04 July 2006

John Dough celebrates the Fourth

John Dough and the Cherub was written by L. Frank Baum, illustrated by John R. Neill, and published (in 1906) by Reilly & Britton, but (unlike all the other books that fit those criteria) it wasn't an Oz book. Then in The Road to Oz (1909), Baum made the John Dough story part of his Oz universe by bringing John and companions to Oz to celebrate Ozma's birthday party. This would later be called "cross-selling."

John is a giant gingerbread man, about the size of an adolescent boy (and drawn larger than that). He's one of several characters whom Baum portrayed being brought to life and then struggling to adjust to the world. More famous examples are the Scarecrow, Jack Pumpkinhead, and the Patchwork Girl.

John differs from those Ozzy examples in that he magically comes to life in America, not a fairyland. In fact, he's animated on the Fourth of July, and he experiences America's national holiday like this:

As he hurried along he met with few people on the streets; and these, in the dark, paid little attention to the gingerbread man. . . . By and by he heard a strange popping and hissing coming from the direction of the square in the center of the town, and then he saw red and green lights illuminating the houses, and fiery comets go sailing into the sky to break into dozens of beautiful colored stars.

The people were having their Fourth of July fireworks, and John Dough became curious to witness the display from near by. So, forgetting his fears, he ran through the streets until he came to a big crowd of people, who were too busy watching the fireworks to notice that a gingerbread man stood beside them.

John Dough pressed forward until he was quite in the front row, and just behind the men who were firing the rockets.

For a time he watched the rush of the colored fires with much pleasure, and thoroughly enjoyed the sputtering of a big wheel that refused to go around, merely sending out weak and listless spurts of green and red sparks, as is the manner of such wheels.

But now the event of the evening was to occur. Two men brought out an enormous rocket, fully fifteen feet tall and filled with a tremendous charge of powder. This they leaned against a wooden trough that stood upright; but the rocket was too tall to stay in place, and swayed from side to side awkwardly.

"Here! Hold that stick!" cried one of the men, and John Dough stepped forward and grasped the stick of the big rocket firmly, not knowing there was any danger in doing so.

Then the man ran to get a piece of rope to tie the rocket in place; but the other man, being excited and thinking the rocket was ready to fire, touched off the fuse without noticing that John Dough was clinging fast to the stick.

There was a sudden shriek, a rush of fire, and then--slowly at first, but with ever-increasing speed--the huge rocket mounted far into the sky, carrying with it the form of the gingerbread man!
John Dough thus became one of the earliest examples of someone traveling from America to fairyland by rocket.

1 comment:

Chris Barton said...

Ah, what I wouldn't give to be able to encounter the old "traveling from America to fairyland by rocket" plot back when it was still fresh and new...