November 12th, 2008


Stop Dragon My Car Around

Dragons first appear in the Oz series in the fourth book, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. They're actually dragonettes, a term for young dragons that I thought Baum had invented, but stuff I've seen on the Internet suggests otherwise. They reappear several times after that, and I must say that John R. Neill had an unusual way of drawing them. Most of the ones in the Oz series are shown with crocodile-like heads, which doesn't appear to be based on anything in the text. Honestly, I think it gives them kind of a goofy look.

By the way, the game Tales of Destiny, which I've never played, has a dragon enemy named Quox. That must be a Baum reference, right? Quox is the dragon from Tik-Tok of Oz, who lives in a fairyland on the other side of the world from Oz, where dragons are respected, and the Original Dragon makes him home. In Oz itself, on the other hand, most of them are imprisoned underground and only allowed to come to the surface and hunt once per century, although a few of them have integrated into polite society. The Neill books actually have quite a few dragons living in the Emerald City, including the polite two-headed dragonette Evangeline (one of her heads is Evan, and the other Geline, but nobody seems to know which is which). According to Quox, dragons in the Oz universe have fire inside of them that keeps them alive, and Ruth Plumly Thompson expanded that idea to make at least some fire-breathing dragons vulnerable to water. On the other hand, there's an old dragon in The Enchanted Island of Yew whose flame goes out and needs to be lit again, so it's not entirely clear how the internal flame works.

There are some dragons in the Oz books and related volumes who don't breathe fire. Ojo in Oz has an appearance by a blue dragon sent by the Snow Dwarves to freeze Crystal City (not the one in the DC area), who runs around the city like a train. A similar comparison is made between Enorma from Grampa in Oz (who is a fire-breather) and an express train to Atlantic City. This book was written in the twenties, and it shows its age because the rail line to Atlantic City now runs quite slowly. But anyway, comparisons between dragons and trains aren't limited to Oz. The Xanth books have a steam dragon who's clearly inspired by a steam locomotive, and while Piers Anthony has mentioned having read the Baum Oz books, I don't know that he's read any of Thompson's.

An interesting dragon in a Baum non-Oz fantasy is the Purple Dragon of Mo, who doesn't breathe fire (at least as far as I can remember), but does have raspberry jelly in place of blood, and a body that can be stretched like rubber. After the King of Mo gets fed up with the dragon's constant wicked deeds (mostly eating crops, although he also steals the King's head in one of the stories), his people stretch him really thin and cut up his body to use as fiddle strings. (This is one case where the people of Mo had to resort to violins.)

Also worth mentioning are the Auto-Dragons of Thi, mechanical creatures that pull chariots in the town. They're made in a factory, and given orders through music. And this was back when automobiles were still relatively new, proving once again that at least some parts of Oz aren't as technologically backwards as you might expect.