A to Z: Ozma

O

“You are not a girl just now” said she, gently, “because Mombi transformed you into a boy. But you were born a girl, and also a Princess; so you must resume your proper form, that you may become Queen of the Emerald City.”
“Oh, let Jinjur be the Queen!” exclaimed Tip, ready to cry. “I want to stay a boy, and travel with the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman, and the Woggle-Bug, and Jack–yes! and my friend the Saw-Horse–and the Gump! I don’t want to be a girl!”

There’s absolutely no way that I can let this challenge get by without talking about L. Frank Baum’s Oz books. And while I contemplated talking about Dorothy, or even Jinjur (the leader of the revolt in The Marvelous Land of Oz), Ozma just fascinates me (not to mention that “O” is a tricky letter for names, and this one fit…lol). She’s also, despite our association of the land of Oz with Dorothy Gale (due to the wonderfully successful MGM film), the central figure of the Oz books.

We first meet Ozma in The Marvelous Land of Oz, but we have no idea that we’re meeting her. At the beginning of the book, we’re introduced to Tip, a young boy who has been raised by the old witch Mombi, and our cast expands to pumpkin-head Jack, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Wogglebug, the Gump, and the Sawhorse. The group has to save the Emerald City from Jinjur and the Army of Revolt, an all-girl army that has taken over the city by occupying the palace; the girls have stripped the city of its jewels and forced men to work and women to do nothing but enjoy themselves.

After the group enlists Glinda’s help, Mombi and Jinjur are defeated, and Glinda makes Mombi reveal the identity of her former servant boy, Tip—who is actually the Princess Ozma in disguise. The princess was brought to Mombi by the Wizard when Ozma was just a baby, and in exchange for concealing the child, the Wizard taught Mombi the magic she knows. Mombi chose to keep the princess close-by, transforming her into Tip and raising Tip as a servant boy. Before he is turned back into Ozma, Tip begs Glinda to promise to transform him back into a boy if he hates being a girl–but Glinda refuses, saying that she doesn’t deal in transformations. They are dishonest.

In fact, Glinda either cannot or will not even attempt this type of magic to release Tip. Instead, it is Mombi who performs this act. When Mombi transforms Tip into Ozma, it is yet another moment of critique in a text that is already full of gender critique. And she must be exquisite:

from the couch arose the form of a young girl, fresh and beautiful as a May morning. Her eyes sparkled as two diamonds, and her lips were tinted like a tourmaline. All adown her back floated tresses of ruddy gold, with a slender jeweled circlet confining them at the brow. Her robes of silken gauze floated around her like a cloud, and dainty satin slippers shod her feet . . . “I hope none of you will care less for me than you did before. I’m just the same old Tip, you know; only–only” “Only you’re different!” said the Pumpkinhead; and everyone thought it was the wisest speech he had ever made.

Ozma is beautiful. And while everyone acknowledges the change, there is little doubt that Ozma will be a great leader. Why, aside from something like the right of kings? Why, indeed….Because throughout the book, Tip has shown the most common sense of any character save perhaps Glinda, but the sense of Glinda is that of mystery and  magic–she cannot be the same kind of ruler that Tip can be. Tip is open and honest, smart and brave. And that is why Tip-turned-Ozma is not only good at being a girl, but good at being a girl-ruler.

Now the transformation of Ozma, and how she feels about this entire situation, leaves me wondering a big number of things. But Baum really doesn’t give any answers, at least any easy answers, to how Ozma feels about the transformation afterward. She just is Ozma—and of course this is suited to Baum’s style, as he uses only sparse dialogue and few interior monologues. We see Ozma being Ozma, ruling the kingdom and running to others’ rescue, riding about on the Saw-Horse. There are remnants of the old story, then (and the story lines got blurrier down the line when Baum changed the way he told Ozma’s back story and she was called a fairy child). So I’ve got lots of questions and very few answers, really.

Ozma’s an interesting character. That’s all I’m sayin’.

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  1. These books haven’t even been on my radar, ever. All I know is the MGM story and Wicked (which is one of the reasons I love Wicked so much – it’s a subversion of the film.)

    Tell me what decade(s) these were published, plz.

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    1. No pick tonight, but the page has been updated. And I got a visit from a minion of “Capt. Alex’s Ninja Army.” How cool is that?

      Also, haven’t actually written the post for tomorrow yet, but I have 22 hours, right?

      If the weather is ok tomorrow, I’m making a massive photo run. We will have original art soon.

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    2. The ones I refer to in this post were published mostly between 1900 and 1910, but there were 14 in all, and the last one was published in 1920.

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      1. I’m now working on a theory that people who write fantastical-type books tend to be more socially progressive than the general population of writers. I don’t know if it’s really true, but Baum makes the list long enough to make me wonder enough to investigate.

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    1. Oh, you should. They’re quick reads, all of them, and they’re really quite delightful. Very different from adaptations that have been done.

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