L. Frank Baum's The Tin Woodman Of Oz is one of the more engaging novels in the famous series. When restless boy hero Woot The Wanderer happens upon the Tin Woodman's palace in the yellow Winkie country and learns of the emperor's origin and history, his question concerning the fate of Tin Woodman's one-time Munchkin fiancée, Nimmie Amee, spontaneously hatches a plot to discover her fate.
Joined by the Scarecrow, the three set out on a journey through the amazing and perilous kingdoms of Oz. Uninvited, the three unwisely enter a castle in the purple Gillikin country and are captured by its giant resident, Mrs. Yoop. There they find old friend Polychrome, daughter of the rainbow, already imprisoned and transformed into a canary for the sorceress's amusement. Yookoohoo sorceress Mrs. Yoop, placid and regal, is one of Baum's more terrifying villains, showing as she does an undiluted sociopathic and amoral indifference to the fates of others, who she physically manipulates to suit her fancies. Beautiful and poised, Mrs. Yoop, who lives alone in a dead valley, uses her spell-casting talents to provide herself with sustenance; water, pebbles, and bundles of weeds become coffee, 'fish-balls,' and buttered biscuits with a wave of her hand. When Mrs. Yoop tells the journeyers she is unpleased with their present forms and will transform them to her liking in the morning, the unsubtle suggestion that they may be her next meal is clear. Mrs. Yoop is not only one in a long line of fairytale cannibal giants, but her gigantism and prim, coldly polite manners make clear she is also a figurative as well as a literal devouring mother.
Archetypal motifs abound throughout, their subtexts driving the narrative and creating its sometime disturbing moods and moments. Woot magically degenerates into a green monkey, a form the text makes clear he finds atavistically embarrassing and unpleasant. In a scene fairly brazen for several reasons, agricultural demi-god the Scarecrow sacrifices his body to gain the gorge-spanning services of a straw-eating monster for his companions, only to be imperfectly 'resurrected' on the far side.
The recounting of the Tin Woodman's slow transformation from a healthy Munchkin male into a man of tin underscores the multiple amputations that necessitated the slow replacement of his human limbs with those of metal, allowing Baum free reign to discourse on the nature of identity, though the theme of violence goes undressed. The book might have been called The Tin Woodmen Of Oz, as by its second half there are two tin men, original Winkie king Nick Chopper and a second, soldier Captain Fyter, who was also once a man and became metal through exactly the same violent process. Both 'tin twins' have courted Nimmie Amee, and both been plagued by the Wicked Witch of the West in the period before Dorothy's house dropped upon her from the sky.
It's doubtful that readers of the series ever wondered whatever became of Nick Chopper's 'meat' limbs after they were severed from his body, but this volume answers that question. Together with those of Captain Fyter, the mismatched limbs have been magically glued back together to create errant oddball homunculus Chopfyt, who, perhaps not unreasonably, is aggressive and ill tempered. Where does Nick Chopper's humanity and being begin and end? The question comes in for special consideration when, revisiting his place of transformation from human to tin, he discovers his ungroomed human head alive, listless, and able to speak in a blacksmith's cabinet. Which of these creatures, if any, has a right to Nimmie Amee's hand in marriage? Has Nick, limited to a kind but not a loving heart, a right to invite her to become his bride and the Empress of the Winkies if he can only offer her dutiful companionship?
Baum was unusually sensitive to the details and nuances of his plots, but here unaccountably overlooks a change of gender. Since Mrs. Yoop's strange Yookoohoo magic cannot be changed or undone by even the most powerful forces in Oz, Ozma, the land's fairy ruler, once a boy herself, comes to the conclusion that the stalwart Woot can only regain his original young man's form if another Ozian creature agrees to take on the form of the green monkey. Since readers are led to believe that Woot as the green monkey is still a male, Baum trips himself up when a female character is tricked into assuming the monkey's form. Baum fails to acknowledge that she has not only unhappily regressed into a beast, but now also inhabits a male body.
In an interesting expository section, Oz Royal Historian Baum provides the reader with new facets of Oz's history and its magical rules and regulations. Once a part of the larger world, Oz, which has always been surrounded by an impassable desert, was enchanted by "the fairy band of Queen Lurline" sometime in the distant past. From that moment, no one has ever died or grown older in Oz. The young stay young, the old remain old. "Children remain children always, and play and romp to their hearts' content...while babies live in their cradles, are tenderly cared for and never grow up." Thus Oz is not so very different from Barrie's Never-Never Land (Oz was created roughly four years after Peter Pan debuted on the British stage), especially since children from America-and presumably other parts of Earth-occasionally find their way there. Dorothy, by the time of The Tin Woodman Of Oz a permanent Oz resident, like Peter Pan, will now never grow older, though she may evolve and mature as a personality. Like Peter Pan, she will never know puberty, sexuality, adulthood, parenthood-or death.
Always more than what they seem, the Oz books entertain, spellbind, and fascinate. The Tin Woodman Of Oz, full of eccentric undertones and undertows, tugs at its readers with its strange siren call and is certain to leave children and adult readers perplexed, questioning, somewhat wiser, and anxiously reaching for the next volume.