For hardcore Oz fanatics reared on the original L. Frank Baum books – I got tired of the Ruth Plumly Thompson sequels after the fifth or sixth one that turned out be about yet another enchanted prince or princess – one of the eternal frustrations of seeing yet another Oz movie is the knowledge that it’s likely to center on the same old familiar characters: Glinda, the Wizard, the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, Wicked Witch, etc. In fourteen Oz books, Baum came up with many more characters than that – some of them extremely distinct and deserving of more than a day in the sun. While we prepare for Oz the Great and Powerful to open, and wait for some enterprising screenwriter to rediscover these fantastic folks, here are a few of the best.
11. Professor H. M. Woggle-Bug, T.E.
Baum always said his books were for children and not intended to make larger political points; nonetheless, they do, sometimes unpleasantly (a childlike race of savages called the Tottenhots), more often subtly as these first two entries on the list demonstrate. Professor Woggle-Bug begins life as just an average bug, but after being blown up on a microscope projector, he walks off the screen at a full human-scale size and promptly begins pontificating. “H.M.” stands for “highly maginified,” a title that sounds impressive until you realize it’s absurdly literal, while “T.E.” stands for “thoroughly educated.” Portrayed alternately as both pompous and intelligently helpful, the over-inflated (in every way) scholar has even prompted the good-hearted Tin Man to want to murder him.
Baum was so fond of the character that his stage adaptation of the second Oz book, The Marvelous Land of Oz, was called The Woggle-Bug. And you’ve yet to see him in any major movie or TV adaptation.
10. Omby Amby
Baum’s politics were all over the map – he advocated both women’s suffrage and the extermination of Native Americans, the latter of which may or may not have been satirical (and you thought Orson Scott Card was bad!). His land of Oz could be read as an arch-liberal paradise – prisoners in Oz during Ozma’s reign are treated with luxury, under the assumption that their guilt is punishment enough – or a satire of same. Oz is unique among the well-known fantasy worlds, however, in that most its major conflicts are solved through non-violent means, and as such, the army of Oz features exactly one private: the green-whiskered Omby Amby.
Too bad for him there are 26 officers to give him orders, which they all do, constantly. And long before the Vietnam war and the hippie movement, he had flowers growing out of the barrel of his gun.
9. The Shaggy Man
Another character in whom one might try to extract an impression of Baum’s politics, the Shaggy Man is a homeless drifter who is accorded no respect in modern America, but beloved in Oz, in part because he possesses a magic magnet that causes everyone who meets him to love him. In typical Ozian absurdity, he often asks the way to Butterfield so as to avoid ending up there, since a local man owes him money and he wishes to not have it paid back.
Once in Oz, he is no longer homeless, but continues to wear his newly acquired expensive clothes in tatters nonetheless, because it suits him. Many years later, I suspect one of his descendants hooks up with a talking great Dane and some meddling kids.
8. Button Bright
A clueless American kid from Philadelphia, Button Bright wears a sailor suit and has a penchant for getting lost; he’s also the first American boy to make it to Oz. His nickname is based on the fact that his father deemed him bright as a button, though his demonstrable lack of common sense leads everyone to believe that his father was somehow delusional in that assessment.
In a storyline that subscribes to the theory that even the best of women fall for the dumbest guys, sequel writer March Laumer had the grown-up version of the oblivious kid marry the all-powerful Glinda. Baum, who avoided most talk of romance in his books and thus never addressed the issue of overpopulation in a land where everyone is immortal, had long since been unavailable for comment.
7. The Hungry Tiger
You all know about Oz’s most famous lion, but in later books, there was a tiger too, who came from the same forest as the Cowardly Lion, and thus could be construed as the middle part of the “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” line, though no bears ever showed up as major characters.
The tiger is as friendly as his pal the Lion, though he has one major flaw. What was it? Oh yeah…
He likes eating babies.
Not that he ever actually does – his conscience won’t allow it. But it’s a running gag that he always craves the taste of infant flesh, and longs for a dentist to pull out all his teeth so he may never act on his urges.
Addiction. It’s always funny in children’s books. Baum was clearly a cat person, as he also gave us Eureka the kitten, a pet of Dorothy’s who forever craved as a meal one of the Wizard’s nine tiny pet piglets. If you own a feline companion, you know that this is exactly what they do – stay cute and lovable while craving the death of an equally adorable victim.
6. King Rinkitink
Baum often needed money, and came to realize that Oz paid him more than any other fantasy creations; as such, many of the Oz books dealt only peripherally with the familiar kingdom, shoehorning other stories into the realm that was a cash cow. Rinkitink in Oz features as its title character a fat, lazy, irresponsible king of a nation called Gilgad, who travels around on the back of a sarcastic goat and makes up really stupid songs about how great he is. Eventually he must team up with the brave Prince Inga of Pingaree to free the latter’s parents from the Nome King (more on him later) and in a massive cop-out, once they’re painted into a corner they get rescued by Dorothy, who threatens the Nomes with death.
Who knows if Rinkitink was intended as satire of any particular politician; but if he were recreated today, no doubt many would be quick to make analogies.
The Nome King was arguably brought to the screen in Return to Oz, but it was hardly an accurate portrayal of Baum’s biggest arch-villain. Shown onscreen as a giant Claymation creation who gradually humanized into Nicol Williamson, this was not the evildoer readers knew and loved. Roquat of the Rocks was always more of a traditional dictator caricature, short in stature and temper but lofty in ambition. An underground fairy upset with the surface dwellers who dig for precious stones, he seeks revenge first against the nearby land of Ev, and then Oz. Fortunately for all, his easily accessible secret weakness is eggs.
With Oz being strictly nonviolent, Roquat is dealt with multiple times by being tricked into drinking from the Fountain of Oblivion, which wipes his memory clean, and first time around, causes him to rename himself Ruggedo. Nature versus nurture being what it is, however, along with the demand for popular villain reprisals, he always remembers his essential villainy eventually.
4. The Glass Cat
Yet more proof that Baum was probably a cat owner, this transparent feline has a tendency to yammer on and on about her pink brains and how you can see them work. Your own pet may not be able to articulate the thought quite as well, but you know s/he’s thinking it.
This particular cat’s inorganic nature comes in handy, though, when an enchanted island in The Magic of Oz causes all meat-creatures to grow roots and start shrinking into the ground. Unaffected, the conceited kitty is able to help save the day.
3. The Good Witch of the North
No character from the original Wonderful Wizard of Oz has been so shafted as this grand dame, named Locasta on the stage and Tattypoo by a shamelessly retconning sequel writer. Originally, she was the one who met Dorothy in Oz and set her on her quest.
Combining her with Glinda simplified things for the movies, but also made the plot an exercise in sheer sadism – knowing full well how Dorothy can get home, the movie’s Glinda reveals nothing simply so Dorothy can learn a valuable lesson in self-worth at the possible expense of EVERYONE IN OZ, while the North Witch in the book simply doesn’t have any awareness of the answer, nor have the power to do much of any effect.
2. The Woozy
No, the name does not imply a state of semi-consciousness – Baum specified that the double-o was to be pronounced as in “good,” rather than “boozy.” The creature by that name is a classic example of cartoonish bait-and-switch – before encountering him, characters are told that he’s a dangerous, fearsome beast who can flash fire with his eyes and has a mighty roar. The roar turns out to be a squeak, and the creature a square thing whose body looks like it’s made from boxes.
As for flashing fire, the Woozy only does that when it hears the phrase “Krizzle-kroo” enough times, because it gets mad that the words have no comprehensible meaning. Such a sensible monster it is.
Chopfyt is easily the most severely fucked-up character in the entire Oz canon. Seriously. But to tell his origin, we have to backtrack.
You know the Tin Woodman, but did you know he used to be a human named Nick Chopper? He fell for a girl named Nimmie Amee, but she was a servant for the Wicked Witch of the East, who had no desire to spare the help. So she enchanted Nick’s blade, making it gradually cut of his limbs, each of which, cyborg-style, he replaced with tin appendages. Eventually he lost his heart, and with it his love; years later, Dorothy would find him and he’d regain it.
Meanwhile, a soldier named Captain Fyter fell for Nimmie, but the same thing happened: bad witch, bad spell, Fyter’s sword slashes off all his limbs and they’re replaced with tin. Nimiee is willing to marry him anyway, but he rusts in the rain and never makes it.
Years after that, the Tin Woodman goes searching for his lost love, encountering Fyter along the way, and both wish to see who the girl will truly want to be with.
Here’s where it gets twisted.
They find her living with – and married to – Chopfyt, a Frankensteined creation made of the glued-together appendages of Nick Chopper and Captain Fyter. This is a prime example of how kids will just accept some really twisted shit, while grown-ups recall Lucky McKee’s May. Nimiee is content to have the best parts of both suitors combined in one grotesque freak of nature, and both Tin Men realize they’re better off not hanging with such a deranged bitch.