Monday, July 08, 2013

The Characters of Oz — Jack Pumpkinhead

As this series of blogs continues, I realize I run into an unavoidable problem. A lot of characters in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz wound up being some of the most interesting Oz characters with detailed histories. As we continue into The Marvelous Land of Oz, we come up with characters who there isn't too much more to talk about after their first book. So, if these later ones aren't as good as the originals, blame it on the source material and not the guy reading into it.

Last time, we discussed the old woman known as Mombi and mentioned that she had a boy named Tip living with her who didn't like her.

While Mombi was out one day, Tip decided to frighten her with a jack-o-lantern, but instead of making it into a lantern, Tip made a wooden body for it and dressed it with some old clothes he found in Mombi's house. Setting it up in the road, he dubbed it "Jack Pumpkinhead."

Arriving home, Mombi noticed the pumpkinhead and greeted it, thinking it to be a farmer. She was shocked when she realized her mistake, but then she grew angry, and was about to break the pumpkinhead, when she remembered that she had the Powder of Life with her. She used it to bring Jack to life, and then intended that he would work for her when she made Tip into a marble statue.

Jack, having a surprisingly good basic vocabulary at his "birth," never considered himself a good thinker. He recognizes that his head is a pumpkin and pumpkins are not known for his wisdom, so he quickly looks to others for advice and guidance. This open humility makes his personality is mild and endearing.

When Tip rescues Jack from Mombi's cow stall, Jack is excited to learn that Tip made him and that he has a parent figure to turn to. Occasionally, Jack makes suggestions that are actually quite good. However, he doesn't get along well with the Sawhorse, who is a rougher, older piece of wood.

When the Sawhorse runs away from Tip with Jack on his back, Jack arrives in the Emerald City and makes a fast friend in the Scarecrow, who recognizes him as being worthy of his friendship, even though Jack's misunderstanding and foolish suggestion that he must speak a different language than the Scarecrow led to an embarrassing trick performed by Jellia Jamb.

In The Marvelous Land of Oz, Jack does little except make comments and sometimes add to the situation, constantly worrying that his head will soon spoil. It is Jack who suggests giving the Gump a tail to fly with and later, he recognizes that Ozma is still Tip, "only different."

Surprisingly, Jack has something different from most other Oz characters: Baum originally intended that Jack perished sometime after the events of The Marvelous Land of Oz. In the final pages, Baum writes:
Jack Pumpkinhead remained with Ozma to the end of his days; and he did not spoil as soon as he had feared, although he always remained as stupid as ever.
 Aside from the Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz stories (which may or may not be canonical, depending on your personal view), Jack doesn't reappear in Ozma of Oz or Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, though Neill did include him in some illustrations.

However, Jack was revived in The Road to Oz, in which Dorothy finds three tombstones marking the resting place of "the Mortal Part of JACK PUMPKINHEAD," each of which says he spoiled on a different date. Dorothy at first assumes he somehow died in three parts, but the Tin Woodman shows her Jack's home, a giant carved pumpkin in a pumpkin patch where Jack grows pumpkins for new heads.

Aside from visiting the Emerald City or people visiting him, this is very much where Jack stays throughout the rest of Baum's books, with the exception of the Little Wizard story "Jack Pumpkinhead and the Sawhorse" in which the two go to rescue children lost in a forest, Jack's head getting destroyed in the process, but the Wizard arrives with a fresh head for Jack. The Emerald City of Oz reveals that Jack designed the Scarecrow's corncob mansion.

Ruth Plumly Thompson gave Jack a book in Jack Pumpkinhead in Oz, where he travels with Peter around several small kingdoms in the Winkie Country. It is, in fact, Jack who meets the Red Jinn—later named Jinnicky—before any of the other of the classic Oz characters. Jinnicky gives Jack advice on how to save the day thanks to Jack thinking of using the Jinn's dinner bell to his advantage.

John R. Neill gave Jack starring roles in The Wonder City of Oz, in which he has a (second?) home in a decommissioned Ozoplane in the Emerald City and runs a symphony; and The Runaway in Oz, in which he accompanies Jenny Jump and the Woggle-Bug on their search for the Patchwork Girl.

Thanks to Jack's humble but agreeable personality, he's one of the more popular Oz characters and a great friend!


Sam said...

Jack Pumpkinhead is one of my favourite characters (likely due to his portrayal in/from "Return to Oz"), but I've never really been able to accept his intelligence.
While it's fine he knows how to replace his head occasionally and can speak properly without making himself appear foolish, I have a slightly hard time accepting his independence, living style and ability to do things so well.

I also wonder at how people draw him in clothes that fit him so well ... I wonder if the illustrator/s imagine people making clothes just for him - he certainly can't be THAT good!

Madison said...

Ok, in terms of Jack Pumpkinhead, he never really died. Technically, his memory was in tact, where you see all was well with him. Of course in reality if someone's head had to be regrown, there wouldn't be a memory to begin with. But in Oz, his storyline works for 'him' and that is what makes Jack so different than the other characters. You can do just about anything with him!

Nathan said...

Actually, Jack does appear in Ozma: "That evening there was a grand reception in the royal palace, attended by the most important persons of Oz, and Jack Pumpkinhead, who was a little overripe but still active, read an address congratulating Ozma of Oz upon the success of her generous mission to rescue the royal family of a neighboring kingdom."