This Tornado Loves You

There was a bit of a theme in the early Oz books about Dorothy reaching fairyland by means of natural disasters. We all know about the cyclone, then there was a storm at sea in Ozma of Oz and an earthquake in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz.

The latter was likely inspired by the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, although it presumably wasn’t actually that one as it would be difficult to work into the timeline. There were reports of people and animals falling into cracks in the ground during this quake, as happened to Dorothy and company, but more modern research suggests they were exaggerated. Dorothy’s next two trips were accomplished by magical transportation, but another storm at sea brought Betsy Bobbin in Tik-Tok, which was partially based on Ozma. We’re actually told that the ship Betsy was on “caught fire, blew up and sank beneath the waves.”

The ship in Ozma must have reached its destination without Dorothy and Billina, as Uncle Henry is next seen safe and sound in Australia. Then Trot and Cap’n Bill were caught in a whirlpool in Scarecrow, and ended up being taken by mermaids to an underground cavern.

I’ve seen it speculated that Scarecrow was originally intended to be a third Trot and Cap’n Bill book that complemented their adventures under the sea and in the sky with some underground experiences. The previous two stories featuring these characters didn’t involve natural disasters, but they were affiliated with certain elements. I’ve also thought before how islands are more closely associated with the sea and fairies with the sky, so the two titles are basically the reverse of expectations. Later authors didn’t use the disaster method all that much, but Thompson did use hurricanes in two of her books, with Peter Brown in Pirates and Tompy Terry in Yankee. In the latter, it’s specified to be Hurricane Hannah, which struck in 1959. On an earlier visit in Gnome King, Peter escapes with Ruggedo from Runaway Island in a seaquake, which brings the sea floor to the surface.

Bill the Weather-Cock comes to life in an electric storm and flying to Oz, and Planetty interprets the object that takes her and Thun to Ix as a thunderbolt.

A storm also takes Cap’n Bob in Laughing Dragon to Oz, although how he got into landlocked Oz through the ocean is anyone’s guess. Then again, so is a tornado crossing the Nonestic Ocean, I suppose. There’s probably always some amount of magic involved.

While L. Frank Baum consistently refers to Dorothy’s unusual means of transportation in the first Oz book as a cyclone, a note by Michael Patrick Hearn in The Annotated Wizard of Oz indicates that the chief of the United States Weather Bureau wrote to the publisher that it was actually a tornado. While the word “cyclone” is casually used to mean just about any kind of windstorm, it apparently most accurately refers to an atmospheric system, while a tornado is a column of air that often results from a cyclone. It’s also now the standard in meteorology to only use “cyclone” for storms that originate in the South Pacific (which means there presumably wouldn’t be any in Kansas), but I don’t think that distinction existed in Baum’s time. There’s been quite a bit of fan speculation on the nature of this tornado. It could have just been coincidental, but if Dorothy was actually marked by fairies as Uncle Henry speculates, there might well have been more to it. I remember seeing (although I don’t recall where) a mention of how the picture of the Good Witch of the North on the dedication page of Wizard shows her in a pose that mirrors that of the cyclone in the following chapter header.

In Alexander Volkov’s Russian version of the story, the Wicked Witch of the East sends a hurricane to destroy all humanity, but the Good Witch Villina changes the spell so it only affects one house. In Phil Lewin’s Witch Queen, Glinda makes a tornado to get back into fairyland, and Dorothy becomes suspicious at this, but the Sorceress never officially confirms that she was responsible for Dorothy’s first trip to Oz. I took sort of the same approach with the Tornado Wizard in my Prince Pompadore; an earlier draft had him reveal that he was responsible for that tornado, while in the final version he basically avoids Pompa’s question about it. I figure there are so many possible explanations that I didn’t want to make mine the definitive one, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t involved in some way.

Laura Jane Musser’s “The Romance of the Silver Shoes” credits the whirlwind to Prince Torno, who brings a human girl to Oz in hopes that she can retrieve the Shoes for his sister Zephyra; and Jeremy Steadman’s Time has Queen Lurline mention that the cyclone was caused by a powerful being called the Onsi.

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5 Responses to This Tornado Loves You

  1. My own feeling is that The Scarecrow of Oz was always intended to be an Oz book, just one that included Trot and Cap’n Bill. Oz books tend to start quickly, with unusual things happening within the first few pages, if not paragraphs. Both The Sea Fairies and Sky Island, by contrast, take several chapters before the adventure is properly started. Scarecrow does not have this drawn out introduction. Instead, it starts quickly, as is typical for an Oz book.

    • Nathan says:

      That seems likely. I suppose Baum could have incorporated some elements that he was planning to use in a non-Oz story with Trot and Cap’n Bill, but didn’t actually start writing the story until he was sure it would be an Oz book. Or he could have cut some content, but I don’t know that Baum did that very often.

  2. Nice essay! It appears that storms and disasters (natural or otherwise) tear the fabric of the dimensional barriers, at least temporarily. Then there are cases where the fairies must directly be responsible for someone entering fairyland, as is explicit in the Sea Fairies, and only implied from Speedy’s descent into the earth by rocket, which should have resulted in him (and the rocket) incinerating. Same too with his and Terrybubble’s next appearance in Oz. That one actually fused ancient bones and turned them into a living creature! The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus seems to indicate that fairyland (Burzee in this case) and the mortal lands could once be reached as simply as crossing over to a particular landmass or sea–which is in keeping with traditional fairy-tales, and some of Thompson’s stories seem to indicate that crossing the Nonestic from Fairyland would bring you to the Outside World. Jeff Rester and I have postulated that most of the portals were closed at some early point in history, probably as man’s capability for destruction grew more dangerous to the world of faerie, which also may be when they stopped living near to humans, e.g., in forests and glades, and interacting with us, forced by human depredations to withdraw to their own realms, safe from the incursions of man.

  3. Pingback: When the Volcano Blow | VoVatia

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