Patchwork Girl 1923 - CoverThe Sea Fairies (1911) and Sky Island (1912) were both failures when compared to the Oz books, and public anticipation for the new novel had been stoked by Little Wizard Stories. At this point, it was up to L. Frank Baum – and deliver he did, to massive commercial success. The Patchwork Girl of Oz arrived in July 1913 and ensured that Reilly and Britton would publish a new Oz book every year for decades to come.

The plot is familiar, at least in its broadest strokes: “unlucky” Munchkin boy Ojo and his Unc Nunkie leave their simple home to find food. Taking shelter with the Crooked Magician, Dr. Pipt, and his wife Margolette, they are witness to the magical creation of Scraps, a stuffed patchwork girl intended for a life of servitude. An unlucky accident leaves Margolette and Unc Nunkie turned to stone statues, so Ojo sets out with Scraps, a Glass Cat, and a list of required magical ingredients to find the road of yellow bricks and reach the Emerald City…

Have you read The Patchwork Girl of Oz? No? We can help! Here it is . . . 

scrapsme
Photo and handmade friend courtesy Jane Albright

You know what’s interesting, Nick? says Sarah.

What’s that? says Nick.

Whenever I’ve spoken to people before who are aware of the Oz books after the first one, almost always, they tell me that their favorite is Patchwork Girl. This has happened more times than I can count. When I was a child, I would have called it one of my favorites, too, and I’m not entirely sure why – although I have some ideas. What I can tell you is that both I, and they, loved this book and held it in high regard. Even at the National Convention I recently attended, several people told me it was their childhood favorite. A couple of men – including Dee Michel, author of Friends of Dorothy: Why Gay Men and Boys Love The Wizard of Oz – suggested they had liked it best because of the male protagonist, but I’ve heard from women who like it just as much. That includes my own thesis director!

Patchwork Picture FinalIs it too early in our discussion to suggest what seems, to me, obvious – that the reason people love Patchwork Girl is because of the Patchwork Girl herself? She seems to be a real fan favorite. That’s quite interesting, considering how late she comes into the series.

You might be on to something, there. Most polls I’ve ever seen for favorite character – and you’re just going to have to take my word for this, obviously – Dorothy is always the front-runner, followed by the Scarecrow, and then in the next place or the one thereafter is Scraps. She always makes it very high up. She was Ruth Plumly Thompson’s favorite, which is pretty obvious once you get to the Thompson books – she makes a glorified cameo in nearly every one.

Scraps! (She’ll Save Every One of Us)

I think I’d also rate her amongst my favorites. While I was prepared for Scraps to turn out a disappointment – as things have sometimes been on this blog – I still see so much to love about her. She’s a female character who is wild, clever, funny, and doesn’t give a toss what anyone thinks about her, which is both fun and very Ozzy. If I had to say what I love about the Oz books, it would be at least partly the idea of people who are invented for one purpose or another who still manage to have an amazing sense of pride.

. . . And in Scraps’ case, very little sense of shame.

Yes, exactly!

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John R. Neill (1913)

I’d say, to a child, Scraps is a particularly vivid personality. Of course, not two blogs ago, in Sky Island, I griped at you that Baum never allows women to be adventurers who have fun, and now here we are with the ultimate expression of a fun-loving, female character. She is child-like but not a child; she even has a quasi-romance with the Scarecrow, so inasmuch as we code the Scarecrow or Jack as an adult, we code Scraps to be an adult, too. The pictures even make a point of showing off her freewheeling aspects. There’s a whole picture by Neill subtitled, “I hate dignity!”

I remember seeing that, a long time ago in The World of Oz, and to me it just always looked like a poster – almost a kind of political motto, or something.

Does all of this change or enhance your impression of Baum as a supporter of the suffragette movement? Remember, this is 1913, so women still don’t have the right to vote. Theodore Roosevelt’s progressive party has just been defeated. At the same time, the “American Girl”  is very much seen as shedding the shackles of the 19th century, so Scraps is both completely current and fairly shocking.

She’s a bit of a cultural rarity: a female clown. Compared to some of the other strong women Baum’s featured, she has less obvious power – but the clown has a power all its own.

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John R. Neill (1913)

I’m fascinated by just how unfeminine she is, and some of that’s just down to Neill, because he draws her in a way which is both endearing and often a parody of femininity. In most of the illustrations, she’s completely graceless and lacking in any aspect which would be read as beautiful or even sweet. That’s quite interesting coming from an artist like Neill, who always draws beautiful women and perfect, winsome children with endless appeal. Scraps is not like that at all.

Her appearance in Neill’s visuals is just so strong, I actually looked in detail at how Baum describes her in the text – and he does refer to her very early on as “almost beautiful.” Ojo considers her mouth “very artistic and life-like.” Neill exaggerates her rawness, her inhuman elements, with that big grinning mouth and her little nub of a nose. Make sense?

Absolutely.

I think she grows a bit uglier as the book goes on – in Baum’s text, I mean. It may be that he’s slowly building towards the joke of the Scarecrow thinking she’s beautiful. There has to be a certain irony to that, so he increasingly “uglifies” her for the audience.

The more alive she is, the less pretty she is.

We do begin with that fantastic scene of Ojo giving her all these qualities that she wasn’t going to get, as well, which has a satirical dimension. At the same time, essentially, she’s a cartoon. She’s not an ideal heroine. There’s no emotional or educational journey that Scraps goes through; she remains pretty much as wild and free and full of herself as she is at the start, and it’s Ojo who has that arc, moving from the sticks to the big city, meeting all these freaks and weirdos. It’s his journey more than it is hers. There’s no sense of her being reformed.

Bonzo-Doo-Dah-Woozy

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John R. Neill (1913)

This is a whole book of great characters. Take the Glass Cat, for instance. For some reason I had remembered Bungle as male. That’s not right – and thank goodness, because I think it makes much more sense. With her and Eureka, Baum clearly knew one or two prissy little female cats in real life.

Yes. Going back to “Why do you like this book?”, it’s partly down to structure, but the actual characters Baum introduces are original and fun – and that must have been hard, seven books on. She completely adores herself, which leads to lots of fun conversations.

What do you make of the Woozy? I like a bit of Woozy, me.

I do like the Woozy. I don’t even know what the Woozy is or what he’s supposed to be except, perhaps, something that predicts the rise of Minecraft.

Ha!

He’s utterly bizarre, and a bit of a spin on the Cowardly Lion, too, because he’s not as terrible as he seems. Of all the tropes Baum could repeat, this one is welcome. Just like having a strong female character, having a more effete male beast is pretty good to read after all this time.

I’ve read some theories that the Woozy was inspired by the cubist art movement, which I’m perfectly ready to believe. However, I’ve also read that it was inspired directly by Marchel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2,” which I am less prepared to accept.

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John R. Neill (1913)

You say that – but you think about Baum and Maud traveling around and being celebrities, and presumably going to museums, and it makes you wonder. The Patchwork Girl herself is a kind of collage, isn’t she? And the Glass Cat is almost Rene Magritte. Oooh, I’m liking that theory – they’re all art installations!

Apparently Baum was very concerned that Neill not draw the Woozy to look as if he was made of wood, which he did in one picture. Baum wanted him to be more leathery, and of course, if you read the book he’s dark blue, not brown. Sadly, I rather like the “wooden” Woozy picture. I like it a lot.

A square animal must have been very hard to draw, in Neill’s defense. 

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John R. Neill (1913)

A memorable character, though! I was thinking to myself that the big color picture of Scraps and Ojo pulling on the Woozy’s tail – again, thanks to The World of Oz – is one of the most iconic images of the series, at least to me. (And it seems someone in Wamego, Kansas, agrees, as it features in a memorable display in the OZ Museum!)

Mm-hmm. I’m thinking about the cubism thing again. Looking at that picture, everything but the Woozy is done in these fine lines – particularly, Ojo looks quite animated – and the Woozy has these stark, white outlines. He looks like a cartoon, come into the real world.

He’s a bit Hanna-Barbera, yes. Speaking of cartoons, I have a giant coloring book of The Patchwork Girl of Oz. Someone gave it to me when I was quite small. It’s massive – about two feet high – and I’ve partially colored in most of the pictures, which are usually composed similarly to Neill’s illustrations. It remains, for me, a peculiar and rather specifically amazing adaptation, and it makes a sort of sense – for a kid, Scraps is the ultimate coloring book subject!

I’ve Heard This Story Before

The Patchwork Girl of Oz is much more satisfying than some of the books we’ve read, where the character with their name in the title doesn’t figure very much in the story. This is one hundred percent Scraps’ book; she’s in it throughout, and she gets to do some cool things. Doesn’t she talk sense into the Horners and Hoppers and sort out their war?

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John R. Neill (1913)

She does, in a very roundabout sort of way. Scraps is what gamers would today call “chaotic good.” For Baum, she seems to function as the Scarecrow on speed – she has some of the same hare-brained logic that he demonstrated in the first couple of books, and it’s interesting that Baum sidelines the Scarecrow so Scraps can play the diplomat.

Baum keeps them together in the second half, though, so you don’t feel – as you sometimes do with other Oz characters – that one is replacing the other. He has a sense of their difference as characters; they’re very aligned, they’re of a “family.” And they’re actually more interesting in conversation together. It means you have a diversity of oddness, people who are unusual in different ways, which I think is another reason why this book feels particularly satisfying.

Okay, so we’ve really gone on quite a long tear about the characters without really delving into the story itself. Do you remember reading The Patchwork Girl of Oz before?

A month ago, I would have said, “Yes.” I remember ordering the Dover paperback through a regular high-street bookshop called WH Smiths, which meant that when it arrived, it was even more exciting than any other Oz book I’d found before. When I came to reread it, though, I found that I had misremembered, insofar as I may never have read the second half of this book!

Patchwork Girl 1923 - Title Page
John R. Neill (1913)

Oh, it’s funny you should say that, for two reasons. The first is that I also ordered the Dover edition. I have the feeling it had just come out, or was being advertised, which may have led us both to buy it. The other thing you mention is also interesting, though, because I thought I remembered this book perfectly until I reread it and discovered: the second half is almost completely different than my memory of it.

What is it about this book? I wonder if your experience might be more to do with the fact that once the book is halfway through, it’s a generic Oz travelogue, but it opens with a strong, novelistic beginning, which is quite unlike almost anything else we’ve read so far for this blog.

Yeah, it’s got a particularly strong narrative drive in the first half, and before I reread it, one of my bigger theories as to why people like it so much was that it’s a very strong fantasy quest story. The problem with that theory is that only the first half of it is a very strong fantasy quest story. The second half is only a very strong fantasy quest story in the memory, not actually on the page. The elements are there, but it’s just not at as tightly constructed as the first half.

I agree. I think it’s partly because Baum builds the quest around “all corners of Oz” – you know, there’s something to get in Munchkinland, Gillikin Country, etc. – and because he’s crossing the country geographically, he has to hit the Emerald City and do that bit of the plot in the middle. Whereas in a traditional narrative, you’d just end up there, with Ojo’s trial as the conclusion.

That reminds me of Wonderful Wizard, and I’ve heard people say before that Baum was intentionally trying to reconstruct Wizard with this book. I’d never really considered that before, but if you think about it, it works. You’ve got a child, a stuffed character, an unusual animal, and a character made of artificial material, all going down the road of yellow bricks to the Emerald City.

…And their expectations of what they’ll find in the Emerald City are confounded, and the idea of a “fair and just” ruler is challenged. Hmm! I really hadn’t thought about that. In a funny way, it’s also very like Marvelous Land.

Yeah, that similarity’s actually much more obvious to me, thinking about it from a child’s perspective. Tip, Jack, and the Sawhorse have much stronger equivalents in Ojo, Scraps, and the Glass Cat. Either way, it seems clear that Baum has a certain way of constructing stories that he prefers.

Thinking about it, there’s not even a villain in this book, which is intriguing given the strong narrative drive. No one impedes the characters for very long.

I suppose there’s Ozma and her laws – are they the big “obstacle”?

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John R. Neill (1913)

Ozma puts Ojo on trial, and the Tin Woodman refuses to let them kill a butterfly – so the good guys do, at various times, seem like they’re going to stop our heroes achieving their goals.

I’ve always been curious that fans don’t criticize the end of this book. The final third of Wonderful Wizard comes in for a lot of stick, and (looking ahead a bit) Rinkitink in Oz culminates in an abrupt deus ex machina. The ending of this book is just as much of a cop-out, yet nobody seems concerned that the Tin Woodman renders the entire quest pointless. Does that ruin the book for you at all?

No. No, not really. I liked the Tin Woodman’s absolute unswerving belief that they shouldn’t mutilate a butterfly. It’s a real “needle-scratches-as-it-comes-off-the-record” moment. It’s not necessarily handled very well, but it happens so quickly I don’t mind it at all.

I think that’s the entire reason Baum gets away with it. It’s an Alfred Hitchcock ending: the Band-Aid is ripped off and before you can think about it, it’s all over.

“And everyone’s okay! THE END!”

Bread Trees and Adventures in Utopia

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John R. Neill (1913)

One of the things I like best about the book is that it is relatively free of Baum’s patented morbidity but very high in a quotient of general strangeness. I was reading the very beginning where Ojo and Unc Nunkie have a discussion about there being no food in the house. “Nothing grows in our yard but the bread tree…” It made me think to myself just how responsible Baum is for how my brain works. About a year ago I was at my regular coffee shop, trying to get a bagel with cream cheese, and they told me they wouldn’t have bagels for about a month. They said there was something wrong with the distributor. Quick as anything, I wondered, “Do the bagel trees have blight?” That’s a very Baumian way of looking at the world, I think – and at the time, it didn’t occur to me to connect the two, but it made me smile to recall it while reading Patchwork Girl. Baum is partly responsible for the way my brain seems to work – and maybe a lot of other people’s brains, too.

That’s lovely. When we got into The Emerald City of Oz, we talked a lot about how Oz was becoming a slightly dull, cloying place, and I had this theory that Baum wanted a utopian state that you just wouldn’t need to keep writing about it. Now that he’s coming back to Oz, he’s obliged to find ways of things not being perfect, and the excuse of the bread tree is clever. There’s another bit later on about the mountainous areas of Oz and places that aren’t easily reached, which might be undocumented and hide very scary things! That opens it right up again.

There’s a great get-around early in the book – which he repeats in the silent film, actually, and there’s so few words in the silent film I think it’s intriguing they chose this for an intertitle – “Nobody starves in the land of Oz, but we have to go where the food is.” That’s a nice variation on the whole “nobody goes hungry in the utopia” front. They’re not going to starve, but they’re going to be in such discomfort they’d best pick themselves up and go to the food.

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John R. Neill (1913)

I also think there’s something very American in the idea of Oz being so big, in contrast to the Grimm’s fairy tales Baum tried to mimic in some of his earliest books. However good the administration of Oz is, it’s impossible to fully execute.

Particularly when you’re thinking about the timeframe these books were written in, we still very much had “the untamed west.” You had Baum out in California by this point, where the gold rushes had taken place. People had died in conflict with each other to try and make their fortunes at “discovery.” Yeah, I think that’s absolutely what’s inspiring Baum’s Oz here. The United States are built on the concept of expansive wilderness. Even now that we’ve cataloged all of it, there’s almost no way to take it all in; I think there’s still a sense that it’s all a bit too big to get your brain around. I think that’s very much what Baum’s representing through fantasy.

Ozma has a Magic Picture where she can see all parts of the country whenever she wants, but Baum balances that with the idea that she doesn’t necessarily know what she’s looking for. She might miss something. If you govern dictatorially, you might provoke someone like Ojo to break the law. There’s nuance coming into Baum’s utopia as he tries to work out where adventures come from. He’s considering what life is actually like in this place.

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John R. Neill (1913)

How perfect is the perfect state if you don’t know you’re living in it? One of the more interesting moments for me is when the Quadling man doesn’t recognize the Scarecrow – yet we have, by this point, been told that the Scarecrow is “the most famous man in Oz.” Even if we haven’t encountered it yet, we’re quickly heading toward a time where we find parts of Oz that do not know they are governed by Ozma. In that case, what does governance look like? Are we veering uncomfortably toward a situation like that of the American Indians, where “government” is inflicted by a power upon free people, whether they like it or not? I don’t know.

There’s also the issue that Ozma is an unelected head of state. We’ve never met her family, or learned how they came to rule in the first place. I guess we had a sort of “coiling-up” of Oz into this bundle where everything was fine, and now, for more stories about it, we have to unravel it to get at its structure and deeper history. There are all these questions suddenly waiting to be asked. It’ll be interesting to see when and where the authors choose to give us answers.

WHAT MAKES THE HOTTENTOT SO HOT?

Nick, what do you make of Victor Columbia Edison?

Who? Oh yes – the phonograph.

He’s an odd little secondary character, isn’t he? His name is a pun on all the major phonogram companies of the day.

He’s very funny, quite stagey. I assume it’s Baum bringing vaudeville-style theatrics into his text, although why, I’m not sure. I like how everyone hates him so completely!

And they basically deny him entry into the group.

It’s like The Land of Oz, with the Woggle-Bug’s puns – you think at some point, they’re just going to throw him out of the Gump if he doesn’t shut up. Here, they do.

Ha! It’s quite funny – after several books of love and togetherness and everybody being uniquely different, the characters just look at each other and go, “No, sorry, not having you, mate.”

Exactly.

What did you think of Victor Columbia Edison’s little song?

Aha – well I read the Dover paperback; and it’s not as it appears in the Books of Wonder edition, is it?

Nope. In the original book, the phonograph plays a song that is clearly meant to parody the popular music of the day: the sort of thing we still associate with Al Jolson. Unfortunately, we also associate it with blackface and minstrelcy, and there’s a reason. Now, we know from interviews with much younger relatives that Baum was not a fan of popular music; it got right up his nose, and the entire point of the talking phonograph in this book is to make fun of it. It’s entirely appropriate that the phonograph’s song has lyrics describing “Mah coal-black Lulu” – but it also dates the book quite hard, too, and it’s not really surprising that Peter Glassman, the editor of Books of Wonder, felt a need to change it. What’s a little stranger is that he replaced the offending phrase with “mah cross-eyed Lulu,” which just seems to exchange one unfortunate and problematic description for another.

Particularly as he keeps the “mah,” so it does seem to be leaving the problem in place, as opposed to neutralizing it, as he surely intended.

Similarly, way ahead in chapter 19, the sequence with the Tottenhots has been altered. They’re no longer described as “dusky,” and they’ve cut a close-up illustration by Neill, which is surely the most racist aspect of the whole thing. And this is not an isolated incident with Books of Wonder; they fairly heavily altered the first two Doctor Dolittle books, for instance, including completely rewriting a chapter of The Story of Dr. Dolittle. It’s quite obvious why they did all of this, too – to make them marketable to modern children of the 1990s – and I’m not even criticizing, necessarily. My question for you is: do these changes make any difference?

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John R. Neill (1913)

Well, I think it’s really difficult. We’ve often talked about these books being read by today’s children, and you have to handle that experience in some way. I appreciate these attempts, but I do think having a little disclaimer in the front – “There’s some offensive stuff in this book; it’s of its time” – is more productive, both for parents and people like you and me. The problem with making little changes like a word here and there, or an image or two, is that they’re still called “Tottenhots.” They’re still depicted as African stereotypes. By making the minor changes and keeping quiet about it, you’re inadvertently endorsing what you leave behind.

Yeah. I’m not quite sure what to do with this, because they’ve really just made the whole thing more awkward. I think if this were a situation where you could just eliminate two uses of the word “dusky” and change the lyrics of the song, I would be completely in Glassman’s corner. The problem is, as you say, that it’s a little more complicated. Of course, with every passing day, fewer and fewer people know the word “Hottentot” – I wouldn’t be surprised if most people had only ever heard it in the MGM Wizard of Oz, as part of the lyrics of “If I Were King of the Forest”. Similarly, you and I discussed (and I actually cut from the blog) that the word “Growleywog” in The Emerald City of Oz is probably a verbal play on “Golliwog” – but who remembers what a “Golliwog” is today? There may not be a child in America at this very minute who would understand Baum’s play on words. The problem with the Tottenhots is that they’re compounded, first by Baum’s description, and then by Neill’s visuals. If they went to the trouble of cutting the most offensive of Neill’s pictures, why not cut the other two?

What if you took out the Tottenhots chapter? It’s worth considering that Baum already cut a chapter from this book – “The Garden of Live Meats” – and, as far as we know, didn’t do anything to join up the ends. A book like The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle is problematic no matter which way you look at it, because a great deal of the novel is about a white man coming to a remote island, rescuing everybody and becoming a god-like king. You can’t just change a word and solve the problem. The Oz books I’ve read don’t tend to have those kinds of narratives; they’re about the freaks and the weirdos being the heroes, and The Patchwork Girl of Oz is a particularly good example of that. Last Christmas it was even staged as a musical here in London, specifically because of its message of diversity.

You’ve got a point. All right, so you’ve come to a surprisingly simple solution on that one. Ready for another little problem?

Go on…

A WOMAN OF COLOR

This is something I’ve only ever heard once,  but it stuck in the back of my mind and I’d like your opinion, please: what do you think about the idea that Scraps herself is a racist stereotype?

Ah! I’m glad you brought this up. No, I must admit I had thought about this before, too, and I can’t quite shake it – particularly because of Neill’s illustrations rather than Baum’s text.

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John R. Neill (1913)

Well – and I can’t believe I’m bringing this up – I did think it was a little distressing that more than once, she’s called Margolotte’s slave. Not just “servant”; “slave.” And then there’s this little quote from Dame Margolotte, early on in the story:

“When my housework girl is brought to life she will find herself to be of so many unpopular colors that she’ll never dare be rebellious or impudent, as servants are sometimes liable to be when they are made the same way their mistresses are.”

Ooh. That’s very pointed, isn’t it? I think – and Neill’s illustrations drive it home – there are certain associations which you can make significant if you choose. They are, though, only associations. You couldn’t reduce this to a racial caricature, particularly considering her constructedness and her sheer rebelliousness. Also, she isn’t handed back to Margolotte as a servant at the end of the book.

Yes, and I would bring it back around to that. Having been clued into it, I have a hard time not seeing the racial symbolism now – but at the same time, I would be far more concerned if Baum effectively “lobotomized” Scraps at the conclusion or returned things to the status quo. Instead, he rewards her for all the agency she’s shown throughout the book. Scraps becomes a beloved denizen of the Emerald City, along with all of our other friends, so you have to work fairly hard to get a truly negative reading out of Baum’s text.

I feel as if we’re not quite hitting it on the nose, but I don’t think this is a straightforward issue. Scraps is an emancipated woman, but what Baum does with her isn’t entirely clear-cut. I find myself looking at the Scarecrow, and wondering if the way he’s depicted has changed. Should he be read in a similar way to Scraps? Could it just have to do with the way Neill’s illustrations continue to evolve?

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John R. Neill (1913)

Yeah – Neill’s take on characters like the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman keeps evolving, and it’s going to settle fairly soon now that we’re into a regular series. For what it’s worth, I don’t see any racist aspect to the Scarecrow. Scraps is a little different because we’re taking little bits of information from different sources: from the circumstances, from her personality, from her famous hatred of dignity and lack of aspiration. We can read little things into each of those parts of her depiction. The Scarecrow has always aspired to something, from the time we met him, and although his behavior can inspire laughter, he always tries to live up to everyone’s expectations. Of the two of them, Scraps is the rebel, Scraps is the ne’er-do-well, Scraps is the one without grace.

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John R. Neill (1913)

Ah, that’s an interesting way to think about it. Scraps is “uncivilized,” and many of the ideas of “civilization” of the time are attached to whiteness. She occupies a whole space of general “otherness” which includes the category of race, and perhaps that’s why we both read her as we do and why we also have trouble pinning her down to a reading that’s clear-cut and accessible.

I think you’re right. I’d include in there the fact that she does not use “proper” English – which, again, is attached to whiteness – and she’s the only character to do so who is not a child. In fact, she sometimes uses specifically improper English, which sets her apart both as a freewheeling, fun-loving character, but also as someone without dignity or class, and there are all kinds of things you can read into that. I will say, though – for all their other faults, the Tottenhots speak in perfect, formal English. They are, in fact, incredibly polite.

No, they’re not baddies, are they? They just dance all day.

Beyond their description, they’re really not horribly racist in terms of how they act, although I suppose their childlike playfulness is a stereotype in and of itself. However, they’re also very pleasant, gracious, and completely hospitable. To be fair, Baum may have intended that as a kind of satire, but it’s easy to take it at face value. It’s the physical description and the illustrations that are truly problematic.

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John R. Neill (1913)

Appearances can be misleading or ambiguous in these books. One of my favorite lines in the whole book comes from Dorothy, who meets one weird character after another as if she’s interviewing them for a job placement. She meets the Woozy, and she says, “You’re not pretty…but I like you.” That’s a very Dorothy sort of thing to say, I think.

ART AND ADAPTATION

You know, it’s weird seeing how much color was originally in the book, because of course it’s not replicated in my little Dover edition.

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John R. Neill (1913)

What’s strange for me is that after several books of really gorgeous images – think back to the watercolors of The Emerald City of Oz or the beautiful metallic inks in The Sea Fairies – this feels a little bit like a step backward, because they’ve gone back to printing the colors directly into the book, as they did in Ozma of Oz. They probably made the right choice, because it means they can have a lot more color – and almost every image of the Patchwork Girl herself is vibrantly colorful – but it does feel a little odd.

Yeah, it does feel like they’re reining it in a little bit.

Maybe it’s because Sea Fairies and Sky Island didn’t sell? I could see them trying to produce a cheaper book here, just in case. Of course, this one sold magnificently, as it turned out, but they weren’t to know that ahead of time.

Well, we know that Reilly & Britton did everything they could with this art, reusing pieces of it in multiple places. . . .

. . . And reusing art from Little Wizard Stories, too.

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John R. Neill (1913)

Yes. That makes it all feel just a little bit cheaper. At the same time, though, it is nice that there’s an illustration on nearly every page.

I think the book is designed in a very entertaining and colorful way. I wouldn’t call it strictly pretty, and I wouldn’t call it as finely designed as many of the other Oz books have been, but I do think it’s a really fun book to read.

There’s a lot of movement in the art, too; lots of climbing over things or going along a river or what-have-you. Like Wonderful Wizard, it feels very outdoorsy and adventuresome. It’s like there’s a whooosh! on every page.

Perhaps that’s what people like about it – it’s not just a sense of adventure, but of movement, that people respond to. And it’s a funny thing to mention, movement, because this is the first Oz book immortalized as a feature-length silent film.

It’s interesting to be able to watch Baum’s film version and see so much of the book’s content and characters survive on screen. It’s much Ozzier than, say, the Larry Semon Wizard of Oz. You see everyone in this! They’re all there, seventy years before the coronation sequence of Return to Oz. I also found that it’s rather nice watched alongside the Return to Oz score.

Oh, that’s a great idea. I might try it again that way. The film is much as I remembered it, but I think it was a particularly good idea to hire a French acrobat as Scraps. There’s a charming sequence of Scraps and the Woozy having a little dance, and there’s some gentle humor, too; I like that when Ojo is taken prisoner in the Emerald City, everyone gets a little prisoner’s robe with the eye-holes cut out, including the Woozy. I’m not sure it’s a terribly well-made film, but it has a lot of chutzpah; so for me, it’s a special little relic.

It’s ambitious, and I like that it takes for granted that you want to see all of these characters.

rainbow-road-to-oz
“The Rainbow Road to Oz” (photo (c) the Walt Disney Corporation)

You mentioned that new play in London earlier, but it seems like The Patchwork Girl of Oz – or Scraps, at least – has prompted a lot of creativity over the years. Walt Disney came close to making it into a feature film with his Mouseketeers called The Rainbow Road to Oz, but it never got further than a few musical numbers staged for a TV special. There are some interesting clips on YouTube of various stage productions, including a traditional musical and a dance-based interpretation. Just last week, I even heard a staged reading of a play called Scraps, which is all about the Patchwork Girl’s mid-life crisis.

She’s a very relatable character. That’s what we keep coming back to, I think.

Well, she certainly remains a very visible character for the rest of the series. She and the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and Jack all get used to promote the series for at least the duration of Thompson’s tenure.

They’re really the most visually striking characters, aren’t they? They should all be a little scary, but they’re actually easy to like. Even Scraps – she’s heartless, and she’s actually rather hard to pin down. She’s not as cuddly as Jack or the Scarecrow.

No, exactly. She’s always brusque.

TYING OFF THE STITCH

Patchwork Girl 1923 - Illo 06
John R. Neill (1913)

I had a good time reading The Patchwork Girl of Oz – well, I was flummoxed by how little I remembered, but I was relieved by the fact that it didn’t let me down. How about you?

I really enjoyed it, yeah! I read it over three evenings on my porch and I enjoyed it tremendously – in fact, reading on for quite a bit longer than I intended to, because I was enjoying it so much. I was pleased to find it was one of the stronger Oz books, just as I remembered it, and I wouldn’t at all mind reading it again sometime. Would you give the book to a tot today?

Yesssssss . . . if they’d read some of the others? I start to worry about children reading a series as long as this, but yes, I would.

I think I would, too. At this point, I’m realizing that I wouldn’t recommend the Oz books to just “any child.” I wouldn’t give them to a child who wasn’t a very clear-thinking, critical reader. That may sound a bit funny when referring to a child of eight or nine, but I think there’s a clear difference between a child who’s indiscriminate and a child who asks questions and takes notice of things. As you and I have realized, these books are old-fashioned; there’s no way around that after more than a century. So I think I would give this book to a child I knew was ready for it.

Maybe it’s a book that’s best read by or with a parent, and discussed with them?

I think it’s a good book to recommend with parental awareness. How’s that? I wouldn’t hand it to a kid on the street. But I would give it to the child of a friend of mine, certainly, and I would let the parent know that there are some old-fashioned moments in the story that could, or should, lead to discussion. Those few moments aren’t a good reason for me to keep a child from enjoying the fun of Scraps, or the ridiculousness of the Woozy, or the colorful nature of the Horners, or the terror of the giant porcupine and his amazing quills, or any of the other one hundred and one amazing things that happen inside the book. Because it is a very, very good book. 

Well, I’m quite looking forward to our next one. Wind me up when it’s time, will you, Sarah?

What do you think? Is this is the best Oz book? Does Scraps reign supreme? Tell us in the comments!

Next Time

Tik-Tok 1920 FrontispieceTIK-TOK OF OZ (1914)

Read along with us and send in your thoughts! Tell us what topics we should discuss! Be a part of BURZEE!

Unless otherwise stated, illustrations are photographed from the book collection of Sarah K. Crotzer, are used without financial gain as examples of the original publications, and remain the property of their original creators and publishers. Please don’t steal them; go buy the books instead.

 

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6 thoughts on “The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1913)

  1. Oh I’m firmly in the PatchWork Girl of Oz fan camp, for both the book and the character. It’s not my ultimate favourite, that reserved for Ozma of Oz, but it’s pretty close. Scraps is one of Baum’s greatest characters, I think it’s her boldness, and the fact that she says what come into her head and she effectively doesn’t give a damn for authority is every “patch” her own person.

    I think what makes this book so much better than other Oz Books, is that there is a very clear quest from the outset. Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, Road to Oz, and largely the Emerald City of Oz are effectually Meandering travelogues. It also end with a very Baumian, with the Tin Woodman ultimately ruining their plans.

    It’s interesting you drew out the slave comment for Margolotte, I never really thought of the potential racial slave overtones to her creation. For the record, I’ve always imagined a black actress playing Scraps, and I often hear her voice as like Whoopie Goldberg, usually a black woman with presence, intelligence and sass.

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  2. I know I sent this to Sarah privately but then I figured it was smarter to share here. I also just finished the book and the following occurred to me:
    Three things:
    1) I love that both of you referenced World of Oz since that was one of my favorite books as a kid
    2) We really did have similar responses, including forgetting the second half entirely
    3) I didn’t pick up on Scraps as possibly being a person of color, but I can see the interpretation. If anything I actually kinda viewed her as a drag queen

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    1. That’s interesting, Garrett. I’m thinking about your reaction, and Colin’s before you – I’m not sure I ever thought about Scraps’ voice consciously before. I never really “coded” her as black or white or any other human ethnic group, although by default that probably means I saw her as white. But that’s not too unusual for me – I love the Tin Woodman, for instance, but I don’t have a voice in my head for him, either. The only ones that have strong voices are ones where an actor has greatly influenced me through performance: my Scarecrow is basically Ray Bolger’s voice, for instance, and most of the Return to Oz characters come from that movie (Brian Henson’s Jack, especially). They just seem “right,” but of course that’s only because I’m so used to them.

      I did think it was interesting that the new “Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz” cartoon uses a sort of Kristen Schaal-style voice for Scraps. I’d never have come up with that myself, but it also kind of works…

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  3. PATCHWORK GIRL is also my favorite. Genuinely fun, a good quest structure, multiple nice new characters. I agree the ending is kind of bleh, but everything else works, and it’s a bit of a maguffin anyway. The opening is some of Baum’s best writing.

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  4. Hey, I found this blog while stranded at some relatives during Harvey and over a couple days read every post here, starting with the Magical Monarch of Mo post.

    Anyway, I started reading Baum’s book in about November of last year after someone bought me a 5 in 1 collection of Oz books. I was pretty skeptical of reading them since I absolutely hated the film and the animal outfit of the lion scared (and still does) me as a kid.
    Slowly read the first one, then blazed past the rest.

    To get to the point of my post…I quickly realized that this edition was missing tons of important illustrations and lacked the color plates. After that I had to go on a search just to find an edition of the books that actually had all the illustrations and wasn’t just some print on demand edition. I found the Books of Wonder editions and have been buying them since.

    So how do I get about finding good versions of Baum’s other books? The ones I keep finding on Amazon are cheap effortless reprints and most don’t seem to include the illustrations. I have the Dover edition of MMoM and I think it slightly ruined my reading experience having all the color pages clomped together.

    I’ve looked in a few used bookstores and antique stores for early reprints and have come up with nothing, too. I could read them online but my attention span isn’t too great when I have a screen right next to me.

    The books I’m trying to find (for a reasonable price) are:

    John Dough and the Cherub – Hungry Tiger Press has an edition out but it doesn’t specify if the pages are in color or not

    Dot and Tot – Have found no recent reprints. Cheapest of one of the early editions I’ve found is like 40 in poor condition.

    Ruth Plumy’s OZ – Books of Wonder has a few out and I know Del Rey did them but I can’t stand the cover art. It’s like something out some dollar romance novel style wise and the original covers are too pretty to go without.

    Tree of Yew – Nothing found for this but older editions seem cheaper than everything else here?

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    1. Hello, new friend – I’m afraid you didn’t give me a name to call you by –

      Welcome to BURZEE and we’re very happy you’re enjoying the blog! As a fellow book collector, I really feel your pain. The “need” for color plates is what first got me into collecting Oz books – when the Baum run of Books of Wonder was still unfinished – and I’m sorry to tell you, comparing the two, the original editions are even more beautiful than BoW ever managed. However, with that caveat, I can help you a little bit:

      John Dough and the Cherub – Hungry Tiger Press’ edition is entirely B&W, which is unfortunate, as the whole book is filled with two-color illustrations. Similarly, I don’t believe Dot & Tot or Enchanted Island of Yew have ever been reprinted in color. Magical Monarch of Mo – it’s frustrating to have the color plates “clumped” together, but those at least represent all the color the book ever had in its original edition.

      I have better news for Ruth Plumly Thompson’s Oz. Books of Wonder released editions of her first two books, “The Royal Book of Oz” and “Kabumpo in Oz,” which are every bit as lovely and accurate as their regular Baum editions. At around the same time (the ’90s), the International Wizard of Oz Club released nice facsimiles of Thompson’s “Speedy in Oz” and “Wishing Horse of Oz,” complete with color plates. Between them the two publishers also released reproductions of about half a dozen later Oz books – Thompson, Neill and Snow – and they have the lovely color covers and full layouts of the original books. What they don’t have are color plates, because those books were never released with them! And all of these can usually be found on eBay…not super cheap, but not as expensive as buying antique editions.

      I hope that helps, at least a little bit!

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