Tuesday, October 01, 2013

The Characters of Oz — Zeb and Jim

As Dorothy and Uncle Henry headed home from Australia, Dorothy decided to stay with some new friends in San Francisco.

There's been some debate about the continuity here. Some Oz fans have read Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz in that Dorothy is on another trip with Uncle Henry. However, it makes much more sense to see this as their return from Australia. Baum opens the fourth Oz novel with the line "The train from 'Frisco was very late." Now, there is a city in Texas called Frisco, but since it says "'Frisco," we may assume that this is the nickname for San Francisco. It also wouldn't make much sense for Dorothy and Uncle Henry to visit Texas, then return home to Kansas by way of California. Considering what The Emerald City of Oz tells of their financial situation, we can imagine that this entire trip was planned very frugally.

Uncle Henry went on to Hugson's Ranch. Dorothy went by train later, and arrived late, very early in the morning. She met Zebediah ("Zeb"), who explained that they're second cousins. Aunt Em's sister married Bill Hugson, who is Zeb's uncle. (For this to work, Dorothy is Uncle Henry's blood relative, just as I've always thought.) Zeb's last name is never revealed. It could be Hugson, but only if his father is Bill Hugson's brother. Baum never explores that part of the family.

To pull the cab that is on Hugson's Ranch is an old horse named Jim. Apparently, he's retired from pulling cabs in Chicago to only pulling the Hugson cab when needed. Dorothy notes that he's skinny and bony and his head looks too large for his body. Still, he seems to be well-cared for.

Thanks to an earthquake, Zeb and Jim accompany Dorothy and her kitten Eureka (next blog) underground where they meet the Wizard as they face the Mangaboos, the Invisible Bears of Voe, the Gargoyles of Naught and the Dragonettes in their quest to reach the surface before Ozma finally brings them to Oz. Both Zeb and Jim get to prove their resourcefulness by fighting enemies or by stealing the wings of the Gargoyles. These wings are attached to Jim and the buggy and he must make the daring attempt. In addition, Jim (who can talk as soon as they begin to fall into the earth) befriends the Wizard's tiny piglets and even threatens to eat Eureka if she harms one.

However, while Dorothy welcomes adventures in fairyland with enthusiasm, Zeb is hesitant. Jim makes it clear that he would far rather be back at home, enjoying his retirement.

In Oz, Jim attempts to befriend the Sawhorse, but they are later pitted against each other in a race, which Jim loses. When he tries to attack the Sawhorse in frustration, the Hungry Tiger attacks him, letting him know that he will look out for his friends. Jim begins to tell Zeb that they don't really belong there.

Zeb is part of the jury in Eureka's trial, and while the jury's process is not detailed, we might assume that his interaction with Oz citizens made him feel out of place.

Zeb explains that he would like to go home, and that "not being fairies," he and Jim just don't belong in Oz. And he's right. Oz might be open for all, but it is not the place for everyone. Zeb has grown up outside of fairyland, and while he enjoyed the fantasy in The Arabian Nights, a land of fantasy isn't for him. He and Jim do not reappear in the remaining Famous Forty Oz books. Dorothy longs for adventure, Zeb just wants to be a regular working man and Jim just wants to enjoy being a regular horse.

As a young reader, I felt sorry that Zeb and Jim didn't get to go back, and later, my earliest ideas for new Oz stories involved bringing them back to Oz. In reading Oziana, one story had them returned to Oz to stay. But as an adult, I have come to peace with the fact that Zeb and Jim didn't go back to Oz and yes, grew old and eventually died while Dorothy lived on in the Land of Oz. But sometimes the fairytale ending of living happily forever after isn't for everyone, and it certainly wasn't the case for these two characters.

I do believe that Zeb and Jim did end their days quite happily indeed. Likely their experience in Oz gave Zeb new perspective on how to care for the horse, and when it came for Jim to die, Zeb probably did everything in his power to ensure his old friend would be comfortable until the end. Zeb either got his own ranch or took over Bill's ranch and probably married and maybe he had children. And since it became obvious that the Oz books existed in the universe they told about, maybe he picked up some of those for them.

In any case, a few years later when his Uncle Bill heard that Uncle Henry, Aunt Em and Dorothy had vanished without a trace, Zeb most likely knew exactly what had happened.

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