This post is primarily about Oz, but my idea for it came from a non-Oz-related source. When I was reading about the movie Mean Girls, I came across the information that among the animals shown in pictures from Africa were an Asian elephant and a Burmese python. Oops. I should note that I didn’t actually notice either of these mistakes, but I probably would have been able to tell the problem with the elephant if I’d been looking for it. I’ve known since my childhood that African elephants have larger ears.
Anyway, it’s pretty common for writers of fiction to confuse animal habitats, perhaps because they really don’t care too much. L. Frank Baum was no exception in this respect. In The Annotated Wizard of Oz, Michael Patrick Hearn writes, “A common error in both literature and popular usage is that lions are beasts of the forest (as in Bert Lahr’s “If I Were King of the Forest” in the 1939 MGM movie. They are creatures of the open countryside.” Actually, according to the first few pages that came up in a Google search for “lion habitat,” they do sometimes inhabit forests, but they usually prefer grasslands. I don’t know of any evidence that they live in jungles, despite a certain popular song having a lion sleep in the jungle, the mighty jungle. I believe even Edgar Rice Burroughs had Tarzan encounter lions in the jungle.
Baum made Oz a land where animals from pretty much any part of the world could co-exist. When the Cowardly Lion arrives in the forest he eventually comes to rule as king in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, he finds it inhabited by “tigers and elephants and bears and wolves and foxes and all the others in the natural history.”
What IS that animal on the left? Some kind of bear?
Later, in Magic, we find that the Forest of Gugu is home to an even greater assortment of animals. On p. 122, Baum describes a gathering of King Gugu’s subjects: “The smallest beasts were nearest the King’s rock throne; then there were wolves and foxes, lynxes and hyenas, and the like; behind them were gathered the monkey tribes, who were hard to keep in order because they teased the other animals and were full of mischievous tricks. Back of the monkeys were the pumas, jaguars, tigers, and lions, and their kind; next the bears, all sizes and colors; after them bisons, wild asses, zebras and unicorns; farther on the rhinoceri and hippopotami; and at the far end of the forest, close to the trees that shut in the clearing, was a row of thick-skinned elephants, still as statues but with bright eyes and intelligent.”
Baum states shortly after this that some of these were from the plains, some from the mountains, and some from the river, giving himself a bit more leeway as far as habitat goes. Still, an area that can support both a giraffe and a walrus would have to be pretty unusual by our non-magical standards. The habitat confusion continues in Ruth Plumly Thompson’s Cowardly Lion, which states that the people of the desert nation of Mudge had caught ten thousand lions in their own land. I’m not sure if this was carelessness on the part of Baum and Thompson, or an indication as to how unusual Oz is. I don’t know that many readers even noticed, but I find it rather curious.