Monday, November 24, 2008

The Frogman Cometh

No, not Clarence. (Though he's amazing enough to deserve a post all his own.)

I'm talking about L. Frank Baum's Frogman, recently encountered (or rediscovered, actually), as Thandie and I make our way through the crazy-ass Oz books:

The Frogman wakened first on this morning, and after going to the tree where Cayke slept and finding her still wrapped in slumber, he decided to take a little walk and seek some breakfast. Coming to the edge of the grove, he observed half a mile away a pretty yellow house that was surrounded by a yellow picket fence, so he walked toward this house and on entering the yard found a Winkie woman picking up sticks with which to build a fire to cook her morning meal.

"For goodness sake!" she exclaimed on seeing the Frogman. "What are you doing out of your frog-pond?"

"I am traveling in search of a jeweled gold dishpan, my good woman," he replied with an air of great dignity.

"You won't find it here, then," said she."Our dishpans are tin, and they're good enough for anybody. So go back to your pond and leave me alone." She spoke rather crossly and with a lack of respect that greatly annoyed the Frogman.

"Allow me to tell you, madam," said he, "that although I am a frog, I am the Greatest and Wisest Frog in all the world. I may add that I possess much more wisdom than any Winkie--man or woman--in this land. Wherever I go, people fall on their knees before me and render homage to the Great Frogman! No one else knows so much as I; no one else is so grand, so magnificent!"

"If you know so much," she retorted, "why don't you know where your dishpan is instead of chasing around the country after it?"

"Presently," he answered, "I am going where it is, but just now I am traveling and have had no breakfast. Therefore I honor you by asking you for something to eat."

"Oho! The Great Frogman is hungry as any tramp, is he? Then pick up these sticks and help me to build the fire," said the woman contemptuously.

"Me! The Great Frogman pick up sticks?" he exclaimed in horror. "In the Yip Country where I am more honored and powerful than any King could be, people weep with joy when I ask them to feed me."

"Then that's the place to go for your breakfast," declared the woman.

"I fear you do not realize my importance," urged the Frogman. "Exceeding wisdom renders me superior to menial duties."

"It's a great wonder to me," remarked the woman, carrying her sticks to the house, "that your wisdom doesn't inform you that you'll get no breakfast here." And she went in and slammed the door behind her.

Ah, L. Frank Baum. Where else in children's literature do you get explorations of transexuality, feminism, plastic surgery, amputation...

They just don't make them like that anymore. And as I ponder ways to adapt the IJG show for a children's audience (if that's even possible) -- over and against the Dora-the-Explorer-ish shout-fest pablum that passes for kids' entertainment these days -- Baum is certainly a model.


mrG said...

Aye, and where else in children's literature can you get such a clear opportunity to discuss horrific racism against indigenous peoples? That's not to say one shouldn't read him, in fact one of the founders of the NativeNet, on tipping me to L.Frank Baum the Editorialist confessed that he still loved the books and read them to his kids, but like C.G.Jung's disparaging view of women and blacks (another now-secret editorial career) its sometimes best to get a full picture.

Andrew Durkin... said...

Thanks, mrG!

like C.G.Jung's disparaging view of women and blacks

Or, perhaps more to the point re: kids' culture, like Lewis Carroll's pedophilia, or like Walt Disney's politics, etc.?

where else in children's literature can you get such a clear opportunity to discuss horrific racism against indigenous peoples?

Well, mercifully, that racism is missing from the books themselves (though there is some pretty crazy violent shit in there, by our standards). But I'll take your point.

Incidentally, I suspect that this background info on Baum is pretty well known by fans of the books, but much less so by people who have only seen the most famous movie version of the most famous of his books.

In any case, I hate to sound like a curmudgeon, but the larger point for me was that the Oz series is just another example of how kids' entertainment used to be a whole lot more interesting than it is now. You're right of course that one has to provide the full context, but I think I'll wait until at least kindergarten for that...