Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Characters of Oz — Ojo and Unc Nunkie

Once upon a time, in a Munchkin forest, there lived an old Munchkin man called Unc Nunkie and his nephew Ojo. They leaved very humbly in their home until one day, they ran out of food and journeyed to see their nearest friends.

Okay, is it just me, or does The Patchwork Girl of Oz start like a pretty generic fairy tale?

Baum continues his tradition of telling us little of the back story of these two characters. He does, however, drop a couple tantalizing hints by telling us that Unc Nunkie is the descendant of the former kings of the Munchkins before Munchkinland became part of the Land of Oz. We are told nothing of Ojo's parents. Baum never calls him an orphan, and never mentions his father or mother.

However, the two have their quirks. Unc Nunkie barely says anything, rarely speaking of his own accord, and often reducing what he has to say to just one word. Dr. Pipt calls him "The Silent One." Ojo considers himself "The Unlucky" for a variety of reasons, and the way the story unfolds, he believes himself to be right in calling himself so.

Ojo certainly has it rough. Unc gets turned into a marble statue, forcing Ojo to go on a quest with Scraps, the Patchwork Girl, and Bungle, the Glass Cat, both brought to life to be the servants of the Crooked Magician and Margolotte. Along the way, he faces many hardships, but is able to get through with the help and advice of his companions, including the ones who join him later, like the Shaggy Man, Dorothy, and the Scarecrow.

Finally, the Tin Woodman refuses to let Ojo have the last ingredient to the antidote for the Liquid of Petrifaction, as it would injure an innocent creature. But the Tin Woodman does ask him about his title:
"Why are you Ojo the Unlucky?" asked the tin man.
"Because I was born on a Friday."
"Friday is not unlucky," declared the Emperor. "It's just one of seven days. Do you suppose all the world becomes unlucky one-seventh of the time?"
"It was the thirteenth day of the month," said Ojo.
"Thirteen! Ah, that is indeed a lucky number," replied the Tin Woodman. "All my good luck seems to happen on the thirteenth. I suppose most people never notice the good luck that comes to them with the number 13, and yet if the least bit of bad luck falls on that day, they blame it to the number, and not to the proper cause."
"Thirteen's my lucky number, too," remarked the Scarecrow.
"And mine," said Scraps. "I've just thirteen patches on my head."
"But," continued Ojo, "I'm left-handed."
"Many of our greatest men are that way," asserted the Emperor. "To be left-handed is usually to be two-handed; the right-handed people are usually one-handed."
"And I've a wart under my right arm," said Ojo.
"How lucky!" cried the Tin Woodman. "If it were on the end of your nose it might be unlucky, but under your arm it is luckily out of the way."
"For all those reasons," said the Munchkin boy, "I have been called Ojo the Unlucky."
"Then we must turn over a new leaf and call you henceforth Ojo the Lucky," declared the tin man. "Every reason you have given is absurd. But I have noticed that those who continually dread ill luck and fear it will overtake them, have no time to take advantage of any good fortune that comes their way. Make up your mind to be Ojo the Lucky."
 In the end, Ojo discovers that Glinda knew a way to reverse the effects of the Liquid of Petrifaction, and has instructed the Wizard on what to do, so Unc Nunkie is restored, and Ozma gives them a home just outside the Emerald City. Later, Ojo becomes good friends with Button-Bright after the latter permanently moves to Oz.

Surprisingly, Ruth Plumly Thompson made him the subject of Ojo in Oz (which, as Marcus Mebes points out, should have been titled Ojo of Oz as Ojo is a native of Oz rather than someone who goes there). Being lured out by gypsies who want to turn him over to the sorcerer Mooj, Ojo is kidnapped, but soon makes new friends and embarks on new adventures, discovering that he is actually the prince of Seebania, and he is restored to his mother and father at long last. Unc Nunkie breaks his silence to save Ojo, and it is revealed that his real name is Stephen.

It's odd that Thompson used Ojo when most of Baum's other human male characters got ignored. Perhaps she noted the bit about the Munchkin kings while brushing up on Baum and saved it for a future story.

To be honest, it seems Ojo was rather underused in later books, and as I noted just previously, this would become common for the post-Emerald City of Oz Baum books: several new characters would be introduced in a book and almost never make a reappearance, except for cameos. The major new characters that would reappear would be introduced in Patchwork Girl and the next two books. Ojo wasn't one of them, even though he could easily have taken the place of Woot the Wanderer in The Tin Woodman of Oz.

There are many theories about Ojo. John Bell noted Ojo's behavior and said that he seems to be bipolar. Ojo's appeared in some new Oz stories, most notably Paul Dana's stories that were collected in The Law of Oz and Other Stories. Perhaps future adventures await the Prince of Seebania.

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