Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Emerald City of Oz

In the sixth book of the Oz series, The Emerald City of Oz (1910), we find Dorothy, Aunt Em, and Uncle Henry in hard times. It seems that the tornado that blew the house away in the first Oz book combined with several poor growing seasons have left Uncle Henry in debt to the bank, and they are about to foreclose. Dorothy's aunt and uncle ponder their future and guess that Dorothy too will have to go to work in the city if they are to survive.

Dorothy has been telling her aunt and uncle all about her visits to Oz, and they mostly think she is just being fanciful. When she brings up the fact that Ozma looks for Dorothy in her magic mirror every day at four, and if Dorothy makes a certain sign with her hands she is transported to Oz, her guardians decide to humor her and let her go off to live in Oz if she wants to. Dorothy does just that, but after a consultation with Ozma, she has Aunt Em and Uncle Henry transported to Oz as well so they can all live happily ever after and not have to worry about the bank or the farm or dusty old Kansas.

And who wouldn't want to live in Oz:

Altogether there were more than half a million people in the Land of Oz--although some of them, as you will soon learn, were not made of flesh and blood as we are--and every inhabitant of that favored country was happy and prosperous.

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.

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.

You will know by what I have here told you, that the Land of Oz was a remarkable country. I do not suppose such an arrangement would be practical with us, but Dorothy assures me that it works finely with the Oz people.

Sounds pretty utopic, right?

Unfortunately for Dorothy, Ozma, and the rest of the citizens of Oz, the Nome King (remember him from Ozma of Oz?) is still really mad that Ozma took his magic belt. He comes up with a scheme to tunnel under the deadly desert with his army to attack the Emerald City, enslave the Ozites, and get his belt back. To assist in his project, he forms an alliance with three other nasty evil groups who also want to plunder Oz and get rid of happy people. One of these groups are the totally awesome Whimsies:

These Whimsies were curious people who lived in a retired country of their own. They had large, strong bodies, but heads so small that they were no bigger than door-knobs. Of course, such tiny heads could not contain any great amount of brains, and the Whimsies were so ashamed of their personal appearance and lack of commonsense that they wore big heads made of pasteboard, which they fastened over their own little heads. On these pasteboard heads they sewed sheep's wool for hair, and the wool was colored many tints--pink, green and lavender being the favorite colors. The faces of these false heads were painted in many ridiculous ways, according to the whims of the owners, and these big, burly creatures looked so whimsical and absurd in their queer masks that they were called "Whimsies." They foolishly imagined that no one would suspect the little heads that were inside the imitation ones, not knowing that it is folly to try to appear otherwise than as nature has made us.

The two parallel stories of Dorothy and her friends showing her aunt and uncle around Oz and meeting interesting characters, and the Nome King and his evil allies tunneling under the desert to attack Oz don't really intersect until the very end of the book, when Ozma comes up with a marvelous scheme to stop the baddies and save her kingdom without fighting one bit. After getting everything back to normal, Ozma casts a spell over Oz so that no one else will ever be able to find it, thus preserving their happy kingdom for all time.

Baum sneaks in a surprising last chapter which I'm sure caused panic in his young followers:

The writer of these Oz stories has received a little note from Princess Dorothy of Oz which, for a time, has made him feel rather disconcerted. The note was written on a broad, white feather from a stork's wing, and it said:



This seemed to me too bad, at first, for Oz is a very interesting fairyland. Still, we have no right to feel grieved, for we have had enough of the history of the Land of Oz to fill six story books, and from its quaint people and their strange adventures we have been able to learn many useful and amusing things.

So good luck to little Dorothy and her companions. May they live long in their invisible country and be very happy!

This is a far cry from what Baum wrote in the preface to this book, and I'm guessing he had a change of heart since there are nine more Oz books yet to come. Perhaps those paychecks were too big to give up, because Baum has seemed to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder about continuing the Oz story since about the third book, and yet he continues to write...

[And now you should probably just read the whole thing here.]

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