Wishing and Hoping

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.

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21 Responses to Wishing and Hoping

  1. I remember an episode of “I Dream of Genie” in which Genie says that if she used her powers to bring rain to a desert, it might dry up an ocean somewhere. I’d like that think that kind of limitation would make wishing a bit more realistic, and maybe most wishing magic includes that limit automatically, to prevent large-scale catastrophies.

    • Nathan says:

      So when Dorothy wished for that box of caramels, it might have deprived a needy child of their only treat all year? {g}

      • ozaline says:

        Well I guess the most obvious version of that theme is “The Monkey’s Paw”

        Wish for 1000 pounds? Well that’s the settlement you get when your son is killed in an accident.

      • Exactly! “The Monkey’s Paw” is a great example of that, and it would be a perfect way to limit the power of wishes — at least, when the wishes are in the hands of someone with a conscience. It would also be that much more important to keep them out of the hands of bad guys.

  2. ozaline says:

    I agree with Mark, other devices I’ve seen involve stories where someone wishes they have an item, but the original owner reports it stolen.

    Wishing magic does come into play with my Oz novel with the main villain getting a hold of the remaining wishing pills from Land, but perhaps I can try and shake up the expectations a bit.

    • Shaking up expectations is a good thing! I’ve always planned to have Dorothy as a main character in my eventual Oz story, and I have to figure a way to keep her magic belt from being too powerful. From a story standpoint that one wish a day thing was a horrible addition to its abilities.

      • Nathan says:

        Especially since it could already do pretty much anything required for the plot.

      • ozaline says:

        Well it seemed less like an addition and more like a replacement.

        Lost Princess stated that Dorothy didn’t know how to use the belt when she did a fine job of using it in Ozma and it was technically her belt, Ozma just kept it because it would be destroyed upon reaching Kansas.

        It already could transform things and teleport girls to differen contients… I think limiting it’s uses to 1 a day was meant to depower it.

      • Nathan says:

        It does seem like Baum was actually trying to limit the powers of the Belt in Lost Princess, but later authors certainly didn’t stick to that.

  3. vilajunkie says:

    In storyverses that consistently subvert the assumed omnipotence of wishing magic, there seem to be not just the Law of the Conservation of Mass and Energy (usually just the theorems specific to mass-to-mass transfer), but variations on Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. So, certain wishes can’t be granted by any means except those so indirect that the desired outcome isn’t guaranteed (usually bringing characters “back from the dead” is impossible or illegal). Or even guaranteed outcomes that are definitely not what the wisher had in mind (such as undead characters coming back as zombies or something malevolent; and the either-or transformations of a person into a toad, so that it’s either a person-sized toad or a vast number of regular-sized toads whose mass and weight add up to that of the person).

    It gets extremely frustrating with certain works where banned wishes are added to every episode or book just to specifically ban the very wish a character has that would fix the Dilemma of the Week. And the number of banned wishes gets so vast that previous bans are forgotten or contradict a later one. The worst offender in my opinion is “Fairly Odd Parents”, even if the bans related to the desired outcome are sometimes rational. Like wishing for a pair of sold-out tickets to the ice show causing someone else to have their tickets stolen, almost always the very person who deserves the tickets more than Timmy. I think in that episode the person who lost his tickets was the poorest, least fortunate of Timmy’s classmates, someone who would use wishes a lot more carefully and practically than Timmy.

    • Nathan says:

      I suppose bringing the dead back to life in Oz would be possible, since that’s essentially what happened with the Gump and the Blue Bear Rug, but I notice Ozma isn’t transporting in corpses from the Outside World to reanimate.

      • Maybe that’s what Nick Chopper is — essentially a human animated into a tin body, one part at a time. That begs the question: If Dorothy *could* die, and did, would Ozma be so grief-stricken that she’d bring her back to life? A moot point if humans can’t die in Oz, but I’d think that would violate some kind of magical code. Would reanimating Dorothy kill Trot or Betsy? Would she come back as Zombie Dorothy, trying to eat the Hungry Tiger’s flesh?

        My mind sometimes goes to disturbing places.

      • vilajunkie says:

        It’s perfectly fine with me, Mark; I’ve come up with vampiric creatures to put in Oz stories. :P But a Hungry Tiger zombie? No conscience about eating fat babies then!

  4. Now that would be one frightening zombie tiger!
    My fiancee said I should get started on the story right away. :-) But didn’t I hear somewhere that someone was already writing “The Wizard of Oz and Zombies”?
    In any case, while I’m okay with both a darker Oz and with a *little* revisionism, I’m not sure I’m up to releasing a horde of flesh eaters in the Emerald City.

    • Nathan says:

      I wonder if the Magic Belt would work on zombies. And what about the Love Magnet?

      • The Magnet would just make the zombies love your flesh that much more! Remember “Road to Oz”! the belt should work, though, I should think.

      • vilajunkie says:

        SOUP! Er…BRAINS! ;)

        Maybe Ku-Klip could use his Magic Glue to paste together his very own Igors and zombies. Ku-Klip could very easily be a mad scientist in the vein of Drs. Frankenstein and Moreau, so I wonder if you could use that, too, in your story. Or, hey, even an Edward Scissorhands experiment!

  5. Wow, the first Oz horror story, what a fascinating idea.

    Wait … *looks around*

    MY story???? I’d be hated by both the book *and* the movie purists!

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