Welcome, as ever, dear readers.

Early this week, I was lying in the grass, enjoying a late October mackerel sky,

when suddenly a jet flew high overhead and left a contrail (short for “condensation trail”, meaning that those white streaky lines are actually condensed water crystals—the jet’s engines were really acting as a kind of high-powered ice machine).

Without a moment’s thought, I was imagining the Wicked Witch of the West at work

her contrail more menacing, both for its message and for its funereal color.

And, as I lay there, looking up, I began to count just how many flying things appeared from the skies of Oz, first in the 1939 film,

and then the original The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from 1900.

(If you don’t have a copy of this, here’s a LINK to one:  https://archive.org/details/wonderfulwizardo00baumiala )

There is, of course, first of all, Dorothy’s house.

(And, Miss Gulch metamorphosed from the bicycle rider into her real shape in Dorothy’s vision)

Then there’s Glinda’s floating ball.

The Wicked Witch of the West in flight.

The terror of my childhood, those flying monkeys—

And then the Wizard’s balloon, which almost takes Dorothy back to Kansas.

I had seen the film numerous times before I ever opened the book, but, thinking about it now, the contrast between 1900 and 1939 in terms of available air technology really struck me.  In 1900, there were plenty of experiments with manned aircraft

but only balloons

(which dated back to the Montgolfier Brothers in the 1780s)

actually worked.  So, anything in the air, if not natural and not a balloon, would be highly unusual—unless in a fairy tale, of course.

Looking at the book, then, we see that the house is there (with Toto in tow)

as, after all, it was propelled by the natural force of a twister.

Glinda—who is not Glinda in the book, but simply the Witch of the North (the real Glinda appears much later)—rather than floating down from the heavens, does the equivalent of walking onstage (accompanied by Munchkins).

A new flying figure appears, however, in Chapter VIII, a stork, who rescues the Scarecrow from being stuck in the middle of a river (see Chapter VIII, “The Deadly Poppy Field”).

When Dorothy finally encounters the Wicked Witch of the West,

the Witch has no broomstick, but she has, in fact, an arsenal of natural (and unnatural) flying weapons, employing a flock of crows to attack the Scarecrow,

as well as bees to attack Dorothy, Toto, and the Lion,

and finally those flying monkeys,

 who trash the Scarecrow and the Tin Man and make off with the Lion, Dorothy, and Toto, but who later become Dorothy’s allies, through a magic cap (you can see Dorothy wearing it in the illustration).  It might be a puzzle as to how they fly, but they are flying animals, not something in an unworkable mechanical device.

The wizard and his balloon then appear—and disappear, Dorothy-less.

Between 1900 and 1939, successful air flight made its debut,

airships had become available, although not for ordinary people,

and I suspect that, with the terrible explosion of the Hindenburg, in 1937, 

they were already on the way to fading away, as they did, with only small revivals, into the current century.

(Except, of course, for Indiana Jones and his father–)

Transcontinental air travel was in its earliest stages, although it was expensive and most people took the trains.  (In fact, the first transcontinental air service was actually a hybrid of trains and planes—see:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcontinental_Air_Transport )

Skywriting (first appearing in 1922) might have inspired the Wicked Witch,

(I found this at a very interesting site you might enjoy:  http://www.terriwangard.com/2017/10/the-worlds-largest-signboard.html?spref=pi )

although brooms have been a vehicle of choice for much longer.

(This is perhaps the earliest depiction of a woman on a broomstick—for more, see:   https://www.history.com/news/why-witches-fly-on-brooms )

And then, thank goodness, the next step which happened with real aircraft—

did not become part of the flying monkeys’ repertoire, who remained no more complex than the idea of monkeys in flight and no more menacing than tearing the stuffing out of a scarecrow.

Imagine what the Emerald City might have looked like, if the Wicked Witch had turned her monkey bombers on it—“Surrender Dorothy” might have been quickly obeyed!

Thanks for reading, as always.

Stay well,

Avoiding spinning houses and swooping simians,

And remember that, as ever, there’s