The Marvelous Land of Oz Themes
by L. Frank Baum

The Marvelous Land of Oz book cover
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The Marvelous Land of Oz Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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Though there are a number of thematic elements in the social concerns discussed above, certain themes per se may be found in Baum's second Ozian adventure story: 1) breaking down boundaries and barriers; 2) establishing legitimacy of rule; and 3) the use of air power in escape and pursuit, and in warfare. As to the first, animals (even an insect) and hand-made figures are seen participating actively, almost on equal terms, with humans, in human concerns. Another aspect of this human-nonhuman interrelationship is the active involvement of wonder- workers (sorcerers, witches, and wizards) in the affairs of the human-nonhuman group. Though the human-nonhuman dichotomy was breached over two thousand years ago in Greek and Roman fables, Baum's treatment of the matter is only one part of a more complex whole. What were, at the time Baum wrote the book, conventional gender roles (involving a "separation of powers,") were reversed by General Jinjur's military takeover of the Emerald City; then this reversal was itself canceled when Glinda the Good helped Tip, the Scarecrow, and their companions retake the Emerald City. A more striking gender reversal, however, awaits the reader at the end of the story. In a sense Baum (doubtless under the influence of the Wright Brothers' achievement in 1903) also tells of the breaking of the gravity barrier, by describing the Gump, that fairy-tale "lighter-than-air" flying- machine. More subtly than any of the above instances, is Baum's politically-based boundary-breaking, to be discussed under Characters.

Regarding the matter of establishing legitimacy of rule, the application here is to the Emerald City, the Capital of the Land of Oz. The Scarecrow, who had originally been placed on the throne of the Emerald City by the Wizard of Oz (as described in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz), when he confronted the usurping General Jinjur, demanded to know how she dared to sit on his throne. Did she not know she was guilty of treason and that treason was against the law? he asked her. Eating from a box of caramels and seemingly "entirely at ease in her royal surroundings," she replied that "The throne belongs to whoever is able to take it ..." And, turning the tables on the Scarecrow, Jinjur pointed out that as she has taken the throne, she is now Queen; thus, her opponents have become guilty of treason and are punishable under the law he referred to.

But near the end of the story the Scarecrow, Tip, and the others flew in the Gump to the South Country (red), for an audience with the sorceress Glinda the Good (also referred to as Queen of the Southland), to tell her of the usurpation of the throne of the Emerald City by Jinjur and her Army of Revolt. Then, thanks largely to Glinda's questions and explanations, the real truth about the line of succession was revealed at last. The Wizard had originally stolen the throne from the former King of the Emerald City, Pastoria (now dead). The throne rightfully belonged to Pastoria's daughter, named Ozma. But the Wizard had also stolen the girl, and hidden her away somewhere to prevent her being found. [Note: In this book Baum seems to describe a bad wizard, in absentia; in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz we have, despite his being a humbug, a good wizard, whose people "remembered him lovingly" after he left them.] Glinda herself, despite her powers of sorcery, had not even been able to locate the child's hiding place. Thus, although legitimacy of rule was now clarified, legitimacy could not be actualized until Ozma was rescued and her inheritance was restored.

Next, there is the matter of the use of air power in escape and pursuit, and in warfare. In the story much is made of the companions being prisoners of Queen Jinjur in (her) palace, her stated intention to return Tip to old Mombi and destroy the others (as not being human), their retreat to the roof of the palace, their assembling the Gump from odds and ends, their using it to fly away from Jinjur's palace, and later their flying away from the predatory Jackdaws (whose nest they had discovered). Near the end of the story, when Glinda the Good confronted old Mombi, the latter transformed herself into a huge Griffin and fled— causing Glinda to pursue her and causing our companions to attempt to assist Glinda, by mounting the Gump and joining the pursuit. When Glinda confronted Jinjur herself and demanded that she surrender, Jinjur refused. This led to Glinda's "declaration of war" and the Gump's direct participation as a vehicle of war to transport Glinda, her guard (three soldiers and a Captain), the Scarecrow and the other companions into the closed palace grounds, to force the besieged Jinjur's capitulation.

Baum's descriptions of the use of air power in escape and pursuit, and in warfare are necessarily prophetic. First a backward glance. Human air flight began with the hot-air-balloon experiments of the Montgolfier brothers, Jacques and Joseph, who in 1783 sent two courtiers of King Louis XVI sailing over Paris for almost half an hour. Since that time numerous balloon flights took place in various countries, and the very idea of this mode of travel (highlighted by drawings and illustrations) became firmly entrenched in the popular imagination and in popular culture. Edgar Allan Poe wrote three tales dealing with balloon travel: "Hans Pfaal" (1835), "The Balloon Hoax" (1844), and "Mellonta Tauta" (1849). Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days (first published in French in 1872) added enormously to the public's fascination with balloon travel. But Baum actually made hot-air-balloon flight an important part of the storyline of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: the Wizard, who had come to the Land of Oz by balloon, used hot-air balloon travel to attempt a return to the United States. As to the actual process of air travel, a further advance was made possible in 1900, when Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin designed a motor-driven dirigible balloon of rigid-frame construction. Then followed the Wright Brothers' "whopper flying machine" in 1903, and—in the realm of fiction—Baum's magical contraption, The Gump, in The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904).

The potential use of the airship in warfare and related functions such as escape and pursuit may or may not have been given much thought by Baum. In any event, experience has shown that after 1903 military applications of winged aircraft were not slow in coming. In 1907 the U.S. Army Signal Corps called for proposals for the construction of a flying machine. Orville and Wilbur Wright won the bid and began work on the project. In his report, "The Wright Brothers' Flights," in the Independent, June 4, 1908, an engineer and aeronaut, Octave Chanute, surveyed the brothers' accomplishments. Chanute noted that the Wrights had opened negotiations "for the sale of their invention to various governments for war purposes " Under their contract with the Government of the United States they had been testing their machine with satisfactory results, when a mishap occurred and the machine was wrecked. At the time this article appeared, it was expected that they could rebuild their machine and exercise complete control over it, before the deadline for fulfillment of their government contract.

But for another slant on the deeper implications of the Gump material in Baum's story, the famous English novelist and poet Thomas Hardy, an ardent opponent of war, expressed very grave concern over the possibility of aerial warfare. In the second volume of his quasi-biographical record, The Later Years of Thomas Hardy: 1892-1928 (1930), it is noted that Hardy "signed, with many other well-known people, a protest against the use of aerial vessels in war; appealing to all governments 'to foster by any means in their power an international understanding which shall preserve the world from warfare in the air.'"