L Frank Baum’s Oz series gives us some of the most prolific and enduring witches of American pop culture–not just the Wicked Witch of the West, but also Glinda the Good Witch and Mombi, the Wicked Witch of the North. Mombi’s appearance both in Baum’s books and in the various interpretations of it that have come afterward.
In the Oz books, Mombi is a sorceress, an old woman by the time we meet her in the second book of the series, The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904). She lived in Gilikin Country, and until she was deposed by the Good Witch of the North, she was known as the Wicked Witch of the North and held a lot of power in the region. Mombi is clever, but reportedly she lacks the innate talent of many of the other witches in Oz, embittering her even further against those born with magical abilities.
Among her other vendettas is a grudge against the fairy-born royal bloodline of Oz, and Mombi manages to enslave two of Oz’s kings and to hide away the last of the royal bloodline. Sometime after the Wizard came to Oz, he brought the fairy princess Ozma to Mombi, and Mombi transformed the girl into a boy-child named Tip. The two lived in Gilikin Country, with Mombi evading the Good Witch by appearing to be an old enchantress with few powers. Once she is found out and the full extent of her treachery revealed, Mombi is made to drink a potion that strips her magical powers.
Mombi disappeared from Baum’s Oz books afterward The Marvelous Land of Oz, but she does figure in other adaptations and works connected to the Oz universe. In Gregory Maguire’s Wicked Years series, Liir encounters Mombi in the second book; there is also a theory that Madame Morrible is some incarnation of Mombi; and in the fourth installment, the ruler of Munchkinland is Mombey. In Ruth Plumly Thompson’s The Lost King of Oz, Mombi is a central character. Mombi is an important figure in the 1969 film The Wonderful Land of Oz, refusing to hide her witchcraft, and she figures in several animated versions of the stories as well.
And in the bizarre 1985 Return to Oz live-action movie, Mombi appears as a character, but she is combined with another character from the books, Princess Langwidere. (Also, she scared the pee out of me when I was young.) Princess Mombi is a middle-aged sorceress who can switch heads when she wants and makes deals with the Nome King, who has stolen all of Oz’s emeralds, kidnapped the scarecrow, and turned everything in Oz to stone. Mombi’s palace is big and beautiful, with lots of mirrors so that she can admire herself from all angles at all times. And she loves Dorothy’s head. Like…Loves it, loves it. She decides to imprison Dorothy until the child has grown up a bit, and then she’ll take her pretty head. When Dorothy and friends try to escape, they accidentally wake up Mombi’s real head, who screams loudly enough to wake all the heads and send Mombi’s headless body after Dorothy. But even in this version, Mombi is eventually caught, and Princess Ozma strips her of magical powers before setting things aright in Oz.