The subject of Death in Oz has attracted much attention from readers and commentators. The question inevitably turns on the inconsistent indications in the Oz books of L. Frank Baum, and to a lesser degree on materials in the books of his successors as Royal Historians.
In the early Oz books, death certainly exists. In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the Wicked Witches of the East and West are destroyed. There are fierce and dangerous Kalidahs. Dorothy's life is endangered repeatedly; the Tin Woodman beheads a wildcat (Chapter 9) and the Cowardly Lion kills a giant spider (Chapter 21).
Things change when Princess Ozma comes to rule Oz. Afterward, the full potential of Queen Lurline's enchantment, which changed Oz from an ordinary mortal realm to a fairyland, is manifested; sickness, aging, and death retreat, at least for humans and higher animals.
The crucial information is in The Emerald City of Oz, Chapter 3:
- No disease of any sort was ever known among the Ozites, and so no one ever died unless he met with an accident that prevented him from living.
The same passage concedes that there are "Wild People" and "unpleasant things" in the "remote parts of the Land of Oz." Yet most of the country is pacified, even including the kalidahs:
- The Kalidahs — beasts with bodies like bears and heads like tigers — had once been fierce and bloodthirsty, but even they were now nearly all tamed, although at times one or another of them would get cross and disagreeable.
What sort of "accident," then, could prevent someone in Oz from living? The indications are that violent death is still possible in Oz. In The Road to Oz, Chapter 17, the Tin Woodman states that "A while ago the crooked sorcerer who invented the Magic Powder fell down a precipice and was killed." In the same chapter, a blue bear chokes to death on a fishbone. In Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, Chapter 19, Eureka the kitten faces execution by beheading. In The Patchwork Girl of Oz, Chapter 20, the Yoop is caged to prevent him from eating people. (He last ate a monkey.) The enchantment of Oz does not negate the risk of pain, suffering, and violent death for its inhabitants.
The magically animated beings so common in Oz can die and kill. Still in Emerald City, Chapter 15, Dorothy and Toto confront the Spoon Brigade of Utensia. The spoons assure Dorothy that they could kill Toto with their muskets if the dog attacked them. (They have small muskets, but he's a small dog.) When they reach Bunbury (Chapter 17), Toto eats several of the residents, and Mr. Bunn threatens to bake Dorothy and her friends in "the great ovens" in retaliation.
In The Scarecrow of Oz, Chapter 10, King Phearse is entombed under heavy stones at the bottom of a pond. In this state, "he was of no more use to himself or the world than if he had died." In the same chapter of the same book, King Kynd is said to have fallen into the bottomless Great Gulf, and was "never seen again...." Pon, who relates these stories, simultaneously asserts that "it is impossible to kill anyone in this land."
It is clear that humans can endure tremendous punishment without dying. The Tin Woodman had his flesh-and-blood body entirely replaced with tin parts. More strangely, his severed body parts were reunited into another living being, and his severed head remained alive, conscious, and capable of speech — though, stored in a cupboard, he-or-it has very little to say. (The Tin Woodman of Oz)
In The Magic of Oz, Chapter 9, Trot and Cap'n Bill are menaced by a kalidah with apparent murderous intent, which could certainly meet the "cross and disagreeable" description. Cap'n Bill states that "no living thing in Oz can be killed," but Trot recognizes that they can "get hurt" by an attacking kalidah. The emotional import of the episode is that a kalidah attack is a very bad thing. (Baum is not clear on how the predatory animals in the forests of Oz, the kalidahs and others, eat and survive.) When Trot and the Cap'n are trapped on the Magic Isle in the same book, they start to shrink; if they are not rescued, they will "finally disappear entirely" (Chapter 15). It is not clear how this will differ from death. And "Even Ozma is not sure" that people from the outside world, like Dorothy and the Wizard, "will live forever or cannot be injured" (Chapter 7).
In Glinda of Oz, the sorceress wonders about Dorothy's safety, speculating that the girl could "be cut to pieces, and the pieces, while still alive and free from pain, could be widely scattered; or she might be buried deep underground, or 'destroyed' in other ways by evil magicians, were she not properly protected" (Chapter 1). So even the leading authority figures like Glinda and Ozma are not entirely certain of the rules; and grand statements and blanket generalities cannot always be trusted, in Oz as in our world.
In the Land of Mo, a neighbor of Oz, similar conditions prevail: "No one ever dies in this Valley, and the people are always young and beautiful." Yet "wild and ferocious beasts may be killed in Mo" and fish can be caught. (The Magical Monarch of Mo, pp. 7, 118, 215.)
In her books, Ruth Plumly Thompson maintains the same assertion, that no one can die in Oz; and she presents inconsistencies similar to those of Baum's. At the end of Kabumpo in Oz, the evil magician Glegg is exploded, leaving only black soot — which sounds like it could be almost fatal.
In The Giant Horse of Oz, King Cheeriobed states that "We who are magically constructed can be destroyed without pain, but a mortal can be hurt..." (Chapter 2) — which confuses the issue even more. At the end of that book, the Wizard of Oz announces his discovery that Mombi had "utterly destroyed" King Cheeriobed's father, so that nothing of him is left (Chapter 20).
When Realbad beheads a Snoctorotomus, Thompson suggests that the monster might re-integrate and return to life (Ojo in Oz). Elsewhere, even cutting an animal in half is not enough to kill it (The Cowardly Lion of Oz).
At the beginning The Lost King of Oz, the goose Pajuka (actually an enchanted human) is about to be slaughtered and cooked for dinner. Animals in other Thompson books are hunted, killed, and eaten — which would certainly constitute an "accident" that would keep one from living.
[Baum had a great inspiration that avoided such difficulties, in growing food on trees — the Lunch-Box Tree and Dinner-Pail Tree in Ozma of Oz, the bread tree in The Patchwork Girl of Oz, etc. In Tik-Tok of Oz, Oogaboo has trees that grow sundaes and ice cream cones, cheese and eggs, candy and cake and sandwiches — and ham. If your dinner grows on a tree, you don't need to slaughter an animal. And if meat grows on trees, carnivores like kalidahs could feed without predation. Yet neither Baum nor Thompson applied this concept as thoroughly and consistently as they might have done. It pops up occasionally: "Maybe there's a roast beef bush around here somewhere," says the Hungry Tiger at one point. (The Hungry Tiger of Oz)]