17 March 2008

Allusions to Oz

This week I plan to bolster up the Oz side of "Oz and Ends" with a few postings on L. Frank Baum's century-old fantasy series and its cultural legacy.

As a fan of the books more than the now-better-known MGM movie, I'm always pleased to see allusions to Oz that reflect literary rather than cinematic knowledge. Sometimes it's not so clear, however. Carrie Hedges of the International Wizard of Oz Club board passed on this reference:

In a United States Supreme Court case, Cleveland Bd. of Educ. v. Reed, 445 U.S. 935, 938, 100 S.Ct. 1329, 1331 (1980), Justice Rehnquist wrote in dissent: "Even if the Constitution required it, and it were possible for federal courts to do it, no equitable decree can fashion an 'Emerald City' where all races, ethnic groups, and persons of various income levels live side by side in a large metropolitan area."
It would be nice to believe that the Justice was alluding to the Emerald City under Princess Ozma, which is indeed home to a wide assortment of different types of people (straw, wooden, cotton, meat, fairy princess raised as mortal boy, immigrant Americans, etc., etc.). As Marc Berezin noted in an essay on Frankensteinia, even Dr. Frankenstein's creature might find the Emerald City to be a hospitable home.

However, I can't help but suspect that Rehnquist was merely using "Emerald City" as American shorthand for a city he believed never did and never could exist. He did, after all, get his political start by enforcing literacy tests on black and Latino voters in Arizona, and bought houses with racist restrictive covenants. The notion of an "Emerald City" of equality and tolerance would likely have struck him as a fantasy rather than a social goal. (Photo of Rehnquist in 1971 courtesy of the New York Times.)

On the other hand, writer Peter David offered a knowledgeable reference to the Oz series in his Writing for Comics handbook:
Why hadn't Lockjaw [a dog in the Fantastic Four comic] said a word in the past thirty-some years? Like Toto, who it turned out was perfectly capable of speech while in Oz, he just hadn't had all that much to say.
TOMORROW: The scene from Tik-Tok of Oz that David alluded to.

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