March 16th, 2010


The Fiction Will Set You Free

I was thinking today about fantasy movies, and of course The Wizard of Oz came to mind. Like a lot of fans, I'm not too keen on the "it was all a dream" ending, and Dorothy's conclusion before waking up that she shouldn't want to leave home again. It removes a lot of the magic from the adventure. This in turn led me to consider some comments I've seen on Oz forums throughout the years, and ponder the question of whether fantasy is dangerous. I recently made a sorta-joking comment on Twitter about how easy listening radio is intended to suck the life out of workers, and while I don't think there's any actual conspiracy going on there, I have to suspect there's a grain of truth to it. Is it the same way with fantasy? Are American workers not supposed to be dreaming of more majestic things, because it will give us ideas above our stations? Why work in a cubicle when you can imagine hunting dragons? I'm not saying this is a conscious thought on the part of the establishment, but I'm wondering if there's a subconscious element to it.

And while we're on the topic of control, what about religion? Karl Marx referred to it as the "opiate of the masses." A question I've pondered from time to time is why modern American conservatives are so big on Jesus, when he was a pretty radical liberal thinker for his time. One thing that comes to mind is that, while Jesus talked a good game, he also encouraged his followers to remain humble and not challenge the establishment. Probably a good idea in Roman times, considering what happened later with Simon bar Kochba's revolt, but also a good way for later Christian governments to keep the people in line. Oppressed? Don't worry about it! Just be patient, and things will be awesome when Jesus comes back! We don't know when that will be, but it'll be soon enough, right? Life is just temporary, while paradise is for eternity! I can see where old man Marx was coming from, you know? Of course, the countries that adopted communism just used Marx's own ideas to keep the working classes down, just like Europe had done with Jesus' radical notions. Funny how these things work.

Does fantasy have the same effect? After all, most fantasy that I've read, regardless of the author's political and religious beliefs, has more in common with Jesus than with Marx. It's rare to read fairy tales that actively encourage social revolution. And are we fantasy fans, as an essay I once read suggested, just waiting for the good fairy to show up and wave her wand instead of actually doing anything to solve the world's problems? Really, today's fantasy tales are often based on yesterday's mythology. Look at the Percy Jackson series, for instance. There's even fantasy based on modern religion, although perhaps it's too soon for believers to judge it based on its own merits rather than its position. Some (but by no means all) Christians who hate other fantasy works love Narnia, with C.S. Lewis' pro-Christian message. On the other hand, some of the same people are vehemently opposed to Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series, which takes a more negative approach to Judeo-Christian mythology. Pullman himself is an atheist, but the universe of these books seems to me to be based more on Gnostic thought. I'm sure Pullman doesn't actually believe in angels, but they exist in his invented worlds. It's all fiction, after all. But considering there are people who are actually feel their faith confirmed by books with a talking lion and threatened by books with polar bears in armor, I'm not sure they all realize this. Harry Potter gets particular flak in this area, despite the fact that J.K. Rowling is a Christian, who's said herself that she believes in God and not in magic. The problem might be that her critics believe in both. Still, if you read some of the conservative Christian reviews of the Potter books and movies, it often seems like the Satanic panic is somewhat of a smokescreen. Perhaps what they're REALLY worried about is how they suggest that authority figures aren't always right, and there are times when it's not a bad idea to break the rules. Come to think of it, there might be some of that in Gnostic philosophy, too. The Demiurge claims to be the Almighty God, and perhaps even genuinely BELIEVES that he's God, but he isn't. Indeed, while we didn't see too much of this figure in The Amber Spyglass, what we did learn of him suggests he was somewhat misguided and naive, allowing Enoch to take advantage of him. This stuff fascinates me, but my point is that powerful conservative interests don't WANT people to think for themselves, and the idea that authority figures (perhaps even including God) can sometimes be wrong encourages just that. And we don't need that in our children, do we? If they ever go looking for their heart's desire again, they shouldn't look any further than their own backyards. Because if it isn't there, they never really lost it to begin with!

Wow, that was a lot more rambling and all over the place than I originally intended. I have a few other thoughts on related subjects, but I'll save them for future posts.


  • 08:14 @NowIsStrange You didn't tweet it, though, so it doesn't count. #
  • 12:52 Photo: In today’s Oz post, I discuss the Yips, including Cayke the Cookie Cook. #
  • 19:25 Beware the Ides of March. Also, happy birthday to @poisonyoulove! #
  • 19:40 @willmatheson Actually, it was being followed by a moon shadow. #
  • 19:44 Why is Mazda still using that "zoom zoom" kid? Did anyone like him in the first place? #

  • 19:50
    Going bankrupt in Wheel of Fortune might not be so bad if it weren't for the sound effect. #
  • 19:51 They really should start playing that sound when people lose money on Wall Street. #
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Hyups on a Mountaintop

While we're talking about Ozian mountaintops communities, why don't we take a look at Mount Munch, a mountain with steep sides a saucer-shaped top in the northeastern Munchkin Country, bordering on the Deadly Desert. The mountain first shows up on the map on the Tik-Tok of Oz endpapers, and first enters into a plot in The Tin Woodman of Oz. Near its foot lies the home of Nick Chopper's former lover Nimmie Amee and her husband Chopfyt, and the nearby plains are the location of the Swynes' farm. These pigs, Professor Grunter and his wife Squealina, are the parents of the Nine Tiny Piglets that the Wizard of Oz uses in his tricks. And in the next book, Magic, we learn what's on top of Mount Munch. Not surprisingly, it's an isolated civilization, the people being known as Hyups.

We only learn the names of three Hyups in the book, and they are all from the same family, the Arus. Bini Aru used to be a sorcerer, and came up with a way to perform any transformation just by saying a single word. Baum apparently spelled the word a few different ways in his first draft of the text, but it was spelled PYRZQXGL in the published version. It's important to pronounce it just the right way, however, and of course Baum never tells us what that pronunciation is. When Ozma outlawed magic, Bini destroyed all of his tools, but considered the word too good to give up. So he wrote it and the correct pronunciation on a floorboard. When Bini and his wife Mopsi, known for baking huckleberry pies, were away at a festival, their sullen teenage son Kiki (yeah, I know that's not usually a boy's name, but it apparently is among the Hyups) discovers the floorboard, and uses the transformation word to visit some of the countries surrounding Oz. In Ev, he runs into Ruggedo, the former Nome King, who convinces him to help out in his latest plan for the conquest of Oz. Kiki doesn't trust the Nome, for good reason, but he does go along with Ruggedo's scheme. They argue, however, and the Wizard of Oz learns the magic word and turns the two conspirators into nuts. When he restores them, he has them drink of the Water of Oblivion, and that's the last we see of the boy in the canon. We can only imagine how the elder Arus reacted to their missing son.

Actually, that idea forms the background for the plot of the short story "Much Ado About Kiki Aru," which appeared in the 1986 Oziana. In the story, Bini goes out to search for Kiki, and eventually finds him and brings him back to Mount Munch. The same tale also gives the origins of the magic word, and it stops working by the end. That would explain why the Wizard never uses it in later books, even when it would come in handy. On the other hand, the apocryphal Invisible Inzi, Glass Cat, and Unknown Witches all have the word still working.