Twinking with Tom

The outcry regarding Andrew Garfield’s comment that he’d be interested in seeing Spider-Man with a boyfriend made me think of some comments I saw back on the old Ozzy Digest, which I think actually predated my joining the mailing list. This was a long time ago, and my point here is not simply to dredge up old arguments or reopen old wounds, but to point out something that always kind of bugged me and I never got the chance to reply to. The comments regarded Eric Shanower’s short story “Abby,” which is a follow-up to Jack Snow’s The Shaggy Man of Oz. Two of the main characters in the book are the twin children of Professor Jones, who live in Buffalo and have access to what might be the world’s first projection television.

Their real names are Abbadiah and Zebbidiah, but they’re usually called by their nicknames. Abbadiah is Twink because she learned to walk early on, and hence “got from one place to another in a twinkle.” (I’m sure the similarity to Trot’s story of how she got her nickname isn’t coincidental.) Zebbidiah is called Tom after Thomas Edison because of his interest in mechanical devices. And that’s really about all the characterization we get for these two. The wizard Conjo kidnaps them through the TV screen, intending to force them to be an audience for his magic. They manage to escape with the help of the Shaggy Man and the wooden clown Twiffle, and and eventually reach Oz, where Ozma sends them back home.

“Abby” picks up the story of the twins about thirty years later, Twink is now married with two kids and going by Abby, while Tom had recently broken up with his boyfriend. The comment I remember was something like, “If Shanower wanted to write about a gay character, he should have made up his own.” The thing that bothered me is that there didn’t seem to be any objection to Twink/Abby being made straight, even though none of them had any hint of a sexual orientation in the original book. Rather heteronormative thinking, I’d say. Not to mention that Snow himself was gay, and Tom was hardly a well-established character. I don’t know; it’s just something I wanted to get off my chest.

The story itself is considerably darker and more adult than more traditional Oz stories, but it sticks to the established plot. Well, mostly. At one point, we’re told that Snow changed or omitted some details, mostly for obvious reasons like how a children’s book of the time wouldn’t talk about the characters using the bathroom. That makes me wonder about a few elements of the story. First, Conjo is said to have become essentially a vegetable since drinking from the Water of Oblivion, when no one else who drank the water is said to have suffered that severely. Mostly they just lose their memories and become childish, and sometimes it even wears off. Another is that, in Shaggy Man, Ozma gives Twiffle a ring to contact her if there’s ever any trouble. In “Abby,” Twiffle appears to have no way of communicating with Ozma. Did he lose the ring, or was the ring a detail invented by Snow that never really existed? Such issues are really beyond the scope of this story, in which the fairyland elements are in the background, but they do interest me somewhat. Mind you, as I mentioned back in this post, there are some oddities surrounding Twiffle anyway, particularly how Twink and Tom’s toy clown Twoffle could be his third cousin. Another aspect of Shanower’s story that intrigued me was how it dealt with the idea that Oz books could exist in the same universe as Oz itself. Twink and Tom themselves had apparently already read some of the Oz books by the time of Shaggy Man, as they recognize Shaggy. In “Abby,” Tom recounts that he tried to contact both Snow and illustrator Frank Kramer, only to find out that the former was dead and the latter didn’t want to discuss the topic. Shanower never explains how Snow found out about Twink and Tom’s adventures, which gives the whole thing a rather eerie feeling. I wonder if Abby ever read Shanower’s story, and what came of that.

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5 Responses to Twinking with Tom

  1. Good article, Nathan! Oz is the last place where we should find homophobia, and hopefully those who posted such comments in the past have since had an moral awakening. That aside, you bring some interesting points about “Abby” that I hadn’t thought of. I know I wouldn’t mind a follow-up to that tale.

  2. Great stuff, Nathan! “Abby” was one of the first stories I read with an openly gay character. Today, I appreciate that Tom was written so that his character would have worked just the same if he’d broken up with his girlfriend Michelle instead of his boyfriend Michael. And yeah, the mature take on Oz presented was excellent.

    • Nathan says:

      Really, considering all the gay male authors writing Oz stories, it’s kind of surprising there aren’t more openly gay characters. Then again, a good many major characters are functionally asexual anyway, being children, unattached adults, or artificial constructions. And yeah, Tom’s being gay wasn’t really a major part of the story, but I thought it was a nice touch.

  3. Paul Dana says:

    Wonderfully thoughtful and insightful article, Nathan! Not everyone wants real psychological depth in their Oz stories, but I’m all for it.

    • Nathan says:

      There are probably some issues that are better not being addressed in Oz stories, but I don’t think “Abby” went too far in that respect at all. It’s dark, but it works.

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