"Only You're Different!": Notes on Gender Transformation in the Marvelous Land of Oz

Tip is the cap-wearing boy in L. Frank Baum's Oz 1904 sequel.
Gender transformation in literature is nothing new. Tiresias was said to be both a man and a woman at different stages of his existence. And by the way, he said that being a woman is better. So when I read The Land of Oz in the Fifth Grade, it was nothing out of the ordinary to read about it in L. Frank Baum's fantasy novels. It's a motif in fantasy fiction to be sure - just see this TV tropes wiki page.

The Boy Tip

Tip is a fictional character in L. Frank Baum's second installment of his famous Oz books - The Marvelous Land of Oz (later shortened to The Land of Oz). While the Scarecrow, Dorothy, and the Gnome King often get noticed from readers as amazing Baum creations, Tip gets looked over in the Oz canon because he is actually not a real person (well, in the sense that in the story he is not who he seems to be). And his tenure in the Oz narrative is temporary.

*spoiler alert*

Tip is the boy-form of Princess Ozma of Oz - a character Baum creates to provide a mythological center to the Ozian panoply of mismatched and various characters. In the book, Tip is the servant of Mombi, an evil witch who wants to hide Ozma from everyone in Oz (for reasons I will explain later - see below). Since Dorothy has returned to Kansas - and the Wizard has been booted out as a fraud - the Scarecrow has become the ruler of the Emerald City and sits on the throne wearing a paper-cut-out looking crown. As a side note, Walter Murch, in his 1985 film Return to Oz, depicts the Scarecrow in this exact same guise, matching the aesthetic of William Denslow's illustrations for Baum's books.

Tip as the Key
In the same way that Buffy's sister Dawn is "the key" in Buffy the Vampire Slayer's fifth season, Tip is an ersatz character whose only purpose is to reveal a plot point. Tip is not really Tip - he - or she - is Ozma. So in the tradition of the gender bender, no one knows the character's real identity until the end of the story. Walter Murch, by contrast, did away with Tip altogether and he is replaced by Dorothy in Return to Oz.

In the book, however, Tip is the central protagonist of the novel - and there is nary a mention of Dorothy Gale. Baum gives subtle hints that Tip is not whom he seems to be; for example, the boy is described as "rather delicate in appearance" and Denslow's illustrations of him in the book art strike me as somewhat androgynous. He could be a boy or a girl - especially given his mopish hair. Baum retains the Emerald City as the story' central place of reference, and it is a rather big deal that the Scarecrow is awarded sovereignty. In a similar way that Dorothy had to find the Wizard in Oz in the first book, Tip is motivated to visit the Scarecrow in the Emerald City when he learns that his master, the evil witch Mombi, plans to use the potion of life to turn him into a marble statue. By the way - in another reference to Walter Murch's ingenious film (which I will write about separately in a future post) - Mombi is featured in Return to Oz but she is an amalgam of two characters from the books - Mombi the witch, and Langwidere who has a curiosity cabinet of dozens of heads which she can affix and change at will. So, Pip, in visible flight mode, flees with Jack Pumpkinhead - a hobbled together creature formed by the same said potion of life - and both take a journey to the Emerald City.

Where is Dorothy?
On reading The Land of Oz, I could not shake off the feeling that I was disappointed that Dorothy is missing from the story. Because Judy Garland graced the silver screen as Dorothy, I suppose people may assume that Dorothy is one of the most memorable creations of L. Frank Baum; however, it strikes me that probably young readers in the 1900s who were captivated by Baum's storytelling were more than likely astonished the most by the Scarecrow. And it is he that shines in the Oz sequel - as I mentioned already - Dorothy is merely a footnote. In film versions of the story Many Oz fans are expecting Dorothy - which is probably why Walter Merch tossed out Tip in his cinematic sequel to The Wizard of Oz in which he tossed out Tip and inserted Dorothy as the hero and combined the plot of The Land of Oz and the third book in the series - Ozma of Oz

The L. Frank Baum Media Machine
And it is true that Baum received a lot of letters from children begging him to write more Oz stories - and Baum would write his stories based on the whims of these children. So I think that is why the sequel to Oz - and most of the subsequent thirteen Oz books that Baum would write - have a somewhat episodic feel. Baum was going for the ride - and he needed the cash. So - in this way, the Oz books back in the 1900s were what the Harry Potter books were in the late 1990s and early 2000s. They seized on the needs of the people of the time. The Oz books gave turn-of-the-century folk a story that whisked them away from their own familiar place; I imagine reading the Oz books one hundred years ago felt like going on an epic adventure; in the 1990s the Harry Potter books were a similar draw. But unlike Harry Potter, Baum - I do not think - thought of Dorothy's original story as a saga - which is why I think Tip is so unusual in the sequel. Baum was able to write a book set in the same universe as the first Oz book but cast with a totally new set of friends.

The Tip Plot Device
So, Tip is basically a device to lead us to Ozma. Perhaps just introducing Ozma was just too blatant so she had to be inserted into the Oz mythology cleverly so she could take pride of place with the other Oz heroes. Baum wanted to make a memorable character - so he invented Ozma - but he was careful in how he introduced her. He needed a clever nom de plume to take her place and to have her be revealed fantastically by the book's end. Tip is actually Ozma, the daughter of Pastoria. Pastoria was the ruler of the Emerald City before the Wizard came - and from whom the Wizard usurped the throne. To maintain his sovereign rule, the Wizard had instructed Mombi to transform Pastoria's daughter into Tip she would not grow up to challenge his authority. Mombi reveals that "The Wizard brought to me the girl Ozma, who was then no more than a baby, and begged me to conceal the child." Now that Oz is threatened to be overtaken by an angry girl General named Jinjur, Glinda, and the Scarecrow figure out that Ozma is alive somewhere in Oz.

Oz's First Sex Change Operation
As a kid, the fun of reading Baum's books were the zany transformations he concocted. The head of a Gump is attached to a sofa and comes to life. A hollowed-out pumpkin head is inserted on a walking stick and is animated. An insect is intelligent and waddles about. So Tip is also another of one of these fun Baum transformations. But Tip is even more fun to read in context because when he is finally revealed to be Ozma, I love the genius way he exclaims "'I!' cried Tip, in amazement. 'Why, I'm no Princess Ozma — I'm not a girl'" Tip is both astonished to be Ozma and at the same resolute that he is not Ozma - nor is he a girl. In the book, Ozma has Tip go through numerous denials of who he truly is until he finally accepts that he is a she and everyone accepts that Tip has basically gone through a sex change operation. The Tin Man comforts Tip that "it doesn't hurt to be a girl" and that girls are nicer than boys.
Is Tip in drag?

Making Gender Transformation Mainstream

Baum makes it clear that everyone is OK with Tip's transformation: the Scarecrow affectionally pats Tip on the head, and Professor Woggle-Bug wants to tutor Tip when he becomes the princess of Oz. And in a running gag, the Pumpkin Head bemoans that Tip cannot be his father anymore - which is made funnier when I realized that in the Walter Murch movie Pumpkin Head calls Dorothy "Mom." Baum does make it clear that Tip is not all that ready to become a girl, attenuating the reader's own anxiety about the loss that ensues when going from one identity to another. Tip tells Glinda that he is okay to try being a girl for awhile but "if I don't like it" he can just go back to being a boy. Glinda pretty much tells Tip that is beyond her magic. You can go to being a girl, but there is no turning back - just like in the real world of gender reassignment. Glinda also throws shade on the whole operation by suggesting that only Mombi can change Tip to back to a girl because all in all the whole art of gender transformation is in  making things appear to be what they are not. After some Mombi created mumbo jumbo Tip is transformed - and it is the Pumpkin Head who seals the deal with this interchange between he and Ozma (once Tip). Ozma - who seems to be very much talking like she is still Tip - says, "I hope none of you will care less about me than you did before. I'm just the same Tip, you know; only - only [...]" and the Pumpkin tips his hat with this line: "Only you're different!" And Baum makes the ironic concession that it was the wisest thing the hallowed out Pumpkin Head had ever said.

Tip is an Artifact of Gender Transformation
I am certain that L. Frank Baum did not intend The Land of Oz to contain a hidden message about gender transformation - especially as it is contained in our current political discussion about gender; however, it is interesting to see the story of Tip as an artifact in early twentieth-century American literature of being both a girl and a boy. 

Do you think the story of Tip is radical? Let me know in the comments.
Image Sources: John R. Neill


  1. Possibly more radical nowadays than it was back in 1904. Baum wrote this at a time when the general level of education in aesthetics was much higher than today, and imagining such a thing as this was not so terrifying, as a person of that time might appreciate the beauties of it more fearlessly.

    1. Nice reflection. Art makes everything possible.


Be courteous. Speak your mind. Don’t be rude. Share.