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OZMA and/or My Lost Youth

| Sep 30, 2019
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When I was a child of eight or nine, I fell under the spell of the Wizard of Oz. I loved the film, and my parents gave me several skinny little children’s books with highly-condensed versions of a number of L. Frank Baum’s Oz stories. Almost convinced that the Land of Oz was real (and perhaps I should strike that “almost”), I identified strongly with Dorothy Gale and reveled in her adventures.

A year or so later, I found the real Oz books, thick and fascinating, in the public library, and I plunged into them, reading each as quickly as I could so I could exchange it for another. Dorothy didn’t appear in every story, but they were all full of wonder, and one wonderful tale – The Marvelous Land of Oz – gave me another character with whom I could identify.

The Marvelous Land of Oz tells the story of Tip, an orphan boy whom I took to be about my age, though he was more likely a little older. Tip had been raised from infancy by the old witch Mombi. Although he worked reasonably hard for Mombi, cultivating her garden and gathering firewood, his boyish pranks and enthusiasms tended to annoy her. When he devised a wooden man with a carved pumpkin for a head to frighten her, she wasn’t at all frightened – she took the opportunity to test a magic powder she’d just acquired and brought Jack Pumpkinhead to life – but that was the final straw. Now that she had Jack to do Tip’s chores, she could turn the boy into a marble statue to decorate her garden. She told Tip that she was going to do this to him as soon as they got up the next morning, so quite naturally the boy ran away, taking both Jack Pumpkinhead and the magic powder with him.

I won’t try to summarize the entire story (you can find it on the internet, of course) other than to say that Tip meets a number of interesting creatures and has many adventures in his travels. I proceed directly to Chapter 20, where the reader gets the first hint of a transgender plot twist.

Tip and his new friends, the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman (both holdovers from The Wizard of Oz) have gone to Glinda, the Good Witch of the North (another returning character) to ask for her assistance. The Scarecrow (it will be recalled by Oz devotees) had been named by the Wizard to rule the Emerald City of Oz in his place while he took Dorothy back to Kansas. However, the Scarecrow has been overthrown by an army of girls armed with knitting needles, and he wants Glinda to restore him to his throne. Glinda observes that the Scarecrow has no right to rule, because the Wizard had usurped the throne from the former ruler, King Pastoria, now deceased. Pastoria had had an infant daughter, Ozma, who had been hidden away by the Wizard and could not be found – she was the legitimate ruler. The Scarecrow was perfectly willing to relinquish the throne to Ozma, if her whereabouts could be discovered. Glinda, consulting a book that listed all of the Wizard’s activities while he was in Oz, found that he had made three secret visits to old Mombi. Obviously, she observed, Mombi was the key and must be made to tell her story.

There’s no great mystery about where this is going, but I’ll give you the highlights of Chapter 23, in which Mombi finally admits that the Wizard brought the infant Princess Ozma to her and that she then transformed Ozma into a boy. All eyes (and there were many of them in this scene) turned to Tip. It was Tip’s duty, Glinda said, to let himself be transformed back into Ozma and become the rightful Queen of the Emerald City.

Tip insisted that he didn’t really want to become a girl – he wanted to continue to roam around Oz, having wonderful adventures with his friends. The Tin Woodman tried to reassure him. “Never mind, old chap,” he said. “It don’t hurt to be a girl, I’m told; and we will all remain your faithful friends just the same. And, to be honest with you, I’ve always considered girls nicer than boys.” “They’re just as nice, anyway,” the Scarecrow said, patting Tip on the head.

Tip didn’t put up much of an argument after that. He said to Glinda, “I might try it for a while – just to see how it seems, you know. But if I don’t like being a girl you must promise to change me into a boy again.” Glinda rejected this – she didn’t do transformations and thought them dishonest. She was going to have Mombi undo her previous transformation, and that would be the last magic the old witch would be allowed to perform.

Mombi gave Tip a potion that put him into a deep sleep. Tip’s friends then placed him on Glinda’s royal couch, which was covered with soft cushions and shielded from view by many folds of pink gossamer. The witch kindled a small fire, threw some magical powder on it, and chanted an incantation. When she was done,

 

Glinda walked to the canopy and parted the silken hangings. Then she bent over the cushions, reached out her hand, and from the couch arose the form of a young girl, fresh and beautiful as a May morning. Her eyes sparkled as two diamonds, and her lips were tinted like a tourmaline. All adown her back floated tresses of ruddy gold, with a slender jeweled circlet confining them at the brow. Her robes of silken gauze floated around her like a cloud, and dainty satin slippers shod her feet.

At this exquisite vision Tip’s old comrades stared in wonder for the space of a full minute, and then every head bent low in honest admiration of the lovely Princess Ozma. The girl herself cast one look into Glinda’s bright face, which glowed with pleasure and satisfaction, and then turned upon the others. Speaking the words with sweet diffidence, she said:

“I hope none of you will care less for me than you did before. I’m just the same Tip, you know; only – only – “

“Only you’re different!” said the Pumpkinhead; and everyone thought it was the wisest speech he had ever made.

That’s how these things were done in 1904, when The Marvelous Land of Oz was first published. In those days, magic was the only imaginable means to obtain a complete male to female transformation (to say nothing of Ozma’s previous female-to-Tip conversion). At ten, I’d lost my almost-belief in the reality of Oz, but it was nice to find a boy, however fictional, who’d managed to become a girl.

What do these stories tell us about their author, L. Frank Baum? Although it doesn’t seem quite right to try to analyze a long-dead man, I’ll offer a few thoughts. In the very first Oz book, The Wizard of Oz, all of the strong characters are female, and Dorothy is the strongest of them all (it seems to me that all the Oz stories feature strong female characters; in fact, I’m unable to recall any take-charge male characters, other than Tip). In the second Oz story, the principal character, a boy, undergoes a magical transsexual procedure to become a lovely girl. In my limited experience as a fiction writer, I have found my principal characters to be idealized manifestations of myself. I believe this to be true for many journeyman writers – and Baum, though imaginative and successful, was not a great writer. To me, these observations give plausible glimpses of what Baum’s unpublished fantasies may have been.

Wicked, a recent novel that painted a sympathetic portrait of the infamous Wicked Witch of the West, created an almost-realistic version of Oz in which most things had reasonable, natural explanations. It would be interesting to rewrite the Ozma/Tip/Ozma story in a realistic style, complete with therapists, standards of care, a real-life experience requirement for Tip to live as a girl for a year, the administration of hormones and surgical procedures – it sounds a lot like magic, doesn’t it? It would probably have seemed more far-fetched than magic to a reader in 1904.

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Hebe

About the Author ()

One of TGF's longest running authors, Hebe has been writing for TGF since the 1990s. With a focus on TG fiction she also has covered mythic crossdressing and recently has reported on TG events.

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