Geek Girls Rule! #267 – What Books Kept You Sane as a Kid/Teenager?
Well, so much for posting every week. Guess who caught the Death Flu last week and spent most of it sleeping in a NyQuil coma?
Yes, me. Incredibly, incredibly sick. It was awful. I’m still not completely over it, but I’m giving it a shot.
So, part of what I do when I’m sick is I comfort read. I have several authors, series that I read when I get sick, or depressed, Anne McCaffrey’s Harper Hall / Dragonriders books, Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who books. This time I started re-reading Eric Fllint’s 1632 (Ring of Fire) stuff. But I recently read a post by Seanan McGuire about the books that saved her life as a teenager. And then I read Laura Miller’s post, an excerpt from a larger book about coming back to the Narnia books after feeling betrayed by the Christian themes when she realized them as a young atheist, and rediscovering how much they’d meant to her and shaped her.
Both of those posts made me think about the first series of books I read over and over and over: The Wizard of Oz. The Wizard of Oz books had strong, well-rounded female characters who were unafraid, who explored and who had agency over their lives. Dorothy, the main character of most of the books remains cheerful in adversity, she eagerly explores Oz, helps others and befriends them. The other main characters are primarily women as well, Ozma who starts her story as a boy but is revealed by the end of the book to be the Lost Princess of Oz, Glinda the Good Witch, Betsy, Trot, Billina the Chicken, the Patchwork Girl, Polychrome the Rainbow’s Daughter. And they are all self sufficient, brave and capable of taking care of themselves against an array of villains that are, yes, frequently also women like the Wicked Witch of the West, Old Mombi and the Princess with 30 heads, although male villains do occasionally occur, like the Gnome King.
Many of the faults usually ascribed to female characters in popular media are represented in male characters like the Cowardly Lion (fear), the Scarecrow (stupidity) and the Tinman (being overly tender and emotional). Not to mention Button Bright, who appears in later books, who embodies forgetfulness and is constantly lost. As well as the Glass Cat, the male embodiment of vanity.
Reading these books made me desperately want to become a Princess of Oz. They made me want to explore, climb trees, right wrongs. I wrote fanfic about Oz long before I knew what fanfic was. These books showed me female characters with agency, with no romance or love interests to clutter things up, although Betsy and Polychrome, I believe, did help Ozga the Rose Princess find a prince. But it was only a minor plot in the over-arching scheme of things. I mean, even my beloved Trixie Belden had a crush on Jim, tomboy that she was.
One of the reasons that I had a problem with the movie Return to Oz, was that by framing it with Dorothy having mental health issues (melancholia, which she never has in the books), cast aspersions on the reality of Oz. That and I was sadly disappointed with the Gnome King in that film. Ruggedo is supposed to be a round, roly poly gnome with a long beard and a jeweled belt. The actual reason Dorothy winds up in Oz in the book is that she is traveling to Australia with Uncle Henry by boat, and is washed overboard in a storm while trying to make sure Uncle Henry is safe. Also, Oz is not destroyed, Dorothy washes up in the Land of Ev, which touches on the Deadly Desert that surrounds Oz, she has to outwit the Wheelers, finds TikTok, escape the Queen of Ev, and has to outwit the Gnome King to restore the rightful ruling family of Ev to find her way to Oz.
And honestly, even as much as I do love The MGM Wizard of Oz movie, Judy Garland’s Dorothy is pretty whiny and insipid compared to the Dorothy of the books who is brave and self-sufficient.
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