13 June 2007

Girls Are from Venus, Boys Are from Sky Island

Here’s a little exchange from the first chapter of Sky Island, L. Frank Baum’s fantasy novel for 1912. Baum had introduced this book's heroine, a California girl nicknamed Trot, the previous year in Sea Fairies. This conversation has little to do with the plot that follows--it's just two kids getting to know each other.

The boy sat down beside her on the flat rock.

"Do you like girls?" asked Trot, making room for him.

"Not very well," the boy replied. "Some of 'em are pretty good fellows, but not many. The girls with brothers are bossy, an' the girls without brothers haven't any 'go' to 'em. But the world's full o' both kinds, and so I try to take 'em as they come. They can't help being girls, of course. Do you like boys?"

"When they don't put on airs or get roughhouse," replied Trot. "My 'sperience with boys is that they don't know much, but think they do."

"That's true," he answered. "I don't like boys much better than I do girls, but some are all right, and--you seem to be one of 'em."

"Much obliged," laughed Trot. "You aren't so bad, either, an' if we don't both turn out worse than we seem, we ought to be friends."
The boy turns out to be Button-Bright, whom Baum introduced in The Road to Oz, now older and more articulate but no wiser.

Though he has some heroic moments in Sky Island, when he reappears in Baum's later Oz books Button-Bright embodies what I suspect Trot and Dorothy find to be exasperating masculine traits. Button-Bright "don't know much," and the problem is not that he thinks he does but that he doesn't care whether he does or not. Furthermore, he rarely gets emotional about anything. He doesn't worry about other people's worries. And of course he never asks for directions.

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