Emerald City of Oz

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Frank Baum's Emerald City of Oz introduces children to fun ideas like that of rigmaroles.Oh dear. I’ve created a monster! I’ve introduced the children to the idea of the Rigmaroles, from the book Emerald City of Oz. The Rigmaroles speak in rigmaroles, that is, they speak in long drawn out nonsensical sentences and my children find the very idea fantastic. My children don’t really need the invitation to try to talk and monopolize conversation, but they accepted the invitation anyway; my seven year old delighted in having a rigmarole contest with his grandfather yesterday. By the time he announced he had won, his grandfather still hadn’t had a chance to say anything. Anyone want to borrow a non-stop talking seven year old? I could stand some peace and quiet right now. On the other hand, I see great potential for using the Rigmaroles in part of the children’s schoolwork. I could have my seven-year old try to edit a Rigmarole story into a more sensible variation.

The book Emerald City of Oz is a really, really fun one. The book follows two plots at once. Dorothy, her uncle and aunt and a few friends are taking a tour of Oz while at the same time a Nome general is taking a tour of the evil spirits who live outside of Oz, recruiting them to join in an attack on the Emerald City. Through the two tours we are introduced to a great variety of magical creatures, which can be roughly grouped in pairs.

The Flutterbudgets come immediately after the Rigmaroles, and my children bear a striking resemblance to them too. They are worryworts, always thinking about the unlikeliest possibilities. In this case having the name “flutterbudget” helps, as I can reference to it as a way of reminding the children they are being unreasonable in their fears.

There are two sets of playthings – the living paperdolls and the living puzzles. My children enjoyed cutting out their own paper dolls after reading the chapter on paperdolls and the puzzles led to some interesting speculation. Do the puzzles have any awareness when they are scattered in pieces? Does each part have its own awareness or can the person hold an awareness of all the scattered pieces? Why don’t they put each other together? The book says they don’t because they wouldn’t be a puzzle to each other and it wouldn’t be fun for them, but that suggests they live just for others, to give others the fun of putting them together. Do they have a preference as to which state they are in, and if so, why not put the effort into putting each other into being in that state?

Dorothy is brought into the land of Utensia by some walking spoons, and then wanders into Bunbury looking for food. In Bunbury she is permitted to eat some of the unwanted belongings (like a short-bread piano) but not the bready-inhabitants. In Utensia she is surrounded by puns, some of them crude (a saucepan is told to “go hang yourself, sir – by the handle – and don’t let me hear from you again” while a carving knife wants to “have a slashing good time” carving up Dorothy) and some of them charming (“Compose yourself, Mr. Paprica… your remarks are piquant and highly-seasoned but you need a scattering of commonsense.”).

With many of the characters springing forth from a home – puzzles, paper dolls, utensils and food – the book has a very homely feel. I can’t help feeling like Dorothy is a real girl taking an imaginative tour of a real house. In that way it reminds me of The Legend of the Golden Snail, by Graeme Base, where the illustrations show that the creatures the young boy meets are imaginative responses to the household items the boy is surrounded by at the beginning. However much of the inspiration arises out of a home, the home is definitely a pre-WWI American home. The armies are being gathered. The inevitability of aviation is starting to sink in. Poverty is visible.

There are some large issues touched gently upon within the book. War is a theme and the untrustworthiness of those who like war. Two of the allies that the Nome general recruits is secretly planning to attack the Nomes. It is to the Nomes great good-fortune that Princess Ozma both insists on complete pacifism and finds a way to prevent any fighting at all.

A second theme is harder to describe. Dorothy’s uncle and aunt are no longer able to pay their mortgage and face losing their farm, so Dorothy and Ozma bring them to Oz. Oz has no money and no one must work more than they want to but there is plenty to share. In keeping with the idea that people want to work, the uncle and aunt become bored of just living in the palace and desire roles of some sort. Then when Dorothy visits Bunnybury she meets the bunny king, who wishes he was not king but free to run in the forest. After showing Dorothy the delights of his bunny kingdom he decides he doesn’t want to part with the luxuries he has grown accustom to. While not explicitly linked, both of these events seem to portray some of the tension within the “American ideal.” Is the American ideal the gilded cage or the hard working life of freedom?

There are a few other topics I’d like to touch briefly on. In the Wogglebug’s athletic college the students learn through taking pills, thus freeing their time from studying and allowing them to spend more time on athletics. What do you make of that? Would you skip the chance to study? Is the purpose of studying the knowing or is it the learning? (My seven year old said learning is more fun than knowing and knowing can be troublesome.)

The Zebra and the crab have an ongoing argument about whether there is more land or water in the world. Each speaks from his experience, and the friends who attempt to settle the quarrel begin by accounting some of their experiences. I think this ties in with the questions I frequently ask about how we know anything. Do more people support or dislike President Obama? If you try to answer this from one’s experience, you’re going to be challenged! Most of us surround ourselves with those who hold similar beliefs and even when we don’t, how do we know our experience is representational?

The Emerald City of Oz is a delightful book. My four year old enjoyed it and incorporates bits of it into his play, and my seven year old joined me in speculating and theorizing throughout it. Sometimes I am skeptical about reading sequels or books in series, for fear that the quality goes downhill, but not the Oz books. Frank Baum definitely improved in skill as he continued to write.

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6 thoughts on “Emerald City of Oz

  1. Interesting. I didn’t know there were any books about the Wizard of Oz other than just the original book. Sounds like this book has a lot of opportunities for connections within and outside of the text.

  2. My daughter read all the Oz books, my copies from when I was a girl. Then she went on to read some Oz-based books by other authors. We had an Oz-themed costume party when she turned 10. It was great. And I am enjoying reading your analysis and thoughts. Thanks.

  3. This looks like a really fun book! I’ve never read any Oz books, although I’ve absorbed a lot of the culture over the years! I love the idea of living puzzles but think they must feel terribly isolated – I had an instant vision of one of them on a counseller’s couch discussing their feelings of alienation!

    Thanks for including it in the Kid Lit Blog Hop

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