August 23, 2013

Happy Birthday to Ozma

        I'd like to take the opportunity for a small tribute to Princess Ozma, ruler of the Land of Oz, on the occasion of her birthday.  We know she likes birthday parties, because the (admittedly weak) plot of The Road to Oz consists of the adventures of Dorothy and friends as they attempt to get to the Emerald City in time for Ozma's lavish party.  People have used the timeline of that book to calculate that Ozma's birthday is August 21.  (So I'm just a little belated.  Sorry!)
        Ozma is an interesting character altogether - no stereotypical princess.  We first meet her in The Marvelous Land of Oz, but we don't know she's Ozma… and neither does she.  As a baby she was transformed into a boy called Tip, as part of a plot to usurp the throne of Oz.  Tip lives with the wicked witch Mombi, and the book is about Tip's adventures as he runs away from Mombi.  Glinda eventually figures out Tip's true identity and has Mombi turn him back into a girl - about which he's pretty horrified at first.  I wonder whether this gender-bending raised any eyebrows in 1904, but the Wikipedia article points out that the book was probably written with an eye to stage adaptation and that this was the era when boy characters were played by actresses.  So perhaps it would have seemed perfectly logical.
        In any case, once a girl again, Ozma is as thoroughly girlish as she can be: sweet, gentle, dainty, lovely, with enormous flowers in her hair…  However, she's also an excellent ruler, benevolent, just, courageous, caring, and beloved.  She's also strong and adventuresome, as in my favorite of the Oz books, Ozma of Oz, in which she leaves her kingdom to rescue a neighboring ruling family from the slavery of the Nome King.
        Some time around third grade I decided to be Ozma of Oz for Halloween, and wore a flowing white nightgown, and made myself a fancy headdress and scepter out of cardboard, which I painted gold.  As I recall, nobody in the neighborhood recognized the character, which is too bad, since she's every bit as important in the Oz books as Glinda, or even Dorothy.
        Consistency was never Baum's strong point and there are all kinds of discrepancies between books, from the color of Ozma's hair (ruddy gold or dark) to her race (human or fairy) to her aging process and actual age.  So while Ozma may be something around 120 years old now, she may also be eternal and ageless.  But even eternal and ageless fairies like an excuse for a party, so Happy Birthday, Ozma!

[Pictures: Ozma, fronstpiece by John R. Neill;
Ozma to the rescue on The Magic Carpet, illustration by Neill from Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum, 1907.]

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