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Erin Reads: classic Oz, full-of-queer-people edition May 25, 2016

Posted by Erin Ptah in Erin Watches.
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Even knowing what it actually means in context, I get a smile every time these books go on about Oz being “full of queer personages.”

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Here’s something I didn’t think about until I listened to book 3 (Ozma of Oz) and book 4 (Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz) back-to-back:

Book 3: Dorothy’s adventure starts when she gets swept off a boat, which she’s on because she’s in the middle of a boat trip with Uncle Henry.

Book 4: Dorothy’s adventure starts when she falls into the ground during a California earthquake, where she is because she’s traveling back to Kansas from the same trip.

She’s gone on vacation once here, and gotten sidetracked for magical adventures on both ends of the journey. Henry and Em must be thinking “good lord, kiddo, you can’t travel anywhere without mysteriously vanishing along the way, can you?”

(Of course, in the next book she’s walking down a normal Kansas dirt road when it goes all magical. Can’t win.)

~*~*~*~

And another thing! During this mundane-world vacation (it’s a trip to Australia, which is supposed to be good for Uncle Henry’s health), Dorothy and Henry meet “some friends.” They’re never described in any detail, we just know Dorothy is traveling alone at the start of Book 4 because her uncle went on ahead, while she stayed with these friends for a few days.

In San Francisco.

This book was published in 1908. The history of the SF gay scene goes back pre-1900, with its firs “notorious” gay bar founded in…1908.

I’m not saying Dorothy definitely hung out with cool grown-up lesbian mentors in San Francisco, I’m just saying…historically speaking, it’s a serious possibility.

~*~*~*~

Okay, getting back to the (non-figurative) fairy-country content here…

Book 4 marks a huge shift for the series, in that it’s a really blatant case of “wow, no overarching plot here at all, they’re just wandering from set piece to set piece until the author gets bored.”

Of the previous volumes, Book 3 had the most cohesive plot, without any random detours. This one is all detour. Then they hit a dead end — literally, they get stuck in a cave with no way out! — and Dorothy signals Ozma to teleport them safely to Oz. Princess ex machina.

Book 5 (The Road to Oz) is The One Where Everyone Gets Genre-Savvy.

When things initially go weird, Dorothy’s reaction is “eh, this happens a lot, I’ll probably end up in Oz eventually.” And then she literally adds “Uncle Henry and Aunt Em have told me they’re used to this by now, so they won’t be too worried.” Her party keeps running into magical towns where the leaders say “oh, hey, it’s the famous Dorothy! We’ve read about you.”

And when they finally make it to the Emerald City, Ozma reveals she’s the one who started their journey by making things go weird in the first place. Sure, she could’ve just transported Dorothy instantly to the palace, but apparently she thought Dorothy would have more fun getting there via adventure.

What a good girlfriend.

I mean, good platonic friend.

Everything about Ozma attracted one, and she inspired love and the sweetest affection rather than awe or ordinary admiration. Dorothy threw her arms around her little friend and hugged and kissed her rapturously.

I mean, good platonic friend with rapturous kissing that I am going to sit here and enjoy no matter how Baum meant it.

~*~*~*~

Speaking of Baum, the poor guy’s author’s-notes get a little more strained with every book. “Welp, the children keep asking for Oz so I’m giving them more Oz, the little tyrants, haha! No really, I love children and only want to make them happy, aaaaand apparently what makes them happy is not buying any of my other books.”

He really pushes it in book 5, where the big glittery finale of book 5 is Ozma’s birthday — involving a fifty-cameo pileup referencing every non-Oz book Baum had written. It…did not help their sales the way he was hoping for. (You know what I would have read? A spinoff series about Ev. We spend time there in book 3, see the royals as cameos in book 5, and then never visit the place again. Why didn’t you ever write that, L. Frank?)

Honestly, I’ve read a lot of Baum’s non-Oz books, and none of them clicked the way the Oz ones did. But it’s been long enough that I couldn’t tell you why. Maybe that’ll be the next re-listening project.

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