24 August 2006

Billina and Her Chicks

Billina the Yellow Hen is Dorothy's small animal companion in L. Frank Baum's Ozma of Oz (1907), the girl's first adventure after returning from Kansas. Compared to little Toto, Billina is talkative, opinionated, and independent--more like an eccentric aunt than a pet.

Dorothy goes back to Oz yet again in The Road to Oz (1909), and Billina has exciting news to share:

"I've hatched out ten of the loveliest chicks you ever saw."

"Oh, how nice! And where are they, Billina?"

"I left them at home. But they're beauties, I assure you, and all wonderfully clever. I've named them Dorothy."

"Which one?" asked the girl.

"All of them," replied Billina.

"That's funny. Why did you name them all with the same name?"

"It was so hard to tell them apart," explained the hen. "Now, when I call 'Dorothy,' they all come running to me in a bunch; it's much easier, after all, than having a separate name for each."
But in the next book, The Emerald City of Oz (1910), Billina reports that things have not turned out as she expected:
"I must show you all my Dorothys. Nine are living and have grown up to be very respectable hens; but one took cold at Ozma's birthday party and died of the pip, and the other two turned out to be horrid roosters, so I had to change their names from Dorothy to Daniel."
Baum, a chicken-raising expert in his youth, knew that it's notoriously difficult to tell the sex of a chick.

In between those books, I imagine Billina pronouncing this limerick:
"One of my Dorothys can’t be a hen.
I finally get them all sleeping, and then
This particular one
Starts to crow at the Sun
And wakes up her sisters all over again!"

verse copyright (c) 2004 by J. L. Bell

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