Episode V: The Wild Wild Wizard
After the Witch dies, L. Frank Baum kind of loses track of his story. I suspect he realized he was getting close to the ending, but was nowhere near the word count. So he did what all of us do in a situation like that: he started padding.
How else can one explain a whole chapter devoted to the origin story of the Winged Monkeys and how they came to be under a spell which lets the owner of the Golden Cap boss them around? The Witch has Winged Monkeys because, well, she's a witch and witches have things like Winged Monkeys to do their bidding. There, it took me one sentence to explain. We don't need any backstory.
With the help of the monkeys, Dorothy rounds up her companions and the newly liberated Winkies patch them up and give them a rousing send-off back to the Emerald City. The Wizard puts them off and then (just as in the film) gets exposed. He reveals that all his magical feats are accomplished through ventriloquism, special effects, and clever patter -- oh, and he's been doing this for decades now.
I don't know about the rest of you, but the Wizard truly is the most amazing person in Oz. Think about it: he drops out of the sky and though sheer testicular fortitude and his ability to lie with a straight face, becomes ruler of the land. Not only that, he convinced the people of central Oz to construct a city, then managed to persuade all of them -- even the ones who actually did the building -- that it's made of emeralds. As a ruler and politician he managed to keep both Good and Wicked Witches at bay, intimidated by his magical power, even though he can't do magic at all!
Having ragged on Gregory Maguire's alternate take on the Wicked Witch let me now put forth my own interpretation of the Wizard. In Dorothy and the Wizard In Oz we learn his name is Oscar Z. Diggs, of Omaha -- but this is almost certainly a lie. He is described as an "old man" when Dorothy meets him in 1900. But Omaha was founded in 1854. If Mr. Diggs was really born there, he couldn't be more than 46 years old when he meets Dorothy. And that means he would have been barely out of his teens when he arrived in Oz. Obviously Mr. Baum isn't telling us the whole truth.
Diggs is probably about 60 at the time of his meeting with Dorothy. Even in 1900 that's about the lower bound for being a "little old man." That puts his birth date around 1840, and he would have been in his thirties when he arrived in Oz about 1870.
That also makes him about the right age to be a veteran of the Civil War, but he doesn't seem the soldierly type. My suspicion is that Diggs was one of Alan Pinkerton's intelligence agents during the Civil War, and afterward served in the newly-created United States Secret Service. The television series The Wild Wild West chronicled the weird adventures of a pair of Secret Service agents during the Grant administration, and it is startling how much Artemus Gordon's mastery of disguise, deception, and gadgetry matches that of Mr. Diggs. If "Artemus Gordon" and "Oscar Diggs" aren't the same person, they must certainly have been colleagues in the Service.
Sometime in the middle of the 19th Century the United States government must have learned of the existence of a mysterious realm of magic and strange creatures, accessible by air from the center of the continent. It may have been Steven Kearny who discovered it, or at least impressed on Washington the importance of the discovery. The struggle over slavery distracted the government's attention, so it was only after the Civil War that anyone could be sent to investigate. Agent Diggs was sent up by balloon to find the passage and determine what lay beyond.
He made it, but found himself in the position of John Lloyd Stephens, an earlier American envoy to a remote and exotic country: there was nobody to whom he could present his credentials. Like the Republic of Central America, Oz was divided into four or five rival regimes, each with only vague control of its own territory. More alarming still was the fact that Oz's feuding governments weren't run by ambitious caudillos but by Witches, with real supernatural power.
Agent Diggs took advantage of a power vacuum in central Oz to set himself up as ruler of the Emerald City. I suspect he had help -- even the cleverest fraud could hardly bluff an entire kingdom. He probably made an alliance with some local strongman who died before Dorothy's arrival (presumably by natural causes, but Mr. Diggs had a ruthless streak). And there's the fact that the four Witches seem to have been genuinely intimidated by the Wizard's power.
Now, undoubtedly the Wonderful Wizard was a truly remarkable showman. A whiz of a Wiz, if you will. Had he stayed in America the fame of the great Diggs would overshadow that Wisconsin upstart Houdini. There's even a historical precedent for using stage magic to gain political power in an "uncivilized" land: in 1856 the French government sent the conjuror Jean Robert-Houdin to overawe tribes in Algeria with a display of magical marvels. It worked, too. The desert tribes knew the French had more guns, but Robert-Houdin's show meant they couldn't console themselves with the notion that they could triumph with supernatural support. Robert-Houdin demonstrated that France had that nailed down, too -- which meant it was time to negotiate. (Was the talented Mr. Diggs originally trained in stage magic to do something similar to the plains Indians? A display of "white man's magic" to undercut the "Ghost Dance" movement of the 1880s which ended so badly?)
Perhaps the Wonderful Wizard seemed so wonderful -- and so intimidating to the Witches -- because his fraudulent magic didn't play by the rules they were accustomed to. The counter-enchantments and spell-analysis magics of the Witches would have little or no effect on the Wizard's illusions of painted canvas, smoke and mirrors, and electricity. To a Witch, the existence of magic she doesn't understand would be powerfully disturbing -- and even more disturbing would be the fear of seeing that magic fall into the hands of her three rival Witches.
So the Wizard presumably used adept diplomacy to keep the Witches at bay. The one time he raised an actual army and assailed the Wicked Witch of the West, he failed. (That may have been when his local partner died.) Yet even then, the Wicked Witch didn't push her luck by counterattacking the Emerald City. Perhaps she was checkmated by Glinda and/or North.
At any rate, with Dorothy and her companions now threatening to expose him, Mr. Diggs realizes the jig is really and truly up. He puts together a balloon and promises to take Dorothy home, but "accidentally" leaves her behind. Why am I not surprised? With no Dorothy to contradict him, the Wizard can come up with just about any story he wants to tell his superiors in the Secret Service. Very handy. Bon Voyage, Mr. Diggs! We'll see you three books down the line!
Concluded in Part Six!