Monday, June 04, 2012

Favoritism in Fairyland

I can't say I've had much success in spreading the good word of Oz. I've tried to get my wife interested, and she did read the first three books, but isn't a fan. She doesn't like fantasy much anyway, but when I asked her recently, she told me one thing that particularly bothered her was the unfairness. Oz is supposed to be utopian, yet it has haves and have-nots, and a system of cronyism that results in a cushy life for the elite in Ozma's palace.

So how does someone get into this life? As in the Great Outside World, it often involves being in the right place at the right time. For the most part, the protagonists in the series end up being offered homes in the palace or somewhere almost as nice, although some of them do refuse. And how do you become a protagonist? All too typically, it's based largely on connections. That said, it does seem a bit easier to make friends with Ozian celebrities than with movers and shakers in the mundane world. There's the potential for anyone in the country to run into Dorothy or the Scarecrow and make friends with them. And the protagonists do often perform major services for the kingdom, but that isn't strictly as necessary as just getting along with the established celebrities.

Do the characters living in luxury work? Well, some do. Many have positions at court, and even the ones who don't officially take part in Ozma's counsel meetings. This generally seems to be because they WANT to help out rather than because they have to in order to earn their keep, though. Similarly, we're assured that the working-class Ozites enjoy their lives and are quite comfortable. It's likely true that an Ozian farmer has an easier life than a mundane one, if only because the magical climate means growing crops is much easier, and it's uncommon for disaster to strike. Still, I have to wonder if any of the people who have to do manual labor for a living would prefer to hang out with the famous folk in the capital. In The Patchwork Girl of Oz, we're offered this exchange:
"In this country," remarked the Shaggy Man, "people live wherever our Ruler tells them to. It wouldn't do to have everyone live in the Emerald City, you know, for some must plow the land and raise grains and fruits and vegetables, while others chop wood in the forests, or fish in the rivers, or herd the sheep and the cattle."

"Poor things!" said Scraps.

"I'm not sure they are not happier than the city people," replied the Shaggy Man. "There's a freedom and independence in country life that not even the Emerald City can give one. I know that lots of the city people would like to get back to the land. The Scarecrow lives in the country, and so do the Tin Woodman and Jack Pumpkinhead; yet all three would be welcome to live in Ozma's palace if they cared to. Too much splendor becomes tiresome, you know."
Shaggy kind of contradicts himself here, because at first he says Ozma basically tells everyone what to do and where to live, then cites the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Jack as people who would rather live in the country. In all of these cases, however, they're living there because THEY want to, not because of any orders from Ozma. Mind you, these three are probably exceptions to most of the rules anyway, what with two of them being major players on the political scene even before Ozma took the throne, and the other being essentially her child.

Mari Ness writes of this dialogue: "Previous books had already shown that certain characters, thanks to their friendship with Ozma or by virtue of their uniqueness, were able to ditch the idea of work entirely, living in luxury surrounded by servants, but this is the first indication that Ozma is actually ordering the workforce around to ensure that the system works." Still, when do we see Ozma actually tell anyone they can't live where they want to? Indeed, despite Shaggy's warnings, Ozma gives all of the major players in this story who come from the poorer parts of the kingdom (Ojo, Unc Nunkie, Scraps, the Glass Cat, the Woozy, and possibly Dr. Pipt and his wife Margolotte, depending on your source) homes in or near the Emerald City. And while we see most of them pitching in during emergencies in future books, none of them really appear to work regular jobs after that. Indeed, the Patchwork Girl's willful laziness would become a plot point in some later stories. Not that Scraps, who requires nothing but some occasional stitching to remain functional, is getting fat on the blood of the working class. Still, I can see others being resentful of her being afforded a privileged status simply for being unusual and having connections.

Here's another bit where L. Frank Baum attempts to explain away what could easily be seen as unfairness, this time from Glinda:
Dorothy, resting herself at her fairy friend's command, and eating her dinner with unusual enjoyment, thought of the wonders of magic. If one were a fairy and knew the secret laws of nature and the mystic words and ceremonies that commanded those laws, then a simple wave of a silver wand would produce instantly all that men work hard and anxiously for through weary years. And 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 every one could 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."
Ness also comments on this, saying, "This might be just a tad more convincing if Ozma weren’t currently sheltering a group of people actively avoiding work. (We later see them happily working at a game of croquet.)" John Bell addresses much the same subject in John R. Neill's The Scalawagons of Oz, when he writes, " Even though Ozma, the Wizard, and others piously proclaim that everyone in the Emerald City must be diligent and useful, most of our favorites actually yearn to shirk work....Right after they scold the Bell-snickle, Dorothy and her girlfriends (even Jellia) choose to spend their afternoon trying on clothes [273]." So there does seem to be a general sense of unfairness, with some Ozites working so that others don't have to. It's still preferable to the way we do things here in the United States (we don't, for instance, see Ozma actively PREVENTING anyone from access to basic needs, and there doesn't appear to be an Ozian equivalent of Wall Street), but I could foresee a problem if a great many laborers marched on the Emerald City demanding the same magical and other luxuries afforded to Ozma's favorites. I don't know that I could even imagine how Ozma would deal with such a thing; with all the crises that face Oz throughout the series, we're generally assured that the majority of the people love Ozma and are content in their situations.

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