Gaming the System


I already wrote a post about sports and games in the Oz series, but I had a few more ideas along those lines that I thought I could develop somewhat. Characters in the books are frequently seen playing games, and games are among the things the people of Oz are said to share with their neighbors in The Emerald City of Oz.

The inhabitants of the palace often play croquet on the lawn and board games indoors.

Unlike in some other fairylands, no hedgehogs are harmed in Ozian croquet.
The image of Sir Hokus of Pokes playing chess on a giant turtle‘s shell in Yellow Knight has always stuck with me, but what’s even stranger about this is that he was just carrying the pieces in his boot. Is that what people did before portable electronic games?

In Enchanted Island, the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman include stacks of games, including checkers, chess, parcheesi, bowling (not quite sure how that one works, unless it’s a miniature set), table tennis, jigsaw puzzles, and Old Witches (the Ozian equivalent of Old Maid). Eloise McGraw’s Rundelstone makes reference to a game called Sticks and Stones, a favorite of the villain Slyddwyn’s, which appears to be a chess-style strategy game. Two of the pieces are the yeoman and jester.

Two of Ruth Plumly Thompson’s books have Ozma’s court playing blind man’s buff, but Royal Book has one person blindfolded and trying to catch the others, while Jack Pumpkinhead has everyone blindfolded except the one person they have to find.

The former is apparently the traditional form, while the latter is more of a cross with hide-and-seek. According to the 1926 Ozmapolitan, the Hammer-Heads, Hoppers, Flutterbudgets, Tottenhots, and Wheelers all have polo teams. I can’t even being to imagine how a Wheeler could ride a horse, or any kind of animal for that matter. The people of Mo play “a game of ball” that is presumably either baseball or something much like it, as it has an umpire and home runs.

Noland also has a game that involves balls and bats.

There are a few game-themed areas in Oz as well. I mentioned the Game River from John R. Neill’s Lucky Bucky, along which games including hopscotch, leapfrog, cricket, solitaire, and croquet are played. It’s arranged like a fair, with sideshows and grandstands. A man tells Bucky and Davy Jones when they arrive that they’ll have to beat every game to pass through, but they apparently manage to avoid a few. They don’t play cricket simply because they don’t have enough players for a team.

And Bucky only manages to beat King Jack Pott at checkers because a swarm of Thunderbugs eats the pies they were using to mark kings. This is fortunate for Bucky, as Jack intends to keep him there indefinitely if he wins. It’s also strange that the text mentions the croquet opponents as “white crows,” yet the illustration shows a black one.

Or maybe there are some of each color?

Ozmapolitan (the book this time) has the Game Preserve, where the inhabitants spend their time playing a life-size board game, led by the Gamekeeper. The Spinner is a rather vicious creature in charge of determining how many spaces players can move. It becomes disoriented when Septimius Septentrion takes its arrow in order to force the Gamekeeper to let him and his companions out of the Preserve. In Roger Baum’s Dorothy, Dorothy and her friends come across the town of Purplefield, which was enchanted into a maze by the Wicked Witch of the West. They eventually break the spell by finding their way through the maze in the allotted time. Their schoolmaster served as gamekeeper for this obstacle, with his personality altered by the spell. There are live Scrabble tiles on a giant board in Scrabbleton in Ruth Morris’ Flying Bus, and another enchantment leads to some visitors having to play a giant Snakes and Ladders game in Chris Dulabone’s Queer Quest. The island of Hisserfit, known for its ladders, is cursed by a nasty magician who turns all of the people into snakes. When the travelers reach the hundredth square, the spell is broken. Since one of the players is an evil magician himself, however, he promptly turns the restored king into a pickle. Ruth Waara’s Magic Cryptogram has a bit of a variation with an enchanted chess set made up of people from two warring kingdoms in Ev. The con-artist Ivan Montebank, who was turned into a chess king at the end of Umbrella Island, leads the white pieces in an attempt at conquest.

Speaking of Oz and games, when we first got Print Shop at home, I designed several cards that directed the reader to various locations in Oz, signed by a mysterious person named Wilfto. I started writing a narrative around them, but didn’t get all that far. I worked some parts of that story into another manuscript, but without the scavenger hunt aspect. I wonder if that would be something worth revisiting in the future.

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This entry was posted in Board Games, Chess, Chris Dulabone, Dick Martin, Eloise Jarvis McGraw, Games, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Oz, Oz Authors, Places, Ruth Plumly Thompson, Sports and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Gaming the System

  1. Bryan T Babel says:

    And Grampa, whose “game leg” folds out into a board to play scrum on?

  2. Pingback: Insect Aside | VoVatia

  3. Pingback: Something to Crow About | VoVatia

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