Nathan (vovat) wrote,

Clowning Around in Oz

Today's Oz character of focus isn't exactly a favorite of mine. In fact, I know a fair number of Oz fans who actively dislike him. He's still an interesting character in many ways, however, and I guess I have somewhat of a soft spot for him as he's one of the protagonists in the first non-Baum Oz book that I read. I'm referring to the circus clown from The Cowardly Lion of Oz, who was given the name Notta Bit More by his father (also a clown). Notta is totally devoted to being a clown, to the point where he can't stand not to have a powdered face. He also has a set of rules worked out in case of trouble (disguise, politeness, joke, and run), which he sticks to even though it's never effective. He's from the United States, but he arrives in Oz with a red-headed orphan boy from Philadelphia named Bobbie Downs, whom he promptly renames Bob Up. The circus is in a place called Stumptown, and there is a place in Pennsylvania with that name, but it's sixty miles from Philadelphia. I wouldn't imagine a repressive orphanage would take its kids THAT far out of town for a circus. Oh, well. The important thing is that Notta, in a desperate attempt to entertain a bored audience, makes up a nonsense rhyme on the spot. In the spirit of odd coincidences that abound in the Oz books, this turns out to be a spell to transport himself and Bob to Mudge, an unfriendly desert country in the southeastern corner of Oz. After a series of adventures in which he gets in trouble with his various disguises and jokes, but ultimately manages to save the Cowardly Lion from the bad-tempered King Mustafa of Mudge, Notta and Bob are invited by Ozma to live in a tent just outside the Emerald City. I believe the two of them are only mentioned again in one other book, The Wishing Horse of Oz, in which they put on a circus at Ozma's party.

Circuses are actually a quite common theme in the Oz books, probably because they were a quite common experience for kids in the early twentieth century. (They're still common today, of course, but I don't think they're anywhere near as significant as they were back then.) The Wizard of Oz was a circus ventriloquist and balloonist, and a lot of the more prominent animal characters in the series are of sorts that children would have seen in circuses (you know, lions and tigers and bears, and all that). Thompson's last Oz book, The Enchanted Island of Oz, features a camel who has been in a circus, although he originally came from Oz. The portrayal of circuses in this book is somewhat more negative than in earlier ones, perhaps reflecting a change in the times. The main character, a boy from Pennsylvania (yes, another one) named David Perry, is excited about seeing the circus, but he also learns that the camel has been abused by his handlers, and helps him to escape back to his homeland.
Tags: books, oz

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