Monday, July 01, 2013

The Characters of Oz — Mombi

When L. Frank Baum began to write his sequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, he took a different approach. No longer was he working closely with an artist to help tell the story, so he had to define the characters through his text more clearly than before.

Also, since the two most popular Oz characters were the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman, Baum elected not to go with a visitor from America going to Oz, the entire story would be set in Oz, and the characters would be natives. His first new character was a boy named Tip. We'll get to Tip eventually, but we'll start by looking at the second new character: Mombi!

Mombi is a practitioner of magic, Baum saying: "Mombi was not exactly a Witch, because the Good Witch who ruled that part of the Land of Oz had forbidden any other Witch to exist in her dominions. So Tip's guardian, however much she might aspire to working magic, realized it was unlawful to be more than a Sorceress, or at most a Wizardess."

This is where there seems to be distinction between witches and sorceresses in Oz. Witches seem to have some innate power (some adaptations of Oz—like The Witches of Oz and Oz the Great and Powerful—maintain that witches need talismans for their powers, and in later books, we meet Yookoohoo witches who this is quite the case for) that they may have sold their beauty, youth, and even possibly their names for. Sorceresses (such as Glinda) find other ways to use magic through tools, herbs, incantations, potions and the like.

What we discover about Mombi later in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz is that she may very well be an ex-Witch. That book establishes that before the Good Witch of the North took the Gillikin Country, Mombi was the Wicked Witch of the North until she was conquered by the Good Witch of the North. What seems curious is that Baum gives Mombi a name, but not the other two Wicked Witches that we met in Wizard. I have theorized that perhaps those Witches gave up their names for magic power. Perhaps Mombi refused to sell her name, so her magic was not as strong. Or perhaps the Good Witch of the North managed to take away her powers by restoring her name to her.

Ozma says that Mombi had the job of jailer for the Kings of Oz, specifically her grandfather and father. This is how she says that Mombi stole her as a baby. But if we take a revisionist angle and try to reconcile the accounts in The Marvelous Land of Oz and Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, then she apparently used her (former?) position for the kings to assure the Wizard that she would faithfully take care of Ozma when he decided to turn her over to Mombi. As I suggest in my blog about the Wizard, he didn't do it to get the heir out of his way to the throne, but so that she would be safe in case his newly-built Emerald City was attacked by the Wicked Witches. Who else would be better at tricking the Wicked Witches than an ex-Wicked Witch?

Mombi says that the Wizard taught her "all the magical tricks he knew. Some were good tricks, and some were only frauds..." Since we know the Wizard wasn't a real practitioner of magic at the time, this seems to be what led her to realize that she could be a Sorceress instead of a witch. At any rate, I suggested that since the Wizard did not have an heir to his throne, he seems to have intended to hold it until Ozma would be of age.

Probably most of my blog readers know that Mombi turned Ozma into a boy she named Tippetarius, but went by "Tip" most often. She made Tip work for her, and while she wasn't a pleasant guardian, she did no serious harm to him. Baum goes so far as to say that Tip "sometimes showed less respect for the old woman than he should have done." My own theory is that the Wizard made Mombi promise not to harm Ozma or he would be able to tell and punish her. It was hokum, but the threat worked. And, quite possibly, she knew that if she was caring for the future ruler of Oz, it would be in her best interest to stay in her relatively good graces.

So, why didn't Mombi get rid of Tip as soon as the Wizard left Oz? My own thought is that she began to check if he was still keeping track of her. This process took quite some time, months, most likely, before she realized she was safe. Then, she determined to turn the boy into a marble statue to be rid of him for always. After all, the Scarecrow was King of Oz, so it wouldn't leave Oz without a ruler.

But things didn't work out that way. Mombi returned home from visiting Dr. Nikidik and buying ingredients to finish a potion to turn Tip into a marble statue. (If we go with the idea that Dr. Nikidik and Dr. Pipt were one and the same, then this potion was likely the Liquid of Petrifaction, and Mombi didn't really need to have Tip drink it, but only have it make contact with him.) Just before this, she discovered the recently-created Jack Pumpkinhead just outside her home and brought him to life with the Powder of Life. After telling Tip how she'd transform him, she went to bed and woke up to an empty house, Tip and Jack having run off during the night with the Powder of Life.

According to Baum, "Mombi was furious at the trick Tip had played upon her as well as at his escape and the theft of the precious Powder of Life," but she doesn't seem to go track him down, The Marvelous Land of Oz clearly saying that General Jinjur sent for her to stop the Scarecrow's return to the Emerald City. Mombi managed to get to the Emerald City very quickly and used her magic to try to prevent the Scarecrow's return. It's possible that she made the Gump fly the wrong direction so that it wouldn't reach Glinda's palace.

When Glinda arrives at the Emerald City, she demands that Mombi be turned over to her. Mombi swaps forms with Jellia Jamb, but Glinda quickly sees through this deception. Mombi then turns herself into a rose on a bush and believes she's fooled Glinda, until the Tin Woodman picks her and wears her into Glinda's tent. Glinda grows suspicious, forcing Mombi to transform into a series of forms until she turns into a griffin and flies away. Glinda manages to overtake Mombi, who eventually tires and forces her to reveal what became of Ozma, checking Mombi's words with her pearl of truth.

Glinda promises that Mombi will be made to forget her magic after she restores Ozma, and Ozma promises to see that Mombi's cared for until she dies.

And that was all that Mombi did under Baum's pen. Later, in The Tin Woodman of Oz, the Scarecrow actually gives a description of Mombi: "an old person with wrinkled skin and half her teeth gone."

Thompson, however, does a bit more with her. Mombi plays an important role in two of Thompson's books, neither of which are especial favorites among Oz fans (though they do have favorite characters and moments), but I'll look at the latter one first.

The Giant Horse of Oz reveals that Mombi fell in love with King Cheeriobed of the Ozure Isles in the Munchkin Country (why was she in another witch's domains?), but was rejected by him in favor of Orin. After Prince Philador was born, Mombi kidnapped Orin and attempted to turn her into a Wicked Witch, but Orin turned into a Good Witch and took the role of Good Witch of the North somehow. To top it off, she prevented any exit from the Ozure Isles with a monster she whipped up named Quiberon. She was also responsible for "liquifying" Dr. Herby and presumably bottling him.

However, Mombi was not brought to answer for her crimes due to the prior events in The Lost King of Oz in which she remembers that Pastoria isn't dead, she only enchanted him. Traveling Oz with Snip the Button Boy and Pajuka (the former Prime Minister of Oz, who she had transformed into a goose), she decides to find and restore Pastoria so he'll take the throne from Ozma. Pastoria is found and restored, but he abdicates in favor of Ozma, and in return for all her efforts, Mombi is executed.

The way it happens is one of Thompson's worst moments, which is the worst point of the book. Kind, sweet Dorothy is the one to suggest that Mombi be done in, and Ozma agrees in an rather uncharacteristic fashion. Sir Hokus of Pokes and the Scarecrow carry her to the Forbidden Fountain and return with her shoes, suggesting that she melted like the Wicked Witch of the West.

And she was never heard from again in the Famous Forty Oz books.

I typically stay away from non-Famous Forty stories in these blogs, but in Mombi's case, it's impossible to. In a fine little story called "Sunday Visits" by Michael Pickens (appearing in Oz-Story Magazine #4), it is revealed that Ozma herself would deliver food to Mombi every Sunday and send her help when needed. I'd read this story long before I read Lost King (though I did have what happened in the end spoiled already), so taking it as a "real" Oz story makes Ozma's actions in Lost King seem even more uncharacteristic.

David Tai, in Oziana 2008, presented "Executive Decisions" which has a live Mombi actually enter the Emerald Palace to have an audience with Dorothy. Mombi curiously doesn't recognize Dorothy or Trot or Betsy, so they investigate Mombi's reappearance. What they discover is that Ozma staged Mombi's execution so as not to appear weak in front of her father, so Mombi's memory was wiped (keeping her original name, so she'd have some connection with her true identity), and the memories of Omby Amby, the Scarecrow and Sir Hokus were all manipulated into believing that Mombi had really been killed.

Also in that issue of Oziana was Jeff Rester's "Thy Fearful Symmetry" which reveals that Mombi made the Hungry Tiger feel endless hunger. And after that, please, can we stop putting more blame on this old woman?

Well, I am planning a new Oz story that will include Mombi, so she'll probably have a few more wicked deeds under her belt by the time I'm done...

It never sat well with me that Mombi would melt. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz makes it clear that the Wicked Witch of the West had "dried out," and given that Baum tells us that Mombi works with potions, it's clear she has no aversion to liquids. We are only told that Mombi is an old woman, not that she is dried out. Thus, there's no real textual basis that Mombi should melt, unless you go with the idea that all witches melt when exposed to water.

At any rate, whether you stop at Baum or include David Tai's new ending to Mombi's story, she lives in the Gillikin Country once again, an old woman who can't do you any harm aside from hitting you with her stick.


Mark R Hunter said...

Mombi's just too good of a character to disappear forever ...

Anonymous said...

In LUCKY BUCKY IN OZ, a live painting of Mombi makes an apperance. A good 'alternate Oz' version of Mombi is in Edward Einhorn's PARADOX IN OZ.