Tik-Tok of Oz
Or, what happens when you take a book that you vaguely remember from your early childhood and re-read it as an adult.
When I was a little kid, I remember going to Grandma’s house to look at her shelves of first-edition Oz books. A lot of people don’t realize that Oz was a series – there was way more to in than The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. They had these fabric bindings that were falling apart at the edges and these wacky lineart illustrations, like the one in the corner of this blog post. We kids would get stern injunctions from the adults around to handle the books carefully, but if we did, we could pick some out to take home for read-aloud.
I don’t remember a whole lot of the plot of these books, except that there was a Jack Pumpkinhead and a creature made out of a sofa and a bunch of palm fronds. Fast-forward to 2013 and I have this handy-dandy Kindle, and I think to myself, why not download the e-text of Tik-Tok of Oz from Project Gutenberg?
That’s exactly what I did, and whoa.
The plot of Tik-Tok of Oz isn’t all that important. In a nutshell, Betsy Bobbin shipwrecks on the shores of the land of the Nome King and there she meets a variety of fantastical creatures, including a Shaggy Man, a Rose Princess, Polychrome the Rainbow Princess, Tik-Tok the mechanical man, and Queen Ann of Oogaboo and her army (it consists of sixteen officers and one soldier). Together they all go to rescue Shaggy Man’s brother from the Nome King. What got me, though, is that there are things going on in the text that I would never have picked up on as a little kid. I cannot help reading this as a liberal arts college graduate now. For example:
- All the women of Oogaboo appear to be shrews. Betsy Bobbin is all right, but Polychrome and the Rose Princess are completely helpless. The Empress Ozma is a strong and just leader, but she’s still a total female stereotype. Is Tik-Tok of Oz feminist or not??
- Come to think of it, why are there so many beautiful princesses here? Did Baum have a thing for that?
- The other characters casually treat Tik-Tok as almost as good as a human being. But not quite. What’s Baum trying to say here?
- Glinda has a magic mirror that she can use to spy on anybody in the realm of Oz. Anybody. Whoa, you could abuse that.
- Shaggy Man has a Love Magnet that he can show to people and force them to love him. He uses it as a weapon repeatedly. And he’s supposed to be one of the good guys.
- Speaking of abuses of power, hasn’t anybody around here heard of a representative elected government?
- Empress Ozma has a magic mirror with a radium frame. Gaa! Unclean! Somebody get that thing into a lead box and bury it!
I don’t know if my childhood memory has been ruined or suddenly gained greater depth. I’m going to go with depth, though, because I thoroughly enjoyed having my eyes opened.