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.