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Road trip to the underworld: the Nome King and Hades: 03/18/18
The road narrative has a long tradition of being a metaphor for life and death. Donald Gutierrez aligns the literary maze with death in his collection of essays: The Maze in the Mind and the World: Labyrinths in Modern Literature. While I disagree with the reach of his statement, I must agree that death and the road do share a literary history.
Four classic Greek stories that feed into the modern road narrative as it intersects the underworld are: Persephone and Hades, Orpheus and Eurydice, The Odyssey, and Theseus and the Minotaur. Of them I'm most interested in the Minotaur as a road narrative figure. See in particular these essays: Mapping the roads of the American nightmare (2017), Crossing the cornfield (2017), The maze isn't for you — except when it is, and my reviews of: Are We There Yet? by Nina Laden, Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat, The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill, Lowriders to the Center of the Earth by Cathy Camper, Three Years with the Rat by Jay Hosking, and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.
But the unification of the rural, American experience with the labyrinth and the underworld is not restricted to the twenty-first century. L. Frank Baum's third Oz book, Ozma of Oz (1907), while at first glance is the meeting of Dorothy and Ozma and the forming of a series long friendship, it's also encoded with numerous references to the underworld.
One theory I'm working through is that Oz is most easily visited through near death experiences. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger — or takes you to Oz. The name, Oz, by the way, means strength. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy should have died when her farm house was ripped from its foundation by the cyclone (and it is called a cyclone in the book, not a tornado). Ozma, herself survives infanticide through transformation. Now in book three, Dorothy survives drowning at sea by washing ashore on a land adjacent to Oz (save for the dessert that separates the two) The first hint that Oz is aligned with the Underworld in Ozma of Oz is the destination of Dorothy and Uncle Henry. She was accompanying him to Australia for his health. Here is a bit of wordplay. Australia is both known as "down under" and Oz. It's a natural progression to go from down under to under ground to Underworld and Oz.
Dorothy and Ozma, though, team up to restore the devastated Kingdom of Ev by rescuing the royal family imprisoned by the Nome King. The Nome King is again a pun. Said out loud it brings to mind Gnome King, or a magical creature who protects the "earth's treasures underground" (New Oxford American Dictionary). But by spelling it Nome, it also brings to mind the Greek root nomos which gives Nome — the name for governmental districts in Greece — and pasture (the root of nomad). Like Persephone, Ozma, who can bring inanimate things to life (see The Marvelous Land of Oz, and has a long standing relationship with the Underworld, and in this case, The Nome King, rather than Hades. The Nome King's anger stems the above-grounders digging up his mountain and taking his kingdom's crops (gold, jewels, other precious items).
To return the royal family of Ev requires a trip into the mountains and then into the mountain. They have been transformed into inanimate objects. They might as well be dead and stored away in catacombs. The Nome King and Hades both hoard people. The ultimate rescue of the the Ev royal family aligns nicely with Orpheus going to the underworld for Eurydice or Odysseus's detour to talk to his fallen crewmate.