27 September 2006

Trot's Mother Makes Her Cry

After laying his Oz series to rest (as he thought) in 1910, L. Frank Baum started a new set of fantasy novels featuring a new little American girl: Trot Griffith. Unlike Dorothy Gale, an orphan raised on a Kansas farm by her (great?) uncle and aunt, Trot lives on the southern California coast and has two parents. But her father is away at sea all the time, and her mother is busy keeping house, so Trot's best friend and adult mentor is a one-legged sailor named Cap'n Bill.

Trot is different from Dorothy in another way: her home life is more volatile. Dorothy's is gray but steady--almost too steady. Trot's mother, on the other hand, has a real temper. We see that clearly in this early scene from Sky Island, the second novel of Baum's short series about Trot. The scene begins with young Button-Bright, who says he's flown in on a Magic Umbrella, asking a favor:

"...Do you s'pose, Trot, your mother would let me stay here all night?"

"Course she would!" answered Trot. "We've got an extra room with a nice bed in it, and we'd love to have you stay just as long as you want to, wouldn't we, Cap'n Bill?"

"Right you are, mate," replied the old man, nodding his bald head. "Whether the umbrel is magic or not, Butt'n-Bright is welcome."

Mrs. Griffith came out soon after and seconded the invitation, so the boy felt quite at home in the little cottage. It was not long before supper was on the table and in spite of all the bread-and-butter he had eaten Button-Bright had a fine appetite for the good things Trot's mother had cooked. Mrs. Griffith was very kind to the children, but not quite so agreeable toward poor Cap'n Bill. When the old sailorman at one time spilled some tea on the tablecloth, Trot's mother flew angry and gave the culprit such a tongue-lashing that Button-Bright was sorry for him. But Cap'n Bill was meek and made no reply. "He's used to it, you know," whispered Trot to her new friend, and indeed, Cap'n Bill took it all cheerfully and never minded a bit.

Then it came Trot's turn to get a scolding. When she opened the parcel she had bought at the village, it was found she had selected the wrong color of yarn, and Mrs. Griffith was so provoked that Trot's scolding was almost as severe as that of Cap'n Bill. Tears came to the little girl's eyes, and to comfort her the boy promised to take her to the village next morning with his magic umbrella, so she could exchange the yarn for the right color.
Baum wrote a lot of female scolds into his fantasy books, usually as wives of equally disagreeable and sometimes ineffectual men. These women can be attractive, such as Jinjur and Nimmie Amee, but they have very sharp tongues and sometimes even descend to violence.

It's rare, however, for Baum to portray a parent as so hot-tempered. It seems notable to me that, while Dorothy refuses to stay in Oz as long as Uncle Henry and Aunt Em are back in Kansas worrying about her, Trot never even thinks about her mother after she reaches Oz in The Scarecrow of Oz. She may have known a better situation when she saw one.

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