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|Written by||L. Frank Baum|
|Illustrator||Maginel Wright Enright|
|Publisher||Reilly & Britton|
Policeman Bluejay is a fantasy novella written by L. Frank Baum, illustrated by Maginel Wright Enright, and first published in 1907. It is widely considered one of Baum's finest achievements in fantasy, outside of Oz books.
The book is a sequel to Baum's The Twinkle Tales of the previous year, specifically a follow-up to one of those stories, "Bandit Jim Crow." Like the Tales, it was released under the pseudonym "Laura Bancroft." And like its progenitor tale, Policeman Bluejay was a popular success. A second edition appeared in 1911 under the alternative title Babes in Birdland. The third edition of 1917 kept the new title, but dropped the pen name and acknowledged Baum as the author.
Twinkle and Chubbins, the girl and boy protagonists of the Tales, have gone out to enjoy a picnic, but have gotten themselves lost in a "great forest." They encounter a malevolent magical being called a tuxix. Like the witch in a traditional fairy tale, the tuxix at first tries to entice the children; but the kids are wary, and are warned by a friendly bird overhead. The enraged tuxix then casts a spell on the children, transforming them into little bird-like beings, with their own heads but the bodies and limbs of skylarks. Policeman Bluejay, the force for order in the avian world of the forest, leads the two child-larks on a flight through the sky, and finds them shelter in an abandoned thrush's nest in a maple tree. With the help of a friendly eagle he retrieves their picnic basket (so that they don't have to eat bugs, worms, and grubs).
Twinkle and Chubbins learn of their new maple-tree neighbors, a squirrel, an owl, and an o'possum; and Policeman Bluejay introduces them to the community of birds. The children see that the world of living beings in the forest has structure, relationships, and conflict. They hear stories of human cruelty to animals — and soon they witness it firsthand, when hunters enter the woods. The hunters kill Mrs. Possum and Mrs. Hootaway and Whisk the squirrel; Twinkle tries to protest, but she can only emit a skylark's chirp. The hunter's dog almost catches Twinkle — but she and Chubbins are rescued by their friend the eagle, who swoops down, kills the dog, and leads them to safety.
Or relative safety, at least: the eagle takes the two lark-children up to his eyrie, where his hungry hatchlings want to eat them for breakfast. (Baum acknowledges that animals have to prey upon each other to survive. Yet he maintains that "love" is the grand law of the forest.) Policeman Bluejay escorts the children to a safer location. Soon he takes them to the Paradise of Birds, where the contentions and violence of the forest never penetrate. The children are given a tour of its splendors, and meet the King Bird of Paradise. In the "suburbs" of the Paradise, the child-larks are introduced to the community of bees, and meet the Queen Bee; and they witness a spectacular flight of butterflies.
Beyond the Paradise, in "the coarse, outer world," there is trouble in birdland: Policeman Bluejay must cope with a rebellion among the rooks, who want to make the other birds their slaves. By uniting, the smaller birds beat the rooks in a battle.
The King Bird of Paradise and his Royal Necromancer have told the children that they can restore themselves to human form by eating a fruit called "tingle-berries." They do so, and return to their normal bodies — though Chubbins almost gets stuck halfway. Their adventure done, the children make their way home in the waning light of evening.
The Paradise of Birds
Baum enriches Policeman Bluejay with realistic details of the natural world. Yet Baum was not a naturalist but a fantasist, and the seven chapters (XII – XVIII) that he devotes to the Paradise of Birds form the heart of the fantasy. The author restricts himself to simple language for his young audience; yet within this simplicity he paints a lush, lustrous, luxuriant prose poem of imaginative effects.
Policeman Bluejay delivers his young charges to the Guardian of the Entrance to Paradise. (The Jay himself is too deeply tainted by the outer world to enter.) The Guardian accepts them and turns them over to Ephel, the Royal Messenger, who guides them on their tour. Ephel brings them to the royal court of the King Bird of Paradise; the King's lecture on the virtue of vanity is the comic high point of the book. Ephel shows the children the Lustrous Lake, the Lake of Dry Water, and the Gleaming Glade.
Since these are "fairy Birds of Paradise," they occupy their own domain of reality, so that the reader does not need to confront the contradiction of actual Birds of Paradise from New Guinea in an actual American woodland.
Baum wrote a preface to his story, in which he makes his moral clear and unambiguous. He notes that along with the "amusement" the novel provides, he hoped it would inspire "a little tenderness for the helpless birds and animals" his young readers encountered in their lives. Baum recalled from his own childhood, and observed in his own sons, how harsh children can be to vulnerable animals.
Policeman Bluejay participates in a deep tradition of literature and storytelling, folklore and myth, that employs animal societies, especially birds and bees, as metaphor for the human condition. Chaucer's The Parliament of Fowls is the most famous of a class of Medieval and Renaissance "bird parliament" works. John Day's The Parliament of Bees is arguably the best-known of a set of related works. One distinction: writers like Chaucer and Day were primarily interested in commenting on human society, while for Baum, the welfare of animals is a more central concern.
Policeman Bluejay was reprinted in a facsimile edition in 1981. It also appeared in Oz-story Magazine No. 2 in 1996. A new edition in 2005 united all the "Laura Bancroft" material, The Twinkle Tales and the novel, in one volume.