Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves

As I mentioned last week, deportation from Oz doesn’t appear to be too common, and new arrivals can usually stay. The general exception to this rule is invading populations like the pirates and Octagon Islanders in Pirates in Oz and the Stratovanians in Ozoplaning with the Wizard of Oz. There is, however, a notable exception in Ojo in Oz, where it’s pretty much tacked on at the end. The plot of this book starts when Ojo is kidnapped by gypsies, who plan to trade him to the villainous Mooj for 5000 bags of sapphires. Perhaps not too surprisingly given its being written in the early thirties, the gypsies are highly stereotyped, and portrayed as a generally evil ethnic group.

Mari Ness wrote quite a bit about the negative implications of this in her review of the book. Mind you, prejudice against gypsies (the official term is antiziganism) is still disturbingly common in some parts of the world today. This certainly doesn’t excuse Thompson, but I have to say I didn’t think too much about it when I first read the book. Indeed, Wikipedia suggests that Americans tend to see “gypsy” as more of a job description than an ethnic designation. Since Thompson’s gypsies are described as being “swarthy-skinned” and “black-eyed,” however, it’s clear she was thinking in racial (and racist) terms. There isn’t even a token Good Gypsy in the bunch; there’s a suggestion that Ojo will try appealing to the leader’s wife Zinaro, but bandits show up and re-kidnap him before the can act on this. By the way, Zinaro has “sparking white teeth,” so despite their tattered clothing, they apparently have access to toothpaste.

In the mundane world, the Romani (the preferred term for gypsies) migrated from India into Europe (“Romani” has nothing to do with Romania, as I had previously thought). It’s not clear how they got into Oz, but you could say that about other cultures living there as well. The thing is, they do appear to be native to the fairyland, yet everyone seems to treat them as outsiders, despite the usual notion that Oz is welcoming to outcasts from society. In fact, after a long period without hearing anything at all about them, we’re told, “The gypsies [Ozma] banished from Oz altogether, sending them by her magic to wander through the countries of Southern Europe.” This is particularly disturbing in light of the fact that gypsies were among the groups against whom the Nazis committed genocide. But even if we leave out this detail, which Thompson obviously wouldn’t have been able to predict, it still strikes me as quite cruel for Ozma to banish the entire group without even letting them make a case for themselves. Would people used to Oz be able to adjust to life in a non-magical area, where the animals don’t even talk? And does Ozian near-immortality only apply within the country itself? If so, it seems that she gave them a slow death sentence. On the other hand, she just forces the bandits who robbed the gypsies to become farmers. Thompson’s endings are rarely thought out particularly well (an affliction I must admit I share), but this suggests that equality before the law isn’t on her radar. Besides, isn’t she supposed to be forgiving (aside from when a kitten tries to eat her pet piglet, and even in that case she eventually allowed Eureka back into the palace)? It does appear, however, that Ozma only banished this one particular band, as there are other groups of gypsies mentioned in Forbidden Fountain. There are said to be blue-eyed gypsies living at an oasis in the Impassable Desert, which must imply some magical ability on their part, as the desert has life-destroying sands.

Another banishment occurs in Scalawagons, although at least in this case it’s of someone who originally came from outside Oz. This is the Mifkit who stows away from his home either in or beyond the Great Sandy Waste (it’s not entirely clear which, although I’d suspect the latter) in Uncle Henry’s boot. He’s given jobs winding and polishing Tik-Tok and milking cows for a Munchkin farmer, but in both cases he actually works too much, and his employers complain. So Ozma deports him with her sceptre, and then remarks, “He was an amusing little savage, but there’s no place for him in Oz.” So there’s no place where such unrelenting work might be advantageous? Again, even though the Mifkit was a foreigner, I have to question Ozma’s justice in dealing with him.

I guess the bright side here is that I could only find two such instances in the series, neither one particularly major. Still, it doesn’t say too much for my idea of Oz being a place of acceptance when some people are specifically excluded. That which you do unto the least of my Mifkit brothers, that you do unto me.

This entry was posted in Characters, John R. Neill, Oz, Oz Authors, Ruth Plumly Thompson and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves

  1. James Krych says:

    I am planning a novella where Ozma confronts a direct descendant of the Gypsies, Roma, and the way it’s found out is the woman has a picture that her great-grandmother sketched of “The one who sent us away from that strange land.” It’s a fill-in for the missing hour during the “last” orbital flight of the Bravo Craft in my second Oz Novel. The Flight to Oz Book II: Anusha of Oz. My first book, The Flight Oz Book I: Arrival, was released in December of 2015.

  2. Pingback: All’s Fair in Oz | VoVatia

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