09 May 2007

Mad Money

I much enjoyed Book Moot's report from the front lines of the school book fair:

My favorite money is "kid money" because it comes from under the bed, from the piggy bank, or from down in the sofa cushions. This is wadded-up, folded-up, scrunched-up and twisted-up currency in bills, quarters, dimes and pennies. It comes through the door in ziplock bags or from inside their shoes.

You haven't lived until you've watched a child shake money out of the toe of their Nikes which they then hand you to count.
The mere mention of money gives me an excuse to quote what The Emerald City of Oz (1910) says about the economic system of L. Frank Baum's magical country:
There were no poor people in the Land of Oz, because there was no such thing as money, and all property of every sort belonged to the Ruler. The people were her children, and she cared for them.

Each person was given freely by his neighbors whatever he required for his use, which is as much as any one may reasonably desire. Some tilled the lands and raised great crops of grain, which was divided equally among the entire population, so that all had enough. There were many tailors and dressmakers and shoemakers and the like, who made things that any who desired them might wear. Likewise there were jewelers who made ornaments for the person, which pleased and beautified the people, and these ornaments also were free to those who asked for them.

Each man and woman, no matter what he or she produced for the good of the community, was supplied by the neighbors with food and clothing and a house and furniture and ornaments and games. If by chance the supply ever ran short, more was taken from the great storehouses of the Ruler, which were afterward filled up again when there was more of any article than the people needed.

Every one worked half the time and played half the time, and the people enjoyed the work as much as they did the play, because it is good to be occupied and to have something to do. There were no cruel overseers set to watch them, and no one to rebuke them or to find fault with them. So each one was proud to do all he could for his friends and neighbors, and was glad when they would accept the things he produced.

You will know by what I have here told you, that the Land of Oz was a remarkable country. I do not suppose such an arrangement would be practical with us, but Dorothy assures me that it works finely with the Oz people.
Gallons of ink (and now millions of pixels) have been spilled trying vainly to wrest a coherent politico-economic allegory out of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, yet critics pay little heed to what Baum went on to write about how a utopian society works.

2 comments:

Katie said...

I always loved that passage. It makes so much more sense for Oz to be like that than the weird thing about the Scarecrow being the treasurer because he was stuffed with money at one point in an earlier book. I'm glad Baum's notoriously awful memory stepped in and he forgot that part (or just decided it was dumb and deliberately forgot it)!

J. L. Bell said...

The Scarecrow ends up restuffed with dollar currency at the end of The Marvelous Land of Oz. Now that currency comes from the country across the desert from Oz, which in Baum's early conception was probably the US. But the Oz folk recognize what it is, and don't go into the tizzy that they later do when people mention money. So there's definitely an inconsistency, though one fans have been able to justify by saying Ozma (who takes power at the end of Land changed the economic system).

It took me until adulthood to realize that Baum didn't really write one Oz series, but two (Ozma through Emerald City and Patchwork Girl through Glinda), and he didn't write Wizard or Land thinking about future books at all. A lot of the glaring inconsistencies come in the gaps between one stretch of titles and the next, as with this money problem.

As you say, Baum rarely allowed his memory for earlier details to stand in the way of the story he wanted to tell right now!