As a fan of the Oz books and someone who has often taken comfort in them, I don’t always like pointing out the negative aspects of them. Still, they’re there, and it’s probably better to confront them head-on than to ignore them. Besides, I’ve discussed most of the positive aspects already. Today, my topic of choice is slavery, which appears most often in Ruth Plumly Thompson’s books, but does show up in L. Frank Baum’s as well. You’d think that, if Oz is a land without money or personal property as reported in The Emerald City of Oz, either nobody would be a slave or everybody would, depending on how you look at it. As usual, however, Oz contains multitudes. In Lost Princess, we come across the Herkus, incredibly strong people who keep giants as slaves. They’re pretty nasty to these slaves, too, with Czarover Vig throwing one out the window because he interrupts the ruler’s meeting with Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz to tell him the cook burned the soup.
At the time, there really isn’t much the protagonists can do about this, as the Czarover is helpful to them and they are without magic (well, except the Magic Belt, which Dorothy has somehow forgotten how to use, but that’s a different story). There’s no indication that Dorothy’s party is at all disturbed by the Herkus’ treatment of the giants, or that they ever come back to negotiate for or demand their release. Even in Melody Grandy’s Seven Blue Mountains trilogy, which make a point of solving a lot of the injustices remaining in the series, Dorothy, Zim, and the Tin Woodman only ask for the release of Orlando’s mother and her husband, and agree to do so at night so it won’t set a precedent for the other giants. They’re also said to capture giants outside their own territory. In an Emerald City Mirror story, Ozma does free them, and Vig doesn’t mind letting them go as long as they don’t hurt anyone. Glinda then shrinks them down and gives them their freedom.
In Thompson’s Gnome King, Ruggedo is trying to work out payment in the Kingdom of Patch for having a magic cloak mended, and the Chief Scrapper casually asks if Peter Brown is the Nome’s slave and takes him as payment. Apparently the people of Patch find slave-keeping to be normal. Later in the same book, the Sultan of Suds has slaves made of tar soap, adding a racial component to the mix. (The other Suds, all of whom are made of soap, are said to be pink, green, white, or violet in color.) At the end of the story, Ozma promises to revise the laws of Patch, which might or might not include ending slavery. On the other hand, there’s no indication she intends to do anything at all about Suds. And in Yellow Knight, Tuzzle is accompanied by twenty slaves when he visits the Emerald City.
Suds and Tuzzle’s homeland of Samandra are both pseudo-Arabian countries, and slavery is still an issue in Saudi Arabia. Then again, Saudi Arabia isn’t under the jurisdiction of a good fairy. The most prominent Arabian-style land in the series that has slavery is the territory of the Red Jinn of Ev, who unlike the Sultans of Suds and Samandra is consistently presented as a good guy and a close friend and ally of Ozma’s. These slaves are specifically identified as black as well. With some help from Kabumpo and Randy, he puts down a slave revolt in Silver Princess. What might be worth noting is that the word “slave” is used quite frequently to describe Jinnicky’s employees in Jack Pumpkinhead and Purple Prince, but nowhere near as often in Silver Princess. Indeed, we’re told that the miners get paid, and that the rebellion leader Gludwig had a mansion and a fortune. Even in this book, however, Ginger is referred to as the slave of the magic dinner bell. He no longer is by the time of Yankee; and J.L. Bell wrote a story in which Ginger manages to become a bellboy instead of a slave, although his duties don’t appear to change. Both Adam Nicolai’s “Gludwig and the Red Hair” and Carrie Bailey’s Bungle, the Jinn’s slaves are presented as beings he magically created himself, although even that doesn’t necessarily give him the right to boss them around. After all, Ozma supported Scraps’s decision not to be a maid, even though that was why Dr. Pipt brought her to life. In Bungle, at least, the gravel people are no longer considered slaves, and can elect their own leaders.
In addition to being in Jinnicky’s employ, Ginger is also bound to the bell itself, which I suppose is another sort of slavery. I’ve written before about some of the people and animals who are made to serve anyone who has possession of an object, but maybe that would be a good topic for a future post. I’ve seen it suggested that, since jinn are typically forced to be the slaves of anyone who frees or summons them, Jinnicky is essentially the reverse of that.