Country Colors

Today is L. Frank Baum’s birthday, and I’m making an Oz post. Granted, I do this pretty much every week, but still. Today’s subject is one that comes into play all the way back in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which is that of national colors. We’re told that the Munchkins dress all in blue, and their fences and houses are also painted blue.

The Winkies do the same with yellow, and the Quadlings with red. Land brings in the fourth country, that of the Gillikins, in which purple is the preferred color. Wizard makes clear that not everything in these countries is the same color. When Dorothy first arrives in the Munchkin Country, she sees “gorgeous flowers” and “birds with rare and brilliant plumage,” with no indication that they’re all blue. Later, Baum writes that the red of the Quadlings’ clothes “showed bright against the green grass and the yellowing grain.” In Land, however, Tip tells Jack Pumpkinhead, “Well, the grass is purple, and the trees are purple, and the houses and fences are purple….Even the mud in the roads is purple.”

In Wizard, the grass is always described as green, regardless of the country. From what I’ve been given to understand, grass is green because the relatively low-energy green light is the kind it doesn’t use, so it reflects it back. Purple grass would be reflecting a high-energy light. Besides, Baum had already written of green stalks of corn and an orange-red pumpkin in the Gillikin Country. Land also states that the colors are not equally bold in all parts of a certain country. Baum writes, “Tip noticed that the purple tint of the grass and trees had now faded to a dull lavender, and before long this lavender appeared to take on a greenish tinge that gradually brightened as they drew nearer to the great City where the Scarecrow ruled.” In later books, the colors are not so pervasive, but still quite noticeable. In Road, the Winkie Country is described as follows: “Little mounds of yellowish green were away at the right, while on the left waved a group of tall leafy trees bearing yellow blossoms that looked like tassels and pompoms. Among the grasses carpeting the ground were pretty buttercups and cowslips and marigolds.” I proposed the notion that the flowers matching the national color means that the color choice isn’t entirely man-made, but someone (I think it might have been J.L. Bell) responded that people could have treated the flowers of other colors as weeds. The colors do seem to be in place even in uninhabited areas, however, and there are also animals that match them. For instance, the Foolish Owl and the Woozy in Patchwork Girl and a rabbit in Tin Woodman, all residents of the Munchkin Country, are blue in color. In Ruth Plumly Thompson’s books, High Boy is purple and Snif the Iffin red. On the other hand, King Gugu is a yellow leopard living in the Gillikin Country, and one of the animals that confronts Button-Bright in the Winkie Country in Lost Princess is a bluefinch. The towns and tiny kingdoms throughout Oz also don’t always conform to the national colors. The Cuttenclips’ village is located in the Quadling Country, but is surrounded by a wall described as “painted blue with pink ornaments.” The Winkie kingdom of Patch, introduced in Gnome King, is made up of patches of different colors like a patchwork quilt.

In John R. Neill’s Oz books, the colors are taken to more of an extreme. In Wonder City, the Quadling Country is described as having “fields of red corn, red carrots, red cucumbers…red cows, red rivers, and red haystacks,” and the Winkie Country “yellow plums” as well as “yellow grapes, watermelons, and blackberries.” In addition, the residents of the countries have skins matching their surroundings. While some of this might have been added in by the editor, Scalawagons also refers to Number Nine as “a bright blue-faced boy,” and to babies crying in their national colors. Ozma also tells the Bell-Snickle that blue Munchkin grass had blown into the Quadling Country. In Runaway, we’re told that “[a]ll Munchkin fruit is slightly blue in color,” yet the sour quinces that grew in that country are yellow.

The implication does seem to be that a lot of the color-coding is done by choice on the part of the inhabitants, but such is not always the case. David Hulan’s Eureka introduces the tixies, tiny animals that change things near them to their own colors. It’s a red tixie that makes the previously white Eureka permanently pink. I should also mention that Sky Island uses the color-coding idea in its Blue and Pink Countries, but here EVERYTHING is that color.

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3 Responses to Country Colors

  1. I’ve always disliked the “Everything is Purple” idea. My idea of Oz is that the flowers are mostly colored for their respective country, though there are notable exceptions, such as the poppies in the Munchkin Country, and there are grasses with yellow, red, blue and purple tints even here on Earth, but I think mostly green grass would be in Oz.
    As for the animals, I like to think most animals from the respective countries are natural colored except some rare instances. There is no indication that any of the Kalidahs are blue or purple.

    In Neill’s books, I just disregard most of what’s written anyway and try to enjoy the characters.
    The idea of the different colored people is also mentioned in The Encyclopedia of Imaginary places.

    There was a time I wondered if there were different colored suns for each land, like in the Mangaboo Kingdom, but that is never even suggested in the books.

    Where I live, everything is currently yellow, the flowers and even some of the trees have a yellowish tint. Every time I’m out there I think of the Winkie Country. I’ve noticed with the changing seasons we get different colors, at least here in the east.

    • Nathan says:

      As far as the animals go, I get the impression that most of them do not share the colors of their countries, but any animal that DOES happen to be blue is probably from the Munchkin Country. With the grass, tints could definitely have something to do with it, as could wildflowers being mixed in.

  2. Pingback: Oz in Four Parts | VoVatia

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