The Lay of Lurline

Although she never appears on stage in the canonical Oz books and does so only sparingly in apocryphal ones, the Fairy Queen Lurline is an important part of the universe in that The Tin Woodman of Oz identifies her as the one who originally enchanted the country. The name was not original with L. Frank Baum, but was a variation of the German “Lorelei,” famously used for a river nymph in the William Vincent Wallace opera of the same name. As for the term “Lorelei” itself, it refers to…a rock. At least that’s what Wikipedia tells me. The name literally means “murmuring rock” in a rather odd combination of Old German and Celtic, and is used to refer to a particular rock on the bank of the Rhine River in Germany that produces an amplified echoing sound.

So how did we get from a rock to a fairy? That appears to have been largely due to the poet Clemens Brentano, who combined the stone with the myth of Echo to come up with the tale of a woman who fell from the rock while watching for her lost love, with her voice remaining there after her death. The Brentano poem then inspired Heinrich Heine, who penned a poem turning Lorelei into a woman who lured sailors to their doom by singing.

Sound familiar? It should, because it’s essentially a localized version of the Greek myth about the Sirens. I remember hearing about the Heine poem (later set to music, although I don’t know who wrote the tune) from my parents and then in high school German class, but all I can really remember is the first line: Ich weiss nicht was bedeutet es, dass ich so traurig bin. That might not be exactly right. Anyway, this version of the Lorelei also relates to the tales of people jumping to their deaths when seeing mermaids, which ties back into the Baumian universe due to Cap’n Bill’s telling this legend to Trot at the beginning of The Sea Fairies. It turns out that, like most fairies in Baum’s writings, the mermaids are much nicer than portrayed in traditional folklore. Baum’s Lurline isn’t a mermaid or nymph, though, but a more generic kind of fairy.

One question that readers often have about Lurline is her connection to Lulea, the Fairy Queen mentioned in such Baum fantasies as Queen Zixi of Ix and the short story “Nelebel’s Fairyland.”

Both of these identify Lulea’s home as Burzee, the fairy forest in which the young Claus grows up in The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, which means Lulea is presumably the same as the unnamed Fairy Queen from that book. Is she the same as Lurline, however? I tend to think she is, but Baum left it ambiguous. He also writes of the Forest of Lurla in The Enchanted Island of Yew, so there could be a connection there as well. One Oz scholar who seems to have regarded the two fairy queens as the same is Jack Snow, who in Magical Mimics identifies Burzee as Lurline’s home. If they ARE the same, though, why the two different names? They could easily be regional variants, which are common for mythological figures. March Laumer’s Fairy Queen proposes an alternate explanation for the name change. Laumer spent a significant amount of time in Sweden, where there is a city called Luleå on the coast. In Fairy Queen, the mayor of this town demands that Queen Lulea change her name as part of a policy to separate Sweden from fairy lore. She decides to go with Lurline after a ship on which she sails (and Lurline really was a common name for ships, due to its connection with water, although I would have to think that the theme of shipwrecks in Heine’s poem would make it a bad choice), but there are hints that she’d used that name in the past as well.

Another character I’ve seen associated with Lurline is Zurline, the Queen of the Wood-Nymphs, who has an important role in Santa Claus.

During my time on Oz communities, I’ve seen it asked whether they’re the same, but I find this highly unlikely. In Santa, Zurline and the Fairy Queen both live in Burzee, but they’re clearly different characters. Besides, it makes more sense to me that a guardian of humanity would enchant a country so that its people wouldn’t die under normal circumstances than would a guardian of trees. To my mind, Lurline and Zurline are friends, possibly even relatives (how familial relationships work among fairies isn’t entirely clear), but not at all the same entity. Some people probably think the same about Lurline and Lulea, however, and I’ve even seen it proposed that Omby Amby and the Soldier with Green Whiskers aren’t the same character.

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26 Responses to The Lay of Lurline

  1. vilajunkie says:

    Is that third pic (the one after the siren) of Lurline too? Where is it from?

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  5. Sam says:

    I thought that was a Shanower picture (I checked the comments, thanks for saying so)!

    I think I can tell the final/last picture is from “Queen Lurline and the White Ravens of Oz” (for a book I haven’t seen yet – but the Baum Bugle review of the reprint helps), but how about the FIRST picture and the one with the Throne? Who are they about / by and from which book/where?

    • Nathan says:

      The first picture is by Frank Kramer, from Magical Mimics. The one with the desk is by J. Noel, from Mysterious Chronicles. By the way, I believe I wrote the Bugle review for Lurline and the White Ravens.

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