The Politics of Oz

Further demonstrating their frequent refusal of certain types of “queer” people, after Dyna accidentally brings a bearskin rug to life, it leads a miserable existence suffering abuse: “It can’t speak, although it is alive; for, while its head might say words, it has no breath in a solid body to push the words out of its mouth” (Road 179–180). Although the bear is friendly and loves Dyna, she has no patience or tolerance for it and daily “has to scold it, and make it lie down flat on the parlor floor to be walked upon” (180). As this information is coming from the Tin Woodman, whose defining trait is his compassion, it is telling of the disdain for certain forms of difference that he characterizes Dyna as having to be callous to her former bear friend—she “has to scold it.”

Most unusual is Ozma’s disdain for the musicker. Over the course of The Road to Oz, three characters ask Dorothy for invites to Ozma’s birthday party. The last of these is the musicker, a man whose lungs “are full of reeds like those / In organs” such that his every breath is music and he cannot speak but only sing (96). Ozma grants the three requests except for his “because he would be too noisy, and might interfere with the comfort of others. When music is not very good, and is indulged in all the time, it is better that the performer should be alone” (205–206). Button-Bright protests that he enjoys the musicker’s music, but Ozma dismisses his comment. The previous two characters harm Dorothy’s friends, unlike the kindly musicker, but Ozma allows them to attend her party even so. The rejection of the musicker, then, lacks the moral component Ozma implies. There are simply some sorts of people, no more odd than the Tin Woodman or Jack Pumpkinhead, whom Ozma rejects because she personally finds them unpleasant for no fault of their own.

In The Patchwork Girl, the Wizard magically lobotomizes the Glass Cat, a thinking and colorful person, because she annoyed some people (338), yet Scraps, whom even Ojo often seems to dislike despite her loyalty to him, is allowed to retain her abrasive personality. Years later, Baum forgot this and restored the Glass Cat’s prickly personality and brains in The Magic of Oz, but this does not undo the initial scenario. Another notable character in The Patchwork Girl is Vic the living phonograph. The other characters, even Scraps, who spends much of her time singing, shower Vic with contempt despite his complete lack of malice. It is true that Vic plays a minstrel song, but clearly racism is no moral failing to Baum. A whole chapter of vituperation culminates in the Shaggy Man declaring he will personally kill Vic (137), and after the phonograph flees, Shaggy concludes that “it is not possible that such a music-maker can last long in the Land of Oz” (138). Given that Vic is never seen again, he is presumably murdered by the tolerant and kindly Ozites.

Prior to the moralizing in The Emerald City, Baum’s heroes rarely display hesitation or doubt about dealing lethal violence. In Ozma of Oz, to defeat the Nome King’s soldiers, Dorothy uses the Magic Belt to transform them into eggs. “Instantly the foremost warriors became eggs, which rolled upon the floor of the cavern in such numbers that those behind could not advance without stepping upon them” (244). While what being smashed as an egg means for the Nome is unclear, Dorothy leaves them in that condition. Baum never addresses this again. The large number of Nomes turned into eggs are condemned to the same kind of magical living death in which the Nome King attempted to entrap Dorothy and her friends. Dorothy does, apparently, have the right to destroy living creatures, hurt them, and make them unhappy without any objections from Ozma because some people are beneath consideration in these books’ moral universe.

Dorothy and the Wizard features the Wizard killing numerous people. First, in justifiable self-defense, he slices through Gwig the Sorcerer (54), whom the Mangaboo Prince assures them “is really dead now” to eliminate any ambiguity. He then cold-bloodedly tortures the advisors of the Mangaboo Princess with fire, killing at least several of them (83). In addition to slaying bears in the Valley of Voe with his sword, he causes what might be the complete elimination of the Gargoyles.

The Gargoyles are not animals or monsters: “the most amazing things of all were the wooden people” (136, emphasis mine) who build wooden houses and carve wooden flower ornaments, indicating sophistication and intelligence. In a daring escape, the Wizard lights a fire that threatens the flammable Gargoyles with nothing short of complete genocide. Contrast the Wizard’s glib attitude, which proves no obstacle to acceptance in Oz, with Ozma’s moralizing charity toward the “evil powers”: “Perhaps the flames will set fire to all that miserable wooden country, and if it does the loss will be very small and the Gargoyles will never be missed” (161). This condemnation of savage foreigners, albeit fantastical wooden, flying foreigners, eerily resembles Baum’s editorials about Indigenous Americans: “better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are. […] We cannot honestly regret their extermination[.]”