 106-108), Baum vacillates on the extent to which the rulers of Oz are actually prepared to back up their authority with force; sometimes they embrace pacifism and sometimes they don’t. When (or to the extent that) they do embrace pacifism, Oz is actually an anarchy rather than a state.
Incidentally, Tuerk annoyingly buys into the idea that “utopia” means only “no place,” so that a separate term, “eutopia,” is needed to mean “good place.” But surely the whole point of the word “utopia” is its ambiguity between eutopia, “good place,” and outopia, “no place”; in any case, that a utopia is ideal is part of the standard meaning of the word, so no separate “eutopia” term is needed.
Wagner, like Tuerk, thinks the existence of threats serves to “destabilize the otherwise utopian tone” of the Oz books: “Utopian novels rarely foreground” conflict between “the forces of good and the forces of evil,” she writes; such battles “generally take place, if at all, in the past.” (“Unsettling Oz,” p. 49) But this simply suggests that Wagner has not read much science fiction or fantasy, since the idea of a utopian society under internal or external threat is an utterly commonplace trope of such literature, from Plato’s ur-Athens, Tolkien’s Shire, Laurel and Hardy’s “Atoll K,” and Russell’s Gand to Hogan’s Chiron, Smith’s North American Confederacy, Robinson’s Mars, and Banks’ Culture.
As Karp points out, the attempt to reconcile opposites is crucial to Baum’s utopian vision:
In developing the community of Oz, Baum seems to be trying to do the impossible: to create a world that combines the pastoral and artistic features of William Morris’s utopia with the technological and urban advantages of Edward Bellamy’s; to fashion a utopia that is simultaneously egalitarian and authoritarian; and to establish a society that values and protects individual rights, interests, and freedoms, as well as cultural multiplicity, at the same time as it promotes the value of a unified state to which individuals owe allegiance, a state created “E Pluribus Unum.” (“Utopian Tension,” p. 103; on Morris and Bellamy, see also Rogers, Creator of Oz, pp. 170-171.)
But as Karp goes on to show, Baum dramatises the tensions among these desiderata.
This idea of maintaining social order through the balancing rather than the resolution of antinomies shows up in Aunt Jane’s Nieces at Work (written under the name “Edith van Dyne,” one of Baum’s many pseudonyms), where one character explains that while there is “no difference of importance” between the Democratic and Republican parties, they serve as the “positive and negative poles that provide the current of electricity for our nation” to “keep it going properly,” and also “safeguard our interests by watching one another.” (ch. 4) Baum expresses the same sentiment in propria persona in one of his newspaper editorials: “The two great parties are a necessity, and in their very discords is found the security of our country.” (Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, 1 February 1890; quoted in Koupal, p. 110) Perhaps the tensions within Oz should be viewed in a similar light.
“The key to the success of our country is tolerance,” Baum maintains (Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, 1 February 1890; quoted in Koupal, p. 109), and his books often contain warnings against prejudice. When she meets the Good Witch of the North, Dorothy exclaims, “But I thought all witches were wicked,” and receives the reply “Oh, no, that is a great mistake.” (Wizard, ch. 2) The message is still clearer in Baum’s short story “The Witchcraft of Mary-Marie”:
“... Witches, you know, are withered dried-up old hags. ... And they sell their souls to Satan, in return for a knowledge of witchcraft,” continued Mary-Marie ....
“Stuff and nonsense!” cried the stranger angrily. ... “[Y]our words prove you to be very ignorant of the subject. You may find good people and bad people in the world; and so, I suppose, you may find good witches and bad witches. But I must confess most of the witches I have known were very respectable, indeed, and famous for their kind actions.”
Nor does Baum buy into the equation of beauty with virtue and ugliness with vice. Glinda’s idiotic line “Only bad witches are ugly” occurs only in the movie, not the books. Baum stresses the pleasant appearance and affable manner of one of his most chilling creations, the towering enchantress Mrs. Yoop:
The good-natured Giantess was more terrible than they had imagined. She could smile and wear pretty clothes and at the same time be even more cruel than her wicked husband had been. ... She did not affect any mysterious airs or indulge in chants or mystic rites, as most witches do, nor was the Giantess old and ugly or disagreeable in face or manner. Nevertheless, she frightened her prisoners more .... (Tin Woodman, chs. 5-6)
Conversely, the true appearance of the witch-queen Zixi, in Queen Zixi of Ix, is old and ugly; but despite some discreditable choices into which she is driven by vanity, her character is essentially good. (And of course the Good Witch of the North, while not ugly, is, unlike Glinda, old.)
|A right jolly old elf|
Baum’s insistence in “Mary-Marie” that witches are more likely to be good than bad may evince the influence of his mother-in-law, feminist activist Matilda Gage, whose writings Baum admired. In 1893, Gage wrote:
Whatever the pretext made for witchcraft persecution we have abundant proof that the so-called "witch" was among the most profoundly scientific persons of the age. The church having forbidden its offices and all external methods of knowledge to woman, was profoundly stirred with indignation at her having through her own wisdom, penetrated into some of the most deeply subtle secrets of nature .... The superior learning of witches was recognized in the widely extended belief of their ability to work miracles. The witch was in reality the profoundest thinker, the most advanced scientist of those ages. The persecution which for ages waged against witches was in reality an attack upon science at the hands of the church. As knowledge has ever been power, the church feared its use in woman's hands, and leveled its deadliest blows at her. (Woman, Church, and State, ch. 5)
In The Master Key, Baum offers a similar moral about judging people as individuals rather than as members of a group:
“I've always understood that demons were bad things," added Rob, boldly. ...
“Not necessarily,” returned his visitor. “If you will take the trouble to consult your dictionary, you will find that demons may be either good or bad, like any other class of beings. Originally all demons were good, yet of late years people have come to consider all demons evil. I do not know why. ...” (ch. 2)
Likewise, in The Sea Fairies Cap’n Bill believes that “nobody never sawr a mermaid an’ lived to tell the tale,” since anyone who sees one is lured into the water and “is bound to get drownded” – a prejudice that is shortly refuted by events.
Unfortunately, Baum’s record on prejudice against actually existing groups is not as good as his record on witches, demons, and mermaids. Here and there throughout his works, mixed in with the paeans to tolerance and diversity, are offensive racial stereotypes: the Tottenhots in the Oz books, the “Little Nigger Boy” in Father Goose: His Book, the slurs against Jews in Daughters of Destiny and “The Suicide of Kiaros,” and the stereotyped portrayals of the Irish, Swedish, Chinese, and African-Americans, among others, in The Woggle-Bug Book.
A typical sample from the latter:
The colored lady cast one glance behind her and imagined that Satan had at last arrived to claim her. ... “Go ’way, Mars’ Debbil! Go ’way an’ lemme ’lone!” she screeched, and the next minute she dropped her empty basket and sped up the street with a swiftness that only fear could have lent her flat-bottomed feet.
At the same time, Baum could also write stories portraying nonwhites with dignity. In “The Tiger’s Eye,” which takes place on “an island of the South Seas, where the people are black and have never heard of telephones or chocolate caramels,” Baum gives a young native boy the same courage, intelligence, and resourcefulness he gives Dorothy and Trot:
The boy, with the spear clutched in his little hand, sat still and looked at his enemy. The tiger snarled and crouched for a spring. ... Titticontoo had never been afraid in his life, and he was not afraid now. He knew the tiger was dangerous and realized his mother had fainted and could not help him. So he must do his best to help himself. He set one end of his spear against the ground and pointed the other – the sharp end – at the leaping tiger.
In Daughters of Destiny, Baum presents positively a romance between a white Christian American woman and a Persian Muslim man. And in The Patchwork Girl of Oz – the very book that introduces the offensively racist stereotype of the Tottenhots – Baum insightfully illustrates the way in which differences in skin colour are exploited to reinforce differences in power. Here, Dame Margolotte explains the origin of the titular Patchwork Girl, a rebellious, cotton-stuffed, yarn-haired “colored” woman:
We never have used my grandmother’s many-colored patchwork quilt, handsome as it is, for we Munchkins do not care for any color other than blue, so it has been packed away in the chest for about a hundred years. When I found it, I said to myself that it would do nicely for my servant girl, for when she was brought to life she would not be proud nor haughty ... for such a dreadful mixture of colors would discourage her from trying to be as dignified as the blue Munchkins are. ... [A]ll Munchkins prefer blue to anything else and when my housework girl is brought to life she will find herself to be of so many unpopular colors that she’ll never dare be rebellious or impudent, as servants are sometimes liable to be when they are made the same way their mistresses are. (Patchwork Girl, ch. 2)
Instead, of course, the Patchwork Girl, or Scraps, turns out to be the most independent-minded of all Baum’s characters, refusing to recognise even the authority of Ozma, let alone that of Margolotte. Far from feeling inferior because of her skin colour, Scraps proudly contrasts the “many gorgeous colors” of her “face and body and clothes” with the Munchkins’ “pale, colorless skins” and “clothes as blue as the country they live in.” (ch. 6) Shrugging off others’ insistence that her proper function is to be “a sort of slave” (ch. 3) and “personal property and not your own mistress” (ch. 14), Scraps repeatedly and joyously asserts her own autonomy, and in the end is officially declared to be “nobody’s servant but her own.” (ch. 28) On issues of race and ethnicity, Baum sometimes soars above the limitations of his era, and at other times belly-flops into their depths.
Defenders of Baum sometimes argue that his negative racial attitudes do not make Baum a racist “by the standards of his day.” Maybe not, but so what? The standards of his day were racist standards; an appeal to them will not get Baum off the hook. Baum’s critics, on the other hand, sometimes suggest that his racism makes his books unsuitable for today’s children. I can’t agree with that either. If we shelter children from any literature containing bigotry or prejudice, we will close them off from the vast majority of what has been written throughout history. Children need to learn to distinguish the good from the bad in what they read, and rendering the bad invisible does them no service. With Baum as with any author, what is good in his writings does not redeem or excuse what is bad in them – but neither does what is bad invalidate what is good.
There is one charge of racism against which I think Baum can be defended (for whatever it’s worth). Oz is famously divided into various regions, each associated with a different colour – blue for the Munchkins, yellow for the Winkies, and so on. Burger describes this as “Baum’s pattern of strict racial categorization within Oz” (American Myth, p. 38), and again as “the regimentation and strict segregation of the various regions of Oz” (p. 93). The implication is that the Munchkins, Winkies, etc. are different races and have been assigned to different geographical regions by legal fiat, based on colour.
I don’t think this interpretation holds up. In Wizard, where the idea of the colour-coded regions first appears, it is quite definitely only the Emerald City (along with its immediate environs), not the country as a whole, that is said to be ruled by the Wizard – which strongly implies that Oz, like Italy prior to 1871, is initially a country only in the geographical rather than the political sense. In other words, the Munchkins, Winkies, Quadlings, Gillikins, etc., as originally conceived, are “segregated,” not by central authority – there being none, as yet – but because they are distinct nation-states. The different colours – which apply to clothing and other artefacts, not to skin, nor yet (as they later will) to vegetation – are more likely to indicate governmental than racial differences, like differently coloured flags – or football jerseys. (Baum’s later idea that the colour of vegetation likewise varies by region is perhaps inspired, as Hearn suggests (p. 61, citing Martin Gardner), by the passage in chapter 3 of Twain’s Tom Sawyer Abroad where Huck expects countries to have the same colour schemes in real life that they have on maps. Twain’s book also involves travel via balloon from the American Midwest to Egypt, land of the historical Ozymandias, so that may be another possible influence.)
|The first Oz map, before east and west got switched|
While Baum may be innocent on this point, however, he is guilty of worse. Baum’s most extreme and notorious descent into racism, seemingly, is found in a pair of newspaper editorials he wrote in late 1890 and early 1891, apparently calling for genocide against Native Americans:
Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are. ...
Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. (Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, 20 December 1890 and 3 January 1891)
Baum’s call for extermination is a farrago of ambivalence and inconsistency. In these very same editorials, Baum speaks of the “proud spirit of the original owners of these vast prairies,” whose white conquerors “were marked in their dealings with his people by selfishness, falsehood and treachery”; and he quotes favourably the observation that “when the whites win a fight, it is a victory, and when the Indians win it, it is a massacre.” Yet he also asserts that the white settlers are “masters of the American continent ... by law of conquest, by justice of civilization” – a claim of moral justification that sorts oddly with the admission that the white conquest of America has been a “wrong.” Likewise, his assertion that the “fiery rage” of rebellion has died with Sitting Bull, so that those Indians who remain are mainly “whining curs who lick the hand that smites them,” does not fit well with his claim that these same Indians are “untamed and untamable creatures” who must be destroyed to “protect our civilization” and ensure the “future safety for our settlers.”
Moreover, in Baum’s Twinkle Tales, as Reneau points out, a woodchuck upbraids Twinkle, the young human protagonist, for the human propensity to set traps for wild animals. Twinkle initially defends the practice, arguing that “We have to sell the clover and the vegetables to earn our living ... and if the animals eat them up we can’t sell them.” But the woodchuck replies that, first, the animals “don’t eat enough to rob you”; second, “the land belonged to the wild creatures long before you people came here and began to farm”; and third, it “hurts dreadfully to be caught in a trap” and “there is no reason why you should be so cruel.” In response, Twinkle grows “sorry and repentant,” and promises to “ask papa never to set another trap.” It’s hard to square this judgment with the endorsement of defensive genocide against a dispossessed people.
|Pericles, Jefferson, Kipling|
It’s true that Baum’s sentiments in these editorials are mostly at odds with the attitudes he endorses in his fiction; but since both the editorials and the fiction contain mixed messages, not much can be inferred from that. Who would have expected Baum, in The Last Egyptian, to introduce the book’s hero kicking a sleeping native to wake him? Yet he does so, with no suggestion that such conduct is incompatible with the character’s heroism. And Baum does seem to endorse genocide of the Awgwas in Santa Claus and of the Gargoyles in Dorothy and the Wizard. Thus while I now lean toward the ironic reading, I don’t regard the choice between the literal and ironic interpretations as definitively settled.
Schwartz (in Finding Oz), while taking the anti-Indian editorials to be sincere, asserts that Baum eventually came to regret them; but offers no evidence for this thesis. Schwartz also claims that Baum’s later writings are free from racism, which is easily shown to be false – the Tottenhots being a salient example. Even if Baum should turn out to be off the hook for the editorials, his docket is not exactly wiped clean thereby.
The Bells defend Baum’s ethnic stereotypes on the grounds that “Baum jokes at everyone’s expense,” and that someone who pokes fun at all groups, including his own, is defensible in a way that someone who pokes fun at just one or two groups is not. But I don’t find it blindingly obvious that being an equal-opportunity offender gets you off the hook for racist remarks. In any case, when one recalls, for example, the transformation scene in Rinkitink, where the (black) Tottenhot is a “lower form of a man”; the Mifket, described elsewhere as a “sort of creature that is neither an animal nor a man,” is “a great step in advance” over the Tottenhot; and the apex, the (white) prince, is “a handsome young man, tall and shapely,” it’s not so easy to see Baum as an equal-opportunity offender. (To be sure, the fact that a) the starting point of this process, Bilbil the goat, is as intelligent as a human, while b) the end result of this process is saddled with the somewhat risible name “Prince Bobo of Boboland,” serves in some degree to undercut the presentation of the transformation as one of unambiguous ascent.)
|Matilda Joslyn Gage|
It was Gage who urged Baum to take up writing, and encouraged his interest in spiritualism and theosophy as well. Gage also revered the Iroquois Confederacy for its relative gender equality, defended Indian tribal independence from the u.s., and had even been adopted into a clan of the Mohawk nation. (If she had any influence on Baum in this area, it was evidently incomplete, at least if his extermination articles are sincere.)
|Frank and Maud Baum|
|Judy Garland and Maud Baum reading Wizard|
Baum’s enthusiasm for women as rulers is matched only by his enthusiasm for women as pilots. In The Flying Girl (1911), he has one (positively presented) character say: “The most successful aviators in the future ... are bound to be women. As a rule they are lighter than men, more supple and active, quick of perception and less liable to lose their heads in emergencies.” (ch. 19)
Of course the idea that women will make better rulers (or aviators) than men owing to their innate feminine virtues is an essentialist notion that few modern feminists will greet with favour; and the very notion that anybody, whether male or female, should “rule” is arguably a notion inextricably entangled with patriarchy, and wrong for much the same reasons. But in Baum’s historical context, when women were widely thought to be devoid of competence in any field outside the domestic sphere, such ideas are surely an improvement on the prevailing culture.
Baum’s books feature female protagonists more commonly than male ones – including teenage girl detectives (the Phoebe Daring and Mary Louise books – well before Nancy Drew) and of course teenage girl aviators (the Orissa Kane books), as well as the irrepressibly anarchistic Patchwork Girl in the Oz books. (Baum’s 1912 Flying Girl and Her Chum incidentally contains one of the very first published uses of the word “aviatrix,” at a time when it was a word with few referents.) In Aunt Jane’s Nieces, a dangerous incident that nearly any other writer of the era would have handled by having the boy rescue the girl, instead ends with the girl rescuing the boy.
Baum was opposed to inflicting “namby-pamby books” on girls, insisting that they “as eagerly demand and absorb the marvelous as their brothers; aye, and need it as much” – an attitude that led him into conflicts with his publishers, who complained that his girl characters were excessively adventuresome. Upon reading the first draft of The Flying Girl and Her Chum, Baum’s publishers told him that he had “made the story too thrilling” for a young female audience, a remark that recalls Miss Prism’s advice to young Cecily, in Oscar Wilde’s Importance of Being Earnest, to omit the “chapter on the Fall of the Rupee” from her economics lesson as it is “somewhat too sensational.”
As with the “Garden of Meats” episode discussed previously, Baum dutifully wrote back that he regarded the criticism to be “just and proper”:
I find I have a tendency to be ultra-sensational in these girls’ books, and it is a fault I must earnestly try to correct. I suppose I have acquired that habit through writing fairy tales, where exaggeration is a virtue; so that when I get this into this other class of stories, I am unconsciously tempted to create a plot too weird for the purposes I wish to accomplish. I will bear this in mind and try to tone down the excitement in future stories. (quoted in Robert A. Baum’s introduction to the 2003 Oz Club edition of Aunt Jane’s Nieces)
Given his aforementioned conviction that girls want and need “the marvelous” as much as boys do, it seems unlikely that Baum’s contrition here was sincere. But Baum’s books for teenage girls under his “Edith Van Dyne” pseudonym were one of his chief sources of income, so he bowed to the harness and mostly reined himself in for the future. Little wonder that Baum would fantasise about a society in which people did their work as they pleased, without “overseers set to watch them [or] to rebuke them or to find fault with them,” and in which each worker was provided with the necessaries of life “no matter what he or she produced.” (Emerald City, ch. 3)
|Everybody knows that she’s a wonderful little cook|
Baum’s critique of male supremacy runs through the Oz books as well. In Wizard, the female witches, both good and bad, mistakenly regard the male wizard as their superior when in fact his superiority is pure charlatanism; and in Land he turns out to have actively connived at displacing the legitimate female authority, who is gloriously reinstated. (Burger’s claim that the “unquestioned patriarchal power of the Wizard” in the Oz tradition is not “explicitly challenged” until Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel Wicked (American Myth, p. 193) is baffling.)
Baum also repeatedly satirises patriarchal attitudes of possession, objectification, and faux “protection” toward women. When the Nome King is accused of having cruelly enslaved the royal family of Ev, he responds:
Cruelty ... is a thing I can’t abide. So, as slaves must work hard, and the Queen of Ev and her children were delicate and tender, I transformed them all into articles of ornament and bric-a-brac and scattered them around the various rooms of my palace. Instead of being obliged to labor, they merely decorate my apartments, and I really think I have treated them with great kindness. (Ozma, ch. 11)
A similar attitude is found in Mrs. Yoop, who transforms “Polychrome, the Daughter of the Rainbow, into a canary-bird” in “a gold cage studded with diamonds” so “she couldn’t fly away” – lines that would have reminded Baum’s early-20th-century audience of the enormously popular song lyric “She’s only a bird in a gilded cage.” Mrs. Yoop complains: “I expected she’d sing and talk and we'd have good times together,” but “she has refused to speak a single word.” (Tin Woodman, ch. 5; interestingly, we also learn that Mrs. Yoop herself is a former victim of domestic abuse: “my husband treated me badly at times .... Often he kicked me on my shins, when I wouldn’t wait on him.”)
Likewise, when Dorothy meets the little princess made of china, she tells her: “you are so beautiful ... that I am sure I could love you dearly. Won’t you let me carry you back to Kansas, and stand you on Aunt Em’s mantel?”
“That would make me very unhappy,” answered the china Princess. “You see, here in our country we live contentedly, and can talk and move around as we please. But whenever any of us are taken away our joints at once stiffen, and we can only stand straight and look pretty. Of course that is all that is expected of us when we are on mantels and cabinets and drawing-room tables, but our lives are much pleasanter here in our own country.” (Wizard, ch. 20)
Baum surely had the status of women in mind when writing about those of whom “all that is expected” is to “stand straight and look pretty” rather than being free to “talk and move around as [they] please.” Given his dual interest in feminism and theatre, Baum was probably familiar with Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House, which takes the same theme. Torvald, the husband in the play, is like the Nome King in imagining that in providing an infantilising captivity for his wife he is rescuing her from the necessity of labour and so treating her “with great kindness”; and Nora’s eventual repudiation of the role of decorative plaything is akin to Polychrome’s reproachful silence toward Mrs. Yoop.
Baum’s satire on the suffragist movement in Land, in which General Jinjur and her all-female army rebel against male authority only to be betrayed by their own feminine foibles, has been interpreted as antifeminist. Given Baum’s own support for women’s suffrage, critics have assumed that he was simply pandering to popular prejudice, perhaps with an eye to the possibilities of an all-girl chorus in a stage adaptation (there was one).
But one has to read Land rather selectively to see in it an antifeminist moral. After all, Jinjur and her army of silly girls are overthrown, not by men, but by the sorcerous Glinda and her own, competent all-female army; and Jinjur’s soldiers are defeated because they behave in conventionally “feminine ways” – shrieking at mice, being obsessed with clothing and jewelry. That such failings are not inherent in their gender is evidenced by Glinda and her army, who do none of these things. Moreover, Glinda overthrows Jinjur not to restore male authority, as the Scarecrow and his friends expect, but to install a better female authority, Ozma, on the throne. Indeed the book’s male protagonist (Tip) must be transformed into a female (Ozma) before being entitled to rule. Glinda is thus just as much a rebel against patriarchy as Jinjur is, though Baum manages to slip this fact under the radar. No doubt he took quiet satisfaction in putting across his exaltation of female authority by wrapping it in the sugared pill of a satire on female authority.
As we’ve seen, Land is also unusual, especially for a turn-of-the-century children’s book, in featuring a transgender protagonist, Tip/Ozma. Admittedly Baum’s handling of this theme is open to criticism. Tip has no memory of being a girl and has always thought of himself as male; hence he is understandably hesitant about being transformed back into Ozma. Accordingly, he tells Glinda: “if I don’t like being a girl you must promise to change me into a boy again.” Glinda replies that doing so is “beyond my magic,” which at first sounds like a confession of inability; but then she continues: “I never deal in transformations, for they are not honest, and no respectable sorceress likes to make things appear to be what they are not. Only unscrupulous witches use the art ....” (Land, ch. 23) Glinda’s insistence that Tip take his birth gender as authoritative, and return to it, despite his own self-identification as male is not exactly transgender-friendly; such essentialism also seems out of keeping with the fluidity of bodily identity that pervades the Oz books, where the Tin Woodman, for example, is allowed to prefer his metal body to his original meat one. All the same, Baum’s decision to turn the book’s boy hero into a girl – and then put her in charge of the whole country, to boot – is certainly a gutsy one.
And Baum is not always so rigid on gender identity. Consider, for example, two of his non-Oz fantasies, The Enchanted Island of Yew and John Dough and the Cherub. In the former, a female fairy tires of her fairy life and decides to spend a year as a mortal; but she finds the prospect of becoming a female mortal unappealing:
“I fear a girl would not be allowed to travel alone,” Seseley remarked, after some further thought. “At least,” she added, “I have never heard of such a thing.”
“No,” said the fairy, rather bitterly, “your men are the ones that roam abroad and have adventures of all kinds. Your women are poor, weak creatures, I remember.”
There was no denying this, so the three girls sat silent until Seseley asked: “Why do you wish to become a mortal?”
“To gain exciting experiences,” answered the fairy. “I’m tired of being a humdrum fairy year in and year out. Of course, I do not wish to become a mortal for all time, for that would get monotonous, too; but to live a short while as the earth people do would amuse me very much.”
“If you want variety, you should become a boy,” said Helda, with a laugh, “The life of a boy is one round of excitement.”
“Then make me a boy!” exclaimed the fairy eagerly.
“A boy!” they all cried in consternation. And Seseley added:
“Why – you’re a girl fairy, aren’t you?”
“Well – yes; I suppose I am,” answered the beautiful creature, smiling; “but as you are going to change me anyway, I may as well become a boy as a girl.”
“Better!” declared Helda, clapping her hands; “for then you can do as you please.”
“But would it be right?” asked Seseley, with hesitation.
“Why not?” retorted the fairy. “I can see nothing wrong in being a boy. Make me a tall, slender youth, with waving brown hair and dark eyes. Then I shall be as unlike my own self as possible, and the adventure will be all the more interesting. Yes; I like the idea of being a boy very much indeed.” (Yew, ch. 4)
And so the fairy spends the rest of the book as the boy Prince Marvel, until her transformation back into a fairy at the end – and unlike Ozma’s, both her original transformation and its subsequent reversal are chosen.
In John Dough and the Cherub, the sex of one of the two protagonists, Chick the Cherub, is never revealed; Chick’s status as an incubator baby is evidently meant to explain this transcendence of traditional gender identities. Throughout the book, Baum carefully avoids using gender-specific pronouns, and his illustrator – Neill again – maintains the androgyny visually. Chick eventually grows up to be “Head Booleywag” (essentially Grand Vizier) but – as the novel’s last line tells us – “curiously enough, the Records fail to state whether the Head Booleywag was a man or a woman.” Nor is the author any more forthcoming outside the pages of the book: “I can’t remember that Chick the Cherub impresses me as other than a joyous, sweet, venturesome and lovable child,” Baum writes; “Who cares whether the Cherub is a boy or a girl?” (quoted in Rogers, Creator of Oz, p. 142) – a bold question in 1906.
Baum’s publishers highlighted Chick’s gender ambiguity in their publicity for the book, offering pictures of how Chick would look if dressed as a boy or as a girl, and offering a prize for the best essay defending a particular answer to the question of Chick’s gender. These campaigns of course relied on the assumption (not Baum’s) that the ambiguity urgently needed to be resolved; yet, in tension with that assumption, the publishers also felt the need to maintain the ambiguity so as not to relinquish their book’s chief advertising gimmick. In the end, of course, they assigned two top prizes, one for an essay arguing that Chick must be a girl, and the other for an essay arguing that Chick must be a boy.
The tendency of critics to focus on the first Oz book and to neglect the later ones (when such critics are not, worse yet, focusing on the MGM movie) has the unfortunate result of leading them to underestimate the extent of Baum’s engagement with feminist concerns. Alissa Burger, for example, raises a number of specifically feminist criticisms of Baum that aptly illustrate the hazards of attending to Wizard at the expense of its sequels.
For Burger, Baum’s portrait of the Wicked Witch in Wizard represents “a woman with too much power” (American Myth, p. 16) – as though putting powerful women in charge of everything were not the preferred social system in the rest of the series. Burger also charges that in Baum’s vision, the Witch of the West is “wicked, and therefore automatically ugly” (p. 90), and charges that “Baum equated dangerous magical power with the incomplete or fractured body.” (p. 168) Now of course it’s true that the Wicked Witch in Wizard is ugly (as are her successors in the later books, Mombi and Blinkie), while Glinda is beautiful; but as we’ve seen with the examples of Zixi and Mrs. Yoop, Baum goes out of his way to underline the fact that good witches can be ugly and bad witches beautiful.
Burger further complains of the “polarization of female characters” in Baum’s stories “as either good or evil, wonderful or wicked” (p. 56), by contrast with the male Wizard, who is allowed moral greyness and even redemption: “The Wizard has manipulated Dorothy and her companions into attempting this dangerous journey,” and “has given them nothing but an illusion,” yet “he is forgiven his deceit and reinvested power by those whom he had tricked.” By contrast, “women are afforded none of this moral relativism” (I have no idea why Burger calls this “moral relativism”), but “instead are framed as either entirely good or evil, and are rewarded or punished accordingly.” (p. 204) Yet looking forward to later books, we see a number of morally grey female antagonists – General Jinjur, Princess Langwidere, Queen Ann Soforth, Queen Zixi – who despite some fairly dubious actions (including, in several cases, the attempted murder of the protagonists) end up forgiven and reintegrated into the community.
Burger praises Gregory Maguire’s Wicked, a retelling of Wizard from the witch’s point of view, for introducing “enduring friendship” between women, “a female relationship or partnership missing altogether from earlier versions” of the Oz story (p. 68), and reiterates a bit later that “strength in female solidarity” is “seldom seen in earlier versions” (p. 72) – despite both the central Ozma/Dorothy friendship and Glinda’s all-female army. (We can also point beyond the Oz books to, for example, The Flying Girl and Her Chum.)
Burger also tells us that Dorothy “remains firmly situated within the patriarchal structure, happily sacrificing her independence and sense of adventure to return to Kansas and take up her role as dutiful niece once again.” (p. 20) And again, discussing the Oz-inspired miniseries Tin Man, Burger writes that its version of Dorothy “marks a departure from previous Dorothys in that she has no desire to return to Kansas,” but instead learns that Oz is her true home and that she is by rights a princess of Oz. (p. 71) But of course in Baum’s later books Dorothy does elect to stay in Oz, and indeed becomes a princess; and while her aunt and uncle come to join her, they do not take up their former parental role, but are instead relegated to the periphery of the narrative – ensconced in some corner of Ozma’s palace – while Dorothy continues to wander off on her own adventures. (Moreover, the idea that Dorothy is actually from Oz and has unknowingly been a princess all along originates with the 1925 film, not with a 2007 miniseries.)
Burger, strange to say, acknowledges in an endnote that “in Baum’s later Oz books, Dorothy repeatedly returns to Oz, developing an adventurous and independent life outside the context of family life” and “eventually relocating there permanently” (p. 211); and even in the main text she quotes Joel Chaston’s apt remark that Dorothy “eventually rejects her Kansas home and domestic life to join a community of homeless nonconformists” (p. 130). But Burger apparently sees the later books as extraneous to the Oz narrative that interests her. (Burger’s inattention to the later works also causes her to fail to pick up on references in other writers; for example, she notes (p. 184) the role of a “trio of Adepts” in Maguire’s Wicked but apparently misses that this is a nod to chapter 21 of Glinda of Oz.)
My concern is that a narrow focus on Wizard distorts our understanding of Baum’s work by treating exceptional features as though they were representative and vice versa, generally with the result of making Baum’s overall vision look less enlightened and less complex than it actually was.
[To be continued. Next up: Ayesha! Aslan! Atlantis!]