Tuesday, October 5, 2010

John R. Neill's Oz: Scalawagons

Before I leave Neill for a time, I want to examine a third example of the sentient enclosed space: the scalawagon. High up on a carrot-shaped mountain in the Quadling Country, the Wizard established a factory devoted to the creation of scalawagons. Made of red glass, with a dome on top, it blended naturally into its surroundings. Tik Tok was appointed Superintendent, with an office and a rubber mallet. The scalawagons themselves are made in a Production Room, by means of a strange and secret process, controlled by a lever. There are also many other buttons and levers. As they are created, the scalawagons come out of this room into the factory common area.

As can be seen on the book cover, the basic shape is a half-circle. There is enough open space to make one wonder about safety and protection from the weather. However, the seating is very comfortable, filled with foam rubber insulation. There are many buttons on the dashboard, the nost important of which is the LUNCH button. The vehicle, being sentient, operates by voice command. A turret on the very top protects the "brains" of the vehicle as well as (presumably) the goose-egg sized engine. The turret has a hinged lid and at the very top is a small metal cap marked "FOR PELI-CAN MOTOR FLUID." Peli-cans, sentient fuel cans, fill the scalawagon's tank with its beak. Running boards extend, so that the vehicle may function as a low flying glider. And, have no fear, these vehicles are unbreakable!

Now, to the LUNCH button. When this button is pushed, a table unfolds from the side containing exactly the food we wished for. Everyone in the car will be fed, and...the food will never run out. Models are available from spike wheel tractors to a custom made Royal Scalawagon.

The Wizard's wish was that everyone in Oz should have a free taxi. But these scalawagons have somehow obtained rudimentary sentience. They can feel panic and terror, they can flock together (like Peli-cans) and become confused, they can act in unison and park in perfect order, they can be tired and they can jump, glide, and go out on the water (thank you, Captain Salt!).

At the factory, Tik Tok's main job is to use the rubber mallet to knock sense onto the scalawagons. This helps them obey traffic rules and avoid danger. In fact, the effect of this amazing mallet on the pops was to give them intelligence, good posture, and a significant improvement in personal grooming. The houses of the Emerald City were afraid of them at first, but since Ozma welcomed them with a great party and decreed that every home should have one, they were soon accepted.

Last evening, I made a prototype of a scalawagon out of cardboard
and tape. Once I had placed the facing seats inside, I found it difficult to see where the dashboard would be placed, perhaps at the sides? I still need a small ball or marble for the eyes peeking out of the turret. The first thing I can remember making was a little voting booth for the 1968 election. I cut caricatures of Nixon, Humphrey, and Wallace out on my grandfather's news magazine. It's not very artistic, but after all these years it is still fun to make things like this.
To sum up: Neill's use of the sentient enclosed space in the scalawagon, the Emerald City houses, and the wooden whale Davy Jones strikes me as symbolic of a return to the security of the mother in early childhood. Caring, enclosing spaces that feed and protect us, giving us a warm place all our own, and operate through a magic beyond our understanding, but are nevertheless there just for us. I will not go so far as to claim that Neill's Oz is best of all, but I certainly found it the most psychologically stimulating.


  1. What's weird is that Neill suggests in the text that the Scalawagons' headlights function like eyes, but in the pictures they have eyes on the turrets. You'd think the text and pictures would be a little more consistent when the same person was responsible for both!

  2. that pic on the cover really threw me. i will say that each year's models are different. yes! where are the headlights, and where is the dashboard?! but where the lunch button is...that is most important! putting aside the whole question of how did the scalawagons even reach a level of sentience equal to a dog i will say, as not to insult my cats^^