The Road to Oz, Book Five of the Oz Series

What about our new main characters? Button-Bright, a little blond boy in a sailor suit of the style nowadays more associated with a certain Tsukino Usagi, remains a complete dullard from start to finish. In fairyland, Dorothy and the shaggy man’s first adventure is finding the lad digging a hole beneath a chestnut tree. Most of Button-Bright’s dialogue is him indicating he doesn’t know something. His introductory scene is representative:

“Papa always said I was bright as a button; so mamma always called me Button-Bright,” he said.
“What is your papa’s name?”
[said Dorothy.]
“Just Papa.”
“What else?”
“Don’t know.”
“Never mind,” said the shaggy man, smiling. “We’ll call the boy Button-Bright, as his mamma does. That name is as good as any, and better than some.”
Dorothy watched the boy dig.
“Where do you live?” she asked.
“Don’t know,” was the reply.
“How did you come here?”
“Don’t know,” he said again.
“Don’t you know where you came from?”
“No,” said he.
“Why, he must be lost,” she said to the shaggy man. She turned to the boy once more.
“What are you going to do?” she inquired.
“Dig,” said he.
“But you can’t dig forever; and what are you going to do then?” she persisted.
“Don’t know,” said the boy.
“But you must know something,” declared Dorothy, getting provoked.
“Must I?” he asked, looking up in surprise

This goes on until Dorothy says, “You’re just awful stupid, Button-Bright,” and when he asks a follow-up, stops herself from answering him with “Don’t know” (32). I assumed, at this point, there would be more to Button-Bright, some reveal or twist. His initial appearance is mysterious. How did he end up in fairyland? Why is he in a sailor suit if, as he says, he does not live near the sea? Why is he digging a hole? Who are his parents? Baum does not hint at an answer to any of these questions. The only interesting play on the boy’s obtuse uselessness comes in Foxville, the city of the foxes, where the fox king finds the boy ingenious in a Socrates “I know nothing” way.

“My private name is Dox, but a King can’t be called by his private name; he has to take one that is official. Therefore my official name is King Renard the Fourth. [This is a reference to the medieval fables of Reynard the Fox.] Ren-ard with the accent on the ‘Ren’.”

“What’s ‘ren’?” asked Button-Bright.

“How clever!” exclaimed the King, turning a pleased faced toward his counselors. “This boy is indeed remarkably bright. ‘What’s ‘ren’? he asks; [sic] and of course ‘ren’ is nothing at all, all by itself. Yes; he’s very bright indeed” (47).

This gets Button-Bright stuck with his fox head. Turns out you may not want King Dox to like you.

Dorothy comforting Button-Bright following his foxy transformation.

Button-Bright never does anything particularly useful or, from a writing perspective, has any clear reason to be there. Compare that to Dorothy’s companions in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion all make essential contributions to the group. None of them are unhelpful.

Finally this kid reaches Oz and accidentally cures his fox-head problem (by clumsiness, of course). Learning that Button-Bright’s name comes from his papa calling him bright as a button, the Scarecrow says, “Your papa may have been right, but there are many kinds of buttons, you see. There are silver and gold buttons, which are highly polished and glitter brightly. There are pearl and rubber buttons, and other kinds, with surfaces more or less bright. But there is still another sort of button which is covered with dull cloth, and that must be the sort your papa meant when he said you were bright as a button. Don’t you think so?” Yeah, police? I have to report a murder. Naturally, Button-Bright responds, “Don’t know” (217). Button-Bright finally rides back home to, presumably, the US in a giant soap bubble. He adds almost nothing, though I am aware he takes on other roles in later books. Perhaps the lesson is simply that some people are dull.