Wednesday, May 01, 2013

The Characters of Oz - Dorothy Gale

This is the first in a series of blogs about the characters of the Oz books. It will look at the characters as they are presented in the original books. As a writer of Oz fiction, I'll also be including some of my ideas about Oz canon as I see it in my work.
Probably the most important character in the Oz books is Dorothy. She's the first character introduced in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, her name being the first word of the first chapter.

Baum doesn't tell us much about Dorothy: she's a little orphaned girl who lives with her Uncle Henry and Aunt Em on a sun-baked farm in Kansas, with her little black dog Toto. Some estimate Dorothy to be as young as five in the first book, I find the age of eight to be much more believable. Eric Gjovaag points out text in the Famous Forty Oz books that lead us to believe that Dorothy is eleven by the time of The Emerald City of Oz, and thanks to Oz's anti-aging enchantment, she'll always be that age. I've worked out a timeline that makes a fair bit of sense that would have Dorothy as eight in Wonderful Wizard and eleven in Emerald City:
  • Age 8 - Dorothy has her first adventures in Oz in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. This happens mid to late spring and possibly into the summer as there are some unspecified periods of time in the book.
  • Age 9 - Dorothy doesn't return to Oz during this year, but Uncle Henry and Aunt Em send her to school. (Dorothy mentions her teacher in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz.) If Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz is counted as canon, the visits Dorothy makes with her friends occur during this year, making this year 1904. Otherwise, I would imagine this year as 1900.
  • Age 10 - During the late summer, Dorothy accompanies Uncle Henry on a trip to Australia (partly so she could see more of the world, and partly to help take care of Uncle Henry as they could not afford to hire someone to do this job). During the voyage she is washed overboard and has the adventures related in Ozma of Oz. She returns to Uncle Henry in about a month. In early to mid-autumn, Dorothy and Uncle Henry head back to America, Dorothy stopping to stay with some friends in San Francisco. Either in Australia or San Francisco, Dorothy acquires Eureka. Upon going to meet Uncle Henry at Hugson's Ranch, Dorothy, Eureka and Zeb are caught in an earthquake and experience the adventures in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. During these adventures, Uncle Henry returns to Kansas without Dorothy, who is later sent back to them by Ozma. Dorothy is back home in Kansas in time for winter and Christmas.
  • Age 11 - (I'm assuming Dorothy's birthday is in the spring.) During late summer, Dorothy meets the Shaggy Man and has the adventures related in The Road to Oz. In autumn, Uncle Henry defaults on his loan and the bank forecloses on the farm, Dorothy returning to Oz and asking Ozma to bring her family along as well, thus the plot of The Emerald City of Oz.
Baum doesn't define Dorothy's appearance in his text, leaving it open for interpretation. (Princess Langwidere calls Dorothy "Not exactly beautiful," so she isn't the prettiest girl, but she's very charming nonetheless.) He also doesn't make her a very nuanced character, but there is a very big reason for this: she is the audience surrogate.

If Dorothy was not going to serve the role of audience surrogate, Baum may as well have had the story begin in Oz itself and have some freak accident kill the Wicked Witch of the East and a little Munchkin girl takes the Silver Shoes away so they can't ever be misused. While this would have made for a fine story, it would not nearly be as interesting as experiencing a newcomer's look at Oz through Dorothy.

Baum isn't the only one to use a child's unexpected introduction to the world of fantasy to introduce the world: Lucy in The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe serves the same role in the first few chapters, and would the Harry Potter series work if we were expected to already be familiar with the Wizarding World? Using a sudden visitor makes it easy for the reader to be introduced to this world and it makes it easy for the writer to introduce this world.

What we do know about Dorothy is that she is quick-thinking (if rash at times), brave, very sympathetic and friendly, and quite devoted to her family.

Dorothy's family is a matter Baum discloses little about. Eric Gjovaag again explains what the books say and don't say on his online FAQ. I have my own backstory I've invented in which Uncle Henry (I gave him the last name Carpenter) is Dorothy's biological uncle who met Emily Stanton shortly after ending his service in the Civil War. (Which side was he on? Wouldn't you like to know...) Sometime later, they married, and Uncle Henry's sister Matilda later met Charles Gale, who she married.

Charles and Matilda had Dorothy, but he was soon stationed on the USS Maine, and was one of the men who was lost when it exploded in 1898. Matilda and Dorothy came to stay with Emily and Henry, but Matilda died afterward. (How exactly, I've never decided on.) A farmer who lived nearby visited shortly after (he was moving away, noting that he couldn't get anything to grow), and noting the sad little Dorothy, he gave her a puppy to keep as a pet. Dorothy of course named the puppy "Toto" and he soon became one of the few sources of joy in her life.

A bit of further characterization is that after Matilda's death, Uncle Henry distances himself emotionally from Dorothy, thinking that she might not like him because he feels he let her mother die. This is of course not the case, and it is only after Dorothy is swept away by the cyclone that Henry realizes that she never held a grudge against him. This is why Dorothy appears to have a closer relationship with Aunt Em in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Of course after Dorothy returns from Oz, she tells Aunt Em and Uncle Henry about it. I'd like to think that after she began attending school, she told some of the other children about her incredible adventures. Probably few believed her, but liked the stories anyway.

As a princess in Oz, Dorothy surprisingly maintains her innocent personality. Although she is proud of her title and position, she doesn't let it ruin her personality. She instead goes on adventures and missions for Ozma. In The Magical Mimics of Oz (and my Outsiders from Oz), Dorothy rather humbly accepts control of the Emerald City. She doesn't let power go to her head during these times (though Magical Mimics didn't give her a chance).

Overall, Dorothy represents the new American girl of the 20th century. She is self-reliant and resourceful herself, while still being an endearing little girl. This is what makes the character so appealing to readers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with your timeline. I always thought Dorothy was in Oz for about 3 months or so, in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I personally thought her to be no older than twelve. But I can also see why people would say Dorothy could be five years old. Denslow's illustrations do make Dorothy seem to be a chubby little girl about five or six years of age.