Polar bears in drag. Zombie birds. Pink glass dogs. Baum’s politically incorrect fairy tales have them all. Stereotypical Italian criminals aside, I enjoyed these stories of bargains gone wrong and villains reaping what they sow, with morals preaching against the seven deadly sins.
I listened to the free Librivox version expertly narrated by Matthew Reece.
★★★☆☆ The Box of Robbers
Think Pandora’s Box with the demonisation of female curiosity. Instead of plagues we have Italian robbers who once released, set about doing what they do best.
“It is rather hard to get positions in the gas office,” she said, “but you might become politicians.”
“No!” cried Beni, with sudden fierceness; “we must not abandon our high calling. Bandits we have always been, and bandits we must remain!”
Haha! Bandit is certainly a more respectable profession than politician.
★★★★★ The Glass Dog
Bargaining, how not to do it. And the downside of vanity and greed. A complex tale sparked off by a wizard’s animated pink glass dog. My favourite story.
★★★★★ The Queen of Quok
A 10-year-old boy king is forced into an arranged marriage when his royal aids auction off the title of Queen to a rich woman to fill the pockets of his greedy, spendthrift hangers-on.
“Can’t I marry a mother, instead?” asked the poor little king, who had lost his mother when a baby.
“Certainly not,” declared the counselor. “To marry a mother would be illegal; to marry a wife is right and proper.”
Aww. Poor child.
The king was so disturbed at the thought that he must marry this hideous creature that he began to wail and weep; whereupon the woman boxed his ears soundly. But the counselor reproved her for punishing her future husband in public, saying:
“You are not married yet. Wait until to-morrow, after the wedding takes place. Then you can abuse him as much as you wish. But at present we prefer to have people think this is a love match.”
A love match? Between a decrepit old woman and a 10-year-old boy? I love that this tale swaps stereotypical gender and age expectations. You’d expect an old man to marry a girl-child rather than vice versa.
My second favourite tale.
★★☆☆☆ The Girl Who Owned a Bear
Illustrations come to life and leap off the pages of a book opened by a little girl after it was given to her as a revenge gift aimed at her father. One of them, a bear, tries to eat the girl. She claims ownership of him as her name is on the book. If she owns the book, she owns the bear. This uncomfortably brought to mind the horrors of slavery.
★★★☆☆ The Enchanted Types
The slavery theme is continued here. Animal cruelty in the name of fashion. Those poor zombie birds. Interfering with alien cultural norms is tricky.
★★★★☆ The Laughing Hippopotamus
Slavery again. A man captures a young hippo prince and coerces him into accepting a bargain: release on condition of promising to return to the man when the hippo reaches adulthood, to be slaughtered or enslaved. Bondage doesn’t sit well and the slaver faces the same fate he issued to the hippo.
★★★☆☆ The Magic Bon Bons
Don’t judge someone based on transient unusual behaviour. And don’t be careless with what you value as precious.
★☆☆☆☆ The Capture of Father Time
Although I didn’t enjoy this tale of a child capturing Father Time, effectively stopping time, and then proceeding to engineer pranks for when time starts again, I can see this may have been a new concept back in 1901.
★★★☆☆ The Wonderful Pump
Everyone’s heard of the crass, ostentatious displays of New Money. By showing off you risk others stealing what you have. Be grateful for what you have and don’t be greedy for more.
★☆☆☆☆ The Dummy That Lived
A shop mannequin is brought to life at the whim of a fae and is absolutely clueless about the world and everything in it. Again, this was probably a relatively new idea at the time of publication but I didn’t enjoy it.
★★★☆☆ The King of the Polar Bears
Don’t judge polar bears dressed in drag. He’s no less a respectable polar bear for covering himself with feathers.
★★☆☆☆ The Mandarin and The Butterfly
Karma justly rewards a racist for his actions against children.