Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tik-Tok of Oz: The First Robot

Some consider Frank Baum's Tik-Tok from the Oz books to be the first robot to appear in literature, though he was not called a robot. (The word robot was first used in print by Karel Capek in his play titled R.U.R (Rossum's Universal Robots) which opened in Prague in 1921.)

Tik-Tok re-imagined in Marvel's OZ comics
Tik-Tok was created by the brilliant inventors Smith and Tinker. They only created one such mechanical man and, alas, did not pass along their knowledge. He worked by three different sets of clockwork that had to be wound: one for speech, one for movement, and one for thinking. He was certainly "magical" in the sense of being incredible and a product of the land of Oz (yes, I know, he actually came from Ev not Oz, so sue me), but what makes him the first robot and not some enchanted creature is, I believe, twofold.

First of all he was not enchanted, but simply beautifully engineered. He was purely mechanical and not created, as some folks in Oz like Jack Pumpkinhead, by using the powder of life. And as for reason two, he is not alive. The Tin Woodman, in contrast, was at one time a "meat man" but his body was replaced by tin as he kept chopping off his own limbs. The fact that Tik-Tok is even in the plaque his inventors labeled him with (emphasis added):

Smith & Tinker's
Patent Double-Action Extra-Responsive
Fitted With Our Special Clock-Work Attachment
Thinks, Speaks, Acts and Does Everything But Live
Manufactured Only at Our Works at Evna, Land of Ev
All Infringements Will Be Promptly Prosecuted
According to Law

We are also reminded again and again by other characters that Tik-Tok is not alive. Although he's not alive, Tik-Tok doesn't long to be (like Pinocchio or many literary robots that would come later). He seems content not to be. 

So there you have it. The World's first Robot, created by Smith and Tinker in the land of Ev. (He now resides in Oz.)

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