Thursday, October 01, 2009

“of no earthly account in this world”

I remember crying when my mother tried to coach me in reciting the times tables. You know, 8 times 8 is 64, 6 times 7 is … uh … 42? 42, the answer to the question, Life, the Universe and Everything. That number keeps popping up. It is the right one, isn’t it? I barely know. The times tables just seemed a torture device to me, utterly without meaning. I wasn’t any good at them. Maybe if someone had invented a song, like the Schoolhouse Rock “Three is a Magic Number.” I loved the chanting of the 3-6-9, 12-15-18, etc. But I still couldn’t get down the times table part of the song, “Three times eight is …” That would be 24? See, I gotta think about it. I’ve never memorized it.

Last week I got the latest issue of the International Wizard of Oz Club’s magazine, The Baum Bugle. In it there’s an article comparing two books that appeared around the turn of the twentieth century, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the long-assumed total knock-off, Zauberlinda, the Wise Witch. In both books a little American prairie girl, an only child, goes on an adventure in fairy land. The illustrations and the book design for Zauberlinda are clearly pastiche of The Wizard of Oz, as Annie sometimes looks like a virtual clone of W. W. Denslow’s version of Dorothy.

I had never heard of Zauberlinda when I first joined the Oz club but (to my confusion) it kept showing up at the Oz convention auction and selling for more than I cared to pay for some actual Oz books. I’ve flipped through it but never felt much urge to own it. Or read it, frankly. But I was intrigued by Phyllis Ann Karr’s compare/contrast essay and the notes to the article indicate the availability of Zauberlinda via Google Books. So I bopped on over to Google Books and called her up. And started reading.

As Phyllis Ann Karr puts it: “[P]erhaps the first difference we notice [between the texts of Zauberlinda, the Wise Witch and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz] is that, whereas Baum plunges his heroine into her adventures within the first few pages and finishes off with a three-paragraph homecoming, [Zauberlinda’s author, Eva Katharine] Gibson devotes the first eighty of her two hundred fifty-five pages to Annie’s home life …”

Indeed. I wouldn’t have liked it as a kid. In fact, I came upon a scene that would have given me the shivers. Annie’s aunt writes from the big city. “The grandmother would read these letters to Annie. … Aunt Molly used to write of what Lizzie May, Annie’s six-year-old cousin, was learning at kindergarten … Nearly always after reading one of these letters, Annie’s grandmother would push her spectacles back upon her forehead, smooth down her apron, and, looking very solemn, call the little girl to her. … The grandmother would say, ‘Annie, it is high time you were learning something. Now tell me, child, how much six times four is.’” When Annie didn’t give the right number, “if her father was sitting by, he would laugh at her and grandmother would say, ‘Oh, Annie, can’t you answer such a simple question as that?’ And Annie, in her mind, would repeat over nearly all the numbers in that old multiplication table, but somehow always seem to hit upon just the wrong answer … Then grandmother would sigh, shake her head sadly and say, ‘It’s no use, John, that child’ll never know anything until she is sent to school …’ Annie would step softly out of the room, feeling very crushed and foolish, and just of no earthly account in this world.”

No comments: