Wednesday, December 12, 2012
A Witchy-Washy Weakness
When talking of weaknesses in works of fiction, one example that obviously comes to my mind is the Wicked Witch of the West and her aversion to water. While L. Frank Baum only mentions this weakness in conjunction with this one particular Witch, Ruth Plumly Thompson seemed to think it was typical. In The Lost King of Oz, Mombi says that "water is death and destruction to all witches," and indeed she is destroyed with water at the end. As some recent Oziana stories indicate, however, not every historian buys that the execution actually took place. In the same book, Mombi drinks coffee and refers pretty casually to rain. Rachel Cosgrove Payes wrote in Wicked Witch about how a river nymph made Singra immune to water; I understand this bit was added in at editor Fred Meyer's behest. It's not entirely clear what the rules are here. Does water only melt wicked witches? Only witches of a certain type, perhaps because they extended their lifespans with a particular sort of magic? It's never totally clear. Neither is how someone can avoid water for even a normal lifespan, let alone one lengthened by magic. In the Futurama parody of The Wizard of Oz, Mom plays the Wicked Witch of West, and she puts it quite well: "Who would have thought a tiny amount of liquid would ever fall on me?" Then, when Leela tries to take her place, she's immediately taken out by an overflowing toilet. It's one thing to keep away from wells and bathtubs (although you'd think witches would end of being awfully smelly), but rain can come up pretty suddenly. Maybe witches who are susceptible to water have some form of weather control magic. And as we see in the very first Oz book, the water-soluble Witch allows her slave to access water for the purposes of cleaning and bathing. This issue is one that's been discussed quite frequently and thoroughly in Oz fandom, with no real conclusion forthcoming. As I indicated earlier, water might also be an effective weapon against certain dragons. This is again a Thompsonian invention, although it appears to be based on something in Baum. In Tik-Tok, the dragon Quox informs his companions that his kind have fires inside of them that keep them going and presumably never burn out under normal circumstances. Grampa seems to run with this idea by having a dragon named Enorma die when her flame is extinguished by an icy stream. And Dismocolese, the dragon in Enchanted Island, is afraid of water. The list continues with the Ogre of Oh-Go-Wan in one of Thompson's King Kojo stories. These aren't Oz stories, but they're similar in tone and could easily take place in the same world as the more famous fairyland. In this tale, the ogre dissolves in the ocean. This is presumably not the same ogre as Og from Pirates, who also identifies himself as the Ogre of Ogowan (note different spelling, however), and lives on a small island. While water might not be effective against all ogres, or indeed all witches or dragons, it really strikes me that an Oz explorer's first move upon encountering an enemy should pretty much always be throwing water at him or her. Well, maybe not if they're made of water, because then it would probably just strengthen them.