Can fish in Oz talk? L. Frank Baum gave us a somewhat ambiguous answer to that question in Glinda of Oz. He wrote, “In Oz, where all the animals and birds can talk, many fishes are able to talk also, but usually they are more stupid than birds and animals because they think slowly and haven’t much to talk about.” So if MANY fishes can talk, presumably not all of them can. We meet some talking fishes in this story, but they are the Three Adepts under enchantment.
Could the fact that fish generaly don’t talk have something to do with why we see people eating fish pretty often in the Oz series? Maybe. I know that, in David Hulan Glass Cat, Barry and Becky Klein eat fish while in dolphin form, with Barry reasoning that it is acceptable because the only talking fishes he remember from the books were the enchanted Adepts.
Further indication that Baum didn’t consider fish to be the brightest animals around, at least in his fantasy stories, occurs in The Sea Fairies. Here, the mermaids grant Trot and Cap’n Bill the ability to communicate with all undersea animals, and they run into a group of mackerel that are excited about the death of one of their number. They claim that Flippity has “gone to glory,” which is more or less their version of Heaven, by biting on a fishhook. The pun that they’re holy mackerel is implied but never explicitly stated. The mermaid Merla states, “I’ve seen fishes gather around a hook and look at it carefully for a long time. They all know it is a hook and that if they bite the bait upon it they will be pulled out of the water. But they are curious to know what will happen to them afterward, and think it means happiness instead of death. So finally one takes the hook and disappears, and the others never know what becomes of him.” She goes on to say that the mermaids have told them what really happens, but the fish are too stupid to listen. This might not be so bad, however, because many other animals need to eat fish to survive, and if no one did they would become too numerous. Circle of life, and all that. While I can certainly see Merla’s reasoning, would this apply to Oz? Ozma is presented as being kind and sympathetic in a different way from the mermaids, and I’m not sure I can imagine her saying, “Well, it’s okay to eat fish, even though they’re technically my subjects, because they’re stupid.” So I don’t know that there’s a definite answer here, but we do see fishermen in Oz from time to time, with no indication that they’re considered horrible murderers.