Thursday, October 03, 2013

Podkayne on Oz

I'd heard that Robert Heinlein was an Oz fan but it still surprised me when I came across such an extended take on that fairyland as this passage in Heinlein's novel Podkayne of Mars:

It occurs to me that my most vivid conceptions of Earth come from the Oz series - and when you come right down to it, I suppose that isn't too reliable a source. I mean, Dorothy's conversations with the Wizard are instructive - but about what? When I was a child I believed every word of my Oz tapes; but now I am no longer a child and I do not truly suppose that a whirlwind is a reliable means of transportation, nor that one is likely to encounter a Tin Woodman on a road of yellow brick.

Tik-Tok, yes - because we have Tik-Toks in Marsopolis for the simpler and more tedious work. Not precisely like Tik-Tok of Oz, of course, and not called "Tik-Toks" by anyone but children, but near enough, near enough, quite sufficient to show that the Oz stories are founded on fact if not precisely historical.

And I believe in the Hungry Tiger, too, in the most practical way possible, because there was one in the municipal zoo when I was a child … It had always looked at me as if it were sizing me up as an appetizer.

Heinlein writes in the voice of Podkayne, a teenage girl, born and raised on Mars, as she is looking forward to her first visit to the planet Earth.

The Oz books are still doing just fine, 50 years after Robert Heinlein wrote those words. The other day I saw two girls at the library where I work, checking out Oz books. "Good choice," I almost said.

Heinlein's book reads well, too. I would recommend it. In one scene, presciently, a character telephones another, then pockets his phone, while in a later scene Poddy's younger brother resorts to a slide rule to make orbital calculations. A pocket-sized phone but not a pocket-sized calculator? Well, I guess the pocket-sized phone suggests Podkayne of Mars is "founded on fact," while the persistence of the slide rule suggests it is "not precisely historical."

Classic science fiction tends to have the sexual politics of 1950s America - something that rather puts me off. Podkayne expects to be a professional, like her mother, but by the end the novel has cast some aspersions on that choice for a woman. The book is not an anti-career woman screed, and I found Podkayne a convincing version of teenage girl, from her ambitions to her doubts to her chatty storytelling, but Heinlein ends up just shy of sounding feminist.

Before I wrap this up I want to highlight one other Oz mention. In a scene set on Venus Podkayne is exhilarated at being courted by a rich local: "I felt like Ozma just after she stops being Tip and is Ozma again."

That's a provocative (sexual) transformation to refer to.


David Lee Ingersoll said...

Apparently the characters in The Number of the Beast actually visit Oz when they are touring alternate worlds. I've never read the book so I can't comment on Heinlein's portrayal of the place.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

I've had Number of the Beast on my shelf for years, largely because of the Oz connection. I've heard mixed things about the book - about Heinlein in general. The two Heinlein novels I've read so far I have enjoyed. Though I recognize there are rightwingy elements, what I've read so far is fun and doesn't read as propaganda. There are plenty of things to read; I avoid bad writing much as I can.