Nathan (vovat) wrote,

Why Does a Chicken? I Don't Know Why!

As it's Easter Monday, I thought I might gear my Oz post toward a kind of animal associated with Easter. Not bunnies this time, although there are certainly a lot of them in the series, but chickens. L. Frank Baum had experience raising chickens, and his first published book was on that subject. So it's not too surprising he'd bring a chicken into the Oz series, which he did with Billina in Ozma of Oz. While the movie Return to Oz makes Billina a hen from Dorothy's Kansas farm, the book doesn't have the two of them meet until Dorothy falls off a ship to Australia (how Uncle Henry can afford this trip, I don't know, but he's taking it anyway) in a chicken coop, which turns out to already be occupied by the yellow hen. The coop washes ashore in the Land of Ev, and the hen can talk there, even though a later reference by Nanda suggests that native Evian chickens can't. The foul tells Dorothy that she grew up on a farm, and one of the boys there named her Bill, thinking she was male. When it turned out she was female, the name stuck, but Dorothy decided to feminize it by changing it to Billina. The hen is more or less the hero of the story, as she's the one who overhears the Nome King confessing his tricks to his Chief Steward, and hence is able to save the royal family of Ev and the Ozites who were transformed trying to save the same royals. Also, the Nomes turn out to be terrified of eggs, which fact the Scarecrow and Dorothy use to create a distraction with Billina's eggs and take Roquat's Magic Belt.

Billina decides to take up residence in Oz, where she starts her own colony of chickens. Oddly, there are a few references to her being the ONLY chicken in Oz, despite the fact that Wizard has Dorothy waking up in the Emerald City to the sound of a crowing rooster and cackling hen. There's also the question as to who fertilized the eggs if there were no other chickens, although I've seen some readers propose that the father might be the red rooster in Ev who was fighting with Billina during her stay there. Billina names all of her children Dorothy in honor of the girl who brought her Oz, but once she realizes that some of them are male, she changes their names to Daniel.

Ruth Plumly Thompson, who usually wasn't much for sticking to Baum's pronouncements that certain animals were practically unknown in Oz (and I'm not sure we can blame her, since Baum contradicted himself in this respect as well), frequently mentioned chickens in various Ozian communities. She also occasionally had humans eating chicken, despite the fact that Emerald City had Dorothy insisting that Billina was so honored in Oz that the people wouldn't think of such a thing. We don't know for sure that this taboo existed in outlying communities, however, and it's also possible that someone devised a way to grow chicken (or at least a very similar-tasting substance) on trees. But the subject of meat-eating in a country where animals are supposed to all talk and never die is a tricky one no matter how you look at it, and I've already addressed it in other posts anyway.

While I'm not going to make a list of all the chickens mentioned in the series, I will mention the brick-laying yellow hen from Perhaps City, as well as the fact that the McGraws' Rundelstone refers to Gillikin chickens as Gillicocks and Gillihens.
Tags: books, characters, movies, oz
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