Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A "Road" Thought and a Little Trivia

Anyone notice these two differing passages in The Road to Oz?

They came to a house where two youthful donkeys were whitewashing the wall, and Dorothy stopped a moment to watch them. They dipped the ends of their tails, which were much like paint-brushes, into a pail of whitewash, backed up against the house, and wagged their tails right and left until the whitewash was rubbed on the wall, after which they dipped these funny brushes in the pail again and repeated the performance.

"That must be fun," said Button-Bright.

"No, it's work," replied the old donkey; "but we make our youngsters do all the whitewashing, to keep them out of mischief."


Okay, here, Baum establishes the common concept of work: it's not fun, and makes a great punishment or solution to avoid punishment. Note that these are the so-called "Wise Donkeys" of Dunkiton.

Later in the same book, we find this passage:

The shaggy man was fairly astounded at what he saw, for the graceful and handsome buildings were covered with plates of gold and set with emeralds so splendid and valuable that in any other part of the world any one of them would have been worth a fortune to its owner. The sidewalks were superb marble slabs polished as smooth as glass, and the curbs that separated the walks from the broad street were also set thick with clustered emeralds. There were many people on these walks--men, women and children--all dressed in handsome garments of silk or satin or velvet, with beautiful jewels. Better even than this: all seemed happy and contented, for their faces were smiling and free from care, and music and laughter might be heard on every side.

"Don't they work at all?" asked the shaggy man.

"To be sure they work," replied the Tin Woodman; "this fair city could not be built or cared for without labor, nor could the fruit and vegetables and other food be provided for the inhabitants to eat. But no one works more than half his time, and the people of Oz enjoy their labors as much as they do their play."


Here Baum refutes what the Donkeys believe: work can be fun, it is necessary, and can be balanced.

Baum was never against working, in fact, in Glinda of Oz, Ozma states the importance of work once again:

...Dorothy wished in her kindly, innocent heart that all men and women could be fairies with silver wands and satisfy all their needs without so much work and worry, for then, she imagined, they would have all their working hours to be happy in. But Ozma, looking into her friend's face and reading those thoughts, gave a laugh and said, "No, no, Dorothy, that wouldn't do at all. Instead of happiness, your plan would bring weariness to the world. If everyone would wave a wand and have his wants fulfilled, there would be little to wish for. There would be no eager striving to obtain the difficult, for nothing would then be difficult, and the pleasure of earning something longed for and only to be secured by hard work and careful thought would be utterly lost. There would be nothing to do, you see, and no interest in life and in our fellow creatures. That is all that makes life worth our while--to do good deeds and to help those less fortunate than ourselves."

Work appears in other Baum books, my favorite quotes coming from the obscure Annabel:

"Hush, my daughter," said Mr. Williams, with unaccustomed severity. "You must not criticise mamma's actions, for she loves you all and tries to act for your best good. But it's nothing against Will Carden to be a vegetable boy, you know. How old is he?"

"About sixteen, I think," said Mary Louise.

"Well, when I was his age," continued Mr. Williams, "I was shovelling coal in a smelting furnace."

"That isn't as respectable as being a vegetable boy, is it?" asked Theodore, gravely.

"Both callings are respectable, if they enable one to earn an honest livelihood," returned his father, with a smile. "There is no disgrace at all in poverty. The only thing that hopelessly condemns a person is laziness or idle inaction."


And I think that's a nice place to close...

The trivia? Well, it seems, unless my father's research is flawed, that I have an X-sometime-great-uncle whose life was the basis of a movie, where he was played by Vincent Price. Apparently, he did not share Baum's work ethics... Anyone want to guess who it was?

7/16/2008 EDIT:
As no one has guessed the trivia answer, I will reveal it.

If my father's research was correct, my great-great (and maybe one or two more "great"s) uncle who was played by Vincent Price in the movie based on his life, was James Reavis, better known as "The Baron of Arizona." He forged documents claiming he owned most of the state of Arizona. He was discovered and jailed, then, after his release, became a drifter.

2 comments:

Oz RPG said...

There seems to be an unstated distinction between "busy-work" and work. The donkeys in Dunkiton were doing busy-work: It didn't produce anything useful and was there solely to keep them out of mischief. Your other examples are of work. The kind that produces something useful or at least enables you to do the things you want once you've earned your pay.

On the trivia: It wasn't "The Fly", was it? ;)

Jared said...

Good points.

Oh, no, it wasn't "The Fly." The movie in question was made before that.