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Tuesday, 24 July 2012

For the last two Tuesdays I’ve been following L. Frank Baum’s discussion of governance in the Pink Country in Sky Island. What Polychrome called “the customs of the country, absurd though they may be,” require that:
Because of the first rule, the book’s heroine, Trot, is made Queen of the Pinks, and because of the second she has to wear a plain pink dress with no flounces and live in a rough hut.
Trot and Button-Bright, with Cap’n Bill and Rosalie the Witch, went to the humble palace, where they had a simple supper of coarse food and slept upon hard beds. In the houses of the City, however, there was much feasting and merrymaking, and it seemed to Trot that the laws of the country which forbade the Queen from enjoying all the good things the people did were decidedly wrong and needed changing.

The next morning Rosalie said to the little girl, “Will you make Tourmaline the Queen again when you go away?”

“I’ll send for her and see about it,” replied Trot. But when Tourmaline arrived at the palace, dressed all in lovely, fluffy robes and with a dainty pink plume in her pink hair, she begged most earnestly not to be made the Queen again.

“I’m having a good time just now after years of worry and uncomfortable living in this uncomfortable old hut of a palace,” said the poor girl, “so it would be cruel for you to make me the servant of the people again and condemn me to want and misery.”

“That seems reason’ble,” replied Trot thoughtfully.

“Rosalie’s skin is just as light a pink as my own,” continued Tourmaline. “Why don’t you make her the Queen?”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” said Trot. Then she turned to Rosalie and asked, “How would you like to rule the Pinkies?”

“I wouldn’t like it,” replied the Witch with a smile. “The Queen is the poorest and most miserable creature in all the kingdom, and I’m sure I don’t deserve such a fate. I’ve always tried to be a good witch and to do my duty.”

Trot thought this over quite seriously for a time. Then one of her quaint ideas came to her—so quaint that it was entirely sensible. “I’m the Queen of the Pinkies just now, am I not?” she asked.

“Of course,” answered Rosalie. “None can dispute that.”

“Then I’ve the right to make new laws, haven’t I?”

“I believe so.”

“In that case,” said the girl, “I’m goin’ to make a law that the Queen shall have the same food an’ the same dresses an’ the same good times that her people have; and she shall live in a house jus’ as good as the houses of any of her people, an’ have as much money to spend as anybody. But no more. The Queen can have her share of ever’thing ’cordin’ to the new law, but if she tries to get more than her share, I’ll have the law say she shall be taken to the edge an’ pushed off. What do you think of that law, Rosalie?”

“It’s a good law and a just one,” replied the Witch approvingly. So Trot sent for the Royal Scribbler, who was a very fat Pinky with large, pink eyes and curly pink hair, and had him carefully write the new law into the Great Book of Laws. The Royal Scribbler wrote it very nicely in pink ink, with a big capital letter at the beginning and a fine flourish at the end.
Trot then makes Rosalie her successor as queen because, she explains, “you’ve got more sense than Tourmaline has and your powers as a witch will help you protect the people.” That perpetuates the benevolent dictatorship usually found in children’s fairylands.

Baum thus had Trot institute equality between the governor and the governed, but not interfere with a law that conferred elite status on the color of a person’s skin. Did that reflect the dominant values among American progressives in 1912, when Sky Island was published?

Baum’s Sky Island is one of the books highlighted in the program at the Winkie Convention, which starts this Friday in Asilomar, California. I’ll moderate a panel on Oz blogs on Sunday morning.

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