The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, XI.— The Wonderful Emerald City of Oz
Tonight's Soundtrack: Laurie Anderson, "Coolsville"
The word “green” appears 54 times in this 16-page chapter, and “greenish” once. It is, in every instance, a lie.
I like that.
* * *
This is a chapter that I still retain dark, dim memories of. My memory and perception is such that I couldn’t tell you how old I was, or where I was, or how the book felt, or any smell that might have come off the pages. I do not often, it seems, record sensory data. (I also don’t translate language into sensual recreation. When I read “the red dog barked” there is nothing for me to picture or hear. I experience the language - it delivers information, not an image. Thus, how something is written is much more important to me than the imaginary scene that it purports to describe.)
So I remember, quietly, like a recording of an echo of a sad song from the other side of the mountain, I remember as I read along now, the feeling of the young boy that first read these words. His anticipation. His wonder. Discovering that Oz was more, and more strange, than any movie.
* * *
Because this is basically a perfect chapter. Baum throws nothing but strikes here.
In the presence of Oz, the Great and Terrible, at the center of this city in the center of this story, everything comes together. It has fairy tale structure wedded to modern characters. Baum’s ferocious imagination works at all scales, from omnipotent spectacle to quotidian detail. It throws supernatural mystery on top of impossible quest - and if you read it again after you know the twist, it shows the desperation of a humbug and simple necessity. It has great balls of fire and lions curled up like kittens and books that make little girls laugh and impotent courtiers and polite soldiers and it has a scarecrow staring at a spider all night long, because neither of them can sleep.
* * *
It’s also the best because when it ends, our heroes are worse off than when they began. They reach their goal, and then find out the cost of their desires. It’s perfect noir plotting, and now Dorothy’s in the jackpot.