Books, Clips

Oz Is Not Down Under As Everyone Thinks It Is

The Wizard Of Oz

PopMatters, October 24, 2016

Oz is a lexical emoji or a morpheme for Australia. Many know it to be an oblique nod to the fairyland setting of Frank L. Baum’s children’s classic. That connection could’ve had its genesis in “Ozma of Oz,” book No.3, published in 1907.

In it, Dorothy Gale’s uncle takes a vacation to recharge after working himself to exhaustion while rebuilding his Kansas farmhouse—after it was swept away by a tornado in the maiden volume, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (1900). He sails to Australia, with the little girl as his traveling companion.

But Oz isn’t a magical monarchy Down Under. The path to how Australia earned the moniker, Oz, is a convoluted one, punctuated by detours. In the mid-1960s, a group of expatriate Australians in London, led by Richard Neville, started an alternative magazine called “OZ” (which had begun its publication in Sydney in 1963, before it moved to London in 1967.)

Its title had indeed, been borrowed from “The Wizard of Oz,” but as a play on the pronunciation of the truncated half of Australia (pronounced: Oz.) By the time David Williamson, one of Australia’s best known playwrights, wrote “Emerald City” (1987), the notion of Oz as a nickname for Australia had taken firm root. It followed then, that if Australia was Oz, Sydney, its conchological metropolis, should be Emerald City.

The map of Oz and its neighboring kingdoms (in which the east and the west are reversed.)
The map of Oz and its neighboring kingdoms (in which the east and the west are reversed.)

The literary Oz is located somewhere in the Middle East, likely in Iran—because it’s curiously peppered with the hallmarks of a Persian society.

The fictive kingdom is a rectangle, bordered on all four sides by undulating bands of deadly hot sands. It encompasses a quartet of provinces: the blue Munchkin (in the east), the yellow Winkie (in the west), the purple Gillikin (in the north) and the red Quadling (in the south.) It has a population of about 500,000, although not every one of its citizen is made of flesh and blood.

In our own world, such desert nations are mostly Islamic. Egypt is a vast sandy wilderness as is Saudi Arabia. The Sahara envelops vast swathes of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria.

Where the two diagonals of the geographic quadrangle intersect in Oz, is Emerald City, its capital and the seat to the monarch of Oz, princess Ozma—again, a decidedly non-Christian name.

When Dorothy and her party arrive there, they’re dazzled by its green glitter. The pavement they walk over is green. The window panes are of green glass. The rays of the Sun are green. Even the sky has a green glow. It has 9,654 buildings in which live 57,318 people. Those structures, like everything else in that pristine landscape, are also green.

Emerald City is green, literally, a color revered in Islam. In fact, the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi mosque in Medina, has an enormous green dome called, well, the Green Dome.

The interiors of houses and palaces in Oz are adorned with a profusion of jewels, such as rubies, diamonds, sapphires, amethysts and turquoises. On the outside, though, they’re studded only with sparkling emeralds, from which circumstance the place get its name.

Possibly because of their soothing hue, these gemstones were much coveted by the Muslim rulers of the Mughal Empire.  The “Mogul Mughal”—one of the largest emeralds known—is a magnificent, lustrous, dark green slab, about the size of a McDonald’s “bone-shaped” chicken nugget, bought by the court of Aurangzeb in 17th century India. The 220-carat stone was cut, polished and engraved by skilled carvers of that era with intricate foliate decoration on one side and elegant Arabic calligraphy—the naksh script—on the other.

Oz’ “Throne Room” is an “immense domed chamber in the center of the palace.” Directly beneath it are “two electric fountains,” which eject “sprays of colored perfumed water, shooting up nearly as high as the arched ceiling.” The imperial throne, itself, is made of solid gold and encrusted with precious minerals. The dome, a round vault, is an architectural favorite of Islam.

The material of construction in much of Oz tends to be not wood or brick, but marble. In Bunnybury, a walled village, populated by urbane rabbits, described in book No. 6, “The Emerald City of Oz” (1910), the houses—which look like overturned kettles with delicate spires and minarets—are made of white marble. Each is framed by a lawn of green clover and opens into streets, also paved with white marble. Its royal residence is an imposing edifice of white marble reminiscent of the Taj Mahal, which too, is made entirely of white marble.

Does then, a story that’s as American as apple pie, celebrate facets of a culture, which at this juncture of history, has become a byword for everything the West isn’t? If so, does that disrupt our notion of Oz as a utopia? Not in the least. We remain forever enchanted.


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