Friday, July 08, 2011

Dee-scovery Is Our Aim and Purpose

Cross-posted from here.

One line in Grampa in Oz that never really rang true for me was when Prince Tatters meets Dorothy, and asks if she's "[t]he Dorothy who discovered Oz." Since Tatters is a native of Oz, however, this makes about as much sense as Squanto saying that Columbus discovered America. Besides, Dorothy wasn't even the first American to visit Oz, as we know the Wizard arrived there years before her. It's basically a Eurocentric view adapted to a fairyland, and it unfortunately was a bit of a trend with Ruth Plumly Thompson. This can be seen even more in Captain Salt, in which the conceit of the main characters is that they will bring civilization to savages by bringing them under the control of Oz. While some of the local rulers they encounter, like Prince Alberif of Peakenspire, are fine with this arrangement, others aren't so keen on it. In fact, the first island the crew comes to is Lavaland, where the inhabitants are volcano dwellers who don't even speak the same language. Roger the Read Bird plants an iron Oz flag there and claims the land for Oz, then Captain Salt decides to name it Salamander Island despite the fact that Thompson had earlier referred to it as Lavaland Island. Later, Roger dismisses Ozamaland because "it's not even been discovered," a quite ethnocentric view on his part. In fairness, he seems to be saying this mostly to get Tandy to be less of an obnoxious snob, and the argument DOES seem to affect the boy, despite its obvious flaws. Besides, it could perhaps be argued that in a global society, a country that doesn't maintain ties with other nations is only hurting itself. It's questionable as to whether the Ozian world (however you define it) IS a global society, but Thompson seems to be inching in that direction in this book. L. Frank Baum always presented Oz as largely isolated even from its neighboring fairylands. In Road, Ozma establishes friendly ties with many of the neighbors, but she apparently discards this idea in the very next book. She establishes some new ties in the Thompson books, however, and not only does Captain Salt have Ozma establishing an overseas empire (or at least Salt establishing one in her name; Oz fans nowadays tend to prefer the idea that she never actually forced her rule on anyone outside her own land), but the Captain also states, "I hear the Wizard of Oz is working on a new fleet of airships, that will make crossing the desert and Nonestic a real lark." These airships are actually introduced a few books later in Ozoplaning, but there's no indication as to whether the Ozites use them to travel to and from the lands beyond the desert. I'm a bit torn on the question of whether the Nonestic world should become more of an international society and Oz maintain closer relations with its neighbors. It strikes me that easy transportation over the Deadly Desert could make things too easy, but I also think Oz would likely maintain some level of trade with other countries in the area. One question that comes to mind is whether an easy desert crossing would result in massive immigration to Oz, but I suppose Ozma could regulate this to some degree. There are always going to be some determined outsiders who manage to find a way across the desert, and Ozma doesn't seem hard-hearted enough to kick them back out again, with the exception of the Mifkit in Scalawagons. I can't see Oz ever being a place that openly welcomes the huddled masses longing to breathe free, though. I see Ozma's opinion about overpopulation as expressed at the end of Tik-Tok as still standing.

Getting back to Thompson and her Outside-World-centrism, it bothers me when she refers to our world as "real," sometimes even putting this wording is the mouths of Nonestican natives. I think Baum presented Oz as no more or less real than any other place on Earth (and yes, within the Baum books, Oz is indeed viewed as being on our Earth), while Thompson was more careless in this respect. Also, while Baum billed Oz as an American fairyland, his books never came close to the nationalism shown in Thompson's Yankee. This book WAS somewhat of a special case, being written during the Cold War as it was, but I see hints of Thompson's pro-unfairyland bias in her earlier works as well. I can't help but think it spoils the fantasy somewhat.

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