Nathan (vovat) wrote,

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Animals aren't always right

We're repeatedly told in the Oz books that ALL animals in the enchanted land can talk. There are even indications that mosquitoes and butterflies can communicate with people. In Glinda, however, Baum writes, "In Oz, where all the animals and birds can talk, many fishes are able to talk also, but usually they are more stupid than birds and animals because they think slowly and haven't much to talk about." I'm not sure how fish could be dumber than bugs, but it does suggest that: 1) not all fish can talk, and 2) there are levels of sentience among talking animals. I think it's likely that not ALL animals in Oz can talk, or at least they're not all intelligible. I mean, Billina eats ants there, and there's no indication that they scream out in terror when she does this. The fact that Baum differentiates "animals" from birds and fish might suggest that only certain kinds of animals can talk. There doesn't necessarily seem to be any official rule, though. And it does seem like the chances are you could carry on a conversation with the majority of animals you might meet in the Land of Oz.

So, if the animals are sentient, does that mean people don't eat them? After all, it would be a little difficult to send someone you can converse with to the chopping block, right? Well, maybe not. Sure, a lot of the food we see people eat in the Oz stories is stuff like bread, cheese, fruits, and nuts. But we also hear about characters eating turkey legs and mutton chops, and of the porcine Professor Swyne taking steps to defend himself from butchers. Thompson is even worse in this respect, having Snip not surprised that a goose his king plans to eat for dinner is talking (although Mombi, who's serving as cook, insists that "the dinner is not supposed to converse"). Mind you, it's not like humans in non-fairylands always respect everyone else who can speak intelligently. Societies with slavery considered other human beings to be property, and warfare pretty much always involves sentient people killing each other. So are animals in Oz treated as lesser beings, even if they can talk? It's kind of a disturbing thought, but we do have Dorothy's statement that "the girl explained to her friends that in Oz all animals were treated with as much consideration as the people," but only "if they behave themselves." Does that mean that animals who DON'T behave themselves are considered fair game? In Magic, there's a large society of animals ruled by King Gugu the Leopard, who doesn't seem to think his subjects owe any allegiance to the human government. Could it be the case that animals who choose to follow human rules are treated like humans, while those who prefer to remain wild have to submit to the law of the wild?

One idea that's been proposed as a possible solution to the food situation is that meat grows on trees in Oz. In fact, we KNOW it does, with the ham trees in Oogaboo being just one example. But are these plants common enough to make them the typical source of meat? Perhaps they weren't at one point, but they're now being spread around the country, and are pretty standard. At least, that's how I prefer to look at it. Wild animals (who, after all, have generations of instinct to contend with, power of speech and meat plants notwithstanding) are a different story, however. You can TRY to reason with a Kalidah, but I doubt it would do you much good in the end.

Another problem that arises with the animal-eating is that of immortality. We're told that all animals in Oz, like the people, are effectively immortal. They can be totally destroyed, but can't really die. Admittedly, there's plenty of wiggle room in this concept, but it does seem likely that an animal that's been, say, beheaded would still be conscious of what's going on around it. While cooking and curing meat might count as total destruction, would the animal's head be observing this the whole time? That would be awfully morbid, wouldn't it?
Tags: books, food, oz
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