I’ve Just Finished Reading: The Patchwork Girl by Frank L Baum

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This is an unusual entry in this series of posts I’ll admit. For bedtime stories, we’ve been working our way through the Wizard of Oz books. There’s 14 in all and I’ll confess,  reading them from an adult’s perspective is an interesting experience.

In this, the 7th book, we possibly have a darker explanation for the presence of all these weird and wonderful inhabitants of Oz. The little group of adventurers are on a quest to find ingredients for a potion to break a curse. One of the ingredients is water from a dark well. They eventually find it in a mountain after meeting the inhabitants (Horners).

The Patchwork Girl (Scraps) goes into one of the houses  and the description is horrifying…

So Scraps accompanied him along the street to a house that seemed on the outside exceptionally grimy and dingy. The streets of this city were not paved nor had any attempt been made to beautify the houses or their surroundings, and having noticed this,  Scraps was astonished when the chief ushered her into his home.

The room was of dazzling brilliance and beauty, for it was lined throughout with an exquisite metal that resembled translucent frosted silver. The surface of this metal was highly ornamented…from the metal itself was radiated the soft light which flooded the room. All the furniture was made of the same glorious metal, and Scraps asked what it was.

“That’s Radium,” answered the chef. “We Horners spend all our time digging radium from the mines under this mountain and we use it to decorate our homes and make them pretty and cosy. It is a medicine too, and no one can ever be sick who lives near radium.”

Later on,  Dorothy,  Scraps and the others go further down in the mountain, into one of the many radium mines to collect radioactive water,  from a well,  in a radium mine. They then take it to the Emerald City.

This was written in 1913 – just 3 years after Marie Curie isolated the radium in it’s metallic state. At the time of writing,  radium was almost regarded to be a “magic” element and was used in toothpastes,  face and hand creams,  medicines, glow in the dark paints etc. So it was not surprising that Baum included it.

But now we know that Oz contains a huge mountain filled with radium/uranium, it makes you read the Oz books in a whole new light. While the books were dark to begin with, this makes them darker still.

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