26 June 2013

“Tottenhots” in the Baum Bugle

The new issue of The Baum Bugle, which arrived today, includes my article “The Troublesome Tottenhots.” It discusses a set of people L. Frank Baum wrote about in The Patchwork Girl of Oz and briefly in Rinkitink in Oz whose name is obviously based on the “Hottentots” of southern Africa.

Most of the article explores how Baum didn’t just play on the Hottentot name but also invoked a centuries-old tradition in British and American thought that cast Hottentots as the lowest form of humanity, perhaps even a separate species. This article is the first time I’ve been able to cross-pollinate my Oz writing with my research on eighteenth-century history.

The last part of the essay discusses how Baum, despite building on racist stereotypes, also provides his Tottenhots with a voice and a place in Oz. I don’t think he was consciously arguing for racial equality and inclusion. Rather, he couldn’t help having his greatest strength as a writer, the ability to portray different points of view sympathetically, come through for the Tottenhots.

4 comments:

Glenn Ingersoll said...

As a kid I loved the Tottenhots. I thought Neil's drawing of the Tottenhot sticking its head out a trapdoor was rather ugly, and I recognized that there weren't any other people of color in Oz, but I thought the Tottenhots were pretty great for a superfluous little country.

I was puzzled by their place in the transformation hierarchy of goat to prince, but, after all, the goat was as fully sentient as the prince, so it must have been form only, right?, and a stork is 2-legged and tall, whereas a Tottenhot is 2-legged and short. Sorta plausible?

I rec'd the Bugle in today's mail. I look forward to reading your article, John.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks, Glenn! Given all the little countries in Oz insisting on living life their own way, I didn't think anything of the Tottenhots episode in Patchwork Girl until hearing that Books of Wonder chose not to reprint it as originally published. Words like "dusky," which had a racial overtone in 1913, went right over my head in 1973 or whenever I first read that book. The actual interchange between Dorothy and the Tottenhot spokesman is about as clear an expression of live-and-let-live as possible.

On the other hand, I did notice the racism in Rinkitink when I first read that book, probably a couple of years later. [No Rand McNally paperback.] The problem wasn't the jump from ostrich to Tottenhot, but how Baum described the jump from Tottenhot to Mifket as a great leap forward.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

I misremembered the transformation order, didn't I? Tottenhots and Mifkits are fairy creatures ... there's a hierarchy of fairy creatures with some more "advanced" than others? Yeah. That bit doesn't read well.

J. L. Bell said...

Both Tottenhots and Mifkets live in fairylands, but they don't seem to be inherently magical like Knooks or Ryls or whatever type of Fairy Lurline rules. In John Dough, furthermore, one of the Mifkets posits that he and the Arab villain have a common ancestor. Details like that haven't aged well.