I used to go to the library with my mom or another neighborhood parent when I was little and I would go home with a huge pile of books to read in the next month. The only time I finished them all was the summer I was eleven and came down with the chicken pox two days after my library trip and did nothing but sleep and read for a month.
I found a lot of cool kids books at the public library. Among them, the Oz series by L. Frank Baum. Most people don’t realize that L. Frank Baum, author of the Wizard of Oz, actually wrote a whole series of books about Oz, most involving Dorothy and her friends the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion. He actually wrote a bunch of other kids books, as well, in addition to his Oz series. As I understand it—and maybe it is apocrypha—but L. Frank Baum believed that American children needed their own fairy stories, not just the one’s borrowed from European and indigenous cultures.
One of them Ozma of Oz, features one of Dorothy’s returns to land of talking animals and magical happenings. While on a ocean voyage to Australia with an ailing Uncle Henry, Dorothy washes overboard and finds herself the next day on a beach with a chicken who suddenly talks. Dorothy and Billina (a truculent chicken who used to fight with the roosters) are actually in Ev, a neighboring kingdom to Oz. It turns out the entire Ev royal family is held captive by the Nome King—the lord of the underworld—and Dorothy, Billina, Ozma (the rightful and restored ruler of Oz) and the Oz army rescue them—with the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion all officers in Oz’s Army.
It turns out the Nome King is very powerful underground, almost invincible. His one vulnerability is eggs; eggs don’t come from underground and they don’t grow in the ground, so the Nome King has no power over them. Billina lays an egg in the Nome King’s throne room (perhaps the only time in history that “laying an egg” is the key to success?), which the Scarecrow subsequently throws at the Nome King, terrorizing the monarch and scaring away his royal guard, facilitating the escape of the Ozians and the return of the Ev Royal family to their rightful throne.
Such a fragile, little thing, an egg. Terrorizing a mighty monarch, merciless and absolute.
Sometimes these days, I feel like an egg in the Land of the Nome King. One little person with my feet and my bus tickets and my bicycles. Not much to me, fragile as any other person, just me, no steel safety cage, no doors that lock. As out of place as an egg underground in an area where less than ten percent of households live carless. Ozma of Oz was first published in 1907, back then a lot of Americans would have seen a car, but probably not ridden in one. Most middle class people would have known how to ride a bicycle, even if they didn’t own one.
I don’t consider myself poisonous, and for all his histrionics, the Nome King does survive the Scarecrow’s egg assault, so perhaps eggs were not the threat he believed them to be. Isn’t that often the way of things? Legend and rumor and myth and fear often are stories for children, and the Boogie monsters of our childhoods—Nomes or eggs—are often harmless, the danger in our hearts and minds only.
There were so many awesome books in the public library when I was a kid. All kind of books that I never found in the book stores, a lot of them older, like the Oz stories, or somehow obscure—local and regional authors, lesser known books by authors who had hit it big with a title or two, later volumes in series that I hadn’t even realized were series, like the Oz books. I wonder if the collections librarian from the Brown County Public Library back in the day is still alive? Either way, thanks, you certainly got me reading a bunch of stuff that I never would have found in book stores.
It’s probably one of those introverted/intellectual kid (adult?) things to be fascinated by libraries and book stores, a little slice of adventure and exotic lands right in your own town. A lot of people think it’s weird to have your nose in book. Books are written by people, authors, and intended or not, they tell us things—about people and places, offer advice and warnings—folk tales, parables.
Today we have generation of new American fairy tales—from Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, to the Baby Sitters Club and Captain Underpants, and beyond. A new set of lessons? Or maybe just an afternoon of fun. 🙂