Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, July 14, 2017


The Woggle-Bug Book by L. Frank Baum (1905)

The Woggle-Bug was introduced to the world in Baum's The Marvelous Land of Oz.  He's not just any woggle-bug; he's the Woggle-Bug, yclept Mr. H. M. Woggle-Bug, T. E.  The H. M. stands for Highly Magnified because he is a thousand times bigger than any other woggle-bug, about the size of a man.  The T. E. stands for Thoroughly Educated because he is.  He certainly knows more than any other woggle-bug who ever existed.  Alas, he doesn't realize that being the most thoroughly educated woggle-bug that ever existed still doesn't put him close to a person's intelligence.  We take what we are dealt with and seldom acknowledge another's superiority.

The Woggle-Bug, not having human sensabilities, also does not have a human's sense of fashion.  He prefers the most outrageous clothes, the brighter and gaudier the better.  Thus we reach the heart of the tale.

We begin with the Woggle-Bug in the big city.  Although he has traveled far from Oz and has been separated from his companions, he is content.  In his ignorance he struts through the city streets believing there is nothing different about him.  He comes across a store window and there he beholds a marvelous sight -- a dress on a manikin.  Not just any dress, but a Paris original that may have been driven out of Paris in shame.  This was the gaudiest dress that ever existed.  The colors, the style, the pattern of the cloth -- all screamed beauty to the Woggle-Bug, although to an ordinary viewer the most polite description would be one of Wagnerian plaid.  Focusing on the dress and not really noticing the manikin it was on, the Woggle-Bug fell in love with the manikin.  If clothes make the man, then a gaudy dress makes the manikin.  The Woggle-Bug is immediately determined to marry the manikin.

In the window there is a sign:  GREATLY REDUCED $7.93.

The Woggle-Bug realizes that the manikin is in greatly reduced circumstances and can be his for $7.93.  Alas he has no money.  Money never existed in Oz, you see.  He gets a job shoveling dirt, something he can do really well because he has four arms, for $2.00 a day.  After two days, he has earned $4.00 -- enough to buy his bride with seven cents left over to buy her some candy.

When he gets to the store, the dress is no longer in the window and he does not recognize the manikin without the dress.  A matron exits the store wearing the dress.  There. then is his bride-to-be!  He tries to give her $7.93, explaining that the extra seven cents can used for candy, but the matron flees.

For various reasons, the dress changes hands a number of times, with the Woggle-Bug in full romantic pursuit.  First to an Irish maid, then to a widowed Swedish woman with four children, then to a Negress washwoman, and finally to a Chinese gentleman.  This gives Baum a chance to poke racist "fun" at these various groups.  (and, can be a good excuse to stop reading right then.)

The Woggle-Bug fails in every attempt to get the dress or to marry the person wearing it.  he does, however, manage to tear a goodly portion of the dress from the Chinese man.  Half a loaf being better than none, he takes the cloth and runs.

Through convenient plot circumstances, the Woggle-Bug finds himself adrift on a runaway hot air balloon, eventually landing in an oasis, where Baum pokes more racist "fun" at Arabs.  The cloth is taken from the Woggle-Bug, but before fleeing the oasis he manages to secure enough of the cloth to make a necktie.  Crossing the desert sands he reaches a jungle where he is "befriended" by a lady chimpanzee, who takes him to a jungle city run by animals.  This time Baum is poking fun at governments, with few racist overtones.

In the end, the Woggle-Bug is back in the city and in his comfy apartment.  there's no place like home.

The Woggle-Bug Book is one of Baum's lesser-known tales for children, perhaps deservedly so.  Perhaps I'm being overly critical but children's literature in the first part of the last century (and beyond) appears rigidly aimed at white children, promulgating stereotypes that could help society hold down elements that might disrupt it.  Today we can laugh and poo-poo the racist stereotypes of an earlier time, but they were pernicious.  Reading such books helps us to understand the depths of racism and hopefully help us not go down that blighted path.

In the whole context of Baum's Oz books, The Woggle-Bug Book is a very minor and somewhat entertaining adjunct to the series.  Your mileage may vary.


  1. Not a favorite, as a child nor when I went back to the OZ books in the 70s (or was it the early 80s?). Too outrageous, even for OZ.

  2. Thanks. I knew nothing of the story. I', actually not sure I've read any Baum stories but recall them read to me.