The Emerald City
I don’t think Conor will be discussing fictional cities all that much at his Atlantic cities blog, but one in particular deserves attention: The Emerald City of Oz, or at least the one elaborated upon in Gregory Maguire’s Wicked and subsequent novels.
Maguire’s Emerald City is not only the capital of Oz, but the seat of its tyrant Wizard who is bit by bit strong-arming the rest of the country into submission. The emerald mines of Gillikin and the trolls who mine them are exploited for their precious green gems which give the City its name; the southern swamps of Quadling Country are slowly drained, the waters diverted to feed the pipes of the City’s residents; Munchkinland, the ‘bread basket of Oz’ finally secedes from the union in protest, as more and more of its crops are taxed away by the Wizard (and the various despots who come after he is deposed). The only place unscathed by all of this is the city of Shiz, home to Oz’s financial markets.
Elphaba goes off to the western wilds to fight her doomed rebellion against the Wizard. Her concerns are less for the welfare of all these places, then for the civil liberties which the government under the Wizard has stripped from Oz’s Animal population. (The Animal here is capitalized because these are talking, sentient Animals, not just ordinary animals.)
In many respects, Wicked is an anti-government novel (though not really a conservative novel – in the second book there’s a pretty confused gay romance subplot meandering through what is essentially a book of meandering subplots) – rife with secession, rebellion, crony-capitalism, and the horrors of a state-created second-class citizenry. Even more so, it’s a cautionary tale about the centralization of power – and in this case, the centralization of economic and political power in the Emerald City. Just as was the case in L. Frank Baum’s original Oz novels, there are echoes of America in all of this.
P.S. – the musical version, while very entertaining, doesn’t touch on many of these themes – and strays a good deal from the original work. If you’ve only seen the show I recommend you also read the book.