There is another world, but it is in this one.—Paul Éluard
In L. Frank Baum’s second book about Oz, a militia of young women armed with knitting needles storms the Emerald City. Their objective: to overthrow the Scarecrow who has governed Oz since the Wizard’s departure. “The Emerald City has been ruled by men long enough,” says General Jinjur.
As a seven-year-old girl, I adored this book, The Land of Oz.
While the female Army of Revolt ultimately surrenders and the men are freed once more from dishwashing, cooking, and taking care of babies, the events of the second-to-last chapter more than compensate for the army’s defeat. The young protagonist, Tip, who’d been a boy for 261 pages, finds out he’s really a girl, is transformed into Princess Ozma, and assumes the throne—all in the last 20 pages.
The vapor floated away; the atmosphere became clear again; a whiff of fresh air filled the tent, and the pink curtains of the couch trembled slightly, as if stirred from within.
Glinda walked to the canopy and parted the silken hangings. Then she bent over the cushions, reached out her hand, and from the couch arose the form of a young girl, fresh and beautiful as a May morning. [End Page 73]
Speaking to his friends the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, the Woggle-Bug, and Jack Pumpkinhead, the boy-turned-princess says:
“I hope none of you will care less for me than you did before. I’m just the same Tip, you know; only—only—”
“Only you’re different!” said the Pumpkinhead; and everyone thought it was the wisest speech he had ever made.
Raised in an apartment downtown by my single mother who loathed “Nature,” I had access to it, other than feeding pigeons from a park bench, only in my grandparents’ backyard. In the apartment, my mother still asleep, I “cooked” perfume on the radiator, mixing soap shavings, spices from the kitchen, shampoo, vitamin pills, and a drop of my mother’s Coco by Chanel. At my grandparents’ house, I could play in the creek out back whenever I felt like it, for as long as I felt like it. When I grew tired of being outdoors, one too many gnats in my nose and not one crayfish to be found, I carried inside with me samples of everything I had seen. My grandmother would lend me her bubble-shaped glass bowls, the kind she used for cut hydrangeas, the blossom floating like a blue eye above the mahogany dining table, so that I could create terrariums.
When I say “terrariums,” I don’t mean many at once: an only child, I cultivated them one at a time, misting daily with an atomizer from my grandmother’s dressing table. I knew nothing about how to make or sustain a terrarium, my experience limited to having seen a couple at school where they appeared on a shelf—after the gerbils and before the hermit crab. In spite of my ministrations, mine always grew clouded, slimy, and brown, so I’d empty their contents in the creek and begin again. But for a few days, in the forest green bedroom that once belonged to my mother, I ruled over twigs, tiny emerald-colored carpet samples of moss, pebbles, frilly ferns, blades of grass, and beneath it all, the clay-marbled dirt shifting almost imperceptibly with ants. So much of the larger world lay hidden from me and beyond my control, while this more perfect one within it, contained in glass, belonged to me alone. [End Page 74]
Tip in The Land of Oz is raised by an old sorceress named Mombi whom neighbors fear and steer clear of. She is not a loving guardian, and she saddles Tip with the household’s labor. Like most children, he chafes against work’s tedium and steals time to play and be idle: “When sent to the forest Tip often climbed trees for birds’ eggs or amused himself chasing the fleet white rabbits or fishing in the brooks.” One day, he creates a man...