Meatless Mortality

We know that flesh-and-blood people and animals are pretty much functionally immortal in Oz. They can be potentially be destroyed, but won’t die of old age or disease, and even being torn into pieces isn’t necessarily fatal. What I sometimes wonder is how much this applies to other living things. It does appear that plants still die, as seen in several examples. The Powder of Life and the background magic of Oz won’t stop Jack Pumpkinhead’s heads from spoiling, although he can always replace them with new ones.

Tommy Kwikstep lives in “a hollow tree that fell to the ground with age.” The Mangaboos, who are vegetable people, only live about five years. Their home isn’t in Oz proper, but in Melody Grandy’s The Disenchanted Princess of Oz, the Mangaboo Gilo still dies after coming to Oz. Zim Greenleaf does extend the lifespans of the Mangaboos, but they do die eventually. He also later reveals in Tippetarius that he and his sister Fern were originally made from plants and animated with magic powder, but they soon started to spoil, and the Wizard Wam’s magic fountain could only stave this off briefly. Wam therefore asks Lurline to make his creations human. What I’m wondering is what that means for Carter Green, who’s made out of vegetables while still retaining vestiges of humanity, most notably his eyes.

As I mentioned before, he is able to pick new corn ears after his old ones pop, and perhaps he’d be able to do the same with his turnip nose. On the other hand, a beet wouldn’t just grow with eyes, so what about when his head goes bad? He does start growing mold on his nose in the Nome Kingdom, so it’s unlikely any of him would last forever. I suppose it’s possible that his body lasts longer than vegetables normally do, but would that be all that long when around people and animals who generally don’t age at all? His own explanation for how he gained his odd form in the first place was because he ate a lot of vegetables, worrying that they’d die if he didn’t. I guess eating them doesn’t count as killing them?

Incidentally, on the original endpapers for Hungry Tiger, Carter is shown hoeing a garden full of small versions of himself.

Is he raising a family, or are these replacement bodies? And how did he grow them in the first place? This isn’t necessarily canonical as it isn’t based on anything in the text, but it’s one possibility for how he could continue to live. Or maybe he just has a really good way to preserve himself.

In Jim Vander Noot’s short story “The Ice Cream Man of Oz,” a Quadling village pharmacist has access to Spine Chillers, Temperature Stabilizer, Meta-mega-nymbol-ambyl Dextrose, and Spice of Ice, all of which she uses to try to keep the titular ice cream man intact. She mentions having gotten the Spice from “a traveller from the far-off town of Iceburgh,” and the chemical with the long name makes the resulting Ice Cream Man able to regenerate to some extent. Any of these compounds could have been instrumental in keeping Carter in good health, although we don’t really know how common they are. In the story, the pharmacist accidentally uses something called the Spice of Life to bring the man to life, but if it’s that easy, why was the Powder of Life so valuable?

I’m considering addressing the Vegetable Man’s way of extending life in one of my own stories, but I’m not sure how best to do it. Along the same lines, what about Ozites made of other foodstuffs, which presumably don’t last all that long even in Oz? The gingerbread man John Dough is able to incorporate new gingerbread into parts of his body that had been eaten, but he needs a potion from the Fairy Beaver King to do so, and that’s not the same as if he were to go stale or something.

In Emerald City, Cinnamon Bunn introduces Dorothy to Johnny Cake, “a cheerful old gentleman” whom the bun describes as “a trifle stale.” So the inhabitants of Bunbury presumably do age somewhat, but exactly how it works isn’t stated.

This entry was posted in Characters, Food, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Magic Items, Melody Grandy, Oz, Oz Authors, Ruth Plumly Thompson and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Meatless Mortality

  1. I’ve always found Carter Green’s back-story extremely suspect. I’d go so far as to say he’s lying and is maybe ashamed of his actual origins. But I do like the illustration that Neill provided, presumably to explain the very question of how he continues to be alive. In some ways, it’s akin to what Jack Pumpkinhead does, but in this case, it’s a more extensive procedure, as he’s essentially growing new versions of himself, which apparently his consciousness transfers into. The problem with Neill’s image, however, is that we see at least 23 little Vegetable Men growing and very much sapient. So, what happens to the others that don’t get Carter’s consciousness? It’s a bit dark to suggest they just die. Maybe they stay in the ground alive until Carter needs them and picks them (like the Mangaboos and Vegetable people).

    • Nathan says:

      Do we know of any case of someone in Oz transferring their personality into another body? Usually it’s gradual, as with the Tin Men, or even Carter himself with his replacement corn ears.

      I’ve considered before that there might have been some enchanted vegetables among the ones Carter ate, so it wasn’t just the volume that transformed him. On the other hand, the story he gives does fit thematically with Fi Nance being made of money when she presumably didn’t start out that way. March Laumer credits the change to tengu magic.

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