Nathan (vovat) wrote,

A country made of china? Nothing could be finer!

For the first Oz post of the new year, I think I'll go back to something from the very first Oz book, specifically the China Country. This was essentially the first in a series of themed communities that show up in the Oz books and rarely add anything to the plot. Indeed, this particular episode is so irrelevant that the plot would still make sense if it were omitted entirely, and critics have pointed out that the writing style is different from that of the rest of the book. This has led to speculation that the visit to this place was added in after L. Frank Baum had already completed the manuscript, possibly just to pad things out a bit. Nonetheless, its presence is somewhat significant in that it sets a precedent for some of the weird territories in later books.

The China Country is sort of a miniature community located in the midst of the forests of the Quadling Country. Baum describes the inhabitants and buildings in terms of Dorothy's size, and Dorothy is probably somewhere between six and ten years old at this point. The tallest of the buildings only reach her waist, and the tallest of the people come up to her knee. They were quite likely based on collectible porcelain figurines of the time (Michael Patrick Hearn, in The Annotated Wizard of Oz, mentions Meissen and Dresden as popular china lines of the period), and include milkmaids, shepherds and shepherdesses, clowns, royals, and farm animals. A few of the figures seen in this community are a bit unusual for Oz. While Baum tells us earlier in the story that the Munchkins had never seen a dog prior to Toto, and later expands this to Toto being the first dog in Oz, period. Not surprisingly, he contradicts this occasionally, and the "little purple china dog with an extra-large head" in the China Country is actually the first such exception. There are also china horses, and the Cowardly Lion accidentally smashes a china church with his tail. While there are a few mentions of churches in the Thompson books, Baum generally leaves religion out of the picture entirely, leading March Laumer to joke that "the 'Church' never recovered from this fall!" I would assume that churches, dogs, and horses were all common porcelain figures, so Baum felt he pretty much had to put them in there, even if they didn't match his visions of the rest of Oz (which, to be fair, weren't even all that well thought out by this time; it WAS the first book, which he originally intended as a stand-alone). Everyone and everything in the community is quite fragile, and while there are menders who can glue their broken comrades back together, most of the people prefer to remain whole if at all possible.

For protection, the China Country is surrounded by...well, a great wall of china, basically. While there's no specific indication that Baum was thinking of the actual country of China when designing this land, the wall makes it seem likely that he was, at least in part. China had isolationist policies in place at the time Baum wrote the story, and the episode could be viewed as a subtle message for the Western powers not to intervene in such places. After all, they could end up inadvertently causing harm, as Dorothy and her friends do.

As with most small themed communities, the China Country never appears in any other canonical books. It has, however, shown up in some apocryphal works. In Roger Baum's Dorothy, the china princess who appears in Wizard accompanies Dorothy on her journey from Gayelette's castle (I can't remember whether Roger makes any attempt to explain how she'd gotten there in the first place), and the country itself is much friendlier and more helpful. There's actually an episode in Peter Schulenburg's Corn Mansion that describes the transition, and the construction of the visitors' waiting room that Roger mentions. Laumer's China Dog gives a significant role to the China Country and its inhabitants. And Jeremy Steadman's Emerald Ring has a few characters visiting the community, and the king attempting to get revenge on outsiders for what Dorothy's party did.

One aspect of these odd little countries that I find interesting, but that the authors rarely address, is how they came to exist in the first place. Laumer attributes the country, as well as many of the others, to Laym Breign, a creative assistant to the creator-god Goorikop. My own thought is that it might be the creation of the wizard Wam, a character mentioned in Cowardly Lion and Wishing Horse, and actually appearing in Blue Emperor and the Seven Blue Mountains trilogy (in somewhat contradictory ways, but I suspect there's a lot more to his life than either author knew). Blue Emperor credits him with making a living mug for the Emperor Ozroar, so we know he's had experience with pottery. The spell animating the mug has some possible unfortunate side effects, and Wam is known to have been somewhat careless in other magical experiments, so the fact that the china people freeze up outside their homeland sounds like it could be a limitation of his animating magic. It's an interesting possibility, anyway.
Tags: books, oz

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