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The Splendid Dystopia in the Marvelous Land of Oz: 02/09/18

The Splendid Dystopia in the Marvelous Land of Oz

The Marvelous Land of Oz is the second of the Oz books but really the one that sets up most of the rules of how Oz as a magical land works. Dorothy, the protagonist of the initial book (and many subsequent ones) is absent in this one, replaced instead by a boy named Tip and his traveling companions: Jack Pumpkinhead, the Sawhorse, and the Woggle Bug. This volume is also the first in many examples of why dystopian Oz stories strike me as so improbable.

The book's cover, even in the original 1904 edition, shortens the title to The Land of Oz. The publication data, though, always lists the book with the additional "Marvelous." Let me explain why the marvelous is crucial to the understanding of the Oz series as a whole.

We know from Dorothy's adventures that there are five distinct parts to Oz: Munchkins to the East (blue), Winkie to the West (yellow), Gillikin to the North (purple), Quadling to the South (red), and the Emerald City in the center (Green). If we were observant, we know that West and East are flipped (evidence, I argue that Oz is another earth like box inside a tesseract).

Looking at the shorter version, the world building aspect of the novel is clear. This is the book that does the bulk of the world building. It takes the initial information provided in The Wizard of Oz and expands upon it. Primarily it shows how important and tangible color is for each land. Tip as runs away from Mombi he takes note of the changing palette of the landscape:

"Tip noticed that the purple tint of the grass and trees had now faded to a dull lavender, and before long this lavender appeared to take on a greenish tinge that gradually brightened as they drew nearer to the great City where the Scarecrow ruled." (p. 59)

Color is so much a part of Oz and it's regional identities, that when the Emerald City is under attack, the army and its general, Jinjur, are dressed in a uniform that includes all five of Oz's colors.

A colorized illustration to show Gen. Jinjur in full regalia

Recall, though, that the complete title is The Marvelous Land of Oz. Marvelous is adjective form of marvel. It means extraordinary, causing great wonder, good or pleasing, or splendid. Oz, even in a power vacuum left by the Wizard's departure and the reluctant leadership of the Scarecrow (a literal manifestation of a guardian of the cornfield), the land of Oz is good. At it's complete nadir, it is still good.

Besides the internal landscape of Oz, there is discussion of how Oz lies in relation to Earth (and more specifically the one piece they know of it, Kansas). Kansas is described as "a place in the outside World." (p. 36), implying that Oz is contained within something. It could be a magical cornfield (as I suggested in Crossing the Cornfield) or it could be a tesseract (disguised by a cornfield).

Through Jinjur's revolution and through the Scarecrow's ready admission that he doesn't feel qualified to rule if he was given the crown by way of a previous usurper (the wizard), it is established that the balance of power of Oz is teetering. That is where Tip comes in — as in tip the scales — or in a more meta-reading, tip one's hand (namely, Baum revealing the rightful ruler of Oz).

As I wrote in the transformative power of the cornfield, The Marvelous Land of Oz is also a book of transformations, or if you prefer, transitions. There is a transition of power in the Emerald City, there are inanimate things transformed into living ones (Jack, the Sawhorse, and the Gump), through magnification (the Woggle Bug), Mombi through her many disguises, and finally Tip (though for Tip, it is a reversal back into her original form as Ozma).

Ozma even more so than Jinjur is an example as to why the dystopian Oz stories don't work. In Dorothy Must Die and Tin Man, the premise is that women in control have ruined the magical land of Oz. With the exception of King Pastoria (Ozma's father), Oz is at it's lowest points during the rule of the Wizard and the Scarecrow.

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