Nathan (vovat) wrote,

Bright as a Button

Button-Bright is introduced in The Road to Oz as a boy Dorothy and the Shaggy Man meet along the enchanted road from Kansas to fairyland, who's dressed in sailor clothes and "seemed two or three years younger than Dorothy." Really, though, I think he's younger than that, as Dorothy is probably nine or ten at this point, while Button-Bright comes across as being only around four or five. He doesn't know his real name, but says that his mother calls him "Button-Bright" because his father says he's bright as a button. He also doesn't know where he lives, how he came to appear on the enchanted road, or just about anything else. At the end of the story, the Wizard of Oz and Santa Claus send him home in a bubble, but that's not the end of his tale. He reappears in Sky Island, pretty much just as carefree as in Road, but much more competent and intelligent. He tells Trot that his full name (or at least as much of it as he can remember) is Saladin Paracelsus de Lambertine Evagne von Smith, and that his home is in Philadelphia. I remember seeing it suggested that this choice might not have been entirely random, as sailor suits for children were in fashion there at around the time Baum wrote. The boy travels across the country and then to Sky Island by means of a magic umbrella that had been in his family for generations. While his father regards it as a good-luck talisman, there's no indication as to whether he's aware of its powers. He uses the same umbrella to reach the Land of Mo in Scarecrow, but he loses it, and travels with his old companions Trot and Cap'n Bill to Oz to live. While his character trait of constantly getting lost is hinted at in his earlier appearances, this is the first book to spell it out. This habit can be obnoxious when he's on an important journey and unknowingly wanders in danger, but it can sometimes come in handy, as when he's the one to discover the enchanted peach in Lost Princess.

Button-Bright is a fun character to work with, as his easy-going nature makes him fit easily into just about any situation. On the other hand, this also makes him difficult to use as a protagonist. With the exception of Sky Island, which gives all three American visitors to the skyland chances to do something heroic, he's usually a supporting character. Baum reports that he's good friends with Ojo, a Munchkin boy of about the same age. What age would that be? Well, Ojo is referred to as a "boy of ten" in Ojo, and Button-Bright is said to be younger than Trot, who is also ten. I would guess that Button-Bright must be around eight or nine by the time he settles in Oz, but it's not entirely clear. He's clearly a good bit older than he is in Road, but not by as many years as there were between the publication of Road and Scarecrow. Indeed, Button-Bright's age is one of the main reasons why some of us who are interested in when the books took place think that the first nine must be squeezed into a relatively short period of time.

Thompson never used Button-Bright in a significant role, although she did mention in Cowardly Lion that he became good friends with Bob Up, who's also from Philadelphia and also had visited an island in the sky. While Snow does give the character a few cameo appearances, it's up to apocryphal authors to bring him back in a significant way. Harry Mongold gave him his own adventure in Button-Bright, which centers around the magician Trickolas Om fooling him into looking for a magic mirror. In Paul Dana's Lost Boy, Button-Bright is revealed to be the child of a native Ozite, with the parents he mentioned in previous books having adopted him. Considering how little we know about the boy, this is possible, but it's sort of a departure from what else we've learned about him. Not surprisingly, March Laumer has his own elaborate story for Button-Bright, claiming that he fell into a treacle well and grew up, because he was unable to perform the anti-aging mantra. [1] He returns to the United States for a while, before making his way back to the Nonestic world and marrying Glinda. Yeah, I DO think Laumer often liked to pair up the least likely characters. Why do you ask? {g} The thing is, I don't find the grown Button-Bright all that interesting. In general, I prefer that characters introduced by Baum as children remain that way, as he seemed to intend. If you want to show a character in Oz growing up, take a tip from Thompson and make up your own. Still, there's certainly potential in a story about, say, Dorothy growing up. But Button-Bright? The traits that make him the most interesting are ones that he'd likely grow out of, and if he didn't his friends would get progressively more annoyed at them. In other words, would an adult Button-Bright really BE the Button-Bright we've come to know and love?

[1] The anti-aging mantra is another Laumerian idea I could never really accept. Thompson introduces the possibility of Ozites aging if they choose to (as opposed to Baum in Tin Woodman, who reports that even babies never get any older), but makes it seem as if NOT aging is the default. Therefore, Button-Bright presumably wouldn't, and perhaps couldn't, have aged at all while trapped in the well. That's just my take on the situation, though, which is obviously different from Laumer's.
Tags: books, characters, oz

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