THE MYSTERIOUS POOL OF OZ
The Mysterious Pool of Oz
The Great Book of Records belonging to Glinda, the good Sorceress of Oz, is one of the very greatest treasures in the Fairyland of Oz, and that lovely Sorceress prizes it more than any other of her very many magical possessions. For that reason, it is firmly bound to the highly polished table of emerald-colored marble on which it rests by means of golden chains, and whenever Glinda leaves home she locks the covers of the Great Book together with five jeweled padlocks, and carries the keys safely tucked away in her bosom.
It is hard to imagine that there is any magical thing in any fairyland in the world which may compare with the Great Book of Records, on the pages of which are being printed a record of every event that happens in any part of the world, at exactly the moment that it happens. And for all that the world is very large, and many things happen within it on any given day, there always seem to be sufficient pages to hold the weight of history, and the Great Book never seems to come any closer to its end.
Glinda, being a conscientious steward of the lovely Fairyland of Oz (even its far corners and those places at the edge of the Deadly Desert where few people save brave Explorers like Professor Wogglebug, who made the great Map of the Land of Oz had ever visited), looked at the records several times each day. She did so even though little enough was ever recorded about the Land of Oz, which is usually a peaceful and uneventful Kingdom.
On those occasions that Princess Dorothy, boon companion to Ozma, Ruler of Oz, visited Glinda’s grand palace, the little Princess also loved to peer into the Book and see what was happening and see what was happening everywhere.
On this particular bright spring day, Princess Dorothy had brought two of her dearest little friends with her to visit Glinda’s palace, young girls who were called Betsy Bobbin and Trot. Like Dorothy, who had come from Kansas and years before washed up on the shores of Ev with Billina the chicken as a companion, Trot and Betsy Bobbin were both “Earth children.” Betsy had come from Oklahoma, together with a mule named Hank, and tiny Trot, the youngest of the little threesome, had come from California, with her dear friend Cap’n Bill. All three now dwelt in Oz as Princesses of Oz and companions to its fairy Ruler Ozma, as they had done for many years. Being Princesses of Oz, they could never be killed or suffer any great bodily pain so long as they dwelt in that fairyland. Neither could they grow big, and so they would always remain the same three little girls who came to Oz, unless they were spirited away or in some other way came to leave the Land of Oz.
It was this last that was the concern of the day as the three little girls sat peering at the Great Book as it spelled out, letter by letter, the history of the world in the very instant that it was happening.
“Look!” cried tiny Trot. “It says here that Queen Orin and King Cheeriobed have had another son and there will be great celebrations in a fortnight!” Queen Orin and King Cheeriobed were the rulers of the Ozure Isles, and Trot knew them personally, having helped the Good Witch of the North restore them to the throne.
And indeed, the three girls were in agreement that a new baby was cause for happiness, and that it would be good for Prince Philador to have a little brother to play with. But even though they were not in the least selfish little girls, they also felt a bit sad for themselves.
It was Dorothy, who was the boldest of the three, who finally said it out loud. “I wonder what it’s like to be grown-up and to be a mother. I don’t s’pose we’ll ever know, will we, dears?”
“Princess Ozma will never know either,” said Betsy Bobbin in her quiet and loyal way. “Since she is like us and will never grow big or grow up.”
“I don’t s’pose it matters to Ozma, though,” said Trot. “Seeing as she’s a fairy and not an Earth child at all.”
And at that all three of them sighed and grew quite melancholy despite the lovely day and the beauty of Glinda’s palace, which was built of rare and exquisitely polished marbles, and filled with tinkling fountains and vases of sweet-scented flowers.
After they sat sighing in this way for a good half hour, they came to hear a rustling at a tiny side door that led into the reception hall wherein the Book lay on its great marble table. At the sound of the rustling, the three girls looked toward the little green-painted door in unison, and beheld a most curious little creature.
He was clearly a Nome, since he was rather round, and not very tall, and his skin was the exact color of rock that had chipped off from the side of a very tall granite mountain. His toes were curly and his ears were very broad and very flat, but beyond that he was unlike any Nome they had ever seen before. He was wearing a very tidy suit made of mismatched patchwork, complete with waistcoat and cufflinks and gold watch chain, and atop his rough and rugged head a porkpie hat with a ribbon of bright gold and two tiny emerald feathers was precariously perched.
He was utterly unlike any Nome any of the three girls had ever set eyes on, and his curious appearance and the fact that he was inside Glinda’s palace both argued that he was an entirely safe Nome and had nothing at all to do with the Nome King who had made such trouble some years before. And so the girls felt entirely safe with their strange visitor.
At the sight of him, tiny Trot clapped, utterly delighted, and the fat little Nome swept her a courtly bow. “Humperdinck, lately of the South of Oz, at your service, dear ladies,” said the Nome in a gravelly voice.
Humperdinck was such a charming and cheerful little figure that Dorothy could not help smiling at him. “I’m Dorothy,” said Dorothy, “and these are my dear friends Betsy Bobbin and Trot.”
“Oh,” said the little Nome, sweeping them another of his elaborate bows, “I know who you are. It would be inexcusable, don’t you think, if your loyal did not know the three little Princesses of Oz.”
“I don’t think it would be inexcusable at all,” said Betsy Bobbin, “seeing as how we have never met you before.” And she, like Dorothy and Trot, smiled at him encouragingly.
“We were just sitting here and watching history appear in the Book,” said Trot. “Since you must be a guest of Glinda’s too, I don’t think she’d mind if you joined us.”
“I could not help but overhear a bit as I came in,” said the Nome. “I hope you do not think me unforgivably rude for eavesdropping, as it is a very bad habit indeed. Still, such melancholy sighing over new-minted history! Was the news really so very bad?”
“Oh no,” cried Dorothy. “’Twasn’t bad news at all! The King and Queen of the Ozure Isles have a new little son!”
At Dorothy’s words Humperdinck looked so very confused that the girls were moved to explain to him their predicament. The little Nome sat with his fingers steepled in thought through their whole explanation, and at the very end, he nodded wisely to himself as though he had decided something important.
“I know it is terribly selfish of me, and I love Princess Ozma and I don’t ever want to leave Oz, but sometimes I think it would be nice to know what it was like to be big,” said Dorothy.
“Wondering things is never selfish,” said the little Nome cheerfully, and he patted her on the knee. “Besides, if you don’t mind to come with me a little ways into the forest, Princesses, I think I may have an answer to your question. Or rather, I should say, that the Pool of Neverwas may hold an answer to your question.”
“What’s the Pool of Neverwas?” tiny Trot asked curiously. In all their years in Oz, the three Princesses had never heard of such a thing.
“Why,” said the Nome, “it is one of Glinda the Sorceress’s many treasures, and I am its Guardian.” Upon saying that, he drew himself up quite straight, and brushed imaginary dust from his waistcoat, and straightened his porkpie hat on his head, and the girls all agreed that he looked like a very fine Guardian indeed.
Still, that did not tell them a bit about what the mysterious Pool of Neverwas was or wasn’t. They supposed that there was nothing for it but to go along with the little Nome.
And so, the three girls being all in agreement that they should go and see this Pool of Neverwas, Humperdinck led them out in the way that he had come in to Glinda’s great reception hall. Clearly the little green door by which he had entered was meant for Nomes, for it was quite wide but so short that even tiny Trot had to stoop down in order to go through it.
Nomes being creatures of the underground, it was no great surprise that the little green door opened onto a very old and very cramped spiral stairway that must lead into caverns beneath Glinda’s palace. The walls were set with great polished stones the size of ladies’ hand-mirrors that glowed from within with a soft violet light. Dorothy and her little friends supposed they must be magic stones, and wondered where the Nomes, who knew every stone and gem that grew beneath the earth, had mined them.
Down they went, down and down, and the girls all hunched their shoulders and ducked their chins against their chests so as to avoid bumping their heads on the very low ceiling. It would have been very dark indeed, save for the glowing violet stones. Humperdinck the Nome, being in his natural element, skipped ahead of them merrily, though from time to time slowed his steps in order to let the little Princesses from Up-stairs catch up to him.
“I wonder if we shall get there to-day,” said Betsy Bobbin somewhat later, “or if we shall be obliged to keep going down forever.”
“Patience,” counseled Humperdinck the Nome, and still they went down.
Just when Dorothy had begun to wonder somewhat worriedly whether Humperdinck was a troublesome Nome after all, and had tricked the three of them so that he could lure them deep underground for some Nomish purpose, the spiral stair ended so suddenly that they all piled into each other, and then, once they had collected themselves and set little Humperdinck back on his feet (for they had piled into him too), they began to stare about themselves in wonder.
For the spiral stair opened out onto a vast and wonderful cavern. It was so big that the girls could not see across it, and the ceiling soared as far above their heads as Glinda’s great palace was tall. The ceiling was set with glowing diamonds, in the pattern of the constellations in the sky of the Up-stairs world. The cavern itself seemed to be something of a park, with great stone trees with leaves made of emeralds and periodots, and blossoms made of rubies and amethysts and sapphires, rising far above their heads. Here and there a fountain tinkled softly. Flowers made of garnet and rose quartz nodded in the breeze on stems made of gold and silver wire. The ground was carpeted everywhere in a soft moss that looked very much like grass, except that it glowed with a pale green light that illuminated the cavern. The three Princesses of Oz all agreed that the cavern was quite beautiful. It was, indeed, quite the finest cavern they had ever visited in all of Oz.
At the center of the park was a pool, its silver waters utterly still like a mirror.
“The Pool of Neverwas,” said Humperdinck, as they drew closer to the edge of the pool. “This is Glinda the Sorceress’s second greatest treasure, after the Book of Records. All you need do is peer into it, and it will show you things as they might have been.”
As Dorothy had been the first of all of them to come to Oz and was also Princess Ozma’s dearest friend and favorite Companion, tiny Trot and Betsy Bobbin decided that Dorothy should be the first to look into the Pool. So she tiptoed cautiously to the edge of the lovely silver Pool, and knelt down, and looked, with her two little friends and Humperdinck the Nome peering over her shoulders into the water.
For a moment Dorothy saw nothing but the surface of the water, but then it was as though a foggy window began to clear, and before long she could see straight through it into a world that did not look much at all like her beloved Land of Oz. Strangely enough, not only could she and her friends see what was within the pool, but hear it as well.
“Oh!” cried Trot. “This is a very strange and awful place, here in the pool!”
“Why,” said Humperdinck the Nome, “It is your Princess Dorothy’s very Kansas.”
But Dorothy had to agree that it did not look much at all like the Kansas she remembered. It was dry and bare and dusty, and the sky was a strange yellow-gray. The whitewash on the farmhouses was fading and peeling, and the houses themselves looked as though they stood in the middle of the Deadly Desert! Dorothy looked up at the little Nome in alarm, but he simply motioned for her to go on watching the pool.
The driver of the car . . . was no other personage than Dorothy Gale herself. Oh, she was much older than the Dorothy that Trot and Betsy Bobbin knew, but they could not help but recognize her. She had the same blonde hair and the same eyes and the same stubborn chin and the same fearlessness as their friend.
Quite matter-of-factly, older-Dorothy opened the hood of the car and peered inside while a very small boy clung to her leg.
“What are we going to do now, Teacher?” the very small boy lisped.
“Why,” said older-Dorothy, reaching down to ruffle the very small boy’s hair, “the same thing we always do, Small Thomas. Have faith and keep moving forward. The first thing, of course, is to fix this jalopy of ours.”
Which was, over the course of the next hour, exactly what older-Dorothy managed to do, with exactly as much finesse as the Wizard with one of his contraptions. Dorothy and Betsy and Trot watched with fascination, if not with understanding. This seemed a very odd and terrible world, full of dirt and hungry children wearing patches.
When the odd auto packed with children rattled and clanked off on its way again the girls looked solemnly and worriedly up at Humperdinck the Nome, wanting to understand the strange and miserable things that they had just seen.
“You see?” said Humperdinck, proudly, even though they did not see at all. “You would be a hero there on earth, just as you have been a hero here in Oz. Big, small, who cares? It makes no difference.”
“I don’t understand,” said Dorothy.
And so Humperdinck sighed, a bit sadly (it was the first sad expression they’d seen on his craggy and cheerful little Nomish face), and explained that things had changed in the World Outside.
“It is a very terrible thing called the Great Depression,” said Humperdinck the Nome, and it sounded to Dorothy and Betsy Bobbin and Trot as if some awful spell had gotten loose and spread misery across the whole of the world outside of fairyland, where magic was not supposed to exist at all. Almost everyone everywhere lost their money, and crops dried up, and children were abandoned by their families and went hungry. The three Princesses of Oz clung to each other’s hands, because it seemed almost too horrible to believe.
“But you see,” said Humperdinck, “Dorothy-That-Might-Be gathers up the little lost ones and looks after them, just as you gathered up the Scarecrow and the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion. She is a hero there, just as you are a hero here, even if no one will ever make her a Princess of anywhere.”
“Is this really what the world is like outside?” Trot asked in a small voice.
“It is,” Humperdinck said sadly. “But it will pass. These things always do.” Dorothy supposed the Nome spoke with the certainty of immortality, since Nomes had come out of the rock in the very beginning of things, and would survive until the very end. Still, she imagined that was awfully cold comfort to a very small boy whose belly was empty right now.
This gave Dorothy a great deal to think about while they climbed the long long stairway back up to Glinda’s palace and the sunlit Up-stairs world. She had so very much to think about, in fact, that she was uncharacteristically quiet all through the afternoon and right through supper, even though they sat at the high table with Glinda and the prettiest and most cheerful of her maids of honor, and the cooks produced ever more extravagant dishes from the kitchen, culminating in a tiny Emerald City made of marzipan.
Finally, Glinda the good Sorceress was moved to ask her young friend just what was the matter.
After giving the matter a few moments’ thought, Dorothy said, “I know that sometimes explorers and fairies cross the Deadly Desert and go into the world outside, just as Betsy and Trot and I came from the outside world to be here.” And Glinda nodded, because even though the legend held that crossing the Deadly Desert was impossible, she would not lie to her little friend Dorothy.
“Do you suppose,” asked Dorothy, “there would be any harm if sometimes they brought people back with them? People who are hungry and whose lives are very terrible and who don’t have anyone to worry about them or wonder where they are?”
The Sorceress took a little bit of time to consider the matter and finally raised one lovely eyebrow.
Whereupon Dorothy found herself explaining all that they had seen in the Pool of Neverwas when they went down to the cavern with Humperdinck the Nome, all about Dorothy-that-might-have-been and Small Thomas and the rattletrap car, even though such said stories seemed out of place in Glinda’s beautiful dining room with its snow-white tablecloths and silver goblets and crystal chandeliers and translucent china.
And Glinda thought about it for a moment longer, and smiled, and allowed as how she didn’t see any harm in bringing such people back to Oz if visitors to the outside world found them. For Oz was a prosperous and peaceful nation with plenty of room for newcomers, and no awful spell called the Great Depression hung over its lovely cities.
And so it was, a few weeks later, that a very small redheaded boy called Thomas, and an equally small dark-haired girl called Tibby came back to Oz with Professor Wogglebug the mapmaker, and were settled in Ozma’s palace.
Of course, in the way of very small boys and small girls everywhere, Small Thomas and Tibby wanted mothering, and the work fell to a trio of eager and entirely besotted Princesses of Oz.
And so it was – in accordance with the promise of Humperdinck the Nome - that Princess Dorothy and her companions Trot and Betsy Bobbin learned just what it was to be a mother, and also that in order to be a hero, one needed to be neither big nor a Princess of Oz, and there was no more melancholy sighing over history.
For Synopsis and Continuity notes, go here