November 4th, 2008


Munchkin Mania, Part 1: Size Matters

One word that the Oz books (well, actually the MGM movie, but the word was introduced in the books) made a household term is, of course, "Munchkin." Thanks to the portrayal of these denizens of the eastern part of Oz by the Singer Midgets, it's become largely synonymous with "little person," and sometimes even "child." In role-playing games, it refers to someone playing overly aggressively. And Dunkin' Donuts refers to their donut holes (which aren't ACTUAL donut holes; you'd probably need the Braided Man for that) by that name. The idea of the Munchkins being short did come from the books, but most of them didn't make a big deal about their height. It was more their living in the east and wearing blue that was significant in Munchkin identity. The first three Munchkins we meet in the Oz series are described as "about as tall as Dorothy, who was a well-grown child for her age, although they were, so far as looks go, many years older." But it isn't just the Munchkins who are referred to as short. The Good Witch of the North is the same height as these three men, the Guardian of the Gates is "a little man about the same size as the Munchkins," and the Quadlings are "short and fat." Later, in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, an American boy named Zeb wrestles with a Munchkin champion who only comes up to his shoulder. In The Lost Princess of Oz, however, the Munchkin boy Ojo is described as taller than Button-Bright, an American boy of about the same age. And Dr. Pipt's comment to the Glass Cat that Ojo could grow to be as tall as his uncle (in The Patchwork Girl of Oz) suggests that Unc Nunkie is much taller than the child-sized Munchkins from the first book. Then we have the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman, the former of whom is a Munchkin suit of clothes stuffed with straw and the latter a Munchkin whose body parts were gradually replaced with tin, and they're often treated as taller than many other characters. Later authors really don't concentrate on the size of the Munchkins at all. The Ozurians from Ruth Plumly Thompson's The Giant Horse of Oz are "a tall fair haired race of Munchkins," and she also identifies the tall and thin Soldier with the Green Whiskers as having been born in the Munchkin Country. Thanks to the movie, though, the entire eastern quadrant of Oz is identified throughout most of the world with diminutive size. At least they didn't get as raw a deal as the Philistines did.

Munchkin Mania, Part 2: The REAL Blue State

So, what is Munchkin government like? Well, there's a King of the Munchkins mentioned in both Ozma of Oz and The Road to Oz, but The Patchwork Girl of Oz says that Unc Nunkie "might have been King of the Munchkins, had not his people united with all the other countries of Oz in acknowledging Ozma as their sole ruler." The implication seems to be that the Munchkins don't have their own ruler at this point, even though the other three quadrants do. In The Giant Horse of Oz, we're told at the beginning that the Munchkin Country "is governed by a King of whom nothing much has been heard for many a long year," and it ends with Cheeriobed being crowned king in place of his vanished father. But since the same book reports that this father disappeared three years before the beginning of the Good Witch of the North's career, and this Witch appears in Wizard, Cheeriobed's father couldn't very well be the king from Ozma and Road.

Cheeriobed and his wife Orin rule through the rest of Ruth Plumly Thompson's books, but for some reason John R. Neill makes the Scarecrow ruler of the Munchkins (with his title alternating between King and Emperor). My preferred explanation is that Cheeriobed was taking a vacation, but there's also March Laumer's idea that the Scarecrow gradually took over government from Cheeriobed when it turned out he couldn't handle reigning over an entire quadrant. I don't believe any of the official books after Neill's make any reference to the ruler of the Munchkins, but since the Scarecrow appears frequently with no sign of his having any ruling duties, I tend to think Cheeriobed is back on throne after his brief absence.

I remember John Bell suggesting that the Munchkin kingship might be rotating, rather than strictly hereditary, which could explain how Unc Nunkie "might have been King of the Munchkins" even though he turns out to belong to a royal family other than Cheeriobed's. I've considered that the country could have had electors like the Holy Roman Empire, and that, together with the election season, inspired this brief piece:

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