10 December 2007

Glinda’s Beautiful Maidens

In L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, the great sorceress Glinda the Good chooses to live in a largely, if not entirely, female environment.

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the first servants of Glinda whom Dorothy meets are “three young girls, dressed in handsome red uniforms trimmed with gold braid.” These female soldiers and many more reappear in the second book, The Marvelous Land of Oz. That book describes Glinda’s private bodyguard this way:

Glinda's soldiers wore neat uniforms and bore swords and spears; and they marched with a skill and precision that proved them well trained in the arts of war.
Glinda’s army easily overcomes that book’s more famous female soldiers, the Army of Conquest led by General Jinjur. All those ranks of uniformed young women probably sprang from two inspirations:
  • Baum’s belief in women’s equality, though he also couldn’t resist satirizing the suffrage movement along with its opposition.
  • The great success of marching chorus girls in the 1903 stage adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, which he spent the next fifteen years trying to replicate.
Later in his series, Baum provided three more detailed descriptions of Glinda’s private life. In The Lost Princess of Oz (1913), he wrote:
This castle, situated in the Quadling Country, far south of the Emerald City where Ozma ruled, was a splendid structure of exquisite marbles and silver grilles. Here the Sorceress lived, surrounded by a bevy of the most beautiful maidens of Oz, gathered from all the four countries of that fairyland as well as from the magnificent Emerald City itself, which stood in the place where the four countries cornered.

It was considered a great honor to be allowed to serve the good Sorceress, whose arts of magic were used only to benefit the Oz people.
The Magic of Oz (1919) says:
Here there were gathered fifty beautiful young girls, Glinda's handmaids, who had been selected from all parts of the Land of Oz on account of their wit and beauty and sweet dispositions. It was a great honor to be made one of Glinda's handmaidens.

When Dorothy followed the Sorceress into this delightful patio all the fifty girls were busily weaving, and their shuttles were filled with a sparkling green spun glass such as the little girl had never seen before.
And finally Glinda of Oz (1920) begins:
Glinda, the good Sorceress of Oz, sat in the grand court of her palace, surrounded by her maids of honor--a hundred of the most beautiful girls of the Fairyland of Oz. The palace court was built of rare marbles, exquisitely polished. Fountains tinkled musically here and there; the vast colonnade, open to the south, allowed the maidens, as they raised their heads from their embroideries, to gaze upon a vista of rose-hued fields and groves of trees bearing fruits or laden with sweet-scented flowers.

At times one of the girls would start a song, the others joining in the chorus, or one would rise and dance, gracefully swaying to the music of a harp played by a companion. And then Glinda smiled, glad to see her maids mixing play with work.
All three of these three descriptions state that Glinda’s handmaidens have been selected for their beauty; one says their “wit” and “sweet dispositions” were also criteria.

Some latter-day Oz authors give Glinda masculine companions. Jack Snow’s unsold short story “A Murder in Oz” says the handmaids are replaced by handsome giants at night. In her Seven Blue Mountains of Oz volumes, Melody Grandy finds a love interest for Glinda in a powerful sorcerer.

But according to Baum’s books, Glinda is interested in feminine beauty, and only feminine. That’s why I mentioned the sorceress in my posting on possible gay characters in children’s fantasies before 1997.

Now I don’t actually think that Glinda is interested in a love affair with anyone, female or male. I think she lives for knowledge, and to secure Oz from trouble. The bevy of beautiful young women around her, weaving cloth and dancing, seems to reflect not personal meaning but rather mythic overtones. Glinda’s handmaids recall the fates and muses, or bands of fairies. And, of course, chorus girls.


Charlotte said...

I've disliked Glinda intensely for years because of her cavalier, oppressive, high handed, etc. treatment of the Three Adepts, who were much more interesting characters. I bet her desire to control every smart, witty woman (who might be rivals) she can get her hands on is some deep rooted psychological problem, not because of her sexual preference.

That bit about mixing work and play also struck me as suspicious when I read it as a child. Not what I thought of as play.

J. L. Bell said...

Glinda is definitely a Woman Who Does Everything More Beautifully Than You.

But we have to be careful—she might read about us.