Look Away, Look Away, Look Away, Dicksy Land

One location in the Oz books that comes across as somewhat troublesome to modern readers is Dicksy Land, a place in the Munchkin Country that Dorothy, the Patchwork Girl, and the Cowardly Lion come across while searching for Ojo in Ojo in Oz. It’s essentially a matter of changes in language, as the community is largely based on puns on the word “dick,” which of course has now come primarily to mean a penis or a jerk. With this in mind, it kind of surprises me how many people still use it as a nickname for Richard, especially in politics. Then again, from what I know of people like Dick Cheney, Dick Armey, and Dick Morris, they’re dicks in more than one sense of the word. Getting back to Oz and unfortunate word choice, Ruth Plumly Thompson also played on the expression “queer dick,” which at thre time simply meant an unusual person. In fact, the word “queer” is used very often in the Oz series in its old sense of “strange,” although this usage dropped off considerably after the term became more broadly associated with homosexuality. It probably doesn’t help matters that all of the inhabitants of Dicksy Land are male, and the gatekeeper uses a girl’s sash for a hatband. He’s known as the Dick with the the Queer Hatband, a joke on the expression “queer as Dick’s hatband,” popularly associated with Oliver Cromwell’s son Richard, with the “hatband” being the crown of England.

As indicated here, however, this etymology is very much in doubt, and an alternate explanation is that it originally referred to Nick’s (i.e., the Devil’s) hatband.

The other Dicks living in the community each have their own peculiarities. One public official has a “queer collar,” which is actually a dickey.

Others include “one who actually made a living with his pen and another who had once sold an idea to a millionaire.” Of course, Thompson herself made a living with her pen, but I don’t know whether the guy who sold the idea is a reference to anyone in particular. The author missed a pun by not making of the inhabitants detectives. Several aspects of the country are essentially backwards, like apples growing on raspberry bushes and raspberries on apple trees, doors and windows being switched, and chimneys in the sides of houses. The area is also inhabited by dicky birds, which don’t seem to be able to talk as well as most Ozian animals. One has to wear a sign in order to direct people, and others simply mimic speech like (non-Ozian) parrots. I suppose they have poor diction.

The leader of the place is a dictator named Dickus III, who is bothered by the fact that none of his subjects object to him. When Dorothy and her friends come to visit, he is pleasantly excited that they refuse to accept his leadership, even when he is on his white horse.

This was a joke that I, as a more modern reader, didn’t get at first, but apparently the phrase “man on a white horse” was used to refer to a military leader who forcibly took control of a country. There’s probably a connection to Revelation’s conqueror on a white horse, although that reference could just mean the archetype is quite old. Dickus’ right-hand man is named Reachard, and he has the ability to stretch his right arm for miles in any direction, as well as eyes on his fingers to see where his arm is going.

Apparently everyone Reachard’s old hometown of Reach, located to the north of Dicksy Land, has this ability, which makes me wonder whether arm entanglement is a significant problem there.

For more talk on Dicksy Land, check out the Book of Current Focus discussion page for Ojo.

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7 Responses to Look Away, Look Away, Look Away, Dicksy Land

  1. vilajunkie says:

    If this book were made today, it would be a case of Getting Crap Past the Radar for sure.

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