“THE MOST POPULAR MAN IN ALL THE LAND OF OZ!”
By John Fricke
This month’s blog comes as an homage to my favorite of all the characters in the forty Oz books. He’s the L. Frank Baum creation whose brain power (before AND after he met THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ in the story of that title) was a savior in many an adventuresome situation – and who has delighted millions of children of all ages with his humor, loyalty, devotion, affection, perspicacity, perseverance, and joyous optimism. (The last of these in spite of the occasional lighted match, waterfall dousing, river submersion, Yookoohoo enchantment, Nome King transformation, and etc.)
The picture above betrays any attempts at journalistic coyness; suffice it to say that, from my first reading of an Oz book (on my sixth birthday), I always anticipated an appearance by – and, hopefully, the ongoing plot involvement of – my buddy, the Scarecrow! Our initial encounter actually came a month earlier, when I saw his incarnation by Ray Bolger in the premier national telecast of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1939 movie musical, THE WIZARD OF OZ. I loved him then, certainly, but as that film was my preliminary meeting with ALL Things Oz, my overall reaction was a generic one: I loved everyone and everything. Well, excepting maybe the Winged Monkeys – and also acknowledging there’s no question that it was Judy Garland who made THE most extraordinary, wondrous, and life-changing impact on me on that evening of November 3, 1956.
But when I read an abridgment of Baum’s THE WIZARD OF OZ a few weeks later – and his complete text within a few months – I was happy to discover that the Winged Monkeys turned out to be “good guys” after all. (It was only the evil control manifested by the Wicked Witch of the West that compelled the simians to capture Dorothy and Toto.) And both volumes led to my instantaneous veneration of the demonstrative, loving, crinkly, crunkly, and eminently embraceable Scarecrow.
Of course, the complete Baum text depicted all three of Dorothy’s traveling companions as outstanding, caring individuals. But the Scarecrow’s devotion somehow stood out: the manner in which he painstakingly collected nuts for her to eat when she ran out of bread-and-butter; the way he covered her with dry leaves so that she’d keep warm while sleeping outdoors in the Great Forest. It was his thought processes that led to the means by which Dorothy & Company escaped the fearsome Kalidahs – and then crossed the river that separated the Munchkin Country from the area surrounding the Emerald City.
All of that, mind you, in just the first seven chapters of their escapades together!
In brief, that brainless (not!) individual totally won my heart. When I accessed Baum’s second book, THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ, I encountered the Scarecrow as the ruler of the entire country – wiser, funnier, and more unique than ever. Then, as a prominent presence in OZMA OF OZ (book number three), he was quite naturally a member of the rescue party that left Oz for the Dominion of the Nomes; they were off to attempt the rescue of the Queen of Ev and her children from underground captivity at the hands of the Nome King.
Two moments in OZMA OF OZ further solidified my adulation of the Scarecrow. In an emotional highlight early on, Baum saw to it that the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion were unexpectedly reunited with Dorothy for the first time since her initial visit to Oz. The author at that moment gives full satisfaction to his readers – especially, for me, in his descriptive sentence: “The first thing Dorothy did was to rush into the embrace of the Scarecrow, whose painted face beamed with delight as he pressed her form to his straw-padded bosom.” Plot-wise, it was also the Scarecrow who later on did the “poison egg” toss that soaked the face of the dreadful Nome King — just long enough for Dorothy to undo and retrieve the Magic Belt from around the Metal Monarch’s waist. (She is thus able to add that enchanted girdle, forever after, to the treasures of Oz.)
As a result, my youthful admiration for the Scarecrow continued to grow, even though Baum only tangentially included him in the next two books, DOROTHY AND THE WIZARD IN OZ and THE ROAD TO OZ. He doesn’t turn up until chapter twenty-five in book six – THE EMERALD CITY OF OZ — yet he is more than pivotal to the plot. Across the next nineteen pages, he manages (via his excellent brains) to come up with an idea to save Dorothy, Ozma, and the entire Ozian citizenry and landscape from enslavement and devastation by a massive army of evil.
By now, you get the idea: The Scarecrow is either a principal character, member of the supporting cast, or one of the classic, classy Ozzy background ensemble throughout the Oz series. Baum’s ninth full-length endeavor provided the strawman with his own volume, THE SCARECROW OF OZ; true to tradition, the “most popular man in all the Land of Oz” (see below) manages to overcome every challenge as he saves three traveling Americans, defeats Blinkie the Wicked Witch, deposes the despised King Krewl from command of Jinxland, and places Princess Gloria — the rightful ruler – on the throne in his place.
The Scarecrow also takes part in further major endeavors in other Baum Oz books. He develops an immediate (and mutual) fascination – and funny flirtation — with THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ in the story of that title. He accompanies THE TIN WOODMAN OF OZ on an astounding journey into the past history of that soldered wonder. He’s once again among a hearty band of celebrities that embarks upon a rescue mission when Dorothy and Ozma suffer a watery imprisonment in a sunken city at the bottom of a lake in GLINDA OF OZ. (All of these Oz books – and many others – are still in print and instantaneously available from the All Things Oz Gift Shop and Museum. As you look ahead to birthdays, Easter, graduation, summer vacation reading – and etc.! — you can do no better for the young and young-at-heart than to supply them with Oz. 😊)
Meanwhile! Whenever, however, and to whatever extent he appears, the Scarecrow is always the signpost of my heart as I read (and, to this day, re-read) the Oz books. He’s my Ozian Supreme; it’s that simple.
Or, to put it another way: At the moment he actively turns up — or even when he is merely referenced — I know I’m “home” . . . befriended, safe, adored – and most definitely adoring.