November 18th, 2008


Boozing with the Wizard of Oz

Alcohol is pretty much a mainstay of generic fantasy stories, probably because a lot of them hearken back to the Middle Ages, before bottling and water purification had been invented. But what about in children's fantasy? I've heard tell that are some tales with kids anachronistically drinking lemonade back before such a beverage was common. The Harry Potter series has kids drinking non-alcoholic butterbeer, and adults occasionally indulging in firewhiskey. The Narnia series had an appearance by the perpetually drunken Bacchus. And didn't the Mad Hatter offer Alice some wine, even though there turned out not to be any? Of course, these were all British fantasies, and European attitudes toward alcohol (especially involving kids) are quite different. I think the Oz series reflects its time period by its lack of references to alcohol. I believe that Baum might have even been a prohibitionist himself (this was back in the days before that was tried and failed by the country at large), although I can't remember for sure. One possible exception is in the very first Oz book, when the Wizard gives the Cowardly Lion a drink that he claims is courage. It's been speculated, and I tend to agree, that this was actually an intoxicating beverage. But throughout the works of Baum and his successors, we don't see any hard liquors, and even the gang of robbers in Ojo in Oz drinks root beer. Eloise Jarvis McGraw also works a reference to Rolly's adoptive father getting drunk on Gillikin plum wine into her semi-canonical The Rundelstone of Oz.

Smoking, on the other hand, shows up quite frequently in the series. Cap'n Bill smokes a pipe, but at least he admits in The Sea Fairies that it's a bad habit. Ruth Plumly Thompson doesn't even provide such minor condemnations for her smokers. She describes the old soldier Grampa's use of snuff as a bad habit, but doesn't do the same for his frequent pipe-smoking. Thompson also introduced Herby, a medicine man who has pills that can cure bad tempers, loss of sleep, boredom, etc. They're described as medicine (which I, at least, regarded as something different from drugs as a kid, even when I knew the one group was a subset as the other), and might possibly not have any harmful side effects, but I'm inclined to think a character encouraging the use of mind-altering pills wouldn't fly in a modern children's book. And just for the sake of completeness, I'll say that I don't consider the deadly poppy field to be a drug reference. I guess it's because of opium that poppies are associated with sleep, but the association was so well-established by Baum's time that he might well not have even been considering the intermediate step. I don't know that for sure, but it's not like Dorothy and her friends were snorting the poppies anyway.