Nathan (vovat) wrote,

They Wood If They Could

Throughout the Oz books, we see several characters made of wood and brought to life by magical means (if their animation is explained at all). Some of these wooden beings are quite major players in the series, and the first two wooden beings to have such roles are Jack Pumpkinhead and the Sawhorse, both introduced in The Marvelous Land of Oz. Tip makes Jack out of wood with a pumpkin head in order to frighten his guardian Mombi, and the witch uses the figure to test the Powder of Life that she'd just obtained. Tip takes Jack with him when he runs away, and the pumpkin-headed man makes a pleasant companion, despite not being too bright. At first Jack is terrified of his head spoiling, but he eventually realizes he can replace it with another carved pumpkin, and settles down to raise an entire pumpkin patch in the Winkie Country.

While on their first journey, Tip and Jack come across an oaken sawhorse that was made to resemble an actual horse. Tip uses the Powder of Life, which he took from Mombi, to bring the sawhorse to life, intending it to be a steed for the clumsy Jack. The Sawhorse serves admirably in this role, and later becomes Ozma's own personal steed, and the puller of the Red Wagon. He never tires, and is able to reach impressive speeds.

In Dorothy and the Wizard, the protagonists come across an entire wooden country, located underground and known as the Land of Naught. The inhabitants are grotesque wooden Gargoyles, who fly using detachable wings, and are completely silent. When our heroes arrive in Naught, the Gargoyles imprison them in a tower, but the party manages to escape by using some stolen wings. On his way out of the country, the Wizard starts a fire, claiming that he doesn't mind if it burns down the entire kingdom. I'd say that's overkill, considering that the Gargoyles mostly just seemed to want the noisy intruders out of their way, but I suppose even Oz characters don't always make the most humane decisions. The Gargoyles differ from other magically animated wooden beings in that they need to sleep.

The post-Baum authors came up with plenty of wooden protagonists of their own. In Kabumpo, we meet a wooden doll named Peg Amy, carved by Cap'n Bill for Trot, and stolen by Ruggedo. The former Nome King uses the doll to test some newly found Instantaneous Expanding Extract and Reanimating Rays, which result in Peg taking human size and coming to life. And yes, since they're RE-animating Rays, that means Peg was alive before, but I don't want to give away too much of the ending.

Neill's main wooden hero is Davy Jones. No, not the little guy from the Monkees, but the enormous wooden whale who serves as a ship. He DOES sing occasionally, though, or least hums. While he claims to be quite old, we don't really know about his history prior to his serving as a vessel for pie-stealing pirates. He eventually manages to abandon the Pie Rats at a floating volcanic bakery, which happens to be where Bucky Jones from New York has just landed. Davy takes a liking to Bucky, both due to his sharing the same last name and his being from a family of ship captains, and the two of them travel together to the Emerald City. They then take jobs transporting baked goods from the volcano (which the Wizard relocates to Lake Quad) to the city. I find the whale to one of Neill's best original creations, having both an interesting appearance and a well-defined personality. And incidentally, like the Gargoyles but unlike the Sawhorse, Davy needs to sleep.

In his Shaggy Man, Jack Snow gives us Twiffle, a little wooden clown brought to life by the wizard Conjo, and his only companion on his lonely island in the Nonestic Ocean. The story begins with Twiffle leading Abbadiah and Zebbediah Jones of Buffalo (better known as Twink and Tom) through their father's projection television screen to the Isle of Conjo. Twiffle identifies himself as the third cousin of Twink and Tom's own wooden clown Twoffle, and says that the two of them often talked while the children were asleep. This is somewhat of an oddity, as there's no indication that Twoffle is alive. If it's a Raggedy Ann/Velveteen Rabbit/Toy Story sort of situation in which toys can all communicate with each other when humans aren't watching, that seems a little out of place in the Oz series. It's not like the Scarecrow, for instance, shows any signs of being able to converse with non-living scarecrows. Maybe there's more to this relationship than Snow reveals. Anyway, Twiffle never really comes across as a particularly interesting character in his own right, but he is helpful, assisting the kids and the Shaggy Man in escaping Conjo and journeying to (where else?) the Emerald City.

Two of the McGraws' Oz books also include significant animated wooden characters. The title character in Merry Go Round is a carousel horse at a carnival in Oregon. When Robin Brown grabs the brass ring while riding on Merry, both of them are transported to Oz, and Merry comes to life. She initially can only travel in circles, but she eventually learns to walk in a straight line without getting dizzy. Merry desires to become a wooden horse, and plans to ask the Wizard to grant this favor, but she eventually decides she prefers being a live carousel horse.

Rundelstone introduces the Troopadours, an acting troop made up of live wooden marionettes carved by a carpenter named Angeletto (the Ozian equivalent of Geppetto, I suppose). The amateur magician Slyddwyn enchants the Troopadours when they come to his home at Whitheraway Castle, but he restores the Third Comedian Pocotristi Sostenuto (or "Poco" for short) to serve as his majordomo. Poco manages to locate the Rundelstone that Slyddwyn used to transform his friends, and restores them to their true forms.

This is actually far from an exhaustive list of live wooden characters in books set in the Oz universe. A few others that come to mind include:

  • The live wooden dolls, soldiers, and other toys of Merryland. Some of the soldiers accompany Queen Dolly when she visits Oz in Road.
  • Two cigar store Indians, Wart-on-the-Nose-and-Cleaver-in-the-Neck from the Isle of Phreex in John Dough and the Cherub, and Chief Thundercloud from Gina Wickwar's Hidden Prince.
  • A school of wooden mermaid dolls known as Dollfins in Lucky Bucky.
  • The pine people that Princess Ozana made to amuse herself. The elevator operator Hi-Lo and his wife are rumored to be the biological parents of Edgar Bergen's dummy Charlie McCarthy, but Snow doesn't go into any of the details of how pine people are capable of reproducing.
  • Tim Ber, a flying log encountered by Tompy and Yankee in the Gillikin Country.
  • Several instances of live furniture, but I think they're better saved for another post.
Tags: books, characters, oz

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