The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, X.—The Guardian of the Gates
Tonight’s Soundtrack: Big Black, “Bad Houses”
There are two things I love about this chapter - no, tell a lie, three.
The first is at the end, when the Guardian locks the green goggles on everyone’s faces. All the clues to the Wizard’s humbuggery are in the explanation he innocently delivers. The thing is, though (and we’ll find out if my memory is cheating in a little while), Baum lets children figure out on their own that the City isn’t really made of precious green stones.
He’ll remind you every few steps that the Lion is a coward, as part of his rhythmic storytelling, but Baum also rewards the intuitive reader by occasionally remaining silent and winking.
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The second thing I love is the specific, lived-in nature of Oz at this point. Not only are there the concrete details of our gang’s journey, like concern over Dorothy’s empty bread basket and leafy sleeping arrangements, but there are people everywhere.
And where the people live, the roads are repaired. And they paint their houses with regional pride. And they’re worried about giant lions walking down their roads. You get the feeling that in Baum’s mind, all these citizens don’t know they’re in a fairy tale about a little girl. They’re living their lives. They’ve got their own stories going on, all around.
Especially the nice family that gives Dorothy some food and a bed the night before she reaches the city; I’m continually drawn to the fact that the father is laid up on the couch with an injured leg. It’s never explained, and never part of the plot. So why does Baum mention it?
In the end I have to say: Because the man had hurt his leg before Dorothy arrived, and there was no reason to leave that out.
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Third thing, then I’m out, promise: Ten chapters in, FINALLY, someone asks Toto what he wants.