Did you know there were two tin woodmen in Oz? Probably not–the second one appears for the first time in this short snippet of a story.
“He thought it was a curse. I saw it differently. You probably remember his story–how he fell in love with a certain girl, who happened to be my niece. Her mother, my poor late brother’s widow, didn’t want her girl getting married, so she went to the witch to buy a hex on the fellow. Next time he went out to the woods, his axe slipped and cut a horrible gash in his leg. There was nothing to be done for it, the leg was lost; so he went to the tinsmith and got a replacement. He had no idea his axe had been turned against him, so he went right back to chopping. He lost one arm to it, then another–and then in the end he was all tin.
“I didn’t understand what was going on any more than he did. Anyone could have known something was up, though. He wasn’t that bad at handling an axe! Somehow he was oblivious to what was really going on, though, and he kept right on cutting wood, and cutting himself. Maybe there was a spell on him, too–I can’t believe it was just his axe that was addled. You’d think he’d have thought it was pretty remarkable to survive with a tin body, but he took it in stride–as long as he was well oiled, that is. His one big complaint was he had lost his heart.
“Well, I’m a woodman too. I saw what he never saw. Oh, he was proud enough of his new tin body, all shiny and all, and he was glad enough to have a skin that the axe couldn’t cut any more. But he was so caught up in not having a heart, he never figured out just how much good the spell had done him. He was a woodcutting machine! Fast, accurate, never bothered by nettles and or brambles; he could keep going and going with hardly a break except to oil up. And he had the gall to complain about it!
“He didn’t know–not until it was way too late–just who it was who had caused this. But I knew. She was having one of those little gossip sessions with my wife, complaining about this and that. My wife–bless her–was one of my own bigger mistakes. She would got into these gripe-fests with other women, and she never complained about anything but me. ‘He’s lazy, he doesn’t make us any money, he treats me rotten,’ and on and on. What did she know about woodcutting? I swung that axe all day long, sweating, blistering my hands, never knowing when some idiot with another axe was going to drop a tree on my head–and all she could do was whine.
“Okay, I’ll admit it, she wasn’t all wrong. Woodcutting is a hard life. We never had any money to spare, hardly enough food to eat, and our home was just about falling apart. That’s how it was until I got things figured out. It was lucky, in a way, how I happened to overhear them talking. (Usually I stay as far from them as I can.) My sister-in-law was crowing to my wife about how she had gone to the Wicked Witch of the East, and how it had cost her just two sheep and a cow to get this spell cast.
“That gave me the idea. It was only natural, don’t you think? We didn’t have any livestock to spare at the time, but I figured I could make a deal to pay the witch later, once I got myself improved.
“The witch went for it, the same deal she asked from my sister-in-law. Now, you’re probably thinking she would have had some huge evil trick in mind; but no, she may be a wicked witch, but she kept her word. A few good chops and a visit to the tinsmith, that’s all it took; then two sheep and a cow, as soon as I could afford them. That’s all she got out of me.
“I really don’t need animals like that now anyway–tin men don’t eat, and we don’t mind about keeping warm. I just have to keep my joints oiled up. I may not have a heart, but then, I wasn’t all that lovey-dovey with my wife anyway, if you know what I mean. I hardly ever think about a tree falling on me anymore; the other woodcutters mostly stay clear of my part of the woods. I move a lot faster now.
“Why do they call her a wicked witch, anyway?”
(Some characters in this story are of course borrowed from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, written in 1900, now in the public domain. Some context: we’ve often debated “philosophical naturalism” on this blog, the view that nothing exists except matter, energy, and their interactions according to law and chance; and that there is no supernatural, the world is “only natural.” So goes one view. This story is intended as a commentary on that view.)
Reposted from July 18, 2006.