Polished with Pride

While the Tin Woodman is one of the first Oz characters introduced, he seems to be somewhat less significant in the resulting series than his friend the Scarecrow. While the straw man has major roles in The Patchwork Girl of Oz and his own book, Nick Chopper is somewhat less prominent in the later L. Frank Baum books. He DOES get his own book, but the Scarecrow comes along on his journey, while he’s barely in the Scarecrow’s book.

On the other hand, The Tin Woodman of Oz is centered around Nick, while Scarecrow just has him helping out someone else. Perhaps Royal Book is more of a counterpart to Tin Woodman in that it’s the Scarecrow’s own quest to wrap up loose ends from his past. As for the Ruth Plumly Thompson books, Nick is part of the ever-growing mass of background characters, and tends to get a few lines or at least a mention in crowd scenes, but she only gives us one story where he plays a particularly major role, Ozoplaning.

Thompson used the characters from Wizard again to tie in with the MGM movie, but downplayed Dorothy and the Scarecrow a bit. I’m not alone in thinking Nick was handled rather oddly in this volume, perhaps an effect of Thompson leaving him alone for so long. Then again, he might be closer to his Baumian portrayal than I initially thought.

The Tin Woodman is a very proud character. A lot of the main Oz personalities are, really; the Scarecrow, Sawhorse, Patchwork Girl, and Glass Cat all spend a lot of time talking about how great they are.

It seems like pride isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as you still do your best to help others, at least according to Baum. I’ve mentioned how his journey in Tin Woodman is largely fueled by ego, and he and the Scarecrow both have the sense that they can barge into places without being invited. One thing I noted upon this reading that I hadn’t really thought of before was that, after Nick converses with his old head, he says it was always particular about its clothes, suggesting that he no longer has this trait. And while it’s true he doesn’t wear clothes per se, the Scarecrow observes back in Land that Nick “was ever inclined to be a dandy,” and Tin Woodman states, ” At daybreak the Tin Woodman and the Tin Soldier took occasion to polish their bodies and oil their joints, for both were exceedingly careful of their personal appearance.” It sounds like he might have traded one form of vanity for another. Land also indicates that the Woodman’s pride is why he calls himself an Emperor instead of a king, although it is revealed in later books that his Winkie Country contains several smaller kingdoms, so maybe it’s somewhat appropriate after all. He also assumes he can easily take the Emerald City back from Jinjur’s army just by marching in with his axe, while the Scarecrow and Tip rightly fear a trap.

So perhaps it’s not too surprising when he’s motivated mostly by the prospect of fame in discovering a new land and trying to claim it for Ozma, which doesn’t work well at all. That said, Nick’s main character trait is supposed to be kindness, and it’s not at all on display in Ozoplaning. As J.L. Bell observed in the Book of Current Focus discussion, he doesn’t even notice the feelings that the Stratovanians very plainly display on their foreheads.

On the other hand, he isn’t openly mean so much as thoughtless, a trait he had previously displayed on occasion.

I suppose there’s always somewhat of a disconnect between the Tin Woodman’s thoughts and actions. In Wizard, he cries because he steps on a beetle, but has no particular problem beheading a wildcat and forty wolves, sending Kalidahs to their apparent death in a chasm, or tricking bees into stinging him and therefore dying.

In Land, it’s specifically stated that “The Tin Woodman was usually a peaceful man, but when occasion required he could fight as fiercely as a Roman gladiator.” And in Ozma, he leads Ozma’s army. The general ideas seems to be that he won’t hurt innocents, and will do what he can to protect them. After all, he attacks the wildcat because it’s trying to catch a mouse. He later expresses sympathy for mosquitoes in Emerald City, and won’t let anyone hurt a butterfly in Patchwork Girl.

Dorothy and the Wizard has him willing to lie to try to save Eureka’s life, even though he doesn’t fully believe she’s innocent.

So I’m hardly saying that he’s not a compassionate character, just that he does have somewhat of an ego as well.

This entry was posted in Characters, L. Frank Baum, Oz, Oz Authors, Ruth Plumly Thompson and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Polished with Pride

  1. Nick’s tendency to be vain and egotistical is why I always give him the voice of Simon Belmont from Captain N on my show.

  2. As with Nick Chopper, I have a bit of an ax to grind with Ms. Thompson. It’s as if she didn’t know how to write a character that was noble and kindhearted (and vain as you sagaciously pointed out) Instead she substitutes the Tin Woodman with the considerably more violent-leaning (and, frankly, annoying) Hokus of Pokes. In fact, she tends to favor boorish male protagonists, like Grampa, Re-ala-bad, Peter, and even Speedy (though to a less obnoxious degree than the others), in what appears to be a conscious decision to try to lure in more boy readers, reducing the once-strong female character to simpering little girls, or making them behave ridiculously out of character, such as when Dorothy rushes to melt Notta-Bit (when she thinks he’s a witch) or when Ozma coldly executes Mombi without a second’s hesitation (which was thankfully retconned by David Tai).

    Neill seems to follow Thompson’s trend when he’s got the whole group of girl protagonists chasing after the Bell-Snickle with scissors to “cut up as much as they like” of him!

    • Nathan says:

      J.L. Bell mentioned when Ozoplaning was the Book of Current Focus that Thompson preferred writing childish adults, and Nick is easily less childish than the Scarecrow or Cowardly Lion. It’s probably also why she barely mentioned the Shaggy Man or Cap’n Bill.

      • That’s a reasonable (and less cynical) explanation. Mari Ness seems to think that she ignored them because they were outsiders in society, and that Thompson didn’t care for the disenfranchised (her portrayal of the Gypsies seems to bear that out). Their outsiderness, of course, is the very thing that makes them so ideal for the Oz Baum created. In fairness to Thompson, she did create Bob-Up and Notta, who are very much outsider characters. Shame she hadn’t continued in that fashion.

      • Nathan says:

        It’s true that most of her characters from the Outside World are of the more popular sort, especially Peter and Tompy, but also Speedy and David Perry to a lesser degree. I do think she created some outsider characters within fairyland, though; Captain Salt and King Ato, for instance, are brought together by their reluctance to give in to peer pressure.

      • That’s right! Both are outsiders of their own class and subversions of the pirate and king stereotypes.

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