Robert Pattrick makes a point in Unexplored Territory in Oz about immortals in L. Frank Baum’s fantasy world who appear to have overlapping functions. In The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, we’re told that the crooked Knooks have the duty of “watch[ing] over the beasts of the world.” In John Dough and the Cherub, however, Pittypat the Rabbit says, “All the animals have their fairies, just as you human folks do,” and Baum echoes this sentiment in Animal Fairy Tales. Then, when the Knooks reappear in The Road to Oz, they’re described as caring for trees. Were they replaced in their guardianship by fairies in the shapes of animals, and had to take on a new function? And what about the King of Animals, a member of Tititi-Hoochoo‘s fairy court with whom Hank the Mule stays during the visit to that land in Tik-Tok? And does Erma, the Queen of Light from that book, have any overlap with the Light Elves from Life and Adventures?
I get the impression that Baum wasn’t always consistent with his mythology, any more than he was with anything else. This kind of thing happens with most mythological universes (is the Greek god of the Sun Helios or Apollo?), but these usually reflect the views of many writers over long periods of time. It seems like Baum did try for a time to have his original fairy creations permeate his fantasy fiction, as seen with Knooks and Ryls showing up in several short stories and novels. When Oz became his main outlet for fantasy, however, he seems to have forgotten or disregarded much of this. For instance, there’s a new Fairy Queen, Lurline, with no clear indication as to whether or not she’s the same as Lulea from Queen Zixi of Ix and other stories. From an Oz-as-history perspective, Paul Dana’s books mention that Lurline and Tititi-Hoochoo had completely separate courts for some time, so it’s not impossible that they’d have different representatives of the same elements. That could also explain why there’s both a Frost King and an Ice King, the latter apparently living in the Antarctic. Since the Jinjin’s fairies are said to “minister to the needs of mankind,” perhaps the King of Animals doesn’t deal with all animals, but only the ones that regularly interact with humans.
It appears that all the immortals in Life and Adventures that have any physical description at all are basically humanoid, while the animal fairies take the forms of whatever animals their charges are. I’m not sure how specialized these fairies are. We meet Beaver and Tiger Fairies, but are there, say, separate Mouse, Rat, and Gerbil Fairies? In some fantasy universes, these beings would be created by the beliefs of mortals. I wouldn’t necessarily rule out this happening in Baum’s, but there seem to be some hints against it. For instance, in The Sea Fairies, Princess Clia tells Trot and Cap’n Bill that “the mermaids lived before fishes and before mankind, so both have borrowed something from us.” So apparently at least some fairies had human shapes before there were humans. Were humans then made to look like fairies, or was it all a coincidence? I guess if you subscribe to the idea of mankind being made in God’s image, then the fairies might have been made in that same image. But were there Beaver Fairies before there were beavers, and if so what did they do in while waiting for the animals to come into existence?
Getting back to Pattrick, he suggests that the Fairy Beavers might have been ordinary beavers who were granted fairyhood. They might have also come into existence when there were beavers who needed to be guided and protected, in the same way that the Nymph Necile sprang into existence to tend a tree. Mind you, if Nymphs live forever, which trees apparently don’t even in Fairyland, I guess she’d eventually have to be switched over to a new tree. I would also imagine that immortals can change their shapes to some degree. The fairy in The Enchanted Island of Yew seems to contradict this, but the female fairy Ereol appears to Fluff in the form of a man in Queen Zixi.