22 August 2023

Baum’s Contradictory Characters

In my Characters of Oz essay “A Good Man but a Bad Wizard?: The Shifting Moral Character of the Wizard of Oz,” I took the opportunity to talk about L. Frank Baum’s successful characterizations in general:
Baum built most of his best characters around contradictions. Ozma looks and plays like a young girl, but she is a dedicated monarch and, later books say, a powerful fairy. The Scarecrow and the Patchwork Girls are literally dummies made of cloth, straw, and cotton, yet they are among the most intelligent people in Oz. The Tin Woodman is metallic but warm-hearted. The Shaggy Man is a hobo proud of his ragged appearance. Jack Pumpkinhead is a tall man with the mind of a child. Tik-Tok the robot is utterly reliable and liable to run down at any moment. Even Dorothy is a paradox, a simple little girl who spends most of the first books in the series deposing one ruler after another like Napoleon sweeping through Europe.

Resolving those paradoxes, Baum came to understand, rendered the characters far less interesting. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz settled the contradiction inherent in the personality of the Cowardly Lion by dosing him with courage, leaving him as a stereotypically brave lion ruling the forest. That character was no longer as compelling, and he had no role in the next book. When Baum brought the Lion back in Ozma of Oz, the first thing the character says is to assure Dorothy and readers that he’s “As cowardly as ever.”
(That’s my original text. The printed page says, “Tik-Tok the robot is utterly unreliable,” shifting the contradictory fulcrum within the sentence by a couple of words. I’d never want to call Tik-Tok that when he could hear me—i.e., when he’s wound up. It’s not his fault that other people neglect to wind him.)

Of course, in the essay I then had to tackle why Baum resolved the interesting contradiction he originally built into the character of the humbug wizard by making him a real wizard. And does that make the Wizard uninteresting?

15 August 2023

“Dorothy the Conqueror” Now Online

Back in 2005, the International Wizard of Oz Club’s journal, The Baum Bugle, published my article “Dorothy the Conqueror.”

It discussed the character of Dorothy Gale as L. Frank Baum developed her, from a little girl who called herself “small and meek” into a bold adventurer. That boldness had always been part of her character, but after her first trip to Oz she knew it. By the end of Baum’s series, she was happy to set out for unknown parts of Oz because “all excitement is fun.”

The article also points out ways that the MGM movie’s treatment of Dorothy doesn’t reflect that character, especially in her baffling speeches at the end.

The Oz Club has now made the text of “Dorothy the Conqueror” available for anyone to read through this webpage. It even comes with citations in both Chicago and MLA style.