You Will Be Assimilated

It’s become a cliché in the Oz series that the magical land is full of insular themed communities where the inhabitants either want to turn visitors into beings like them, or sometimes just keep them as slaves. In Ruth Plumly Thompson’s The Giant Horse of Oz, Trot, the Scarecrow, and the living statue Benny stumble upon Cave City and the Round-Abouties‘ roundhouse. In the former, the residents are all silhouettes, and have a blue ray that they use to turn others into shades as well.

Apparently it didn’t work on the merman Orpah, and overloads when Ozeerus tries to use it on Benny; but exactly how it works is never clarified. The Round-Abouties, who spend their lives going around in circles, aren’t so much openly hostile as that they just assume everyone wants to do the same thing they do. After escaping, Benny comments, “Everyone wishes to make us into a being like himself,” to which the Scarecrow says, “A fault you will find with people everywhere, even in your own world,” Benny originally being from Boston. So it’s light satire on Thompson’s part, but it’s also a bit overused. Even though the themed community idea was one L. Frank Baum used, he didn’t introduce quite as many as Thompson, and they generally didn’t want to make visitors assimilate. The China Country, the Cuttenclip village, and Bunbury are rightfully concerned that outsiders could cause harm to their rather fragile homes. The Thists assume visitors are like them in being able to eat thistles, but aren’t particularly upset when they find out otherwise. The Loons are surprised to find that they can’t puncture strangers, but don’t make any indication that they want to turn them into balloon people. The giant spiders do want to keep Ozma and Dorothy as slaves, but don’t insist they become spiders. So the forced assimilation is really more Thompson’s thing, but did she use it as much as people think? Here are a few possible examples, all limited to being in Oz itself, even though the theme is sometimes used with the surrounding nations as well:

Pokes – This one is a little difficult to discern, as the Pokes initially just seem disturbed at anyone who isn’t slow and lethargic like them. If that’s the only problem, though, you’d think they’d have no problem with the non-Pokes leaving town. Instead, they try to thwart the protagonists’ escape. Sir Hokus, who’s been trapped there for nearly 500 years, claims that they’re fond of him in their way.

Rith Metic – This math-themed community seeks to turn outsiders into word problems, but only after they’ve worked their way through a bunch of equations.

Un – Here, it’s the island itself that forces assimilation, causing anyone there to grow feathers when they do anything un-ish. The people themselves would rather push strangers off the edge than have them join the community.

Preservatory – The Imperial Squawmos puts everyone into jars and cans, and has convinced the inhabitants that they’ll spoil if she doesn’t. She wants to do the same to visitors without their consent.

Monday Mountain – The hostile washerwomen living here force strangers to wash clothes all the time like they do.

Play – It’s against the law in this place to do anything other than play, and the residents are so rough that it’s rarely much fun.

Blankenburg – The invisible people force others to bathe in magic water and become invisible as well.

Patch – While this place does fit the trope, as both Scraps and Peter Brown are forced to work in the castle, it doesn’t appear to be standard operating procedure for the Quilties. Scraps is their queen, apparently chosen by magic (although it later turns out the Prime Piecer and Chief Scrapper made a mistake), and the ruler of Patch has to work harder than anyone else. Peter is sold by Ruggedo in exchange for fixing a magic cloak. You’d think that the Quilties, extremely fast and diligent workers, would consider slower outsiders to just be in the way, but then the Piecer and Scrapper are likely the laziest people in the kingdom. It’s unknown whether outsiders in Patch develop the habit of eventually falling to pieces due to overwork, but Scraps seems to believe she will if she stays there.

Suds – While Sultan Shampoozle brags that the Suds can make soap out of anything, when Scraps, Peter, and Grumpy produce no lather, he instead plans to make the bear into a bath mat, the Patchwork Girl into washcloths, and the boy into soap fat. This is essentially a death sentence for all three of them.

Chimneyville – The Smokies plan to throw Peter and Jack Pumpkinhead down the chimneys so they’ll be covered in soot. I guess they don’t expect them to be turned into smoke, but it’s still basically the same thing. The visitors don’t stay long, however; but this time, it seems like Thompson thought she had to include these small, hostile towns, but rushed through these encounters. Then again, how much can you really do with a village made up of chimneys?

Scare City – Also appearing in Jack Pumpkinhead, Thompson put much more effort into this place, although a whole city dedicated entirely to scaring people is kind of bizarre. It’s not like they use screams to generate electricity or anything. Depending on the conduct of outsiders, they can either become Scares themselves, become scared stiff, or try to run away and turn into Fraid Cats.

Stair Way – The King and Queen are insistent that anyone in their kingdom spend their time going up and down the stairs, but since they’re busy climbing ladders, it’s not like they really have any way to enforce the rules.

Delves – Queen Delva wants to keep Randy and Kabumpo to serve as silver miners, threatening to destroy them if they don’t.

Double Up – While they mostly just seem to be interested in robbing travelers, they do mention wanting to use Kabumpo for log rolling.

Crystal City – When Princess Crystobel wants to marry Realbad, the court sage insists on turning him and his companions into crystal with a magic wand. It fails to work on Ojo due to a magic ring, allowing his party to escape.

Turn Town – The spinning Topsies are initially hostile because Handy Mandy steals their food, but when she and Nox agree to leave town, they’re admonished by the residents for not moving properly. Their leader, Tip-Topper, orders the people, “Fetch the Turn Coat, drive them to the turning point and we’ll turn them to Topsies in two shakes of a tent pole.” We never actually see how this process works, however.

Gaper’s Gulch – The Gapers are upset that Kabumpo and Randy aren’t buried and sleeping during hibernation season, and try to force it on them. Once they explain that they don’t want to do this, the people are fairly friendly, if impatient. The Wakes, who maintain an opposite hibernation schedule, even invite the visitors to dine with them.

Headland – Disembodied heads are perhaps disturbingly common in the Oz series, and here’s a whole community of them, using their ears to fly around. They try to cut off strangers’ bodies, promising that they can stretch people’s ears to enable them to fly as well.

Tidy Town – Mix-Master Max wants to keep Tompy and Yankee not to turn them into more packaged people, but so he can talk to them whenever he wants.

Dog Wood – The dogs want to keep David Perry as a pet.

John R. Neill doesn’t use this idea all that much, although perhaps you could count Jack Pott wanting to keep Bucky in his kingdom to play checkers constantly.

There’s a similar incident with the Gamekeeper in Dick Martin’s Ozmapolitan.

Rachel Cosgrove Payes and the McGraws both played it pretty straight, probably because by that point it was just considered what you did in an Oz book. Hidden Valley has the inhabitants of Bookville, who want to make outsiders into books or accessories to use in book-making. They sentence the Scarecrow to be made into rag content, and the Tin Woodman into machinery for printing presses. In the same book, the Snowmen of Icetown want to freeze the protagonists into snow people themselves, although I have to wonder how effective this would really be. People don’t turn into snow when they freeze. As with many of these incidents, the heroes escape, so there’s no indication as to how often their conversion process actually works. In some cases, such as the silhouettes of Cave City, I suspect that’s how all of them received their present forms; but in others that seems unlikely. In Wicked Witch, a community of hummingbirds have a means of magical assimilation that DOES work, nectar that makes other living things grow wings. It doesn’t last all that long, though; they expect the new members of their society to keep drinking it.

The McGraws tended to make their strange settlements well-meaning but clueless, as with the fox-hunters of View-Halloo who can’t imagine anyone doesn’t spend their lives engaged in that sport, and the nannies in Good Children’s Land who treat everyone like their goody-goody charges. Even Clockwise, the tinker in Wyndup Town who can’t see how anybody could function without mechanical works and a wind-up key, is more bizarrely eccentric than nasty.

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3 Responses to You Will Be Assimilated

  1. Pingback: Gaming the System | VoVatia

  2. Pingback: Christmas, Toys, and Oz | VoVatia

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