Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Top Seven Oz Characters (who aren't in the first book).

So, it looks like NBC’s at it again with their yearly live musicals.  The first time, they did The Sound of Music, which I had nothing to say about because it’s not even vaguely fairy tale related.  Then last year they did Peter Pan, which led me to make a post about the Peter Pan story in general.  Now, this year they’re going to be presenting The Wiz.  For those who don’t know, The Wiz is The Wizard of Oz as presented from an African-American perspective and with much funkier music than the Judy Garland film.  I can’t say much about NBC’s specific production of The Wiz because I haven’t seen it yet.  I’m recording it to watch later.  However, one thing I can talk about is the fact that it’s yet another adaptation of the first book!  Seriously, what’s with that?  There are so many wonderful characters and situations in the later books that cry out to be adapted.  But other than some off-brand animated productions and weird, dark mash-ups like Return to Oz, we barely see any of it.  Well, in honor of the characters we hardly ever see, I’ve decided to compile a list: The Top Seven Oz Characters (who aren’t in the first book).

7) H.M. Woggle-Bug T.E.- The Highly Magnified Woggle-Bug,Thoroughly Educated  (abbreviated as seen in the title there) first appeared in Baum’s The Marvelous Land of Oz.  According to his back story, he was an ordinary insect who lived in a schoolhouse and would listen to the lectures of the brilliant Professor Nowitall (pronounced “know-it-all”).  One day, he was caught by the good Professor and stuck in a machine to be magnified and projected onto a screen as part of a lesson.  When a distraction occurs, he seizes the opportunity and leaps off the screen in his magnified state.  So now, both Highly Magnified and Thoroughly Educated, he sets off into the world.  Later on, he would join up with a number of the other characters to free the Emerald City from the army of General Jinjur and he founds The College of Art and Athletic Perfection in the Munchkin Country.  The Woggle-Bug is usually a rather decent fellow.  Though, he is often a bit overly proud of his education.  He likes to spout Latin phrases and long words.  He’s also rather fond of making puns, much to the annoyance of his travelling companion Tip (though, this is a trait I share with the Woggle-Bug).  Now, I know that different folks have different interpretations of these things, but one thing I always picked up in regards to the Woggle-Bug is that while he may be Thoroughly Educated, he never exactly seemed smart.  So, I think that the Woggle-Bug may have been a commentary by Baum on the difference between practical intelligence and education.  Your mileage may vary, though.

6) Jack Pumpkinhead- Jack Pumpkinhead is another character who first appeared in The Marvelous Land of Oz.  He was created by Tip and brought to life using the Powder of Life.  His body is made of wood and his head is a carved pumpkin.  The pumpkin seeds act as Jack’s brains.  Jack isn’t a particularly bright fellow, but he is amiable and the first friend Tip made on his adventure in the second Oz book.  Since he was created by Tip, he sees Tip as his father.  Jack would go on to have a number of adventures with other Oz characters.  Though, he is probably best depicted as a surprisingly successful farmer, despite the fact that he mostly grows pumpkins so that he can use them to replace his current head when it starts to rot.  Honestly, I can’t explain Jack’s placement on this list except to say that I like him.  While Woggle-Bug can be kind of annoying, I just find Jack Pumpkinhead to be fun.  He doesn’t have any overwhelming issue or flaw like many Oz characters have, besides having to replace his own head every once in a while.  Also, there’s a funny scene in The Marvelous Land of Oz with him and the Scarecrow in which they’re both trying to speak through an interpreter because neither of them realizes that both of them are speaking the same language.

5) Tik Tok- Tik Tok is a big, copper mechanical man introduced in the book Ozma of Oz and is not to be confused with the song by Ke$ha.  Tik Tok is actually found in the Land of Ev, a land which lies across the Deadly Desert from Oz, by Dorothy Gale when she washes up on Ev’s shore.  One notable thing about Tik Tok is that he’s a wind-up mechanical man who has to be wound up three ways: thinking, speaking and action.  Tik Tok was a reasonably popular character, having gotten both a play and a book with his name in the title.  He also appears in Disney’s Return to Oz alongside Jack Pumpkinhead and a few others.  To some degree, Tik Tok seems like an update of the Tin Woodman with less baggage.  The Tin Woodman had once been a man from the Munchkin Country and was changed, seemingly losing his heart in the process.  However, Tik Tok was never truly alive and doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with it.  But then, sometimes you don’t know what you’re missing if you never had it.

4) Ojo the Unlucky- Ojo is a young Munchkin boy introduced in The Patchwork Girl of Oz.  He lives with his Uncle who he calls Unc Nunkie in the Blue Forest.  One day he goes with his Unc to visit Unc’s friend Dr. Pipt and finds out from Pipt’s wife that people call him “Ojo the Unlucky”.  Ojo accepts this to be true for various reasons including the fact that he was born on Friday the 13th, is left-handed, has a mole under his arm and just the fact that his actions lead to a huge journey that he must undertake.  The funny thing is that when he meets characters like the Tin Woodman and Ozma, they call him “Ojo the Lucky”.  The reason being that all the reasons he gives for being unlucky, they all see as reasons he’s lucky.  For example, his grand journey is a chance to meet new people and see new places.  It’s not uncommon for children’s entertainment to touch on the notion of luck.  However, the message is usually something along the lines of “we make our own luck”.  Baum took a different approach.  Instead, he seems to focus on the notion that luck either good or bad is a matter of perspective.  If you view yourself as unlucky, then that’s how you’ll see everything that happens to you and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  View yourself as lucky and the whole thing turns around.

3) Scraps Patchwork- Scraps is the title character in The Patchwork Girl of Oz.  She was created by Dr. Pipt’s wife from an old patchwork quilt and cotton stuffing to help her around the house.  However, Ojo messed with the “brain grains” that went into Scraps and the result was a wild, free-spirited creature with a bit too much “poesy” in her soul.  Scraps is just a lot of fun.  While so many of the other characters in Oz seem to be rather rational despite their strangeness, Scraps seems to add just a touch of chaos to the proceedings.  Not in a dangerous way, but in a carefree, exuberant sort of way.  Also, our old friend The Scarecrow seems a bit sweet on her in her debut book.  Interesting note: Baum made a silent movie based on The Patchwork Girl of Oz back in 1914.

2) Ozma- In terms of roles, Ozma is one of the biggest characters Baum introduced into the Oz series.  Her back-story can get a little tricky because Baum tended to retcon his own books from time to time, but the basic story is that Ozma was the rightful princess of Oz who fell into the clutches of a witch named Mombi at an early age.  Interestingly, Mombi hid Ozma by changing her into a boy named Tip.  It’s a concept that hits a whole different chord when read as an adult and has gotten some to refer to Ozma as the first transgender princess (sorry Greg McGoon, Baum may have beaten you to it).  More telling though, is how Ozma reflects Baum’s own politics.  Lyman Frank Baum was an early feminist and proponent of women’s suffrage.  The characters who often have any true power in Oz are women, and Ozma stands at the top of the heap.  Though, personally, I’m not always a fan of how Baum depicted her politics.  For example, Ozma outlawed anyone except the Wizard and Glinda from practicing magic.  But still, few characters are bigger in Oz than Ozma.
So, which Oz character could really take the number one spot away from a major character like Ozma.  Well, drumroll please . . . the answer is . . .
1) The Nome King- Sometimes, there’s nothing better than a really nasty villain. Now, most people remember the Wicked Witch of the West from the original Oz book/movie, but the Witch was really a minor character in the grand scheme of the Oz books. The Nome King was the real villain of the series. He first appears in the third book, Ozma of Oz. In that book, he has taken over Oz’s neighboring country of Ev. It’s then up to Dorothy, Ozma and Ozma’s army to set things to rights. Of course, The Nome King hasn’t made things easy. He’s turned the entire royal family of Ev into knick-knacks using his magic golden belt and makes the various heroes guess which one is real. The heroes triumph of course, but that doesn’t stop the Nome King from coming back again and again to bedevil the heroes of Oz. Even when they use magic water to erase his memory, he still ends up back at his evil ways with only a name change (he forgot his name was Roquat and changed it to Ruggedo). It’s this constant tenacity that really impresses me about the Nome King. He’s not even from Oz but after they beat him once, he just can’t let it slide. Luckily, Nomes have one glaring weakness. Eggs are poison to Nomes and those can be provided by Dorothy’s faithful hen Billina.

So, there’s the list.  This is just the beginning, though.  There are so many great characters in the Oz books.  Like Polychrome the Rainbow’s Daughter, or The Shaggy Man, or Button Bright, or the Sawhorse or the Very Hungry Tiger.  There are even characters that were imported from other Baum books like Captain Bill and Trot from The Sea Fairies.  So if you haven’t checked out the Oz books, you ought to do it.  You’ll likely make a new friend or two.