23 August 2011

Knitting Needles in Oz

The September/October 2011 issue of Piecework magazine (current link here, but it won’t last) has the theme of “needlework in literature.” Among the knitting and crochet patterns tied ever so gently to books is Joanna Johnson’s “Jinjur’s Jumper,” accompanied by an article on that character from L. Frank Baum’s The Marvelous Land of Oz.

I’m sorry to say that Johnson’s dress pattern isn’t designed like the outfit that General Jinjur and her soldiers wore in John R. Neill’s illustrations, one of which accompanies the article and another of which appears below. Nonetheless, it’s rooted in Victorian style, pretty, and impressively seamless.

The magazine’s little model for that dress wears a knitting needle in her hair, as Jinjur’s soldiers did. They used those sharp sticks to attack men who tried to stop their conquest of Oz. But knitting needles proved no match for the spears and swords of Glinda’s army.

While Baum never shows Jinjur or her soldiers actually knitting, he depicts a number of other female characters doing so:
  • Mme. Grogrande in John Dough and the Cherub.
  • Grandmother Gnit (of course) of the Fuddlecumjigs in The Emerald City of Oz.
  • Trot’s mother in Sea Fairies and Sky Island.
  • Reera the Red, a reclusive and powerful magic-worker, in Glinda of Oz.
There’s something magical about knitting and crochet—taking a cord that seems one-dimensional and producing something two- or three-dimensional out of it.

Johnson’s article provides a brief introduction to Baum, his Oz books, and his support for women’s suffrage. It unfortunately repeats a myth that he and artist W. W. Denslow struggled to find a publisher for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: “nearly every publisher in Chicago refused the book initially because of its fantastic subject matter and extensive color plates, which were very expensive to print.” Really?

In fact, as Michael Patrick Hearn traces in The Annotated Wizard of Oz, Baum completed his first draft on 9 Oct 1899; he preserved his pencil with the date. By that time, Baum and Denslow’s Father Goose was a big hit, and the Geo. M. Hill Company had an option on their next book.

That small publisher asked the team to pay for the color plates and cover dies—not uncommon terms at the time. Baum and Denslow agreed, and they signed a publishing contract on 16 November. Less than six weeks passed between complete draft and contract, and I know of no evidence that the creators even spoke to other publishers.

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