Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Characters of Oz - Nick Chopper, the Tin Woodman

 Of the three friends Dorothy met on the Yellow Brick Road, the most relatable was the Tin Woodman. While we could relate to all three, what set this one apart was that he was once human. The Scarecrow was not human, while the Cowardly Lion was an animal.

The Tin Woodman quickly makes his past clear: he was once a woodcutter named Nick Chopper. His name was not revealed until The Marvelous Land of Oz, and it came from the original musical extravaganza version of The Wizard of Oz, in which he was named Niccolo Chopper. In his own words, after his parents died, "I made up my mind that instead of living alone I would marry, so that I might not become lonely."


He was engaged to a Munchkin girl that The Tin Woodman of Oz reveals to be named Nimmie Amee. The two accounts in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and The Tin Woodman of Oz differ: Wizard tells us that Nimmie lived with an old woman who didn't want Nimmie to marry Nick, so she went to the Wicked Witch of the East and paid to have the marriage stopped. Tin Woodman simplifies it by having Nimmie as the slave of the Wicked Witch of the East who didn't want to lose her.

In both books, generally the same thing happens (though the two accounts differ in details): the Wicked Witch enchanted Nick's axe so it cut off parts of him. But each time this happened, he saw Ku-Klip the tinsmith who made a replacement part for him out of tin. This continued until his body was entirely replaced with tin. Now having no heart, he believed he no longer had the capacity to love.

Eventually, he got caught in the rain while chopping a tree and rusted stiff and stood there until Dorothy and the Scarecrow found him. (Never mind that tin doesn't actually rust...) The Wizard later presented him with a plush heart, although it was already clear that he could love without one. Again, he takes the placebo.

The people of the Winkie Country became fond of the Tin Woodman and invited him to be their ruler. In The Marvelous Land of Oz, he has become their Emperor and has had himself nickel-plated. In Ozma of Oz, he serves as the chief commander of Ozma's army, while in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, he defends Eureka when it is believed that she killed Ozma's piglet. In The Emerald City of Oz, he tries to be proactive in helping Ozma. In The Patchwork Girl of Oz, he refuses to sacrifice a yellow butterfly to revive Unc Nunkie and Margolotte. In The Lost Princess of Oz, he and the Scarecrow have their own search for Ozma, finding the magic dishpan.

The book The Tin Woodman of Oz calls many things about the character into question, and modern readers have more conclusions than ever. Why didn't the Tin Woodman go find Nimmie Amee after he got his heart? The answer is that he got a "kind" heart, not a "loving" heart. Or is it? Who's been almost constantly at the Tin Woodman's side all along?
The first American Fairy Tale Bromance?
That's right, the Scarecrow! Seeing as both of these characters identify as male, some fans have ventured to call them Oz's premiere gay couple. Although I find this fun, I do have an alternate viewpoint. The Scarecrow and Tin Woodman are not exactly human in their construction. As such, their bodies do not contain hormones, endorphins, chromosomes, or genitals. Thus, the relationships they form might mimic those of regular relationships, but their relationships might be of a different non-human nature entirely.

Complicating this is how smitten the Scarecrow appears to be with Scraps when she arrives on the scene, and then in The Runaway in Oz, Scraps becomes devoted to Popla, a shrub.

But further complicating the matter is that the Tin Woodman was human. Perhaps this is why these non-human people's relationships mimic human relationships? And if he has this understanding, why is he in such a close relationship with another male when he was in one with a woman? Perhaps Nick Chopper was a closeted gay man or bisexual? I mean, he loved Nimmie Amee, right?

Well, did he? After all, in Tin Woodman, he says he was in love with her, but in Wonderful Wizard, he said that he would marry so he would not be lonely. He found a likely desperate girl who was made to work for someone else. Such an arrangement would seem quite agreeable to both people.

And then, as readers of Tin Woodman know, she eventually married a man made of parts of Nick Chopper's human body and that of Captain Fyter, another tin man who had very much the same experience as Nick. After the Tin Woodman can takes all of this in, he gladly accepts this turn of events and goes home with "his chosen comrade," the Scarecrow. He even goes so far as to say "I'm not sure the Winkies would care to have an Empress."

"Wives. Who needs 'em?"
Whatever this means for the character is open for individual interpretation. But The Tin Woodman of Oz makes a further suggestion about the character.

During the book, the Tin Woodman finds his old human head still alive in a cabinet in Ku-Klip's shop. It appears to have a very different attitude from himself, posing this question: has either the old head or the Tin Woodman changed in nature since he became tin? The head has been in a cabinet for years, and that's enough to make anyone disagreeable. On the other hand, no one can deny that the Tin Woodman's experiences could have changed him. Which is the real Nick Chopper? The head in the cabinet or the Tin Woodman?
Will the real Nick Chopper please stand up?
"Oh, not cool..."
"Toodles!"
So, maybe we feel the need for love like the Tin Woodman, but when you really look at the character, he gets really complicated.

1 comment:

Sam A M said...

Out of the original three friends, Nick Chopper/Tin Woodman would also be the most likely to know more about Oz, at least in terms of the people and villages etc, than the Scarecrow (who can't really know anything without asking first) or Lion (though he would probably know about or be more familiar the wild parts of Oz).

Something my script would include ...