Okay, earlier this week I reviewed The Dinamonster of Oz and complained that Kenneth Baum underestimated his father's creation in stating that the people of Oz ignored chemistry, electricity, and "modern science" in favor of magic. I stand by that.
In The Patchwork Girl of Oz, the Shaggy Man sings that "magic is a science." Now, "science" is kind of a broad term, really. Generally, it means a study of how certain things work. Already, you're likely seeing that Baum's studious Glinda and the Wizard are both examples of scientists if you consider magic a science.
Chemistry is a more scientifically advanced version of what was once called alchemy, which was considered magic. In The Patchwork Girl of Oz, we discover that some plants (seven leaf clovers) and even parts of animals (the Woozy's hairs and a wing of a yellow butterfly) contain magical elements. The thing to remember is that Dr. Pipt was still using an old form of magic, while Glinda has a remedy ready that does not require these specific ingredients. Apparently, Glinda's magic is much more advanced, meaning there have been some developments in magic in Oz.
In Glinda of Oz, we come across an advanced case of traditional science merged with magic in the submerged Skeezer City. Glinda, the Wizard, Ozma, and Dorothy discover that Queen Coo-ee-oh's magic sets into motion the machinery that raises and sinks the island and launches the submarine boats. This is accomplished through two old forms of magic: a magic word and a burning of a magic substance. Magic is science in Oz and it can operate technology. Magic words and substances react with the machines and make them operate, like electricity.
Baum also suggests the possibility of electric lights in Oz. He wisely doesn't come out and say "The lights were electric," but many homes and the Emerald City seem to be well-lit. In The Annotated Wizard of Oz, Michael Patrick Hearn suggests an electric light "as bright as the sun" may light the Wizard's throne room. Neill and Denslow do not show electric lights or any apparatus to turn them on or off, but in addition, few candles or lanterns are seen.
In Tik-Tok of Oz, Quox is given an electric light on his tail and one of the Ladies of Light is Electra, who represents electric lights. It is made perfectly clear here that electricity—and thus advancing technology—is part of this fairyland.
In The Road to Oz, we can see telephone lines outside of Jack Pumpkinhead's house, and in The Emerald City of Oz, a telephone is by Ozma in one picture. These are Neill's touches and not Baum's, but in Tik-Tok of Oz, Ozma and the Shaggy Man use small handheld devices to speak to each other while Ozma is in the Emerald City and the Shaggy Man is just above the Nome King's dominions. Not only does Oz have a phone service, it also has cell phones.
So, Oz wasn't keeping up with America's technology, it was actually far ahead of it.
Now, why doesn't this technology come into play in the Oz stories? Why can't Trot and Cap'n Bill whip out their cell phones when they're stuck on the Island of the Magic Flower and call Glinda or Ozma for help?
I think I have a very simple answer: the technology is there, but no one wants it.
If you view Oz as a whole history, now taking into account the entire Famous Forty, Thompson and Neill give us two big advancements in technology: the Ozoplanes and the Scalawagons. Oz has space ships and luxury cars. Ignoring changes in authors, by The Wonder City of Oz, an Ozoplane is grounded and being used as a (secondary?) home by Jack Pumpkinhead in the Emerald City. As soon as Lucky Bucky in Oz, use of Scalawagons seems to have dropped. And let's not forget what Shaggy, Ojo, Bungle, and the Woozy thought about Dr. Pipt's phonograph machine!
Why? Simply, the people of Oz prefer a simpler way of life, even if it does mean more work for them. Remember that these people don't die, so they got all the time in the world to kill and be set in their ways. Yes, a luxury Scalawagon might be more convenient, but it's not as much fun as adventuring down the yellow brick road. And frankly, the Ozoplanes seemed to have brought more trouble than good, likely shooting down their continued use.
I wouldn't be surprised if Oz has supercomputers and Ozma could keep an eye on what people say about her on the internet, but who wants the internet when you live in Oz?
So, was Baum's Oz ignorant of "modern science?" I say no. Magic is infused in their way of developing science and technology and the people in Oz are likely far ahead of us when it comes to technology, but a significant difference between Oz and America is that the people of Oz just are not interested in technology. Maybe someone who needs a special piece of equipment will be open to assistance, but most people just don't care about it. They have two good hands to work with, and that's what they feel like they need.
Princesses in Golden Dreams - Ruth Sanderson paints really nice fairies and princesses. She’s also really nice herself; we worked together on an SCBWI bookstore event this fall. There...