I seem to be running out of ideas for Oz posts. Then again, I’ve thought that before, and was usually able to come up with something. I considered doing something about the Ice King, due to the similarity between his story and that of the Snow Queen, but it turns out I already did. Then I thought of John Dough and the Cherub, which I’ve addressed before, but I don’t think I’ve said much about the titular cherub. When L. Frank Baum first started writing the story for serialization, the magazine editor insisted he add a child protagonist to accompany the gingerbread man, so he introduced Chick the Cherub. Chick is not actually a cherub, but is cherubic in the more modern sense. The child is famous for being the world’s first Incubator Baby, and indeed speaks as if the incubator itself was its parent. The name Chick derives from the fact that incubators are typically used for…well, I think you can figure that one out yourself. The main gimmick with Chick, however, is that it’s never stated whether the Cherub is a boy or a girl, and the white unisex pajamas and sandals the child wears don’t provide any clue. When the book first came out, there was a contest to determine Chick’s gender. I don’t think the contest results exist anymore, but what I’ve heard is that there were two winners, one arguing that Chick was male and the other female. That sounds about right.
As far as the Incubator Baby’s personality goes, it (yeah, I know it’s awkward to call a human “it,” but I can’t think of any better way, and apparently neither could Baum) is quite laid back and easy-going, not really too concerned about where it is at any given time. Chick speaks in modern slang of the time, and when possible eats only oatmeal and cream. The child can also be sassy at times, however, and is the only one who has no fear of talking back to the Kinglet of Phreex.
John Dough and the Cherub leave the Isle of Phreex in a flying machine to escape from Ali Dubh, who wants to eat the gingerbread man.
After a series of adventures, they arrive in the twin kingdoms of Hiland and Loland, of which John becomes king. Chick promptly appoints itself Head Booleywag, which the Baby defines as “the one that rules the ruler.” In Who’s Who in Oz, Jack Snow further defines a Booleywag as sort of a cross between a prime minister and a court jester.
At the end of the book, Baum explains what happens to the characters in later years, which was pretty typical of his non-Oz fantasies of the time. It’s rather odd here, though, as much of the rest of the story implies that it takes place around the time it was written. The last sentence of the tale reads, “But, curiously enough, the Records fail to state whether the Head Booleywag was a man or a woman,” implying Chick grew up. When the Incubator Baby reappears in The Road to Oz, however, it’s still a child.