February 15, 2008

Frankensteinian : The Patchwork People of Oz
by Marc Berezin

Guest Blogger Marc Berezin discusses the decidedly Frankensteinian themes and the startling jigsaw characters who inhabit Frank L. Baum’s Oz universe.

As we all know, Victor Frankenstein’s creation assumed his anti-social disposition when (almost) all of his society rejected him for looking “different”. Had he lived in the fantasy world of author L. Frank Baum, things might have been different. In various works about the wonderful Land of Oz (and a few other magical nations), the author introduces us to assorted man-made ‘patchwork’ grotesqueries, none of whom are cast out or persecuted by their peers.

The best known individual is the Tin Woodman (aka Nick Chopper) who is introduced along with his patchwork comrade the Scarecrow in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900). An early cyborg, Nick became a man of tin gradually, when his enchanted ax dismembered him limb by limb, which he then replaced with tin parts. Similarly, a general in the non-Oz fantasy John Dough and the Cherub (1906) is completely made of artificial parts, the originals having been lost in various battles. Other animated assembled characters include Jack Pumpkinhead and the flying Gump (made from two sofas, palm leaves, a broom and an elk-like creature’s head) from The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904).

Another popular celebrity is Scraps, the eponymous heroine of The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1913). A rag doll sewn together from a patchwork quilt, stuffed with cotton and brought to life with magic, Scraps was intended to be the servant of a magician’s wife, but instead was given a very unservantlike disposition. Unlike some cinematic Frankenstein Monsters, whose brains are criminal or damaged, Scraps is lucky enough to be given brains with a lot more cleverness than intended. Wild and independent, she exclaims:

“Why, I'm thoroughly delightful. I'm an Original, if you please, and therefore incomparable. Of all the comic, absurd, rare and amusing creatures the world contains, I must be the supreme freak. … But I'm glad--I'm awfully glad!—that I'm just what I am, and nothing else."

Her fellow Ozites love her for it and make her one the most popular celebrities of the Emerald City. Scraps may have inspired the character of Sally in Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).

The most positively Frankensteinian tale of Baum’s is The Tin Woodman of Oz (1918). In this story, the titular hero goes in search of Nimee Amee, the sweetheart whom he abandoned years ago, when he lost his heart. He meets up with Captain Fyter, the Tin Soldier (who became tin the same way as he did) who is also looking for the same girl. It turns out that Ku-Klip, the tinsmith who pieced together both tin men had used their dismembered limbs to construct a new patchwork creation named “Chopfyt”. In the end it is revealed that the Nimee has been contentedly married to Chopfyt and no longer cares for either of her former suitors (bride of Frankenstein indeed!).

In conclusion, one can hope that in his wanderings from the Arctic, Frankenstein’s “monster” might have found himself transported to the Land of Oz. For surely there would he have found himself among patchwork peers who would hold him in esteem, and not fear him for differences with humanity.

The picture of the Tin Woodman is from the first edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and drawn by W.W. Denslow. The other pictures are by John R. Neill.

All of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books are in print and available as online texts. More Oz information may be found at The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Website, and the International Wizard of Oz Club website.

Guest Blog
ger Marc Berezin is a public librarian who likes classic horror films and classic Oz. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.


rob! said...

some interesting ideas here. as this blog proves almost every day, the whole Frankenstein concept finds its way into a lot more of the culture than you'd immediately think.

nice job, marc!

Tim Lucas said...

Donna and I were amused to see this posting because we sometimes explain the presence of Frankenstein toys in our otherwise quilt-heavy decor by explaining that the Monster is a quilt, too. Plus, we're both big Oz fans and it's a treat to see Baum's characters discussed in a Frankensteinian way. If we remember that Mary Shelley's creature was more a creation of scientific sorcery than of reanimated corpses, the "meat glue" body-building of THE TIN WOODMAN OF OZ (as far as I can tell) actually pre-dates any such ideas being introduced to the Frankenstein mythos.

David Lee Ingersoll said...

One of my favorite scenes in The Tin Woodman of Oz is when Nick finds his original head in a cupboard and has a conversation with it. The head proves to be rather disagreeable and Nick decides he likes himself better as a tin man.

Anonymous said...

I finally saw Young Frankenstein tonight. Could the ending have been influenced by Chopfyt? the mind boggles.

B-Sol said...

At the age of eight, I began CONSUMING Baum's Oz books. They were my main introduction to literature of the fantastic. And my absolute favorite was The Patchwork Girl of Oz, which I read in three hours flat.