20 September 2011

Dubious Monarchy in the Work of L. Frank Baum

Last week I discussed the penchant of children’s fantasy for depicting monarchies instead of other forms of government. Such books show bad rulers as a source of societal unhappiness, but usually portray the solution as installing or restoring good rulers rather than, say, establishing democratically chosen legislatures and respect for individual rights.

L. Frank Baum’s books fit this pattern, in that most of his little societies are monarchies and few are republics. The most famous, Oz, is a benevolent dictatorship, with young Princess Ozma owning all goods, maintaining a monopoly on magic, and with Glinda keeping tabs on everyone through their Great Book of Records and Magic Picture.

But Baum he also tends to poke fun at monarchies by lampooning how rulers come to power. In Queen Zixi of Ix, young Bud becomes king of Noland simply because he’s the 47th person to enter the capital city one day. Among the Pinks of Sky Island, the woman with the palest skin is made queen—but in return she has to live in the worst house.

Other rulers, good and bad, have taken on different titles. The boss of Flathead Mountain calls himself the Su-Dic, short for “Supreme Dictator.” The Boolooroo bosses the Blues on Sky Island. And the High Coco-Lorum of Thi explains in The Lost Princess of Oz:
“In reality, I am the King, but the people don’t know it. They think they rule themselves, but the fact is I have everything my own way. No one else knows anything about our laws, and so I make the laws to suit myself. If any oppose me, or question my acts, I tell them it’s the law, and that settles it. If I called myself King, however, and wore a crown and lived in royal state, the people would not like me, and might do me harm.”
Though Baum occasionally showed hereditary dynasties being restored (most notably in the case of Ozma), more often he portrayed populations choosing their rulers:
  • Before the events of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the Wizard became ruler of the Emerald City because the initials on his runaway balloon made people think that he was linked to the country. 
  • At the end of that book, the Winkies choose the Tin Woodman to rule them because he seems kind and shiny. 
  • In Hiland and Loland, a population divided between tall thin people and short round people can agree on only one person as their king: a gingerbread man who appears out of the sky one day.
My favorite example of such a scene comes at the end of the long Jinxland episode in The Scarecrow of Oz, which swirls together hereditary monarchy, democracy, feminism, and true love:
When all were assembled, the Scarecrow stood up and made a speech. He told how Gloria’s father, the good King Kynd, who had once ruled them and been loved by everyone, had been destroyed by King Phearce, the father of Pon, and how King Phearce had been destroyed by King Krewl. This last King had been a bad ruler, as they knew very well, and the Scarecrow declared that the only one in all Jinxland who had the right to sit upon the throne was Princess Gloria, the daughter of King Kynd.

”But,” he added, “it is not for me, a stranger, to say who shall rule you. You must decide for yourselves, or you will not be content. So choose now who shall be your future ruler.”

And they all shouted: “The Scarecrow! The Scarecrow shall rule us!”

Which proved that the stuffed man had made himself very popular by his conquest of King Krewl, and the people thought they would like him for their King. But the Scarecrow shook his head so vigorously that it became loose, and Trot had to pin it firmly to his body again. a ”No,” said he, “I belong in the Land of Oz, where I am the humble servant of the lovely girl who rules us all — the royal Ozma. You must choose one of your own inhabitants to rule over Jinxland. Who shall it be?”

They hesitated for a moment, and some few cried: “Pon!” but many more shouted: “Gloria!”

So the Scarecrow took Gloria’s hand and led her to the throne, where he first seated her and then took the glittering crown off his own head and placed it upon that of the young lady, where it nestled prettily amongst her soft curls. The people cheered and shouted then, kneeling before their new Queen; but Gloria leaned down and took Pon’s hand in both her own and raised him to the seat beside her.

”You shall have both a King and a Queen to care for you and to protect you, my dear subjects,” she said in a sweet voice, while her face glowed with happiness; “for Pon was a King’s son before he became a gardener’s boy, and because I love him he is to be my Royal Consort.”

That pleased them all, especially Pon, who realized that this was the most important moment of his life. Trot and Button-Bright and Cap’n Bill all congratulated him on winning the beautiful Gloria; but the Ork sneezed twice and said that in his opinion the young lady might have done better.
Even though Jinxland ends up as a small hereditary monarchy within a larger one, one could hardly say this scene is a ringing endorsement of the divine right of kings.

1 comment:

Nathan said...

"Boolooroo" is apparently a place in Australia. I have to wonder if Baum knew that, or it was just a coincidence.