Magical Art Imitates Life


Recently, fellow Oz fan Kevenn Smith raised an interesting question on Facebook about how the magically animated beings in the series function the way they do. “For instance, the Sawhorse doesn’t really sound like he has knees. How does he go so fast? How do his legs even move, since they’re just sticks stuck into holes in a log? Jack Pumpkinhead’s body has some joints made with wooden pins, but he is somehow dexterous enough to carve a new pumpkin head for himself when he requires it. If the Powder of Life gave them mobility in places where none exist (like the Sawhorse being able to move its legs, and even bend them like a knee or Jack being able to move his fingers and move in order to cross raise his arms outward), why does it only allow flexibility at places that approximate species appropriate mobility, and not give them Plastic Man levels of flexibility?” I’m not limiting it to the Powder, as beings brought to life in other ways appear to follow much the same rules. There is a certain level at which the function does follow form. The Scarecrow is floppy and moves awkwardly, the Tin Woodman is stiff, Jack is clumsy. But these things are still less true than you might expect for someone made of such materials.

The Glass Cat is much more flexible than glass, but I don’t know if she’s as much so as a normal cat. And even if a scarecrow can move around, how can he see and speak with painted-on eyes and mouth? One point raised by Eric Shanower was that they function the way a child would typically think they would, which I’m sure is true, but still raises the question of why this would be the case in-universe. I’d say the intent, conscious or not, of the one animating these beings matters to an extent. Since the Scarecrow is in the form of a man, his arms, legs, eyes, ears, and mouth all function like the real human features they were made to imitate. I remember someone once asking whether, if someone painted eyes on the back of the Scarecrow’s head, they would also work. It might depend on whether they were MEANT to be eyes, but I don’t know. And Victor Columbia Edison, who’s accidentally brought to life with the Powder, seems to be able to see where he’s going and hear what others say despite not really having anything that could be easily interpreted as eyes or ears. He’s also able to wind himself, apparently making him a perpetual motion machine of sorts, unlike the non-living Tik-Tok who has to be wound by someone else. While not indestructible, these magically animated beings tend to be fairly durable, and never have the need to eat or sleep in order to retain their energy. And if they break or fall apart, replacement parts always seem to work if they’re similar to the originals. When the Sawhorse breaks his leg and the Tin Woodman makes a new one, there’s no need to apply the Powder to the new leg; it works just fine without it. And that leg becomes a fully functional part of a living thing, rather than a lifeless prosthetic. Jack’s newly carved heads work when attached to his body, and can continue to watch, hear, and speak even if they’re detached, just as long as they’re not rotten.

In Nick Chopper’s own case, he was a human who gradually became made of metal, but were his replacement parts alive as soon as they were part of his body, or did it take a while?

They certainly are for the Tin Woodman in his now-standard form.

These constructs also don’t feel pain, although they seem to have some sense of touch. In Ruth Plumly Thompson’s The Gnome King of Oz, when the Scarecrow is pinched by an invisible Ruggedo, he says, “Of course, I have no feeling, but it’s not very polite.” If he actually had no feeling at all, he presumably wouldn’t even recognize that someone pinched him (or touched him at all); but he can’t get hurt. Davy Jones appears to be an exception to this rule, and he also sleeps, as do the wooden Gargoyles. Bungle is said to sleep, although in her case it’s probably more force of feline habit than necessity. I can’t recall whether most of the Oz authors even address the sense of smell. The one case I distinctly remember it being mentioned is in John R. Neill’s Runaway, when Scraps tells Popla that she has no sense of smell. It’s obvious that her face includes what was designed to be a nose, but maybe smell is too close to taste, which these constructs also can’t do.

And there’s the strange case of the Blue Bear Rug from The Road to Oz, who “while its head might say words, it has no breath in a solid body to push the words out of its mouth,” not making a whole lot of sense when other magically animated beings are perfectly able to speak despite not breathing at all and their mouths not being connected to anything. Perhaps, since the rug is made from a bear that died, it hasn’t had time to readjust to the new way its body operates? The Gump’s head, which has also been killed and had its insides removed before being reanimated, never seemed to have that problem. He does, however, have another in that, as his sofa legs weren’t sprinkled with the Powder of Life (there wasn’t enough left), he was unable to walk. So all functional parts have to have been touched by the Powder once, but after that they can be replaced over and over again with no problem, while the Gump can never walk? Or does it come down to intent, and the Gump’s legs would have worked if Tip weren’t consciously thinking that they shouldn’t when he performed the magic? He’s also able to fly with wings made from palm leaves, showing that acts of magical animation can provide extra strength as well.

Along the same lines, the small Sawhorse can pull a pretty heavy wagon.

I would say that an inanimate being that’s animated gains some abilities beyond simply being able to move and think, but there are certain limits based on the being’s form, and perhaps unspoken rules beyond that.

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

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