The Royal Skills Assessment of Oz

Whether Ozma is actually any good as a ruler has been called into question by many fans of the Oz series. David Hulan wrote an article on the subject, but I’m not sure if it’s still available online. In her posts on the series, Mari Ness also points out examples of what she calls “Ozma fail.” Anyway, one thing that’s pretty noticeable is how much we see her personality and ruling style change in the first few books. In Ozma of Oz, she’s rather haughty and overconfident, putting herself and some of her main courtiers in danger in her attempt to rescue the royal family of Ev. She tries to order everyone around, even the more powerful (at the time, anyway) Nome King, and apparently didn’t even do very thorough research before starting her mission.

Then, when her kingdom is threatened by the same Nome King in Emerald City, she goes totally Gandhi and refuses to fight back at all. Hey, I’m pretty pacifistic myself, but it’s not like Ozma even has a PEACEFUL plan to stop the invaders. It’s like she totally dismisses the idea that part of the role of the ruler of a country is to ward off invasions. Now, she does still have the Magic Belt, and it’s possible she was planning to use that if nothing else were to turn up. But she doesn’t mention this to her subjects, instead letting them all worry until the Scarecrow comes up with his idea. So she’s either totally unprepared or scaring her best friends unduly, neither of which shows her in a very good light.

This is all early in Ozma’s reign, so it’s certainly possible that she’s still trying to figure out how best to rule. In later books, she never really comes across as being as belligerent as she is in Ozma, but also not as seemingly clueless as she is in Emerald City. In the later Baum books, it generally seems like she’s always willing to try love first (as in her peculiar treatment of prisoners in Patchwork Girl), but has other plans as well, and eventually gets it into her head to learn some magic of her own. In Tin Woodman, she actually acts somewhat intelligently, and manages to punish the wrongdoer Mrs. Yoop in a way that’s humiliating but not directly harmful.

We still see some signs of foolishness, though, like when she does nothing to help the Scarecrow in his own book despite watching him in the Magic Picture when he’s about to be burned up.

I’ve seen some fellow Oz fans say that they consider Ozma as Ruth Plumly Thompson wrote her to be a wimp.

Really, I kind of see it the opposite way, and think Thompson made her more vindictive. It’s true that we see cases in Thompson where she’s totally ineffectual and apparently can’t think of any better plan than lightly chastising the villain (Jack Pumpkinhead is a good example of this), but we also see her ordering Mombi executed, transforming several enemies into inanimate objects, and presumably not batting an eye when Glegg explodes in front of her.

The post-Thompson authors really didn’t use Ozma enough for me to get a real sense of how they saw the character. Forbidden Fountain is an exception, but she’s without her memory for most of that book. In the John R. Neill books, pretty much everyone acts ridiculously, so we can perhaps forgive Ozma for some of her weird gaffes, like making Jellia Jamb use thread that can’t be broken for a year. I do have to say, however, that her banishing the Mifkit in Scalawagons when his only fault was being too eager a worker came across as rather out of character even for Neill’s take on Ozma. I think one of the better portrayals of Ozma might be in the non-canonical Paradox, in which Edward Einhorn makes her character consistent with how Baum presented her, but somewhat more competent. Confused, certainly, but still competent.

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6 Responses to The Royal Skills Assessment of Oz

  1. Jared Davis says:

    Thompson’s Ozma is MEAN!

  2. vilajunkie says:

    It is rather funny how Ozma is consistently described as this great, kind, just ruler, but her actions prove otherwise.

    • Nathan says:

      Well, it’s always difficult to write a character who’s supposed to be nicer and smarter than the author or anyone he knows, but I sometimes wonder if Baum was writing her as flawed on purpose. She WAS supposed to be a child (well, teenager by today’s standards) ruling an entire country, after all.

      Incidentally, as far as larger than life characters go, I have to wonder whether Tititi-Hoochoo is really as just as Baum tells us.

      • vilajunkie says:

        About him, I wonder how he could possibly be a Private Citizen and his subjects kings and queens if he was the one running the show.

      • Nathan says:

        As a Private Citizen, he was the only one who didn’t have a designated area of specialization.

  3. Pingback: Moving to a Magical Monarchy | VoVatia

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