Wednesday, September 29, 2010

John R. Neill's Oz: The House as Sentient Enclosed Space

I am still in an Ozzy mood, all started by this insightful and interesting book: The Origin of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Michele Rubatino (available on Each of the Royal Historians whom I have read so far has presented a unique view of Oz that reflects their own individual ideas and tastes. While I agree with Baum's social philosophy and would love to visit Thompson's tiny kingdoms, it is Neill's Emerald City that I want for my future home. Today I will briefly examine the housing situation there.

A new arrival in the Emerald City must find a house to make their home. This is easier said than done, because the houses have some choice in the matter. You must look for a house that wants you (Wonder City p. 69-70). And houses have strong opinions on the matter of who may nest inside them. By law (Scalawagons p. 294), they are not allowed to leave their places, though it seems that they would if they could, and indeed sometimes desire to do so. There is also a law forbidding houses to shout (WC p. 100). Most appear to be dome shaped, with a face-like front and two chimney apendages.
Once accepted, you are in for a treat. Your house will clean and decorate itself, prepare food, and set the table. The affectionate nature of the relationship is further illustrated in that houses shutter themselves when we depart and await our return with anticipation. If we stay out late (not a City custom), our bedroom will wait up for us, and presumably not be content untill we are safely settled in for the night. (WC p. 182-83, 190-91, 193, 258-59) The houses can defend themselves from 'Nome invasions, but not very well ^_^; (WC p. 193, 195-96, 202).
And personality! Wow! Houses sleep quietly, feel disgust, slam windown in anger, sneeze, listen to gossip, feel delight, and in rare circumstances (we hope!), houses can fight. (WC p. 99-107, 128, 202) Yes, fight! Wonder City chapter 10, 'The Battle of the Houses,' is a surreal twist on urban conflict, complete with flying furniture. People are accustomed enough to house fights that they know enough to hide for the duration, only emerging when the conflict has ended and the dwellings rebuild themselves and set things to right.
Curved sentient space, providing us with warm and protected interior space where we can find rest and nourishment. A sentience that has chosen us above all others as worthy to dwell within. In Neill's Wonder City, Jenny Jump finds a house which she can call her own, a firm foundation from where she can set up her Style Shop and contribute to the community of Oz. I hope there is a house in the Emerald City waiting for me.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Language USA

This year, inspried by the TV show Who Do You Think You Are, I did a free sojourn into I traced my maternal grandfather's family back to some of the first German settlers in Pennsylvania. They were even related by marriage to William Penn--no wonder they got here so early! Jumping across the ocean, we went back even further to...Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III (1415-1493)! While some of the links are...questionable, I am happy to imagine that I am related to my favorite Late Medieval ruler, so I will leave it at that.

My grandfather grew up speaking German in his home. Since his mother lived until 1961, that means that his ancestors had been here in America speaking German for almost 300 years! He interacted with the German community in New York City when he lived there (1927 to 1940). Alas this gift was not passed on to me. My mother was born in 1939, and my grandfather worked for AT&T Long Lines division. It just wouldn't do to have a child learning German in the 1940s when her Dad worked in such an area vital to national security.

This is just something to think about today, when some people are all concerned about others whom they hear speaking Spanish or Hmong or Russian or whatever. Not taking anything away from the importance of English, it is my hope that children can grow up bilingual. To really learn a language, it should be learned in childhood. We are all Americans, but we should not forget our heritage. I know about "Dutch treats" and "Dutch courage", but Ish only hap' ein biszchen Deutch.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Characters in John R. Neill's Oz

I wish we knew more about Neill's life. His family has custody of his legacy, and that is as it should be. Some elements of Neill's personality do shine through to me in the characters he created for the four Oz books that he is credited with: The Wonder City of Oz, The Scalawagons of Oz, Lucky Bucky in Oz, and The Runaway in Oz.

Jenny Jump is Neill's premiere character creation. With her red hair, green eyes, fiery temper, and willingness to help others and be a part of Oz, she is quite unforgettable. In New Jersey she is a misfit with a gift for seeing fairies. She arrives suddenly in a new place, but soon fits in due to an unexpected gift and a talent for fashion. In Jenny, I see a young John R. Neill in the 1890s, going to the big city and using his artistic talent to make a living.

Lucky Bucky is Neill's male version of the newcomer to Oz. He works for his uncle in the USA, and it is no coincidence that he encounters the "Land of Uncles" in Oz. Davy Jones, a wooden whale, is the catalyst for Bucky's "rebirth" into Oz. The boy is secure on his uncles well-run boat, but in the background lurks a fear of prison and the sound of hungry boys begging for bread. Through sheer accident of fate, Bucky Jones becomes a benefactor to the Oz community. Again, I see echoes of the strggles of a young man in the 1890s, one who reached success almost be accident, because he has a talent that he can use to escape the harsh fate of others of his generation.

Number Nine is the Munchkin boy who becomes Jenny Jump's office boy. He leaves his large family to follow the path blazed by his uncle and seek his fortune in the Emerald City. By chance he meets Jenny, and this is his making. Through her, he meets the celebrities of Oz and establishes himself there. Just as Neill become the "assistant" to L. Frank Baum and his legacy, Number Nine becomes the assistant to the great Wizard himself.

Popla the Power Plant becomes a good friend to Scraps when she runs away from her life in the Emerald City. She has to be uprooted, but has the ability to put down roots wherever she finds soil. Popla is very strong, and willing to help her friends however she can. I like Popla almost as much as Jenny because of these qualities. But Jenny reminds me so much of my grandmother that I will state unequivocally that I like her best of all.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Stories I heard somewhere...

Once upon a time there was a little girl who got teased a lot because her grandmothers' Apache features showed clearly in her face. She lost her grandfather and father before her seventh birthday, so she had to go with her sisters to work in a hosiery mill. This little girl worked her way through high school somehow and entered nursing school. There they told her she was wasting her time. Upon receiving this devastating blow, she tried to kill herself, but her younger sister and her friends saved her. So, she went to another nursing school, lied about her age, and finally got her RN at age 31. Our girl was now in her glory, with friends and money, making her home in New York City. But she was still self-conscious about her features. So she did what was at that time in history a sensible thing, she married a "pure blood German" to eliminate the wide face and high cheekbones in the next generation.

A daughter was a blessing, but there were to be no more children. And this one received the full brunt of her mother's medical theories. Please keep in mind that many of the things that Germany took blame for were part of the common beliefs of all "civilized" nations at one time. Then, at the appropriate time, the daughter was sent to college to find a husband, having never even chosen her own clothing, or had the chance to learn her father's native tongue.

And what a husband she found! An old, hard-drinking combat veteran, who loved honky-tonks and cigarettes. Their first home was a brothel where she worked as a maid while he tried his hand at a shoe factory. Once, when a customer mistook her for another kind of working girl, he put his hunting knife through the fellow's hand.

They had to get away from there, even he could see that. A one room shack behind a store was affordable, so there they went. The night the baby was born, dad couldn't drive to the hospital. The neighbor was drunk too, so she poured a pot of coffee into him, and got to the hospital by 2 a.m.

The little fellow cried so much. Mommy didn't know what to do, and daddy had to work. Once mommy gave the little guy a does of laudanum to shut him up. Daddy was cracking under the pressure. It was time for grandmother to step in. This was what she had been waiting for. She had failed with her daughter, but at least the girl had provided her own replacement. So our older and perhaps wiser Apache-featured RN took the child and put him into his mother's old room. Throwing herself into the task, she was sure things would be better this time.

But time was running out. Our little fellow lost his father and mother by the time he was four. At seven, when he had never bathed himself, dressed himself, cut his own food or tied his shoes, grandfather died. On his death bed, the old man repented that he had not involved himself in the life of his daughter or his grandson. Before witnesses, he made his wife promise to put the little fellow into a charity home for children. To her credit, she did this, though she plagued the staff there until her death.

So, what then is left for this child? Having lost the equivalent of two fathers, he might long for a love he can never have, like in Springsteen's "My Father's House." His mother abandoned him and he begged her not to go, this may lead him to push friends away, because he believes they will abandon him anyway. And....being so severely dominated by his grandmother, both physically and emotionally...well that might make him shun physical contact with any people, as well as other issues.

Ah, the past! Each of us is dragging along a whole collection of narratives, perhaps even like these. They can twist our present and rob us of the possibility of happiness in the future. Whether we are female or male, society shown us it's ideals and when we look at our narratives...well...who can ever measure up to an ideal? So, if we cannot escape them, at least let's help each other create some new narratives that will be challenging and fun!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Psychology of John R. Neill's Oz

When I hear about a book that I should avoid, I will often seek it out. In college, I asked my Chaucer professor if there were any other good works from that time period. He told me to try Gower, but stay away from Lydgate. Of course I ran right out and read Lydgate's "Troy Book."

Within the universe of Oz, there are some books that are *ahem* less esteemed than others. John R. Neill's 3 or 4 contributions seem to fall into this category, so I just had to read them. Ah! I can say that I found them wonders of surreal and psychological phantasmagoria! Well, I do have odd taste, so I won't ask anyone else to like them. Just give them a chance.

Today I want to look at some aspects of "Lucky Bucky in Oz," published in 1942. Neill uses a type of character that I find exciting and numinous---the sentient enclosed space. The living houses of "Wonder City," and the scalawagons exemplify this to a degree, but Davy Jones, the wooden whale, is the best of them. And, Davy is the vehicle for Bucky Jones' rebirth as a citizen of Oz.

Here I must pause to thank the spirit of Erich Neumann (1905-1960), pupil of Carl Jung and author of "The Origins and History of Consciousness." I discovered this work at college some 30 years ago, and whenever I encounter a story that resonates with my soul (Xenogears and Evangelion spring to mind), I get out my Neumann. Joseph Campbell is all right, Julian Jaynes is a bit loopy, so I will stick with...Lacan! No....well....*cough*

Anyway, Bucky Jones arrives inworld when he lands on a dough volcano, a "Doughminion," as it were. This mountain is an unending source of nourishment, indeed the cupboards in the back of the wooden whale are filled with its products. Such is the power of the mountain that even invading pirates are turned into bakers. Hmmm...a metaphor for....well, I'm not using Neumann's "The Great Mother: An Analysis of an Archetype" today, so we'll give that a miss.

Bucky is cast off into the sea where he meets Davy Jones. The wooden whale is monstrous and fascinating to Bucky. It overpowers and befriends him by its swift, strong actions. Davy is older than Bucky, and they share a last name. The wooden whale protects, shelters, and nourishes Bucky, as well as providing him a map to his new life in Oz and the means to follow that map. Traveling inside Davy Jones, Bucky is carried through air and water to the Emerald City. There the boy is symbolicaly reborn as the hero, in that his actions are the catalyst for the transportation of the "Doughminion" to a place where its gifts can be shared by all.

I am wading in deep here, I realize. If Davy is the Good Mother archetype, then imago-Mombi may be the Terrible Mother.... I don't want to say that this is a true interpretation of Neill's work, but Neumann-interpretation has always added a dimension to my reading.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Nostalga of Fall

All through the heat of the summer, I live for the first cool, crisp morning which tells me that fall is on the way. All the opressive heat and humidity will soon be gone, and all the green things that I don't want to be growing in my yard will die off. "With autumn closing in..." That line from Bob Seeger's song "Night Moves" has always filled me with such a sense of nostalga. Even as a teenager, I had lost important things, and looked backwards with deep longing, trying to hold on to fading shadows of once familiar people and places. Anyone who has moved to a new home knows part of this feeling, but childhood moves are deeply engraved on the inexperienced mind. Then, there is the start of school, with it's fears and hopes, remembering departed friends and loking for familiar faces, continuing a cycle that gives a false image of permanence and stability. In Japan, the spring cherry blossoms symbolize the impermanence of earthly things. But for me it will always be that first cool morning, which tells me the green leaves will soon be turning to vibrant reds and yellows, just before they blow away in the wind.