Insect Aside


L. Frank Baum is never entirely clear on whether ALL animals in Oz can talk, or whether animals eat each other there. For instance, are insects there sentient? Well, the Wogglebug is, but that’s after he’s been Highly Magnified and Thoroughly Educated. But then, he presumably had to understand what Professor Nowitall was saying in order to receive his education at all. It’s generally a bit vague with the normal-sized bugs. As I’ve mentioned before, Billina eats insects, and decides to remain in Oz because she thinks the bugs and ants there are “the finest flavored in the world.” Earlier in Ozma of Oz, Dorothy scolds the hen for eating living bugs, and she asks how that’s different from humans eating dead animals. The Tin Woodman, who cries profusely when he steps on a beetle and refuses to let anyone take a wing from a butterfly, doesn’t seem to have a problem with Billina’s diet, but she is eating them for sustenance rather than to be cruel. He also doesn’t take issue with indirectly killing a swarm of forty killer bees, but they are set on destroying his companions.

Interestingly, while the Wicked Witch of the West converses with the leaders of her wolves and crows, she merely commands the bees. The Woozy is locked up for eating bees, but at least according to him this is because the Munchkin farmers keep them for honey, not because of the feelings of the bees themselves. Lost Princess mentions that the Woozy’s favorite food is honey, so maybe he changed his diet to something with bee flavor rather than actual living bees. Cap’n Bill can talk when Blinkie turns him into a grasshopper, but the rules for the transformed seem a little different than usual, as evidenced by Bilbil talking even in countries where goats normally don’t.

In Magic, the Wizard of Oz transforms Trot and Cap’n Bill into bees so they can escape the Magic Isle (I hadn’t really thought before about that’s the second time the Cap’n has been turned into a bug), and he and Dorothy worry that the Cowardly Lion and Hungry Tiger have eaten them. When it turns out they ate two random bees instead, nobody seems to care. There are talking bees in Rachel Cosgrove Payes’ Wicked Witch, and they’re pretty hostile.

I’ve also written about talking ants in some non-canonical Oz books. We know from Ruth Plumly Thompson’s Yankee that there are anteaters in Oz, the one we meet described as eating “a whole colony of red ants.”

Snufferbux, the bear introduced in Ojo, also eats ants. In Melody Grandy’s Disenchanted Princess, Zim observes, “Some insects in Oz can talk, but few can write.” A praying mantis in his garden can talk, but whether the smaller ones it eats do isn’t clear. In fact, he’s specifically there to eliminate threats to the plants.

I was trying to think of occasions when insects played a significant role in the Oz books, or at least were mentioned, and I can’t think of many, Professor Wogglebug notwithstanding. In Emerald City, the Wizard indicates that flies in Oz “understand what we say to them, and behave very nicely.” Nick Chopper then talks about very large mosquitoes “which sing as beautifully as song birds,” which are “well fed and taken care of.” Peter Schulenburg expands upon this idea in Tin Castle, where it’s explained that Ozian mosquitoes eat a plant called bloodroot, which causes them to grow up to three and a half feet long.

While not part of Oz proper, Fire Island in Grampa has fire flies. In the same book, Toto chases a baconfly in the Winkie Country. Lucky Bucky has a band of Thunderbugs, described as being about a foot high with brown wings, glowing breasts, short black legs, and red-hot toes. They can produce fire when they’re angry, and are particularly fond of pie, which they claim to be able to smell miles away.

Interestingly, there’s a British edition of this book that refers to them as Thunderbeetles instead. There are also the giant grasshoppers and crickets of the Game River. The McGraws’ Forbidden Fountain mentions goldbugs, hurlyburlybees, glitterbugs, mulberrybugs, what-gnats, and borderwasps. It also introduces the Monarch of Butterflies, who can talk, and guards the maze in Ozma’s palace gardens. In Jack and Larry Breton’s Ork, a man known as the Wisp, from the Ive Mountains to the east of Oz, trains his bees and wasps to torment others. The wasps also pull his airborne chariot. He traded his bees to the Wicked Witch of the West in exchange for magic charms that didn’t work in his homeland. Gili Bar-Hillel’s short story “The Woozy’s Tale” has the wizard Krizzle Kroo claim credit for this same thing, although in his case he says Gayelette forced his bees to answer to her silver whistle, which the Wicked Witch took and then lied about. The wizard did keep his Queen Bee, however, and was able to breed a new swarm. There’s a regular-sized wogglebug named Wally in Bucketheads.

And in The Woggle-Bug Book, the Highly Magnified insect identifies his father as “a famous Bug-Wizard in his day.” The Weasel King says that he recognizes the bug as a Sullivanthauros, although he had previously believed them to be extinct. Whether there’s any joke to that name, I couldn’t say.

And I feel like I should also mention the Jitterbug, an insect from a deleted scene in the MGM film. It causes its victims to dance until they get tired out, although how that would affect the tireless Scarecrow and Tin Woodman, I don’t know.

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4 Responses to Insect Aside

  1. Glenn I says:

    There’s that giant spider in Wizard of Oz. The one that the Cowardly Lion takes on. Whether it was sentient we do not learn. Of course, spiders aren’t technically insects …

  2. Interesting topic. I think Zim nailed it when he said “Some insects in Oz can talk,” indicating that some can’t. Billina and her brood can probably distinguish between them, but they may also simply ask “Are you one of the speaking varieties?” and if the insect responds “Yes,” she leaves them be. The giant mosquitoes and flies are a fascinating idea to me, particularly in that Baum took what are generally hated creatures in our world and made them into valued members of Ozian society, with the one “behaving nicely” and the other “singing beautifully.” That’s what makes Baum so unique and interesting to me. You and Peter did a nice job expanding on the giant mosquitoes in your stories, as well.

    • Nathan says:

      I agree that most of the insects in Oz probably can’t talk, but that still leaves the question as to what happens if one that can loses its voice for whatever reason and ends up being eaten.

      The hated animal thing was somewhat on my mind when I created the Warpions in “Red Desert,” but it was mixed with a few other concepts as well.

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