Saturday, January 03, 2009

Religion in Oz

A religion is a set of stories, symbols, beliefs and practices, often with a supernatural quality, that give meaning to the practitioner's experiences of life through reference to an ultimate power or reality.

All right, people said last month that they thought Oz had a religion. I must ask now where it is.

In L. Frank Baum's Oz books (I'm not evaluating the whole Famous 40, just Baum's work), we never see a church or a place of worship or temple, with the exception of a china church that the Cowardly Lion breaks in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in the brief misadventure in the Dainty China Country.

After reading over Baum's life, I believe he was unsatisfied with organized religions. He and his wife registered as Theosophists, though how firmly Baum held to these beliefs is up in the air. Certainly we see some of it in his writings, mainly that everything has a fairy guardian or some magical being connected to it. In "Laura Bancroft"'s Twinkle's Enchantment, we even find a live rock.

My personal opinion about Baum's beliefs in his works is that he was entertaining his audience, not preaching to them. He even let his own sons choose to believe what they wanted, instead of forcing his beliefs on them. Really, I begin to think that Baum may very well have been closer to being Agnostic.

In Oz, it seems we do have a goddess of sorts, as Lurline the Fairy Queen is credited with making Oz a fairyland and making people live forever. But while Lurline is known in Oz, and likely respected, we are never given any indication that anyone worships or prays to her. Here we do have one aspect of religion: there are stories about Lurline in Oz.

As for symbols, Baum never mentions such an item in his text. Neill's Oz insignia (the famous Z enclosed in an O) comes to mind, but Baum never designed it. (In fact, it's earliest appearance in Ozma of Oz contradicts how Baum describes it.)

Now, as for beliefs, we're not told that anyone in Oz doesn't believe in Lurline or fairy magic. For them, magic is commonplace, and they have Ozma (who says she was part of Lurline's band) to remind them of Lurline's existence. While they do believe in Lurline, very much it is believing she exists. It's similar to believing someone you've only e-mailed once or twice exists.

As for practices, we are never told that there are any practices people in Oz do to please Lurline or become closer to her. We are told of practice in magic, which could be interpreted as religious acts, including rites (motions and magic words) during the act. I rather feel that this is to accomplish something rather than a religious act, but I also feel this is up for personal interpretation.

Just as there are no churches or places of worship in the Oz series, we are never told that Ozma or Glinda (or anyone else) do obeisance to Lurline or any other higher power or deity. The closest Baum had to mentioning God in any of his Oz or Oz-related books is a "Great Master" in The Life And Adventures of Santa Claus, and this character, whether it is God or someone else, is only briefly mentioned.

Really, I don't think Oz has a religion, but rather a belief system where they believe that there are powerful forces in the world.

Honestly, I don't think they need religion in Oz. Everyone is allowed to live as they please (as long as they don't hurt anyone else), and they're all well-provided for and they live forever. What would be the point of hoping for something else?

By the way, this whole blog entry is solely my opinion, I have not spoken with anyone else on this matter, and as such, is my own interpretation on Baum's fantasy world. My views here are open and very debatable.


Aaron Solomon Adelman said...

I'm not so sure Oz is so religionless. What is covered is for the most part relevant to the art of telling stories. As such, many aspects of life in Oz are described incompletely or not at all. E.g., we have only vague ideas of what agriculture is like in Oz, primarily because the details of growing banjo trees are rarely, if ever, relevant to plots. Also what gets left out are matters which may be considered controversial or inappropriate for children. E.g., there are babies born in Oz, but never, ever in any of the Famous Forty is there any discussion of the, shall we say, technique normally used to produce them which presumably happens despite being ignored by Baum and company. Religion is a subject which is frequently controversial, and Baum and company may have simply not wanted to deal with the complications discussing it might produce.

Actually, there are a few traces of religion in core Oz writings. A china church is accidentally destroyed by the Cowardly Lion in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Anko in The Sea Fairies claims to have known a few people from the Hebrew Bible. There is talk of a Supreme Master in The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. There is a seer living in an extensible tower in The Giant Horse of Oz, and one of the Wizard of Wutz's agents disguises himself as a monk in Handy Mandy in Oz. Apparently there is religious activity going on "off-camera" in Oz and the surrounding areas, though how common it is and what its nature is is an open question.

As for the idea of there being no "need" for religion in Oz, I must beg to differ with you on what one might term philosophy of religion. While I recognize that religion often has practical benefits, as a religious man, I have never seen them as anything but peripheral. Rather, I have increasingly viewed religion to be primarily about truth; religious people seek the truth (or believe they already have it), try to live by it, and (if necessary) die by it. Granted in Oz the need for certain activities would be lessened or absent, but as long as knowledge remains imperfect, the quest for the truth remains, and even if our knowledge were somehow to become perfect, the need to act in accordance with the truth would still remain.


Anonymous said...

How can religion be about truth?
Someone could maybe explain that to me.

See, religion tends to ruin things by its scare tactics and out of date, old thinking.

I'm glad Baum doged mostly arouund the subject.

Aaron Solomon Adelman said...

"How can religion be about truth?
Someone could maybe explain that to me."

How can religion not be about truth? Religion is not a game or a mere social activity. When serious, people participate in religion because they actually believe in it. One can argue whether any religion is correct—many people do, including myself—but anyone willingly living their life in accordance with a religion is doing (or trying to do) what he/she believes is the correct thing to do. What else would you think they would be doing?

"See, religion tends to ruin things by its scare tactics and out of date, old thinking."

What do you mean by that? No one scared me into being religious, and I do not believe in a god who would condemn people to eternal torment for nothing other than not believing in Him. I do not see how my life has been made worse in any way due to religion; indeed, there are good deeds I might not have bothered doing had it not been for religion. And "old" is not a bad thing in thinking; people have been seeking the truth and trying to live better lives for all of recorded human history—at least—and going down all sorts of paths in their efforts to do so. Can seeking truth and morality be "out of date"? If so, then let me be the most "out of date" person on the planet!


Oz RPG said...

Don't forget the difference between believing and knowing. A big part of most religions is the idea that you have to take certain things on faith.

But most denizens of Oz know. They don't need to believe that Lurline exists, because they know this to be true. Some of them, like the Flatheads, even had dealing with her while she was in Oz.

Using magic is not an act of faith, but an act of knowledge. Glinda uses her understanding of how things work to cast her spells.

Likewise, the fairy denizens of Oz do not seek worship. If you want a knook or ryll to do your bidding, it is a negotiation, just like requesting a favor from a Loon or a Bunn.

Nathan said...

The fact that Ozites don't die might mean there's no need to believe in an afterlife. Of course, that's only one aspect of religion.

Anonymous said...

For me it's out of date and useless.
I'm happy for anyone who finds religion beneficial.

I have huge problems with the countless bible contradictions, and generally, I don't need religion in my life.

Anonymous said...

By the way Jared, It's an interesting post you have here and I enjoyed reading it.

Anonymous said...

I think that Baum believed in some sort of deity, as he wrote to his son serving in Europe in 1918 that "God was on our side" (I'm paraphrasing). Excatly what his concept was I don't know, and one cannot assume that his beliefs expressed in 1890 remained conistent afterwards.