Cross-posted from here.
A personal favorite Oz character is Handy Mandy, from the book that bears her name. She’s a fun character, impulsive but also quick-thinking when necessary, with a distinct speech pattern. Oh, and she also has seven arms. Her old home was Mount Mern, a peak to the east of Oz where everyone shares that odd trait. In addition to the great number of arms, they also have hands made of various materials. One is made of iron, one of leather, one of wood, two of rubber, and the other two of ordinary flesh. Mandy is an orphan girl who herds goats for a living. Her exact age isn’t given, but she claims that she’s been taking care of herself and a flock of goats for ten years, so she’s probably a teenager by our standards. I was fifteen when I first read the book, and I imagined her being around my age.
Mandy’s adventure begins when a geyser erupts under the rock where she’s standing, sending her soaring through the air to Oz. She finally lands in Keretaria, a small kingdom in the northern Munchkin Country. At the time, Keretaria is ruled by a man who calls himself King Kerr, the uncle of the previous king, Kerry. I don’t think Kerry had any Swift Boat Veterans for Truth criticizing him, but he came by even more trouble in being kidnapped and replaced with a secret agent of the Wizard of Wutz. Agent Number Nine probably wasn’t really Kerry’s uncle, but he made that claim to make the transition easier for the Keretarians. In truth, he’d made a deal with the real ruler, the Wicked Witch Wunchie, who controlled the monarchs by means of white oxen. She started a prophecy that a king would only rule as long as his Royal Ox was in good health, and when a ruler displeased her, she would kill off both the ox and the king. Seems a bit overly complicated, but Wunchie must have had a flair for the mythological symbolism. For some reason, however, her slave Himself the Elf was able to just stun Kerry’s Royal Ox Boz, and when Kerr was crowned, the people assumed Boz was a different ox, and named him Nox. It’s Mandy who convinces the pompous and grumpy Nox to look for the missing Kerry. Even Ruth Plumly Thompson herself admits that Nox is a lot like Kabumpo in his personality, but he’s more reluctant and timid than the Elegant Elephant. Is there any significance to either of the ox’s names? I believe “Boz” was a pseudonym for Charles Dickens (Jack Snow suggests in the introduction to Who’s Who that it might have inspired the name “Oz” in the first place), and “Nox” is Latin for “night.” Thompson might have also been thinking of Knox Gelatin. Really, though, I think it’s mostly likely that she just chose short names that rhymed with “Oz” and “ox.” The author presumably forgot about Nox’s earlier name, as when they rescue Kerry (yeah, that’s a spoiler, but did you really expect that they wouldn’t?), he refers to the ox as Nox. The book as a whole is a bit sloppy; Thompson was never the most careful writer, and she was really only still writing Oz books as this point for the money. Still, Handy Mandy, for all its flaws, remains a favorite of mine, due largely to Mandy herself.
Incidentally, Thompson’s short story “Seeress of Saucerville” features a character similar to Mandy in some ways, including her appearance and the fact that she herds goats. Sally has red hair instead of blonde and only two arms, however. Also, she’s able to read fortunes in tea leaves. I like the idea that the two of them might be related, although I’m not sure how. I wonder if seven arms is a dominant or a recessive trait. Also, I’m somewhat annoyed that there’s now a children’s show called Handy Manny, because I’m sure everyone will now think of that when I mention the Mernite.