Excerpt: The Scarecrow of Oz
It amazes me when I go back and re-read L. Frank Baum’s Oz series as to just how contemporary it seems at times. Take this excerpt from The Scarecrow of Oz, first published in 1915. There is a character called the Pessim who would fit right into some of the online forums I’ve seen. You may be surprised that the main characters in the excerpt aren’t Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman, and the Cowardly Lion. This is another place where Baum was contemporary: it’s a crossover. Baum wanted to stop writing the Oz stories, and made a couple of attempts to do so. Trot and Cap’n Bill had already been in two novels by this point, but hey, putting them into your most popular series couldn’t hurt, right? I hope you enjoy this: if you do, you can read the whole book for free:
If you are willing to spend ninety-nine cents, though, you can get the “famous fourteen” L. Frank Baum Oz books, plus the first of the Ruth Plumly Thompson ones:
The Little Old Man of the Island
A few steps brought them to the shed, which was merely a roof of boughs built over a square space, with some branches of trees fastened to the sides to keep off the wind. The front was quite open and faced the sea, and as our friends came nearer they observed a little man, with a long pointed beard, sitting motionless on a stool and staring thoughtfully out over the water.
“Get out of the way, please,” he called in a fretful voice. “Can’t you see you are obstructing my view?”
“Good morning,” said Cap’n Bill, politely.
“It isn’t a good morning!” snapped the little man. “I’ve seen plenty of mornings better than this. Do you call it a good morning when I’m pestered with such a crowd as you?”
Trot was astonished to hear such words from a stranger whom they had greeted quite properly, and Cap’n Bill grew red at the little man’s rudeness. But the sailor said, in a quiet tone of voice:
“Are you the only one as lives on this ‘ere island?”
“Your grammar’s bad,” was the reply. “But this is my own exclusive island, and I’ll thank you to get off it as soon as possible.”
“We’d like to do that,” said Trot, and then she and Cap’n Bill turned away and walked down to the shore, to see if any other land was in sight.
The little man rose and followed them, although both were now too provoked to pay any attention to him.
“Nothin’ in sight, partner,” reported Cap’n Bill, shading his eyes with his hand; “so we’ll have to stay here for a time, anyhow. It isn’t a bad place, Trot, by any means.”
“That’s all you know about it!” broke in the little man. “The trees are altogether too green and the rocks are harder than they ought to be. I find the sand very grainy and the water dreadfully wet. Every breeze makes a draught and the sun shines in the daytime, when there’s no need of it, and disappears just as soon as it begins to get dark. If you remain here you’ll find the island very unsatisfactory.”
Trot turned to look at him, and her sweet face was grave and curious.
“I wonder who you are,” she said.
“My name is Pessim,” said he, with an air of pride. “I’m called the Observer.”
“Oh. What do you observe?” asked the little girl.
“Everything I see,” was the reply, in a more surly tone. Then Pessim drew back with a startled exclamation and looked at some footprints in the sand. “Why, good gracious me!” he cried in distress.
“What’s the matter now?” asked Cap’n Bill.
“Someone has pushed the earth in! Don’t you see it?
“It isn’t pushed in far enough to hurt anything,” said Trot, examining the footprints.
“Everything hurts that isn’t right,” insisted the man. “If the earth were pushed in a mile, it would be a great calamity, wouldn’t it?”
“I s’pose so,” admitted the little girl.
“Well, here it is pushed in a full inch! That’s a twelfth of a foot, or a little more than a millionth part of a mile. Therefore it is one-millionth part of a calamity—Oh, dear! How dreadful!” said Pessim in a wailing voice.
“Try to forget it, sir,” advised Cap’n Bill, soothingly. “It’s beginning to rain. Let’s get under your shed and keep dry.”
“Raining! Is it really raining?” asked Pessim, beginning to weep.
“It is,” answered Cap’n Bill, as the drops began to descend, “and I don’t see any way to stop it—although I’m some observer myself.”
“No; we can’t stop it, I fear,” said the man. “Are you very busy just now?”
“I won’t be after I get to the shed,” replied the sailor-man.
“Then do me a favor, please,” begged Pessim, walking briskly along behind them, for they were hastening to the shed.
“Depends on what it is,” said Cap’n Bill.
“I wish you would take my umbrella down to the shore and hold it over the poor fishes till it stops raining. I’m afraid they’ll get wet,” said Pessim.
Trot laughed, but Cap’n Bill thought the little man was poking fun at him and so he scowled upon Pessim in a way that showed he was angry.
The Scarecrow of Oz by L. Frank Baum was originally published in the USA in 1915, and is in the public domain in that country. This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.