08 January 2013

Prince Bobo’s Place in Nature

This is the frontispiece from Thomas Huxley’s Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature (1863). It shows the skeletons of four apes and a human being.

Huxley’s point was that these skeletons had so much in common that they showed a common ancestry. However, it was easy for Englishmen, reading left to right, to view this lineup as the track of evolution itself rather than the present state of five parallel species. (In other words, to come away with the understanding that the human was supposed to have evolved from the gorilla rather than the human and gorilla having a common ancestor in the past.)

For an article in progress, I’m wondering whether I can make the case that that illustration inspired this lineup of characters drawn by John R. Neill in Rinkitink in Oz (1916).

These drawings show the series of transformations that Glinda performs to ***SPOILER*** turn Bilbil the Goat back into his rightful form as Prince Bobo of Boboland.

In that scene L. Frank Baum defined the Tottenhot as “a lower form of man,” closest to animals, echoing a racist western belief about the “Hottentots” almost two centuries old by that point. That idea connects to the medieval concept of the Great Chain of Being. But did it also link, perhaps by parody, to the late Victorian understanding of human evolution?

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