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The Woggle-Bug Book

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The Woggle-Bug Book
Written by  L. Frank Baum
Illustrator  Ike Morgan
Published  1905
Publisher  Reilly & Britton

The Woggle-Bug Book is a 1905 children's book, written by L. Frank Baum and illustrated by Ike Morgan. It grew out of the Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz comic strip of 1904-5. It is generally not considered part of the Oz canon. The Woggle-Bug was the star of the OZ Books.

The project

The Queer Visitors comic was designed to promote Baum's second Oz book, The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904). The comic strip, written by Baum and illustrated by Walt McDougall, bought Oz characters — the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, Sawhorse, Gump, Jack Pumpkinhead, and the Wogglebug — to the United States for various humorous adventures. The Woggle-Bug Book employs the same concept: the Bug is shown maladjusted to life in an unnamed American city.

The book had an additional purpose: to help publicize and promote Baum's "musical extravaganza" The Woggle-Bug that was being mounted that year. The character of the Wogglebug was popular at the time, and became something of a national fad: there were Wogglebug postcards and buttons, a Wogglebug song, and a Wogglebug game from Parker Brothers. (The stage musical, however, was not a success, and closed after a few weeks.) In 1906, there was even a race car called the "Woggle-bug" from the Stanley Steamer company; it crashed in 1907.

The Baum/Morgan book was issued in a large format, eleven by fifteen inches; it was printed in bright colors and lushly illustrated, with pictures and text alternating on recto and verso pages.

The plot

The Woggle-Bug Book features the broad ethnic humor that was accepted and popular in its era, and which Baum employed in several of his works — but which is appropriately rejected today.

The Wogglebug, who favors flashy clothes with bright colors (he dresses in "gorgeous reds and yellows and blues and greens" and carries a pink handkerchief), falls in love with a gaudy "Wagnerian plaid" dress that he sees on a mannequin in a department store window. Being a wogglebug, he has trouble differentiating between the dress and its wearers, wax or human. The dress is on sale (for $7.93, "GREATLY REDUCED"). The Bug works for two days as a ditchdigger, to earn money to buy the dress. (He makes double pay, since he digs with four arms instead of the usual two.)

He arrives too late, though: the dress has been sold, and passes from one owner to another in the second-hand clothing markets. The Bug pursues his love through the town, ineptly courting its wearers (Irish, Swedish, and African-American women, plus one Chinese man). His pursuit eventually leads him to an accidental balloon flight to Africa. There, menacing Arabs want to kill the Bug, but he convinces them that his death would bring them bad luck. In the jungle, he falls in with the talking animals that are the hallmark of Baum's imaginative world.

In the end, the Bug makes his way back to the city, with a necktie made from the dress's loud fabric. He wisely reconciles himself to his fate:

"After all, this necktie is my love — and my love is now mine forevermore! Why should I not be happy and content?"

The plot exploits elements that occur in other Baum works. An accidental balloon flight took the Wizard to Oz in Baum's most famous work; hostile Arabs are a feature of John Dough and the Cherub (1906).

The humor

The book's ethnic humor, crude by modern standards, is counterbalanced by zany absurdities:

Now the greatest aversion the Arabs have is to be chewed by a crocodile, because these people usually roam over the sands of the desert, where to meet an amphibian is simply horrible....

In Africa the Bug meets a charming Miss Chimpanzee who guides him through the intricacies of jungle life. Miss Chim has a low opinion of human beings:

"Those horrid things they call men, whether black or white, seem to me the lowest of all created beasts."
"I have seen them in a highly civilized state," replied the Woggle-Bug, "and they're really further advanced than you might suppose."

The Bug has his fortune told by a hippopotamus:

"You think you have won," continued the Hip; "but there are others who have 1, 2. You have many heart throbs before you, during your future life. Afterward I see no heart throbs whatever. Forty cents, please."

The king of this jungle is not a lion but a weasel, who rejects flattery and accepts only insults and face slaps. His kingdom is guarded by bears with guns, who form a "bearier" or "bearicade." They "oblige all strangers to paws."

Later editions

The book was popular in its initial run, going through at least four printings. It faded quickly, though, with the passing of the Wogglebug craze. After decades out of print, the text of The Woggle-Bug Book was included as the final chapter of The Visitors from Oz (1960), a heavily-adapted reprint of the Queer Visitors stories (where it provides a concluding episode that the comic's stories lack). A facsimile edition of The Woggle-Bug Book was issued in 1978. The text and illustrations were reprinted in Oz-story Magazine in 1999. Another edition appeared in 2008.

References

  • David L. Greene and Dick Martin. The Oz Scrapbook. New York, Random House, 1977.
  • Michael Patrick Hearn. "Queer Visitors Revisited." The Baum Bugle, Vol. 38 No. 3 (Winter 1994).
  • Katharine M. Rogers. L. Frank Baum, Creator of Oz: A Biography. New York, St. Martin's Press, 2002.

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