Magical and Mechanical Modification


When discussing Oz and its motley assortment of characters who are alive despite not containing genetic material (at least as we know it), or as in the case of Tik-Tok NOT alive although they can perform pretty much all the same functions as the created beings, the question sometimes comes up as to whether the Tin Woodman qualifies as a cyborg. Most recently, it arose on my Facebook. I would say no, as his metal body parts are never presented as mechanical in any way. Tik-Tok is full of gears that he needs to operate, while the Tin Man’s body is just hollow metal. This raises the question as to how he can work the tin arms and legs, and this is BEFORE he gets a tin head as well. Once that happens, all bets are more or less off, especially when we learn in The Tin Woodman of Oz that Nick Chopper’s original head is still alive, conscious, and able to talk.

It’s even indicated that the old head has a different personality. It would seem likely that someone’s identity would remain with the brain, but apparently this doesn’t always hold in Oz.

This issue relates to the old paradox of the Ship of Theseus.

The story goes that the ship in which Theseus returned to Athens after killing the Minotaur in Crete was preserved in the city, with the Athenians replacing parts as they wore out over the years. Eventually, every single part was replaced, so could it still be considered the same ship? Thomas Hobbes later added the question of what would happen if someone built out a ship out of the original parts (assuming they could have been preserved, which they almost certainly couldn’t have been, but we’re talking philosophy here). It’s the same question with Nick, and we even get a variation on Hobbes’s further paradox when the tinsmith Ku-Klip builds a man named Chopfyt out of cast-off parts of Nick and a soldier called Captain Fyter.

That this is happening in a fairyland could potentially either simplify or complicate the question, if not both. Certainly the Ship of Theseus wasn’t alive in the first place, and if the same thing were to happen with a human being in the mundane world, he or she would end up dead. [1] Things are different in Oz, but it’s never entirely explained HOW they’re different. Saying it’s magic would presumably be technically accurate, but magic still needs to be governed by rules, even if they’re rules that wouldn’t work in real life. Even if we accept that no human or animal in Oz ever dies (which itself is contradicted on occasion), so that Nick’s old head still shows signs of life, how can it talk without lungs? For that matter, how does the tin head talk? This matter also relates to created beings like Jack Pumpkinhead and the Sawhorse. They were originally animated by the Powder of Life, but Jack can make new heads out of fresh pumpkins and the Sawhorse can have such parts as his legs and ears replaced when they break off, and in both cases the replacement parts function just fine without the application of any more powder. In Nick’s situation, there was no known method of magical animation applied; the tin parts just started working as part of the whole when Ku-Klip added them to Nick’s body. It appears that the parts have to be added gradually, but HOW gradually? We don’t know, but Ku-Klip seems the type who would want to experiment further in that respect.

Speaking of which, while writing about robots in Futurama the other day, it occurred to me that some of the same questions occur in this universe. How come Bender can sometimes control his body when it’s not attached to his head, and other times he can’t? How do his eyes and mouth operate without a brain in “Assie Come Home”?

Regarding humans, we frequently see heads functioning without bodies attached, and while this is usually while preserved in jars, they can live for a while outside the jars. In “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” Fry’s head maintains its individuality when temporarily attached to Amy’s body, and can even control one of her arms.

In “The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings,” Fry can control the Robot Devil’s hands when they’re on his arms, and Calculon’s antenna ears work for Leela. “The Six Million Dollar Mon” involves Hermes gradually having his body parts replaced with cybernetics, with the implication being that he loses his identity when he gives up his human brain, which Dr. Zoidberg returns to Hermes’ old fleshy body to bring him back to life.

Perhaps it’s not quite as complicated as with Oz, since robotic parts remain mechanical rather than magical, but sometimes the difference is difficult to determine.

[1] Not that the world in which Theseus lived was wholly mundane either, as he was said to have had two biological fathers and fought the offspring of a bull and a human woman. Still, there was presumably never anything magical about the ship.

This entry was posted in Cartoons, Characters, Futurama, Greek Mythology, Greek Philosophy, L. Frank Baum, Mythology, Oz, Oz Authors, Philosophy, Television and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Magical and Mechanical Modification

  1. In the case of Oz, I’m tempted to blame the magical Law of Similarity and the Law of Contagion. Nick’s arm is arm-shaped and attached to Nick’s shoulder, so therefore it is Nick’s arm whether tin or meat.

  2. I know it doesn’t have a lot to do with the article, but in the “Red Gorilla of Oz”, both Tin men were said to have come to life gradually as a result of Nimmie Amee using the Powder of Life kept by the Wicked Witch of the East.
    While this is a good theory, I’m hesitant to accept it since Baum never even hinted at it.

    • Nathan says:

      Also, this changes the Tin Men’s origin stories from something that could happen to anyone in Oz to something specifically involving the two of them, which I’m not sure I like.

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