Continuing with John Dough and the Cherub, I’m going to take a closer look at the Isle of Phreex, where Chick the Cherub lived before journeying with John Dough to Hi-Lo/Lo-Hi. This island in the Nonestic Ocean (exactly where is a matter of some debate, due to conflicting references in John Dough and Rinkitink in Oz) has meadows and mountains, and can be quite dangerous at times. It’s said that nothing there has any value, even life, and indeed there’s a one-wheeled automobile that drives continually around the isle, supposedly to make room for new arrivals. Nonetheless, most of the inhabitants are actually quite harmless, and many even friendly. I guess that, when you’re a freak yourself, you’re more willing to be accepting of others. Some of the residents are akin to people and animals you’d see in an old circus sideshow, back when staring at those different from you was considered a valid form of entertainment. I guess the sideshow still survives in a sense. I went to the Coney Island Freak Show before, and it was mostly people with unusual talents, like sword-swallowers, fire-eaters, and contortionists. I doubt it’s acceptable these days to put little people or conjoined twins on display. I’m sure people still stare at those different from them, but: 1) they’re more subtle about it, and 2) they don’t pay money for the privilege. Anyway, some of the other inhabitants of Phreex are just generally eccentric, including several mad scientists. The ruler of the island is the Kinglet, a tiny tyrant who’s always losing his temper and sentencing people to death, but usually forgets about it afterwards. He’s assisted by a man named Nebbie, who advises him on royal etiquette.
When the Kinglet has a problem, he jabs Nebbie with his scepter to get his input. The Kinglet also has a talking horse with only two legs.
Other inhabitants of the island at the time John Dough arrived there, roughly in the order in which they were introduced, include:
The Fresh-Air Fiend – A small man with a big head who is addicted to fresh air, and hence sleeps outside on the beach. I remember learning the term Frischluftfanatische in German class, and I suppose “Fresh-Air Fiend” would be the English equivalent.
The Brotherhood of Failings – Since every king must have his failings, the Kinglet of Phreex keeps this group around despite their problems. They consist of the Blunderer, the Thoughtless, the Disagreeable, the Unlucky, the Sorrowful, the Ugly, the Awkward, and the Bad-Tempered. (For some reason, the Fresh-Air Fiend doesn’t introduce the last one of this list to John, but he shows up a few pages later anyway.) They’re not all bad, as they do manage to temporarily capture Ali Dubh, who is after John.
The Prize Potato – A live potato with a lot of eyes, who claims to have won a prize at the Centerville Fair.
Sir Austed Alfrin – At the time L. Frank Baum wrote the story, the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom was named Alfred Austin, and the name of the Poet Laureate of Phreex is a play on his name. Whether Alfrin parodies Austin in any way other than his name, I couldn’t say. In honor of the Kinglet, Alfrin composes what he calls sonnets, but are actually limericks.
Bebe Celeste – Basically a sideshow fat lady, which is a concept that I find perhaps even more confusing than I do offensive. Just weighing a lot was enough to qualify you as a freak? They had some pretty low standards back then. Bebe is obsessed with food, and absolutely forbidden to lose any weight.
Duo the Two-Headed Dog – A dog with heads at both ends, sort of like Dr. Dolittle’s Pushmi-Pullyu. It belongs to Bebe, and is considered the most valuable creature on the island.
Maria Simpson – She’s the Royal Executioner, but since the Kinglet is like the royal family of Wonderland in ordering executions but never seeing them through, she never really has any work to do. She makes a show of being bloodthirsty, but her reaction to the one time the Kinglet DOES order her to execute someone suggests that she might not be as eager to kill as she claims.
Sir Pryse Bocks – A bald-headed inventor with an active sense of humor who lived next door to Chick. He invented a tube to repel raindrops, which he intended to replace the umbrella. While his invention does work, it runs out of power rather quickly.
Tietjamus Toips – A musician who tries to create music even more cacophonous than Wagner’s, which he produces by banging mercilessly on his piano. I have to suspect he’s been outdone by some twentieth-century composers. His name is a play on that of Paul Tietjens, who worked with Baum to write songs for the stage play of The Wizard of Oz, as well as on “pajama tops.”
Imar – The only truly successful inventor on the isle is a pleasant young man who made a flying machine resembling a giant bird, which John and Chick use to escape from Phreex. The Kinglet tries to have Imar executed for being successful, but it’s probably safe to assume something stops this from happening. In my own imaginings that I haven’t yet done anything with, John eventually summons Imar to Hi-Lo to be his court inventor.
The General – I already said a bit about him in this post. Basically, he gradually lost all of his body parts at various battles, and had them replaced with other materials. The battles he specifically mentions taking part in are Waterloo, Bull Run, Sedan, and Santiago, all of which took place in the nineteenth century.
Wart-on-the-Nose-and-Cleaver-in-the-Neck – A cigar store Indian who insisted on being called “Wart-on-the-Nose” despite the fact he didn’t have one. Maria tried to cut off his head with a meat cleaver for this offense, but failed, due to the oak knot in his neck. At John’s suggestion, the Royal Carpenter whittles a wart on the Indian’s nose, and the wooden man changes his name to the longer form.