One common theme in fairy tales is an item or character who grants wishes. Honestly, I find this idea to be problematic, because they’re so ill-defined. Can a wishing item or creature grant ANY wish, or do they have limits? If the former, not only do we have the trick pretty much everyone has thought about where you wish for more wishes, but the potential for change of universal proportions. What if someone wished to change the past? For that matter, what if they wished for a fundamental law of the universe to be altered, even one as simple as making two plus two equal five? Most fairy tale characters are too single-minded in their goals to ever have a reason to do anything like that, but that’s part of the problem. Stories involving wishing magic require the characters to be unaware, distracted, or just uncreative. And this applies to the Oz books as well as other fantasy stories.
The first appearance of wishing magic is in The Land of Oz, in which the Scarecrow discovers three wishing pills hidden in the bottom of the container with the Powder of Life. After figuring out how to satisfy the pills’ directions by counting to seventeen by twos (which the party does in a way that doesn’t come off as even remotely mathematically viable), the Wogglebug uses one to repair the Gump.
Later, they plan to use another pill to get the Gump flying in the right direction for Glinda’s palace, only to find they’d lost the container. If they had had the pills, though, why not just wish themselves directly to Glinda’s, or for that matter wish Jinjur off the throne? Similar questions arise when we see wishing magic in later books. In Lost Princess, Dorothy discovers that she can make the Magic Belt grant one wish per day (in addition to its transformational powers), and uses one of these wishes to turn a room in Ugu‘s wicker castle right-side-up again. Wouldn’t it have saved a lot of trouble to have just wished that Ozma had already been rescued instead?
Ruth Plumly Thompson brought in even more wishing magic, but what’s odd is that she also occasionally moralizes about how foolish many wishes are. This is most evident in something called Marvelous Travels on a Wish that she wrote before being approached to continue the Oz series, but it shows up in Oz as well, as with the Uns in Cowardly Lion spending a lot of their time simply shouting out their wishes.
Wishing Horse has Pinny Penny saying, “Any wish you work hard enough for will come true,” but this is weakened quite a bit by the fact that he wishes a few pages later for the climate of Skampavia to change, which couldn’t have been achieved with hard work. The wishing pills are back in the Thompson books, although now it’s the Wizard of Oz making them. His pills don’t seem to require the seventeen-by-twos trick, and he mostly just uses them for transportation (which is exactly what the characters in Land DIDN’T think of doing with them). One exception is in Wishing Horse, which also involves other wishing magic as a significant part of the plot. Three emerald wishing necklaces that were originally made by the Wizard Wam for the King of the Green Mountain, and eventually ended up in the hands of King Skamperoo of Skampavia. Skamperoo uses them to wish for a horse, and with help from his new steed Chalk, he wishes to become ruler of Oz and to brainwash the inhabitants into thinking he belongs there.
The Ozites receive a mysterious warning before this takes effect, and Dorothy swallows a wishing pill and wishes for it to help her save Ozma and Oz.
Because of this, she isn’t affected by the spell, and is able to obtain magic and allies to conquer Skamperoo. Eventually, he and Chalk negotiate a settlement that leaves them with some extra wishes, but also restores Ozma and gives the emerald necklaces to her. After this book, however, she and Dorothy never use them again. Wouldn’t wish-granting magic come in handy in later situations?
Also appearing in the Thompson books is Wish Way, a road on which all wishes are instantly granted. Dorothy and Sir Hokus first come across it in the western Winkie Country in Royal Book, and the girl from Kansas uses its magic to wish them with the Scarecrow.
Its other appearance is in Lost King, which has Dorothy find it at the foot of the Maybe Mountains. In this book, it’s revealed that the silver sand of the road is what actually grants the wishes, and that some of it disappears with each wish. With this sand, the girl visits Hollywood, brings a dummy to life, and returns to Oz. So what stops Ozites from coming to Wish Way and wishing en masse? Perhaps it moves around the landscape, which is certainly not unheard of for Ozian roads, and would explain why it’s in two quite different locations in Royal Book and Lost King.
This isn’t all of the wishing magic in Oz and its surrounding nations. The plot of Queen Zixi of Ix revolves around a magic cloak made by the fairies that will grant one wish to each person who wears it. Enchanted Island features a wishing button on a magic vest belonging to King Rupert of Kapurta.
And it’s so ubiquitous in apocryphal stories that Tyler Jones mocked the trope in his “A Generic Oz Story” by having the characters come across a cave containing a rug, pebble, lamp, bag, and other items that all grant wishes. What I really want to get into before ending the post, however, is the question I’ve been hinting at throughout. If Oz has all of this wish-granting magic, can’t the Ozites just use it to solve any problem before it even starts? Or are they aware of the danger that loose wishes could cause, and that’s why they don’t use it that much? For that matter, I would imagine wishing magic would have to have SOME limits, but they’re never clearly defined. That’s why I think wishing magic is pretty lazy, as it usually just does what’s required for the plot, and isn’t really explored. When working with an established fantasy land like Oz, though, I suppose I’m stuck with it.