Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Characters of Oz — Polychrome

After leaving Foxville, Dorothy and her friends made a surprising new acquaintance.
A little girl, radiant and beautiful, shapely as a fairy and exquisitely dressed, was dancing gracefully in the middle of the lonely road, whirling slowly this way and that, her dainty feet twinkling in sprightly fashion. She was clad in flowing, fluffy robes of soft material that reminded Dorothy of woven cobwebs, only it was colored in soft tintings of violet, rose, topaz, olive, azure, and white, mingled together most harmoniously in stripes which melted one into the other with soft blendings. Her hair was like spun gold and flowed around her in a cloud, no strand being fastened or confined by either pin or ornament or ribbon.
Filled with wonder and admiration our friends approached and stood watching this fascinating dance. The girl was no taller than Dorothy, although more slender; nor did she seem any older than our little heroine. 
 They soon discovered that the girl's name was Polychrome, the daughter of the Rainbow. In Baum's universe, the Rainbow appears to be a sentient being or at least, controlled by one. Baum is unclear as to exactly what Polychrome's father is. (Dorothy calls her Polly, but the nickname dropped off in later books.) My guess is that he controls the rainbow, creating arches when the rain finishes. His daughters dance on it, and dressed in their multicolored dresses, create the colors seen.

Polychrome, however, has a tendency to slip off the Rainbow and leave it, getting lost in other lands. And in this case, she happened to be in Dorothy's path, and of course joined the company.

In The Road to Oz, Polychrome doesn't do much, being a lovely dancing companion as the company moves towards Oz. Yet, it is made clear that although she appears to have a human form, she has a different construction. She says she eats "dew drops and mist cakes." When she tries some of the food Dorothy received in Foxville, she only has a sip of tea and a small nibble of cold turkey. Dorothy says that it's about as much as a fly would eat. Polychrome does, however, manage to slap a guardian Scoodler, allowing Dorothy and her friends to escape being made into soup.

After charming Dorothy's friends in Oz and attending Ozma's grand birthday party, Santa Claus told the Rainbow where to find his wayward daughter and Ozma managed to get a rainbow at the end of her celebration without any rain.
With a glad cry the Rainbow's Daughter sprang from her seat and danced along the curve of the bow, mounting gradually upward, while the folds of her gauzy gown whirled and floated around her like a cloud and blended with the colors of the rainbow itself.

"Good-bye, Ozma! Good-bye, Dorothy!" cried a voice they knew belonged to Polychrome; but now the little maiden's form had melted wholly into the rainbow, and their eyes could no longer see her.

Suddenly the end of the rainbow lifted and its colors slowly faded like mist before a breeze.

Polychrome appears next in the "Trot" book Sky Island, Baum explaining that it made sense for her to appear since the adventures in the book take place near her home. Luckily the Rainbow comes near Sky Island when Trot, Cap'n Bill and Button-Bright were about to be pushed over the edge of the island. Polychrome is recognized by Button-Bright and she steps off and has a visit during which she correctly interprets the law of the Pinkies that allows for the protagonists' protection. Furthermore, she points out that their laws state that Trot is now the queen. Since she didn't get lost, she soon returns to the rainbow, and the protagonists see her again on their trip back home.

(I have to link to John Troutman's rendition of Polychrome's role in the book. It is perfect.)

Polychrome had made her stage debut in The Tik-Tok Man of Oz—which was a bit of a mish-mash of the previous Oz books—and so she returned in the "novelization" of the play, Tik-Tok of Oz. Because of this, Polychrome's role is very similar to her role in The Road to Oz: after straying off the Rainbow, she joins the company of heroes and is largely around for the ride. Her own loveliness makes Ruggedo the Nome King decide not to transform her or harm her, but offer to make her his queen. Due to this, she is able to help Quox break some of the Nome King's transformations. Later, it is her kiss that breaks the spell on the Shaggy Man's brother. She also got to spy on Ruggedo sneaking around when he was exiled. Finally, as the Shaggy Man, his brother, Betsy, Hank and Polychrome leave the Nome Kingdom for the surface world, it rains and Polychrome is able to rejoin the Rainbow.

In The Tin Woodman of Oz, the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow and Woot happen upon the castle of Mrs. Yoop, who soon imprisons them and reveals that she has Polychrome captive as well, transformed into a canary. After she transforms them as well, the four manage to escape the castle.

Polychrome is able to perform magic in The Tin Woodman of Oz. In The Road to Oz, this exchange happens:

"Polly, can you do any magic?"

"No dear," answered Polychrome, shaking her dainty head.

"You ought to know SOME magic, being the Rainbow's Daughter," continued Dorothy, earnestly.

"But we who live on the rainbow among the fleecy clouds have no use for magic," replied Polychrome.
But considering her adventures off of the Rainbow, it is entirely possible that Polychrome has learned some magic. From Neill's illustrations, she seems to be a little older in her later appearances than in The Road to Oz. Whether by choice or by necessity or requirement, Polychrome seems to have learned some magic in the interim, possibly to help out further transformations she might encounter, should she spot someone who needs her help or if she should stray from the Rainbow again.

The magic Polychrome has learned cannot affect Yookoohoo magic like Mrs. Yoop's, but it can do other things, such as conjure up food and make Tommy Kwikstep's magically added eighteen legs (and the corns on his toes) disappear. After arriving at Jinjur's Ranch, Ozma is able to restore everyone to their proper forms.

Later, Polychrome uses her magic to repair damage to the Tin Woodman and Captain Fyter, and later still, shrink herself and her companions to a small enough size to creep through a rabbit's tunnel into Nimmee Amee's garden and then restore them to their proper size. She later repeats this on their way out, waiting to restore them because it has begun to rain. Sure enough, after the rain finishes, the Rainbow arrives and Polychrome returns home.
Although it seems Polychrome would be right up Thompson's alley, she only used her twice. First in Grampa in Oz, when the characters get back to earth by the Rainbow after finding the king's head in the clouds, then again in The Purprle Prince of Oz, when Jinnicky, Randy and Kabumpo cross the Rainbow over the Deadly Desert to return to Oz and save Pumperdink. John R. Neill also has her and the Rainbow serve much the same purpose for Davy Jones and Lucky Bucky on their journey to the Emerald City in Lucky Bucky in Oz. (Neill's chapter in which this happens is literally called "Over the Rainbow.")

Readers of the Oz books often like Polychrome's character, and given her dainty and cheerful nature, it's not hard to see why. Baum himself had characters remark on her loveliness. And though some may call it uneven characterization on Baum's part, like Button-Bright, Polychrome actually develops. Aside from her personality and appearance, The only constant of Polychrome's character is that she seems to not be too concerned about getting home again: if her friends can't help her, then she only needs to be where it will rain eventually and wait for the Rainbow to appear.

In The Road to Oz, we have Polychrome, the dancing fairy girl, who knows no magic and is quite friendly. In Sky Island, we have Polychrome, who is still a dancing fairy girl, but is now willing to leave the Rainbow to help people out. In Tik-Tok of Oz, we still have the helpful Polychrome, who (given her next appearance) realizes she needs to learn to help others. This brings us to the Polychrome in The Tin Woodman of Oz, where she has become a powerful fairy by learning some magic. Perhaps after her adventures with the Tin Woodman, she has become more alert and is a little more careful not to slip off the Rainbow so easily.

But still, that's not to say that an accident might not happen or that she might do so willingly someday...
Yes, I know I didn't use any pictures from Tik-Tok of Oz here, but Neill produced so many lovely pictures of Polychrome that the ones I selected from the other Baum books that she appeared in proved plentiful enough for illustrating this blog entry.

5 comments:

Eric said...

Polychrome also had a small appearance in Grampa in Oz, when the adventurers ended up in the clouds.

Jared said...

Yep. As I mentioned. (Though I did miss it at first and edited it in almost directly after posting it.)

Nathan said...

She also briefly appears in Wonder City, when Number Nine is trying to get to the palace.

Sam A M said...

And she says herself that she learned magic and even puts this practise to good use in "Hidden Prince of Oz" by Gina Wickwar.

I just think it's just too bad whenever we see her coloured she's either in white or in colours that are too strong and vibrant in comparison to Frank's description of "woven cobwebs ... soft tintings ... in stripes which melted one into the other with sift blendings.".

saintfighteraqua said...

Polychrome reminds me of Irene, the paraplegic girl in Mary Louise. It made me imagine Irene as Polychrome. Even though Irene could not dance she had Polly's bright nature and way with words.