Monday, July 29, 2013

The Characters of Oz — The Woggle-Bug

The Scarecrow and his friends were heading back to the Emerald City with his old friend the Tin Woodman in tow. Suddenly, the Sawhorse broke his leg in a gopher hole and everyone stopped to consider what to do next.

As they waited, they spotted a curious person coming towards them. It proved to be a gigantic insect called a Woggle-Bug, who proudly informed them that not only was he highly magnified, he was also thoroughly educated. Thus, he listed his name as Professor H.M. Woggle-Bug, T.E.

The Woggle-Bug was only too proud to explain himself. As a tiny Woggle-Bug, he took up residence in the school house taught by Professor Nowitall, "the most famous scholar in the land of Oz." After listening for three years to the lectures, he considered himself thoroughly educated.

One day, the Professor noticed the Woggle-Bug and decided to allow his students to examine it by magnifying it upon the screen. But rather than serving as a viewing screen for a microscope, the Woggle-Bug was actually made to grow larger. He made a bow to the class, and a little girl who was sitting with a friend in the window screamed and fell out, dragging the other girl with her. The Professor and the students went out to make sure they were all right, but the Woggle-Bug decided to use this opportunity to escape. (Presuming that the Professor would have restored him to his normal size.)

After saving the life of a tailor, the Woggle-Bug received a suit of clothing and decided to go to the Emerald City to present a series of lectures on the "Advantages of Magnification." The Scarecrow offered to let him join. The Woggle-Bug even suggested using one of Jack's legs to make a new leg for the Sawhorse so they could continue on.

However, on the journey, the Woggle-Bug proved that what he had in educational knowledge, he lacked in tact. (You must remember that he just spent three years with no contact with anyone aside from listening.) He would attempt to make jokes based on the situations which none of his companions found funny. Why? Because often they were the subjects of his jokes. Both Tip and the Tin Woodman had to reprove him and he tried to restrain himself. Tip even went so far to remind him that while an educated Woggle-Bug may be a new thing, his education was not.

The Woggle-Bug assists his new friends throughout the rest of The Marvelous Land of Oz, but aside from being able to use a Wishing Pill to restore the Gump to working condition, he really doesn't do much. At the end of the book, he says he would like to tutor Ozma, and we are told he tried to tutor Jack Pumpkinhead to no avail.

In Ozma of Oz, as Ozma's rescue party returns home, Dorothy notices "a large building that was covered with flags and bunting." Ozma says that it is the College of Art and Athletic Perfection and that the Woggle-Bug is its president.

In Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, the Woggle-Bug meets the Wizard and prosecutes Eureka when she is accused of eating Ozma's piglet. In The Road to Oz, he arrives at Ozma's party with a poem he wrote, titled "Ode to Ozma."

Finally, in The Emerald City of Oz, Dorothy and her party of family and friends touring Oz visit the Woggle-Bug's college as the first stop on their trip. There, they find that the Woggle-Bug allows his students to practice sports. The college is now just called an Athletic College. All the students take doses of School Pills, which they take instead of learning lessons. This way, they can devote all their time to Athletic Arts.

Ike Morgan's Woggle-Bug from
The Woggle-Bug Book
Baum doesn't really revisit the Woggle-Bug in his future books, but the Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz comic page and The Woggle-Bug Book featured adventures for the Woggle-Bug while he visited America. Exclusively in these stories, Baum reveals that the Woggle-Bug has four arms and a pair of wings. The Woggle-Bug does some surprising (but relatively minor) feats in these stories and gets to show off his knowledge. That latter bit was part of a promotion to get people reading the series and in turn, buy The Marvelous Land of Oz. The "What Did The Woggle-Bug Say?" contest ran through the end of 1904, allowing people to match their wit with the Woggle-Bug's. However, these stories' place in continuity is debatable.

The Woggle-Bug reappears in Thompson's The Royal Book of Oz, pulling together records of all the royalty of Oz. The Woggle-Bug snubs the Scarecrow since he doesn't have a family tree, which is what causes the story to get going. The Woggle-Bug also comes up with ways for people to vote based on puns in The Wonder City of Oz, though this is likely the work of the mystery editor and not John R. Neill.

The Woggle-Bug is also one of the lead characters in The Runaway in Oz. He was planning on vacationing in the air castle he dreamed up, but Scraps sets it afloat. He goes off to speak to Ozma, but ends up joining Jenny Jump on her quest to find Scraps. He helps her and Jack Pumpkinhead along and sadly watches his air castle disintegrate. He gets rather angry with Scraps and Alexample (his student), but that's rather understandable.

As such, there hasn't been a lot to do with the Woggle-Bug. He's capable of doing a lot of things, but now that he's tied to the college, he seems rather stuck there. I'd like to think he overcame his social awkwardness, and that seems the case in Queer Visitors, though The Woggle-Bug Book takes his socializing to a new level of awkward. He will certainly always be proud of his education and size, however. And considering that he's the only one of his kind in Oz, he seems to have a right to be.

Some see the Woggle-Bug (which also got spelled "Wogglebug" or "Woggle Bug") as Baum's criticism of the educational system. The Woggle-Bug is just about the only main character who talks about his school days openly. Dorothy mentions that she has a teacher in Kansas, suggesting that she went to school, but in all of Baum's works, few characters talk about their school days. In Mary Louise, the titular character is at a boarding school.

Baum himself was privately tutored at home as a child. When he was twelve, he went to a military academy, but he was very unhappy there and was only there for two years. Instead of college, Baum leapt straight into his many careers. His wife Maud attended Cornell University until she married him. Their sons did attend school and seem to have been allowed to pursue higher education if they wished. However, from Baum's works, it seems clear that he believed that "There's A Lot Of Things You Never Learn At School." (This was a popular song that was at one time in the original Wizard of Oz musical extravanganza. Baum did not write it.)

The Scarecrow, for example, wanted a brain. In the famous MGM film, he is awarded a diploma and a doctorate degree. In Baum's book, he is told that real wisdom comes from experience. Adults from America—Uncle Henry, Aunt Em, the Wizard, the Shaggy Man, Cap'n Bill—never discuss their education. Given that the Shaggy Man is a tramp, Cap'n Bill is a seaman, and the Wizard ran off to join a circus, I doubt any of them went to college. Although it's clear that there are ways to learn in Oz (the School pills and actual schools), we never hear of Dorothy, Trot, Betsy or Button-Bright continuing their education.

Perhaps the reason why the Woggle-Bug is so rarely used is that he almost feels out of place in Oz. Unlike almost everyone else, he finished his education and is quite proud of it.


F. Douglas Wall said...

I think the Woggle-bug was Baum poking fun at (overly) educated people. He talks too much for what he has to say (often nothing), has horrible fashion sense (read some of the descriptions of his outfits. Also The Woggle-Bug Book has him chasing a garment whose colors are as loud as an opera), and does impractical things in the cause of practicality (Remember how well the Square Meal Tablets went over at the College).

Sam said...

Now that you make me think about it, I'm actually surprised at how despite the fondness for Professor Nowitall's lectures and lessons, the Woggle-bug had these pills made which could make you/students learn anything in seconds and doses, as opposed to a full devotion to class time!

My first look at the Woggle-bug was on the Del-Rey (Michael Herring) cover for "Emerald City" and I thought he was some "clone" of teh Wizard, as they did dress quite similarly.

Anonymous said...

I love the Oz books, but this particular character scared me as a child. It was like a giant cockroach or something lol.