So partially inspired by the kerfluffle over this latest Oz movie–where the producer apparently decided there just weren’t enough fairy tales with “good, strong male leads” and therefore decided to ignore all the awesome stories L Frank Baum actually wrote and make a movie about his fanfic where the wizard is totally the best and all those hot witches totally dig him or something–I decided to grab a collection of the Oz novels off Amazon and read some of the books I hadn’t before.
The first one I selected to read was The Marvelous Land of Oz, apparently the first one he wrote after Wizard. And I’m reading along and having a great time, but all the time I’m thinking–“This guy who made the movie is even dimmer than I thought, ’cause what is he talking about no male protagonists, lol?” Because the Dorothy-character in the second novel (i.e. token human protagonist who did not used to be an inanimate object) is a boy. His name is Tip, and he’s pretty cool.
It wasn’t until I was about two thirds of the way through the book that I started thinking, “Wait, he isn’t…this isn’t going where I think it’s going, is it? Not in a children’s book written before women had the right to vote?” And then somehow, impossibly, it did. Major spoiler alert: Tip isn’t a boy. She’s a girl. A queen in fact, rightful ruler of the Emerald City, whose father was deposed by that jerkwad Oz. In order to cement his hold over his usurped throne, the wizard hands over the baby girl to a witch named Mombi who transforms her into a boy–because in Oz, apparently, people are going to be less likely to assume the child you’ve kidnapped is the rightful ruler of someplace if she’s a boy.
The scene in which Tip is returned to her original form alone is worth the price of admission. It’s beautiful, it’s sweet, and above all it’s respectful. Unlike just about every transformation scene in every fairytale in the history of ever, Tip is not transformed back into Ozma in public view with all the other characters watching like weird voyeurs made of wood, straw, pumpkins and various bits of metal. Rather, she’s allowed to transform in a private space, shielded from the eyes of all, even the narrator. As fantasies of transition go, it’s simply gorgeous.
But even beyond this, what struck me was the complete reversal of the tired, misogynistic gender values we’re so used to seeing. Finally, a book (a children’s book, no less!) in which changing from a male to a female is not looked upon as “trading down” in terms of dignity, respect and social status! Tip is initially slightly reluctant ti give up her status as a boy, but in the context of the story this reads more as nervousness about giving up the change to wander around and have adventures with her friends for the responsibility of being a queen–and she is immediately reassured by everyone that she cans till do all the things, and be all the things, as a girl that she could as a boy.
How is it possible that a book like this could have been written in 1904 and we’re still struggling with all this transmysogynistic crap in our own time? My advice? Give the most recent Oz fanfic a miss and read through some of the original books. You might just find something that surprises you.