Monday, October 23, 2017

Baum miscellanea

A few weeks ago, while working on a blog post (I don't remember which one) something (I don't remember what) brought to mind a detail from an Oz book. As has become more or less a compulsion with me, I looked up the specifics which inevitably led to a random Wikipedia walk, in this case through the articles on L Frank Baum. Here are a few bits of trivia that struck me as worth sharing and/or filing away for future reference.

For starters, there's this sly bit of gilded age satire from the Sea Fairies (1911):
"Let's go," said Trot.  "I don't like to 'sociate with octopuses."
"OctoPI," said the creature, again correcting her.
"You're jus' as horrid whether you're puses or pies," she declared.
"Horrid!" cried the monster in a shocked tone of voice.
"Not only horrid, but horrible!" persisted the girl.
"May I ask in what way?" he inquired, and it was easy to see he was offended.
"Why, ev'rybody knows that octopuses are jus' wicked an' deceitful," she said.  "Up on the earth, where I live, we call the Stannerd Oil Company an octopus, an' the Coal Trust an octopus, an'--"
"Stop, stop!" cried the monster in a pleading voice.  "Do you mean to tell me that the earth people whom I have always respected compare me to the Stannerd Oil Company?"
"Yes," said Trot positively.
"Oh, what a disgrace!  What a cruel, direful, dreadful disgrace!" moaned the Octopus, drooping his head in shame, and Trot could see great tears falling down his cheeks.
"This comes of having a bad name," said the Queen gently, for she was moved by the monster's grief.
"It is unjust!  It is cruel and unjust!" sobbed the creature mournfully.  "Just because we have several long arms and take whatever we can reach, they accuse us of being like--like--oh, I cannot say it! It is
too shameful, too humiliating."
"Come, let's go," said Trot again.  So they left the poor octopus weeping and wiping his watery eyes with his handkerchief and swam on their way. 

This description of what we might now call a multimedia show from 1908 demonstrates that the desire for cutting-edge sounding names goes back a long time.

The films were colored (credited as "illuminations") by Duval Frères of Paris, in a process known as "Radio-Play", and were noted for being the most lifelike hand-tinted imagery of the time. Baum once claimed in an interview that a "Michael Radio" was a Frenchman who colored the films, though no evidence of such a person, even with the more proper French spelling "Michel", as second-hand reports unsurprisingly revise it, has been documented. It did not refer to the contemporary concept of radio (or, for that matter, a radio play), but played on notions of the new and fantastic at the time, similar to the way "high-tech" or sometimes "cyber" would be used later in the century. The "Fairylogue" part of the title was to liken it to a travelogue, which at the time was a very popular type of documentary film entertainment.

We even have a genuinely disturbing example of what we would now call body horror from the 1912 sequel to the Sea Fairies.
Sky Island is another split-color country in Baum's fantasy universe, like the Land of Oz. Divided in two-halves, blue and pink, Sky Island supports two separate races of beings, the Blues and the Pinkies. The two halves are separated by a region shrouded in fog, which both peoples are reluctant to enter. The three travellers land on the blue side of Sky Island, which is a grim country ruled by a sadistic tyrant, the Boolooroo of the Blues. In Sky Island, as in Oz, no one can be killed or suffer pain, but that doesn't mean one is safe: the Boolooroo's method of punishing disobedience in his subjects is to slice two of his victims into halves using a huge guillotine-type knife, and then join the wrong halves back together, creating very unhappy asymmetrical mixed people. This is called "patching."

I was about to add a final section on the 1901 fantasy science fiction novel, the Master Key, but I think that one deserves a post to itself.

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