Off to Oz

I am working my way through the 14 Oz books of L Frank Baum (he didn’t like his first name so he reduced it to an initial and called himself Frank) and have reached number 13. I have rapidly become a big fan and rather enjoy reading the further adventures of Dorothy et al. As Baum himself asserted, his books were not just for children. Viewed in this way, they make very interesting reading.

Baum was married to Maud Gage (presumably making her Maud Baum, which is unfortunate), the daughter of Matilda Joslyn Gage, an amazing woman and leading light of the beginning of the Feminist Movement before there was a Feminist Movement (here’s her Wikipedia entry). For this reason, a lot of people have written that Baum featured a lot of Feminist issues in the Oz books.

One prime example is in his second Oz book, The Marvelous Land of Oz where an all-girl army led by the gorgeous Jinjur take over The Emerald City by (unopposed) force. They are armed with knitting needles but they are not required as there is rarely any violence in Oz. At this point one could easily agree that this is quite a radical stance for a man writing in the late 19th century – I have to admit to having to remind myself every now and then that he WAS writing quite a long time ago!

However, and this is the bit that always gets me, the girl army led by Jinjur, called the Army of Revolt, had an excellent reason for wanting to take over The Emerald City. It wasn’t for equal rights. Nor was it a cry to be taken seriously and being treated the same as men. No. It was because they wanted all the shiny gems dotted around the Emerald City – mostly big emeralds.

Further, according to General Jinjur:

“Moreover, the City glitters with beautiful gems, which might far better be used for rings, bracelets and necklaces; and there is enough money in the King’s treasury to buy every girl in our Army a dozen new gowns. So we intend to conquer the City and run the government to suit ourselves.”

That doesn’t say Feminist to me! It says that women are only interested in shiny, colourful things that they can adorn themselves with. I think that’s a bit sad. And given that Baum’s characters are mostly girls who manage to outwit male figures almost all the time through his books, the Army of Revolt is, quite frankly, a bit of a disappointment.

When we meet Jinjur in subsequent books, she is a housewife married to a man (who we never meet) who she has to berate all the time and who she’s not that keen on. By this time, Baum has her being more defined as a Feminist figure and more forthright in her views.

I think Baum was a wonderful writer; the Oz books are marvellously entertaining. I also think he was a Feminist leaning writer.

An excellent example is in The Tin Woodman of Oz, when the Tin Woodman hunts for and finds his true love (from the original book and the reason he’s made of tin) Nimmie Amee. He intends to marry her, even though he doesn’t love her (he can’t, he has the wrong kind of heart) and often remarks that she would be grateful because she would become the Empress of the Winkies as his wife. Of course, this doesn’t happen and she rejects him in the end. This is not the fairy story ending one would expect! But it paints Nimmie Amee in a very Feminist light.

It’s just sad about the Army of Revolt. Though I quite like the fact that they took over the Emerald City with knitting needles.

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