The Evil That Nomes Do


I’ve written before about how post-canonical Oz books about the Nome King can be quite difficult to reconcile with one another. But what about stories that deal with Roquat (as he was then known) BEFORE the events of Ozma of Oz? It’s been pointed out that the Nome King didn’t become an enemy of Oz until AFTER Ozma interfered in his affairs. Not that buying the Evian royal family and transforming them into ornaments wasn’t immoral behavior, but you can still sympathize with him to a certain degree, as Dorothy basically steals his Magic Belt.

Although he’d later grow to be almost perpetually angry, the Nome King of Ozma puts on a good-natured front, and seems to prefer making deals and playing tricks to being openly aggressive. It’s notable that he never tries to rule Ev despite the power vacuum there. On the other hand, simply leaving a neighboring nation with an ineffectual regent presumably meant less pressure on his own kingdom. Ozma is still a rather naive and unprepared ruler at this point, coming to make demands on Roquat with very little power to back her up, but quick thinking and fortuitous circumstances lead to the Evian dynasty being restored, Ozma gaining a significant amount of power, and Roquat losing it. It’s after this that he invades Oz several times, usually by employing subterfuge, but also often involving allies who are nastier than he is.

What’s odd is that Ruth Plumly Thompson, although quite familiar with the Nome King’s story, always seemed to want to paint his troubles as entirely his own fault. In the first chapter of Pirates, she writes, “As ruler of the gnomes [sic] he had been one of the richest and most important of monarchs…But this foolish King had not been satisfied with his own possessions. Across the Deadly Desert from his dominions lay the wonderful Land of Oz, ruled over by Princess Ozma, a fairy much more important and powerful than himself. Again and again Ruggedo had tried to vanquish Ozma and conquer her kingdom.” While technically correct, Thompson neglects to point out that he didn’t start doing this until Ozma interfered in his affairs, instead suggesting that greed was his main motivating factor.

Perhaps inspired by this or wanting to remove culpability from Ozma, there are some tales that imply or outright state Roquat had designs on Oz even before it became a matter of revenge. Notable here is Allison McBain’s Cory in Oz, which doesn’t take place before Ozma but does describe events from that time. According to Ozalie’s account, her mother Hermoza overheard two Nome soldiers plotting to conquer Glinda and managed to warn the sorceress, after which Glinda transformed the Nome King and his soldiers into lizards. The King eventually managed to break the spell, and used his own magic to curse and banish Hermoza and her family. As Hermoza and Ozalie are unaware of Ozma, they must have been banished before the events of Ozma. In fact, it’s even before that, as they only know about what happened in Wizard by actually reading the book.

Why they wouldn’t have read any other Oz books during their banishment isn’t clear, but they presumably hadn’t. The story seems a bit unlikely, both because Glinda doesn’t usually work transformations and because Hermoza and Ozalie know the Nome King as Ruggedo rather than Roquat. At one point, Cory says, “Oh, I remember Ruggedo, the Gnome King. Were all those stories about him true?”, to which Ozalie replies, “Most of them.” What stories about Ruggedo are there other than the Oz books? Well, maybe Hermoza and Ozalie saw L. Frank Baum’s play The Tik-Tok Man of Oz, which first referred to the Nome King as Ruggedo.

There’s a character named Ozma in the play, but she doesn’t rule Oz. That wouldn’t explain how Cory had heard partially true stories about him, though. Robert R. Pattrick’s short story “Glinda and the Red Jinn” has Glinda tell Jinnicky, “Across the Desert, the King of the Gnomes has enslaved the Royal Family of Ev. Unless he is stopped, he will take possession of Ev and eventually invade Oz.” The postscript then states, “We know, from the later History of Oz, that the Gnome King did NOT invade Ev. Nor did he attempt to invade Oz until many, many years later. There can be no doubt that the Red Jinn was the reason why the wicked little Metal Monarch did not succeed in his evil plans.” Just how long was the royal family of Ev trapped in the Nome Kingdom, anyway? Yankee has Jinnicky claim that he’s been practicing magic for 200 years, although that could possibly include his low-level magic from before he studied with Glinda. In Purple Prince, the Jinn says he hasn’t left his palace in a hundred years, and I tend to doubt King Evoldo sold the royal family THAT long ago. I don’t believe there’s ever been any specific time frame referenced, however. And in Onyx Madden’s Mysterious Chronicles, Dcim Wainwright claims that the Nome King wanted him to build machines that would do the usual work of the Nomes while they invaded the surface. The Sawhorse later says that the hobgoblins in the Nome King would prevent Roquat from harming the people of Ev. The horse’s tale has it that Roquat was the son of the evil Prince of the Ghorns and the good Princess of the Thills, and that he was taught evil by his father but was deemed by the Original Unicorn to have some latent goodness in him.

The thing is, I don’t know that any of these stories give first-hand evidence of Roquat planning to invade Ev, let alone Oz. We don’t know Glinda’s reasons for supposing this, and it’s possible that Hermoza’s account isn’t entirely accurate. Maybe the Nomes she encountered came up with the invasion plans themselves, and the King wasn’t directly involved.

By the way, Madden’s account of Roquat’s parentage confused me somewhat, because if he’s the son of a Ghorn and a Thill, how is he a Nome? Perhaps the Ghorns and Thills are actually subsets of Nomes. It’s mentioned in a footnote that Kaliko is a Thill, and Baum calls him a Nome as well. I’m even considering the possibility that the Ghorns being evil and the Thills good isn’t so much a matter of biology as it is of politics. The Ghorns could be the Nomes who favor hoarding jewels and metals, while the Thills believe in sharing.

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8 Responses to The Evil That Nomes Do

  1. It’s funny, I was just asking my little nephew yesterday what he thought about the way villains are treated in the Oz books he’s read so far and in other fairy tales. (It all started out talking about the giant/ogre in Jack and the beanstalk, when he told me the giant was evil and I asked him what the giant had done to deserve death by falling since Jack was, after all a thief and the giant was chasing him.)
    We also discussed the Witch of the West (who was wicked for enslaving the Winkies and Winged Monkeys, but only became an antagonist to Dorothy for coming into her domain.)
    We eventually came to the Nome King and how Dorothy stole his belt and assaulted him with poisonous eggs.
    And his conclusion was “Dorothy must be the evil one!”
    I laughed and said no, but she and Ozma did invade the Nome King’s dominions and impose on him, threaten him and steal from him. In my opinion what they did was all justified, even if the King of Ev had struck a deal with Roquat, no one deserves to be enslaved or transformed to an ornament, especially not innocent children.

    • Nathan says:

      I think it’s clear that Baum intended for readers to see the Nome King as being in the wrong, yet he did include nuances that made it possible to identify with him to a degree. Before the actual meeting, Tik-Tok is of the opinion that the wrongdoing was totally King Evoldo’s fault, not Roquat’s. While his actions were legal under the laws of Ev, however, that doesn’t make them right. Whether Ozma’s mission was justified relates to questions of when it’s acceptable for a country to intervene in the affairs of another. Anyone but a total isolationist would likely say we (I’m thinking mainly of the United States here, but it applies to other nations as well) have a duty to try to stop human rights violations in other countries, but we obviously can’t get involved everywhere, so there’s going to be some picking and choosing involved. At first I thought, “Well, at least Ozma’s first priority isn’t the countries that have oil,” but then I remembered that in “Tik-Tok and the Nome King” she sends the mechanical man to the Nome Kingdom to get some springs, which she might not have even considered doing if the Nomes weren’t already somewhat under her power.

  2. Pingback: A Few Bad Fairies | VoVatia

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