Nathan (vovat) wrote,

The Undersea World of King Anko

In honor of my first visit to the Pacific Ocean, this post will be primarily about L. Frank Baum's Borderlands of Oz book, The Sea Fairies. Actually, I was planning on writing about that book anyway, but it coincides nicely.

In The Sea Fairies, Cap'n Bill tells Trot the old legend about how anyone seeing a mermaid would commit suicide, and a group of real mermaids decides to set him straight. With a touch, they turn Bill and Trot into mer-folk, and give them a tour of the underwater world. The mermaids reveal that they don't need gills because they are each surrounded by a thin layer of air, and that, as immortal fairies, they actually predate both humans and fish. Their ruler is Queen Aquareine, and her daughter Clia and niece Merla also play significant roles in the story. Interestingly, there are no merMEN seen in the book, except for Cap'n Bill's own mer-form. Ruth Plumly Thompson does bring a merman into The Giant Horse of Oz, though. His name is Orpah (which is a woman's name in the Bible, but oh well), and he's the keeper of the riding seahorses for the people of the Ozure Isles. King Cheeriobed provided him with golden crutches that enabled him to move around on land as well. Since there's a scene where he comes out of the lake dripping wet, he might not breathe in the same manner as Aquareine's people, but this is never clearly stated.

Many of the sea creatures encountered in the course of the story are based on puns or other sorts of humor: fiddler crabs that play violins, singing barnacles that sing nonsense tunes, swordfish that serve as guards, evil devilfish, etc. Perhaps the most interesting denizens of the deep, however, are the sea serpents. There are said to be only three in the world, each ruling a different ocean. Anko is in charge of the Pacific, and his brothers' names are Unko and Inko. King Anko is 7482 feet, five and a quarter inches long, but he usually leaves part of himself behind at home when he goes out, reserving glimpses of his full size for honored guests. His length was measured by Adam when Cain was a baby, perhaps the only explicit reference I can recall to Biblical characters in Baum's fantasy. His dialogue is littered with vaudeville-style humor, particularly evident when he refers back to his three pains, which occurred in the times of Nebuchadnezzar (whose real name, according to Anko, was "Nevercouldnever"), Julius Caesar (or "Sneezer"), and Napoleon. Thompson introduces a sea serpent with goblins for teeth in Captain Salt, but I assume this is a different species from Anko's ilk.

And since I devoted most of a paragraph to the ruler of the ocean, I might as well also write about its scourge, the evil Zog. This name would later belong to a real-life King of Albania, a villain in the first Breath of Fire game, and (in initial form) the Zionist Occupation Government; but all of these post-date Baum's story. Zog is described as a hideous creature, being "part man, part beast, part fish, part fowl, and part reptile." He usually kept his body coiled and covered in a robe, which did not stop others from seeing his horns, fiery eyes, and cloven hooves. When fighting his enemy Anko, he revealed the rest of his body, which was eel-like aside from its feathery wings. Zog was 27,000 years old, and spent his time trying to get revenge on Anko for driving him into hiding, as well as giving drowning victims gills so that they could serve him in his hidden palace. Although his facial features were actually rather pleasant, he had a disconcerting habit of smiling when he was most upset. He didn't survive his final battle with Anko, but I can't help wondering if he has family anywhere. Maybe there's a Mazog somewhere in the world. {g}

One somewhat confusing aspect of the story in light of Baum's later mythology is that Rinkitink takes place on the Nonestic Ocean, which becomes established as the body of water closest to Oz. But if Anko and his brothers rule the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans, then who rules the Nonestic? Actually, a few later stories have had Anko himself show up there, so maybe the Nonestic is actually a local name for part of the Pacific. That would seem to fit most of Baum's references, anyway. Perhaps it's better not to think about it, as the location of fairyland might well be something we can't really wrap our mortal minds around.
Tags: books, characters, monsters, oz

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