17 July 2012

Queen by the Color of Her Skin

A week ago, I quoted the passage from Sky Island in which L. Frank Baum revealed how the Queen of the Pink Country must live in poverty in exchange for her authority. But how does one become queen?

A later chapter explores that aspect of the country’s governance. As the Pinkies plan to toss our heroes off the island because “They do not harmonize with our color scheme,” Polychrome the Rainbow’s Daughter (introduced in The Road to Oz) arrives and starts to research their laws:

Polychrome began turning over the leaves, while the others all watched her anxiously and in silence. “Here,” she said presently, “is a Law which reads as follows: ‘Everyone in the Pink Country is entitled to the protection of the Ruler and to a house and a good living, except only the Blueskins. If any of the natives of the Blue Country should ever break through the Fog Bank, they must be driven back with sharp sticks.’ Have you read this Law, Tourmaline?”

“Yes,” said the Queen, “but how does that apply to these strangers?”

“Why, being in the Pink Country, as they surely are, and not being Blueskins, they are by this Law entitled to protection, to a home and good living. The Law does not say ‘Pinkies,’ it says any who are in the Pink Country.” . . .

“I am indeed relieved to have you interpret the Law in this way,” declared Tourmaline. “I knew it was cruel to throw these poor people over the edge, but that seemed to us the only thing to be done.”

“It was cruel and unjust,” answered Polychrome as sternly as her sweet voice could speak. “But here,” she added, for she had still continued to turn the leaves of the Great Book, “is another Law which you have also overlooked. It says, ‘The person, whether man or woman, boy or girl, living in the Pink Country who has the lightest skin shall be the Ruler—King or Queen—as long as he or she lives, unless someone of a lighter skin is found, and this Ruler’s commands all the people must obey.’ Do you know this Law?”

“Oh yes,” replied Tourmaline. “That is why I am the Queen. You will notice my complexion is of a lighter pink than that of any other of my people.”

“Yes,” remarked Polychrome, looking at her critically, “when you were made Queen without doubt you had the lightest-colored skin in all the Pink Country. But now you are no longer Queen of the Pinkies, Tourmaline.”

Those assembled were so startled by this statement that they gazed at the Rainbow’s Daughter in astonishment for a time. Then Tourmaline asked, “Why not, your Highness?”

“Because here is one lighter in color than yourself,” pointing to Trot. “This girl is, by the Law of the Great Book, the rightful Queen of the Pinkies, and as loyal citizens you are all obliged to obey her commands. Give me that circlet from your brow, Tourmaline.” Without hesitation Tourmaline removed the rose-gold circlet with its glittering jewel and handed it to Polychrome, who turned and placed it upon Trot's brow. Then she called in a loud, imperative voice, “Greet your new Queen, Pinkies!”
Trot Griffith thus follows Dorothy Gale in overturning the governments of about half the countries she visits. And she becomes queen herself, not simply putting one of her companions on the throne.

But, as last week’s extract showed, it’s a hard life being Queen of the Pinkies.

COMING UP: Queen Trot’s reforms.

(Incidentally, Baum’s incomplete sentence in the last paragraph above was itself mistranscribed in the electronic text of Sky Island that circulated since at least 2003 and is the basis of some reprints. The line is corrected in the latest Project Gutenberg text released on 15 Mar 2012.)

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