Magic Picture Perfect


In Ozma of Oz, we’re first introduced to Ozma’s Magic Picture, a device that allows someone looking at it to see whatever they want. The images move in real time, so I’ve seen it suggested that L. Frank Baum was presenting a precursor to television. Jack Snow compares TV to the Picture in his introductory note for Shaggy Man. Really, though, it’s not exactly the same idea, as TV doesn’t show whatever you ask it to. In some ways, it’s actually closer to a domestic spying program, since it allows the ruler to monitor her citizens pretty much whenever she wants. That’s actually kind of scary when you think about it, and you have to hope Ozma knows what she’s doing.

One thing I wonder about the Picture is whether it displays its images as photographs or just very realistic paintings. And is it capable of zooming in or out, or any other such camera tricks? It’s sometimes said to show a simple country scene when not in use, but other books have it constantly changing on its own. I know that, in Scarecrow, Ozma and her friends come across Button-Bright in a seemingly random image. There are some other apparent inconsistencies involving the Picture as well. It’s described as having a gold frame in Emerald City and Lost Princess, a radium frame in Tik-Tok, and a greenwood frame in Forbidden Fountain. Baum describes the picture as being hung in Ozma’s boudoir or “private room,” while Ruth Plumly Thompson puts it in her sitting room. Most books imply the Picture has no sound capability, but there’s a scene in Emerald City in which Ozma and her court listen to the Nome King and his allies using the device.

In Royal Book, Grampa, and Merry Go Round, the Wizard of Oz hooks up a magic radio that provides sound for the images in the Picture. He also rigs up the magical tool to temporarily serve as a two-way communicator at the end of Ozmapolitan.

Interestingly, Ozma’s Magic Picture is not the first such item to appear in a Baum fantasy. In John Dough and the Cherub, published a year before Ozma, the King of the Fairy Beavers has his own picture that will show what he asks. This picture also appears to have sound capability.

I’ve seen it suggested that Ozma’s Picture might be a gift from the Beaver King. Other sources claim that it came from Lurline or Tititi-Hoochoo. In Shaggy Man, however, Ozma identifies it as “my own fairy creation,” despite the fact that we don’t see any indication of her using any other magic so early in her reign.

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22 Responses to Magic Picture Perfect

  1. vilajunkie says:

    Who do YOU think created the Magic Picture, and who owned it first–Ozma or someone else?

    • Nathan says:

      I like the idea that it was a coronation gift, although I’m not sure who the giver was. Ozma herself creating the Picture gives her too much power too early in her reign, I think. On the other hand, I guess that’s the explanation with canonical support.

      • Mark Hunter says:

        A coronation gift from Santa, maybe? He has to have *some* way to see when you’re asleeping, know when you’re awake …

  2. Mark Hunter says:

    Maybe the picture changes — or gets magically upgraded — to match advances in outside world technology. Silent pictures becoming sound, for instance, or simple nature scene “screen savers” turning into random searches.

    I’m glad Ozma has it, because there’s a huge potential for misuse there. At least we can be certain that if she looks in on Glinda and finds her in the bath, she’ll immediately move on to a less personal subject.

    • Nathan says:

      The sound upgrade might make sense if it weren’t for the fact that Emerald City is the only book where the Picture appears to have that ability without the Wizard having to use a separate device, and it’s early on in the series. Actually, I think Scalawagons also does, but bringing in the Neill books complicates most Oz-related issues.

      • vilajunkie says:

        Like the magic pins and thread that sew Jellia’s mouth shut! Seriously, that was just creepy and I don’t think it has much place in an Oz book.

      • Mark Hunter says:

        Uh, sewing Jellia’s mouth shut?! That sounds like something right out of Twisted Oz. Baum could get dark, but inserting BDSM doesnt exactly fit.

      • vilajunkie says:

        I wouldn’t exactly call it BDSM. Torturous, sure, but not a dom/sub thing. It’s actually a really short episode during one of Neill’s books (I forget which one). Jellia is tailoring a dress for Ozma, and she kept the sewing pins and thread in her mouth. She tries to speak or gets excited or something, and the pins and thread–because they’re magic–sew her mouth shut. I forget how she got rescued. Probably something equally traumatic.

      • Nathan says:

        The thread was enchanted not to break until Ozma’s birthday dress for the next year was complete, but Jenny Jump managed to remove it with her Turn-Style. In the meantime, Jellia talked through her ear.

  3. Mark Hunter says:

    Maybe not dom/sub, but I’m sure the bd/sm people would latch onto that moment as a favorite of theirs. Of course, the Oz books aren’t short on traumatic moments, including my personal favorite: The giant spiders in “Glinda”, which gave me plenty of nightmares despite their harmless look in the illustrations. It all reminds me of one of the Harry Potter books, when one of the students accidentally amputates his own leg or arm. Not kids stuff!

    On an unrelated note, how do you guys feel about Oz characters jumping outside of the magical lands into our own, modern day world? I’m not sure if it’s been done much in recent stories.

    • Nathan says:

      Hey, Nick Chopper accidentally amputated ALL of his limbs!

      I found the Jellia scene quite disturbing, but I wouldn’t say there’s any fetishism in it. The whole thing was an accident, although I suppose you could blame Ozma for the unbreakable thread.

      As for Oz characters in the modern world, I think it would be all right. Typically, the Oz characters don’t visit our world as much as people from the Outside World visit Oz, but there are exceptions.

      • Mark Hunter says:

        No, I wasn’t trying to say there was any fetishism in it; I was just saying that fetishists would likely take what they like out of it, just as people who are obsessed with sex might see an innocent comment as being sexual. That’s the nature of people … Anyway, the Land of Oz was never short of violent acts.

        The fact that people come to Oz more often than the other way around is exactly why I’m considering a story in which Oz characters travel outward; I don’t want to just go over territory already covered. The idea is starting to come together in my head, but I haven’t started working on an outline, yet.

    • vilajunkie says:

      Baum himself wrote “The Queer Visitors From Oz” (or a very similar title, I know “queer visitors” is in the title) about the party from Land (minus Tip/Ozma) coming to the United States. Some people consider it canon, some don’t; but it’s part of Baum’s “What Did The Woggle-Bug Say?” fad. The late Martin Gardener wrote The Visitors from Oz about Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man visiting modern-day New York, but it’s a pretty bad book. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you like self-conscious fanfic.

  4. Mark Hunter says:

    “Queer Visitors” I read, many years ago — it’s one of the first things I ever read after the original 14 — but I don’t remember it very well. Fanfic I like; self-conscious fanfic, not so much.

    My story (and I apologize for being so cryptic) would be unusual in that for much of the book it would involve only a very few Oz characters in a modern day world where magic is starting to creep back in. I’m hoping to make it an adult book (or at least, young adult) that adults wouldn’t mind their kids reading, and to approach the story in a new way while keeping Baum’s books canon. It would be an attempt to write a book like Wicked *without* pissing off Oz purists. It would be, in other words, impossible. You can see why the idea intimidates me a bit.

    • vilajunkie says:

      I consider myself an Oz “purist” but I wasn’t too upset about Wicked. I thought it was done a lot better than other adult Oz books, and with more nods to the rest of Baum’s books than just Wizard too. Now, the musical is what I’m not really sure if I like. It turns an adult, mature storyline into something family-friendly, which I’m pretty sure Maguire wasn’t going for in the Wicked books. Not that there’s anything wrong with family-friendly stuff, but I wouldn’t consider turning, say, Schindler’s List into a light-hearted musical for the kids.

  5. Mark says:

    I love Wicked; I just didn’t go around worrying about it not being canon — it stands by itself, and a completely separate entity. While it’s true that Maguire didn’t intend it to be family friendly, it’s also true that Baum didn’t intend his work to be turned into something like Wicked; I’m okay with changes being made for the sake of a different medium, and I’m looking forward to someday seeing the movie version.

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