|Written by||Eva Katharine Gibson|
|Publisher||Robert Smith Printing Co.|
Zauberlinda, the Wise Witch is a 1901 children's fantasy novel, written by Eva Katharine Gibson, illustrated by Mabel Tibbitts, and published by the Robert Smith Printing Company of Chicago. The book has long been cited as one of the most notable of the Oz imitations that appeared in print following the success of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900 by L. Frank Baum and W. W. Denslow.
The first edition of Zauberlinda featured copious illustrations, including monochrome pictures under the text in the style of the first Oz book.
An excerpt from Zauberlinda, titled The Prairie-Dog Prince, remains in print as Gibson's best-known work.
Annie Elfrida McLane lives in a little brown house of the South Dakota prairie, within sight of the Black Hills. Her widowed father prospects for gold there; Annie lives at home with her grandmother and the servants, Marthy Stubbs and Pete Pumpernickle. (He is a young German immigrant from the Hartz Mountains. Pete tells Annie stories of fairies, goblins, and the Little Hill Men of "Pix-Sylvania," the other world.)
Annie has no neighbors, no other children to play with, and no school to attend; she is sometimes lonely and despondent. She is dependent for company on her black cat Silvertip, the farm animals around her, and creatures of the surrounding fields and meadows that she sometimes makes her pets. In the summer when she turns six years old, Annie rescues a prairie dog from a trap, and nurses its wounded paw. It is a strange little animal, and the other creatures of Annie's world are afraid of it. Annie makes a little house for the prairie dog, but the animal soon escapes back to the wild.
The next year, Annie is distressed that everyone seems to have forgotten her birthday: she turns seven years old on the summer solstice. Sitting under a tree by the side of a stream, she hears a strange and mysterious song; a large, talking prairie dog appears and offers to lead her to "the land where dreams come true." The prairie dog hears Annie make three wishes and sets his seal to her wrist, leaving three red marks. Then he disappears, and Annie and her cat fall into a "large rabbit hole" into the earth.
Annie awakens in the caverns of the Gnome kingdom. She is given a tour of their bejeweled wonders, and soon meets Goldemar, the gnome king. Goldemar thanks her for rescuing the prairie dog from the trap, for this was his son the prince in disguise. Goldemar offers Annie a wish, and the girl requests that her father succeed in his search for gold. Goldemar offers possession of his ring for a year and a day; the ring contains a magic crystal that will lead the bearer to all the subterranean treasures of the earth.
In return, however, Annie must stay in the gnome's realm and marry the prince. She is deeply distressed at this; she knows she is too young to marry, and now wants nothing more than to return to the surface world and home. Goldemar shows his tyrannical side, telling Annie that she can never leave.
Annie meets the prince in his gnomish form; he is young and handsome, and gentle-tempered. He longs for Annie to stay, to assuage his own loneliness and play with him; but Annie prevails upon him to help her escape. He shows her a passage under the gnomes' realm, and Annie and Silvertip are borne along by a roaring Wind Current until they reach the surface world again. There, Annie sees that Silvertip has the gnome king's magic crystal ring in his mouth.
A young Native American boy named Eagle Feather guides Annie to the Enchanted Wood, where a Great Meeting is held each Midsummer Week, a council of the birds and animals before "the Guardian Spirit of the Wild Woods, the Great Wise Witch Zauberlinda." All the creatures of North America, from bears to sand hill cranes, gather in numbers under a bright moon. Zauberlinda arrives in a chariot decorated with colored toadstools and drawn by two white moose. The witch is accompanied by two white rabbits and a white owl; she is a beautiful young woman who caries a staff topped with a letter Z.
After the animals dance for the witch and hold their counsels, Eagle Feather presents Annie to her. Annie, who by now has learned some valuable lessons, gives the gnome king's ring to Zauberlinda, who tosses it into a nearby lake, for the nixies to use in gilding the scales of gold and silver fish. The witch rewards the girl by blessing her with a touch of her staff. This endows the girl with the "gift of the Feeling Heart," with a love of nature, and a natural eloquence.
Dawn approaches, and the meeting breaks up. Zauberlinda sends Annie home, in a basket carried by three gulls. Annie suddenly finds herself in her father's arms. She had fallen asleep by the stream, and had been missed and searched for by her worried family. At home, Annie learns that her father finally has "struck pay dirt." He tells her that they will soon move to Chicago, where Annie can attend school with other children and take piano lessons too.
In what may be a sign of hasty writing, Annie is given three magic wishing nuts early in her story — but the nuts are quickly forgotten, and play no part in the outcome of the plot. Other plot details, like the three red marks on Annie's wrist, also lead nowhere.
The resemblances between Baum's and Gibson's books are readily apparent: the isolated little girl on the Western prairies who finds her way to a realm of danger and dazzling experience, and home again. Zauberlinda is a young, beautiful, virtuous witch, like Glinda the Good. Yet Gibson's 1901 novel also seems to anticipate elements in Baum's later books. Of course there is the threatening gnome king and his underground domain, which Baum would introduce into Oz in 1907; and Gibson's picture of a magic-rich natural order resembles what Baum would write in The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus and other works. Gibson has a chapter about a mischievous bird called "Jim Crow," like Baum's "Bandit Jim Crow" of a few years later (1906).
It cannot be said with certainty that Baum was influenced by Gibson; the common features in their work may derive from common sources and inspirations. Gibson's gnome kingdom is far more traditional and Germanic than Baum's; overall, her book is more conventional then Baum's work, with Annie a typical heroine, feminine and rather passive. (She never asserts herself so far as to kill a wicked witch, as Dorothy Gale does.)
The differences between the two books also matter. Baum spends little time on Dorothy's bleak Kansas home, and needs only seven pages to get her to Oz. Gibson devotes the first eighty pages of her book to Annie's surroundings in South Dakota, and stresses the richness and beauty of nature there. Dorothy has only Uncle Henry and Aunt Em, and Toto; Annie has an extended family, and various pets besides Silvertip. Her world is noticeably less barren than Dorothy's. Annie's experience in fairyland is both less dangerous and less entrancing than her counterpart's; there seems no likelihood that Annie would ever choose to stay in fairyland permanently.
In one view, Gibson's text largely stands apart from Baum's first Oz book, and was probably written with little or no reference to it. The clear resemblances between the two books reside mainly in format, design, and illustrations. In this scenario, Gibson's book was partially or wholly composed as an independent product, when a publisher eager to imitate the success of Wonderful Wizard cast it into the same mold as the Baum/Denslow volume.
Poet and prose writer Eva Katharine Clapp Gibson (1857–1916) was born in Bradford, Illinois. An early and unhappy first marriage ended in divorce, and inspired her to write a series of novels advocating women's issues and perspectives. She married chemist Charles Brockway Gibson, traveled in Europe, and settled in Chicago.
Zauberlinda was Gibson's only novel for children. She also wrote verse and a range of miscellaneous works. Gibson traveled in bohemian circles while living in Chicago, along with Baum, W. W. Denslow, and Grace Duffie Boylan, who would later writer her own Oz imitation in Yama Yama Land.