December 16th, 2008


I Heard the Bell-Snickle on Christmas Day

One of the oddest creatures in the Land of Oz (which is really saying something) is the Bell-Snickle, a creature made of rubber with bells on its ears, resembling (in the words of John Bell) an overgrown whoopie cushion. He's the main villain in The Scalawagons of Oz, but he's mischievous rather than evil. His main motivation is to be recognized as a mystery (as paradoxical as that sounds), and eliminate all other mysteries around him, causing a lot of trouble along the way. As you might have guessed (or already know, if you've read the book), he's a pretty lame villain, but an interesting creation nonetheless. Ozma eventually puts him to work as a rubber stamp in Jenny Jump's style shop, and a rubber stopper who puts a stop to various wrongs in the county. (The book was written in the early forties, so job creation would have been familiar to contemporary readers, as it might easily become in the next few years as well.) The reason I bring the Snickle up at this time of year is that his name is actually connected to a certain holiday gift-giver. You see, the term "Belsnickel" (or "Pelznickel") means "Nicholas in Furs," and was the name of St. Nicholas in parts of Germany. Later, it came to mean not the jolly saint himself, but his helper, much in the same vein as Black Peter. In Pennsylvania Dutch culture (which might well have been how John R. Neill, a resident of New Jersey, would have become familiar with the name), the Belsnickel was a fearsome creature who carried a whip and distributed coal and switches to the bad children. So does the Bell-Snickle of Oz have any connection to Santa, who is himself an established part of the Baumian fantasy universe? The book doesn't make any indication of this, but I could imagine him being a failed attempt at a new toy, which somehow made its way into Oz. But if that is the case, I would imagine the Bell-Snickle wouldn't want it to get out, as he prefers to remain a mystery.

Okay, I'm still doing the happiness meme, so what made me happy today was that I received the latest issue of The Baum Bugle, and it deals primarily with Ozian geography. That makes me more excited than it probably should. Also, yesterday, I bought the first issue of Marvel Comics' new adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. As I mentioned before, the art by Skottie Young is rather weird, especially as far as the characters' oversized heads and skinny legs go. They're accurate to the books, though, and I like his original takes on some of the characters, including the Wicked Witch of the West and Boq. I'm looking forward to the next issue, which will most likely introduce the Tin Woodman and Cowardly Lion.