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The Wond'rous Wise Man

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"The Wond'rous Wise Man" is a short story by L. Frank Baum. It is one of the selections in Baum's 1897 collection Mother Goose in Prose. It is drawn upon one of the less well-known of the Mother Goose rhymes, about a man who jumps into a bramble bush that scratches out his eyes. (He then jumps into another bush, which scratches them in again.)

Summary

Though resident in a quiet little town, Solomon gains a reputation for wisdom from his early youth onward. He can pose questions his elders stumble over, and then provide brilliant answers — such as why a cow drinks from a brook (because it is thirsty), and why a man has two eyes (because he is born that way). In his maturity, Solomon is challenged by other wise men, but always comes out the better.

In one celebrated instance, a fellow arrives from Cumberland to test Solomon's wit against his own. This challenger is not only wise, but physically enormous. The two meet in a battle of wits, and once again Solomon is the victor. The challenger is irate at his defeat; Solomon prudently runs away, but is closely pursued. To escape his would-be assailant, Solomon desperately leaps into a bramble bush. He is horribly scratched, and his glasses are pressed so tightly against his face that he cannot open his eyes. He seeks the advice of his neighbors is this predicament; since he got into trouble by jumping in the bush, he is advised to jump out again.

Solomon does so, and fortunately lands in an elderberry bush that has no thorns. He can see again, and is carried home by the townspeople, where his wounds are bandaged and his great wisdom is praised more highly than ever.

Background

"The Wond'rous Wise Man" is a rarity in Baum's literary canon, in that it is one of his few fictions that is related by a first-person narrator. Like some other adaptors of folk materials, Baum tones down the bloodiness of the original for a milder and gentler result.

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