"The Tiger's Eye: A Jungle Fairy Tale" is a short story by L. Frank Baum. It was written along with Baum's Animal Fairy Tales, and was intended as the concluding story in that collection. It remained unpublished in its own era, but has attracted significant attention since its belated first appearance in print, in 1962.
The opening line sets both the scene and the tone of the piece:
- "This is a fairy tale of Pocofo, which is an island of the South Seas, where the people are black and have never heard of telephones or chocolate caramels."
Pocofo is a harsh environment; half the island is dense jungle, where the animals devour each other when they can't catch human prey, and the other half is occupied by human tribes, who fight each other when they are not hunting the animals. Into this grim scene of "strong men and women and fierce beasts," a one-eyed tiger cub is born. His parents mourn his handicap, since it means that he will probably not survive for long. Searching for help for their baby, the tiger parents visit Nog the Magic-Maker for a second eye for their child. Nog "carelessly" lets slip the fact that the only way he can supply a living eye to the cub is to transform himself into it. The tiger parents quickly insist that Nog do just that, or be torn to shreds. Nog is forced to comply; but his resentment and anger make the resulting eye an organ of malevolence.
Equipped with his new eye, the tiger cub is uncontrollably ferocious, attacking and killing creatures twice his size; worse yet, he violates the prime law of the jungle, and kills not just for the food he needs but for the pleasures of bloodlust. The other animals band together to drive the young tiger out of the jungle and into the opposite half of the island. Now fully grown, the tiger carries out the same depredations on the human villagers there.
Titicontoo is a chieftain's son, a cheerful and happy boy beloved by all, "a pretty child, with sparkling brown eyes and soft hair...." When the tiger attacks his home, the boy defends his mother and kills the tiger with his spear — but not before the tiger slashes his face and gouges out his left eye. The Magic-Maker, still transformed, recognizes his opportunity, and pops out of the tiger's skull and into Titicontoo's vacant eye socket. The magic eye restores the boy's sight, and turns him into a fierce warrior. He rescues his people from an attacking tribe; but his character is warped by the eye's influence. Titicontoo realizes that he is becoming a brutal and evil man, hated and feared by those who used to love him. Rather than suffer that fate, he plucks the evil eye out of his head. With the loss of the eye, he regains his normal good nature and the love and respect of his people.
The eye still lives. Titicontoo tries to burn it up, but the fire has no effect. He shoots the eye into the jungle on an arrow; the arrow happens to strike a deer. The deer loses an eye in the accident, and Nog transfers again to a new host. The deer becomes a ferocious killer, totally against its nature; and while it is drinking at a stream, the evil eye leaps out into the water. Nog knows that once he has passed through fire and water, the transformation is cancelled; he returns to human form. The father tiger happens to be nearby, though, and blames the magician for the death of his son. Nog races for the safety of his enchanted hut, the tiger close behind. The man loses the race; the tiger wins.
For a comparable affirmative portrayal of South Sea islanders, see Baum's Sam Steele's Adventures on Land and Sea.
In his private correspondence, Baum indicated that this story was intended as the conclusion to the Animal Fairy Tales. "The Tiger's Eye" was not printed in The Delineator along with the other tales, "probably because it was considered too frightening for small children." The story was "Perhaps...too strong meat for the taste of its day...." It was not published until it appeared in the special Baum issue of The American Book Collector of December 1962.
For a similar case, of a dark animal fable by Baum that was never printed in his time, see "The Diamondback."
- ↑ Katharine M. Rogers, L. Frank Baum, Creator of Oz: A Biography, New York, St. Martin's Press, 2002; p. 134.
- ↑ Frank Joslyn Baum and Russell P. MacFall, To Please a Child: A Biography of L. Frank Baum, Royal Historian of Oz, Chicago, Reilly & Lee, 1962; p. 223.
- ↑ Rogers, p. 134.
- ↑ Richard Tuerk, Oz in Perspective: Magic and Myth in the L. Frank Baum Books, Jefferson, NC, McFarland, 2007; p. 210.