BEYOND “GULCHERIA” & ELPHABA: A SMALL GALLERY OF BAUM’S MEAN GIRLS!
By: John Fricke
[At left, the incomparable Margaret Hamilton at her MGM worst, 1939. At right, her present-day and softer counterpart, Idina Menzel, the original Elphaba of WICKED, 2003.]
First of all, Happy Halloween!
And second of all, did you know that – in one of the early drafts of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie script for THE WIZARD OF OZ – the Wicked Witch was supposed to have a name? It’s true; they were going to call her Gulcheria, as word-play on the appellation of her Kansas counterpart, Almira Gulch. Of course, at another point in plans for the film, Gulcheria was also to have a dimwitted son named Bulbo. She planned to put him on the Emerald City throne as the king of all Oz – after her legions of Winkie Guards killed [!] the Wizard.
But that’s another story. 😊
Much attention has been paid to the Wicked Witch of the West over the years. Although she appears in only one chapter of L. Frank Baum’s original book, THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ (1900), her liquidation remains a major component of the overall story. (Amazingly – given her comparatively few moments of screen time — Margaret Hamilton made the character even more pivotal and unforgettable in the OZ movie.) Author Gregory Maguire more recently brought new depth to his WWW, the renamed Elphaba, when he detailed her not-so-evil behavior in the gleefully dark novel, WICKED (1995). “Elfie” then became an even greater pop culture heroine in the musical renovation of Maguire’s work, Broadway’s WICKED (2003).
Thus, the Wicked Witch of the West has been given due historical homage. Her sister, the Wicked Witch of the East (or “Squash,” as Oz historian Fred M. Meyer once playfully tagged her) is famous, as well . . . if only for her feet and the madcap stockings that protruded from beneath the Kansas farmhouse after it was deposited in Munchkinland.
All of that being said, however – and in honor of this week’s horrific holiday — we’re now going to take a look-back at some of L. Frank Baum’s OTHER wicked witches. He certainly didn’t limit himself to the evils of East and West after his first Oz story; in fact, to paraphrase a Glinda line from the movie, some of his later creations are “worse than the other” ones were!
For example . . . .
In THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ (1904) — the second book in the series — old witch Mombi is the guardian/warden of a small boy, Tip. She makes him work and slave for years and ultimately decides to turn him into a marble statue. (In reality, the boy is actually a transformation of Princess Ozma, rightful ruler of the land, and Mombi has been entrusted to keep the girl from coming to power.) Across the course of the saga, she also uses her black magic to torment the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and their friends; to perform additional “unscrupulous” transformations; and to defy Glinda the Good. By story’s end, she is stripped of her powers, although she reappears in Ruth Plumly Thompson’s THE LOST KING OF OZ (1925) to create more Ozian havoc.
More than a decade later, Baum saw fit to plague Jinxland (a mini-domain in the southern quadrant of Oz) with an equally despicable character. THE SCARECROW OF OZ (1915) features witch Blinkie, a sort of walking malevolence who is employed by King Krewl – the duplicitous, false ruler of the kingdom — to freeze the heart of his niece, Princess Gloria. He is in hopes that this will end her true-love affection for Pon, the palace gardener. On Krewl’s command (and in receipt of “a quantity of money and jewels”), Blinkie entirely shuts down the girl’s emotions. She also transforms a visiting and innocent old California sailor into a grasshopper; leaves the Scarecrow helpless by divesting him of all of his straw; and attempts a magic spell that would destroy half the population of the country. Once restored to himself, the Scarecrow uses one of Glinda’s magic powders to slowly shrink Blinkie; in order to save her even-diminutized life, the crone must reverse all of her heinous charms and spells.
Baum even created a new breed of sinister sorceress in GLINDA OF OZ (1920). Queen Coo-ee-oh announces herself as “a Krumbic Witch – the only Krumbic Witch in the world. I fear the magic of no other creature that exists.” The arrogant, defiant woman makes fast prisoners of Princess Ozma and Dorothy, who have come to her to deter a local war between Coo-ee-oh and the neighboring Flatheads. (The latter are ruled by an equally nefarious Su-dic — aka Supreme Dictator – and his witch wife, Rora.) In a preliminary skirmish, Coo-ee-oh is poisoned by the Su-dic. She becomes a Diamond Swan and forgets all the magic she ever knew. This is particularly unfortunate, as only she possessed the power that could raise her island city from the bottom of the lake in which she had immersed it when she saw the approach of the Flatheads. All of Coo-ee-oh’s subjects are thus – along with Ozma and Dorothy – underwater prisoners in a submerged city in the middle of a Gillikin Country lake.
And you thought Gulcheria was bad!
Baum’s apparently endless imagination never wavered. There are many other magic-workers in his Oz books – some good, some bad. But their powers are ever-mystifying and wondrous to readers, even one hundred or more years after the fact.
So, here’s a suggestion. When this year’s trick-or-treat is over, curl up with any remaining candy, pick up one of the Oz books referenced above (or any Oz book at all, for that matter), and learn about some of L. Frank Baum’s other extraordinarily creative examples of wicked witchery.
I can promise you a happy ending!
(And if there are any plain M&Ms left over . . . . )