One of the more bizarre recurring themes in the Oz books, albeit not one without precedent, is that of painted material becoming real when it’s lifelike enough. We first hear about this in Ozma of Oz, in which Tik-Tok reports that Mr. Smith, one of his creators, drowned in a river that he was painting. A short story by Jim Vander Noot, “Button-Bright and the Knit-Wits of Oz,” finds him still alive after all. According to this tale, he did indeed fall into a painted river, but he survived, and was merely transported to a place in the Quadling Country. He had seen the area on a previous visit to Oz, and decided to paint it, only to end up trapped there. He eventually escapes by painting Ozma’s palace, with some help from Button-Bright, and entering this picture. The Scarecrow reports a similar incident in Tin Woodman, when Jinjur painted some new straw for him.
It is said that Woot the Wanderer “knew that such a thing could never happen in any place but a fairy country like Oz,” but it’s still not entirely clear how it works. Does the painting have to be particularly realistic to enter into reality? Could Jinjur create living things in this manner?
The theme also features in John R. Neill’s Lucky Bucky. The Wizard of Oz makes magic paintbrushes that can paint in any color simply by turning the handle, but he mixes in too much magic with the paint, and the resulting pictures come to life. In this way, painted versions of Mombi and several other villainous magicians run amok. After being returned to their paintings, the Wizard makes sure they’re securely fastened to the wall, in the case of one Trickolas Om with chains around his ankles painted by Jack Pumpkinhead.
It was Jack who created the speaking likeness of Mombi, the first of the paintings to come to life, and who later reformed her by changing her expression. While these images are apparently no longer mobile, they presumably can still converse. In this case the paint is specifically identified as magical, making for an odd occasion in which Neill actually provides more explanation than L. Frank Baum.
In Dick Martin’s Ozmapolitan, Dorothy and her friends come across an art colony inhabited by living paintbrushes who work in abstract styles, scorning what they consider “old-fashioned, commonplace Naturalism.” When they paint a portrait, the subject takes on the appearance of the picture.
This didn’t make for a fun experience for the visitors, but they were cured with some magic medicine.
Finally, I believe I should mention Baum’s short story “The Girl Who Owned a Bear.” This is one of his American Fairy Tales and not an Oz story, but it has a clown and several animals coming out of a book, most of them complaining about how the artist drew them. For instance, the clown has a totally white back, a donkey is out of perspective, and a leopard is unable to eat anything because its mouth is permanently shut. A literary agent gives this book to a girl named Gladys Jane Brown to get revenge on her father, presumably intending for the bear in the book to eat her. She manages to get out of this by informing the bear that, since she owns the book, she owns him as well. How the agent came by this magical book is never explained. The story bears some resemblance to Edith Nesbit’s “The Book of Beasts,” but I’ll likely have more on that later.