Book No. 6 of L. Frank Baum’s “Oz” series, “The Emerald City of Oz,” published in 1910, begins differently than the earlier books. Dorothy isn’t whisked off to Oz by forces of nature over which she has no control. This time, she goes there of her own volition, of sorts.
When the Kansas farmhouse she lives in is about to be foreclosed, her uncle and aunt tell her to return to the fairyland, so that she doesn’t have to grow up in poverty. The little girl immigrates to Oz—but not alone. She gets her dear friend, princess Ozma, to invite her family too, to live in the enchanted utopia.
Gentle and peace-loving as Oz is, it’s ringed by a cluster of mean, combative nations. The underground dominion of Nome is plotting a surprise invasion of Oz. Its evil king wants to attack to recover his Magic Belt—a device that enables teleportation—as well as to avenge Ozma for rescuing the members of the royal family of Ev, whom he’d held captive.
The swaths of numinous golden sands that surround Oz make it impossible to breach its territory. The Nome army reckons that the only way it can reach its capital, Emerald City, is by traveling above it or under it. Their gnomish people—to whom eggs are kryptonite—are ace miners, skilled at digging tunnels, but as they’re no match for the magical prowess of Ozites, they forge alliances with three other wicked kingdoms.
The book takes the reader on a grand tour of rural and pastoral Oz, acquainting them with its strange—strange even by the standard of Oz—quadrants. In a village, there lives a dainty population of paper dolls called the “Cuttenclips.” Kitchen utensils of all manner—frying pans, sauce pans, kettles, forks, knives, spoons, graters, sifters, colanders, cleavers, rolling pins, pepper shakers, salt cellars—clatter in the kingdom of “Utensia.”
When Dorothy and her party wander into the territory of the “Fuddles,” they encounter folks made from pieces of neatly painted wood of curious shapes and sizes. The citizenry of “Bunbury” are scrumptious baked goods. A town within a “high wall of solid white marble” is home to a race of fabulously prosperous bunnies who reside in gleaming marble houses that look like “overturned kettles.”
The Ozites are able to save themselves—even without engaging in warfare. When battalions of soldiers climb out on the palace grounds, they’re so parched that they gulp mouthfuls of sparkling water from a fountain, which makes them forget the very purpose of their expedition. In the wake of the incursion, Oz seals its borders and takes itself off the map, for there’s a new fear that the invention of the airship could make it possible for anyone to drop in on their lovely country—from the air.
In novels as old as this one, it’s rare to come across names of brands still around today. But I did. Dorothy eats a wheelbarrow made of Nabisco crackers that has Zu Zu Ginger Snaps for wheels. These are round drop cookies, made by the National Biscuit Company—later, Nabisco—from 1901 until the early 1980s. Its mascot was a clown named Zu Zu.