Number Nine, Number Nine, Number Nine

When John R. Neill took over writing as well as illustrating the Oz books, the results were…rather weird and somewhat disjointed, to say the least. Still, he introduced some rather memorable characters, one of them being Number Nine. This Munchkin boy was the son of a farmer who gave all of his children numbers instead of names.

As The Wonder City of Oz opens, there are fourteen children, and Number Fourteen is still a baby. The others have all reached their stop-growing age of twelve for boys and ten for girls. The children also have the odd tradition of saving up all their questions for a certain hour of the day, at which each of them gets to ask one. Anyway, while Number Nine is in the Emerald City for Ozma’s birthday party, he throws his hat in the air but accidentally throws himself up with it. See, I told you these stories were rather weird even for Oz books. Then again, the Wogglebug DID step from a magic lantern screen in magnified form, so I suppose anything is possible given the right circumstances. Jenny Jump rescues him, and he develops a crush on her, gladly working for her in her style shop and for her election campaign even as she angrily abuses him. During much of the book, Jenny gives him whistling pants to make sure he keeps working, which earns him the nickname Whistlebreeches.

He’s still working at Jenny’s shop at the end of Wonder City, but at the beginning of Scalawagons he’s working for the Wizard of Oz instead. There’s actually somewhat of a precedent for this, as there’s a scene in Wonder City where Nine helps out the Wizard without knowing who he is, and the old man offers to let the boy work for him. Still, Nine never agrees to this, so it’s kind of an abrupt shift from one book to the next. By the time of Lucky Bucky, he’s gained a significant amount of power and authority as the Wizard’s assistant, and is seen doing everything from sweeping up the magician’s laboratory to magically protecting an American visitor to the Nome Kingdom.

Throughout it all, he remains rather shy and awkward, and maintains his affection for Jenny.

The only one of his many siblings who really emerges as a distinct character is Sister Six, who works at Jenny’s shop during Nine’s absence. I like the idea of the Wizard having an assistant, so it’s a shame Nine remains under copyright. Still, later authors have managed to slip in a sly reference or two to the magician’s assistant without naming names (or, to be more accurate, numbers).

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14 Responses to Number Nine, Number Nine, Number Nine

  1. Darrell says:

    I don’t understand why the Baum family holds so tightly to the copyrighted books…I’ve heard they want ridiculous sums to use the characters from them and not many Oz fans can afford that.
    All they succeed in doing is hoarding a bunch of characters they have no use for and making the rest of Oz fandom bitter at them.

    • Nathan says:

      To be fair, it’s not like Thompson’s niece or Neill’s daughters were likely to grant anyone the rights to use copyrighted characters either. I’d imagine the Baum Trust has less of a vested interest, however, and more reason to want to maintain good relations with the fans, which they clearly aren’t.

      • That’s true. I heard Thompson only allowed Neill to use her characters because they were friendly with one another, but didn’t want anyone else to do so.
        With her it made sense since she didn’t want to see her characters altered. Perhaps she had the Baum Trust take some kind of oaths (or legal contract) that they would safeguard her characters at all costs…cause it’s certainly not as if they could be making any money on them, unless those Del Rey print on demand versions are more popular than I thought.

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