Recognize any of these phrases?
• “Some people without brains do any awful lot of talking.”
• “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
• “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!”
• “Follow the Yellow Brick Road.”
• “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”
• “Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable.”
• “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”
• “I’m really a very good man, but I’m a very bad Wizard.”
• “There’s no place like home.”
• “Now I know I’ve got a heart because it is breaking.”
Unless you’ve lived under a rock your whole life, I’m sure you know these lines from MGM’s movie The Wizard of Oz, based on the book by L. Frank Baum (originally titled The Wonderful Wizard of Oz). Yet only a few of these lines are from the book. (Do you know which ones?) Despite changes from storybook to screen, Baum is the magical mastermind behind this American classic.
L. Frank Baum (1856-1919) hailed from Chittenango, New York, outside of Syracuse, and became the author of sixty-plus books for children. Being an avid Baum fan, I traveled to Chittenango in June to get a feel for his roots and to visit the All Things Oz Museum. (More on that next time.)
In 1934, author and humorist James Thurber wrote a tribute to Baum, titled “The Wizard of Chittenango.” He praises the Oz tales for being “fairy tales with a difference.”
Whether an Oz fan or not, nobody can doubt that statement. According to Amanda Spake, contributing editor to U. S. News & World Report, “One hundred years after its publication, it remains the most significant children’s book in American history: No other fantasy is more beloved, hated, cited, imitated, interpreted, adapted, or marketed.”
The 1939 MGM movie immortalized Oz in a whole new way, but the book had already been popular for 39 years prior, since its publication in 1900. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was the first American fairy tale of its kind, more for entertainment rather than didactic moralizing, akin to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with its female protagonist and fantastic whimsy.
Not only has the book and/or movie’s dialog infiltrated our culture with household phrases, it spawned new art, books, drama, and music over the decades:
• a successful Wizard of Oz musical extravaganza 1902 – 1909 (on Broadway, too)
• 39 Oz book sequels (40 in the original official Oz Canon)—14 by Baum, 26 by 5 other authors
• Ozmapolitan newspapers with Ozzy news
• newspaper comic strips
• several pre-MGM films in 1908, 1910, 1914-1915, and 1925
• numerous puppet, marionette, and stage shows
• Ray Bradbury’s 1949 short story “The Exiles” about book banning
• various TV shows and animations in the 1960s and ’70s
• Elton John’s 1973 song & album “Good-bye Yellow Brick Road”
• 1975 Broadway musical The Wiz
• 1978 movie The Wiz
• Gregory Macguire’s 1995 book Wicked and its sequels
• The 2003 stage musical Wicked (still going strong!)
• Disney’s 2013 movie Oz the Great and Powerful
• dozens of spin-off books, new illustrated editions, and much more!
On top of that, in 1960, the National Radio Astronomy Lab in West Virginia watched for signs of life in outer space, a program named Project Ozma. Princess Ozma is the true ruler of the land of Oz, and its Royal Historian, L. Frank Baum, claimed to use such radio waves to re-establish contact with Oz in 1913.
Unless you’re already a huge Oz fan, you might be surprised to know about the thousands of Oz fans out there. Here’s a sampling of Oz-related clubs and events over the decades–and some currently–that regularly celebrate the happiness of Oz:
• International Wizard of Oz Club (IWOC); members receive tri-annual issues of the Baum Bugle (since 1957), full of scholarly articles
• Ozmapolitan Conventions in Michigan (started in Indiana in the 1960s)
• Winkie, Munchkin, and OzCon Conventions
• Oz-Stravaganza in Baum’s hometown, Chittenango, New York
• Aberdeen, South Dakota’s Land of Oz in Storybook Land
• L Frank Baum Oz Festival, The Dakota Heritage in Mina, South Dakota
• MidwestOzFest in Tinley, Illinois
• Oz Museum & Oztoberfest in Wamego, Kansas
• Wizard of Oz Festival at the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota
• Land of Oz in Banner Elk, North Carolina
. . . to name a few.
My blog’s hot air balloon logo is my own nod to Mr. Baum. He’s a favorite of mine. I quoted him earlier as an inspiration to the child’s imagination.
With all the hullabaloo over Baum’s original Oz story, you might be surprised to know that Baum didn’t want to keep writing Oz books after the first one. He was an actor at heart. He wanted to bring his stories to life on stage and collaborated with others to produce The Wizard of Oz musical extravaganza (1902 – 1909), for which he wrote the lyrics to many of the songs.
Incidentally, Ray Bolger, the inimitable Scarecrow in the MGM movie, admired and emulated Fred Stone, the Scarecrow in the extravaganza. Also, Glinda’s magic that sprinkled snow over the poppy field was an innovation of this musical. In the book, the traveling companions were saved by field mice.
Baum also collaborated and wrote lyrics for The Woggle-Bug (1905—an immediate flop) and The Tik-Tok Man of Oz in 1913 which fared well for almost a year.
Baum wanted to explore lands outside of Oz—in books for both children and adults. All in all, he wrote 59 novels, 83 short stories, over 200 poems, plus numerous plays, musicals, and film scripts.
• 14 Oz books
• 9 novel-length non-Oz fantasies
• Mother Goose in Prose & Father Goose nursery rhymes
• 10 books in the Aunt Jane’s Nieces series for teen girls
• 6 books in the Boy Fortune Hunter series
• 5 books in the Mary Louise series for teen girls
• 10+ other books for children
• Tamawaca, a satire & 3 adventure/romance novels for adults
• numerous plays & musicals (some were never produced)
• dozens of song lyrics for musicals
• book of poetry: In the Candelabra’s Glare
• 5+ motion picture film scripts
• Newspaper column “Our Landlady” and editorials
To end the Oz series for good, Baum cut off Oz from Earth with a barrier of invisibility in The Emerald City of Oz (1910), the sixth in the series. Three years later, at the request of hundreds of children who wrote him (and for financial reasons), he made contact again through wireless telegraph. He wrote eight more Oz books, published yearly from 1913 to 1920. The last two were written in bed as an invalid; two were published posthumously. After all, he could not disappoint the children. Over the years, he’d taken their letters and suggestions to heart, thoughtfully answering each one.
Contributing to his health issues was the stress of dabbling in film. He moved to Hollywood in 1910 at the beginning of the film industry, when Hollywood was merely an orchard. In 1914, he formed the OFMC (Oz Film Manufacturing Company) and wrote the scripts for their five full-length and five short films. Several were based on previous Oz books.
Though the films showed promise, OFMC had difficulties distributing them. The company folded in 1915, sold to Universal. Only three of the OFMC Oz films survive.
Baum’s first venture into film was his 1908 Fairylogue and Radio Plays, much like a travelogue of Oz. It combined live action, film techniques (what we now call trick photography), and “magic lantern” slides. Before MGM’s famous movie, Baum created the first Dorothy transforming from gray to color. Years before the 1915 film Birth of a Nation, the Fairylogue had the earliest documented film musical score. The film is lost, but the script remains.
Though Baum’s Oz books and their sequels were continually in print and popular with children since 1900, more than any other children’s book, they were banned by a Detroit library in 1957 as being “poorly written, unimaginative, and unwholesome.” Librarians turned their noses up at a series; some didn’t care for his style either. Baum was not as sophisticated as Hans Christian Anderson, J. M. Barrie, and other authors. Literary journals never included Oz books in their listings.
Chagrined, author and Oz fan Ray Bradbury said, “Personally, I find it easier to believe in the Scarecrow than in Mr Ulveling” (the Detroit librarian who banned Oz books).
To Baum’s rescue came Russel B. Nye and Martin Gardner. Nye was chairman of the English Department at Michigan State and had won the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for biography. He was the first to make the study of popular culture an acceptable pastime. Gardner was a writer, mathematician, and philosopher. He and Gardner reprinted the original Wizard of Oz with Denslow’s illustrations, along with a biography and literary critique. This endeavor gave credence to Baum’s works.
Baum’s literary worth has been affirmed by others. In 1929, Dr. Edward Wagenknecht, a Boston University English professor and pioneer in Oz criticism, suggested that Baum had invented an American Utopia. He also said . . .
“Baum taught American children to look for the wonder in life around them,
to realize that even smoke and machinery may be transformed
into fairy lore if only we have sufficient energy and vision
to penetrate to their significance and transform them to our use.”
—Edward Wagenknecht, “Utopia Americana” essay, 1929
Much later, Wagenknecht wrote how the Oz books had a lasting childhood influence on him, inspiring him to be a writer. He dubbed Baum’s Queen Zixi of Ix one of the best fairy tales in the world, second best to The Wizard of Oz.
In 1973 (and 2000), Michael Patrick Hearn—American literary scholar, children’s literature expert, and leading Oz scholar—published The Annotated Wizard of Oz. He considers the three quintessential American novels to be Moby-Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and The Wizard of Oz, which was unique for its time—a truly American fairy tale.
“Children’s books have just not been the same
since Dorothy first went to the Emerald City. . . .
The Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion
have entered the collective consciousness of childhood.”
Michael Patrick Hearn, Dictionary of Literary Biography:
American Writers for Children, 1900–1960
“Like Dickens and Twain, Baum had that
rare gift of memorable character invention.
While really only a suit stuffed with straw
and an odd collection of junk,
Baum’s Scarecrow and Tin Woodman are among
the most beloved personalities in all of juvenile literature.”
—Michael Patrick Hearn
Author, historian, and Oz/Judy Garland expert John Fricke often appears at Oz festivals and conventions. For interesting tidbits about Oz and its history, read his blog.
“From early on, Oz was promotionally touted
—and eventually critically recognized—
as “America’s own fairyland,”
an appellation much in keeping with Baum’s inspirations.
Dorothy Gale of Kansas remains both timeless
and a quintessential Midwestern child of 1900:
sunny, brave, and resourceful, combining common sense
with a capacity for friendship.”
—John Fricke, The Wonderful World of Oz,
An Illustrated History of the American Classic
Presbyterian minister, essayist, and novelist Fredrich Buechner is also an Oz fan.
“L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz (is)
not only the greatest fairy tale that this nation has produced,
but one of its great myths.”
—Fredrich Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat, 1966
In his books The Magnificent Defeat (1966) and Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale (1977), Buechner uses this story to explain certain spiritual truths, such as what happens when preachers demystify the gospel, watering it down to make it rational.
Other Oz fans over the years include authors Ray Bradbury, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Updike, and Edgar Eager (children’s author of Half Magic, 1954). Also, actress Margaret Hamilton grew up reading and loving Oz stories long before she became known as the infamous Wicked Witch of the West.
Numerous illustrators have infused Oz with their own unique vision of the four friends on the Yellow Brick Road, Munchkin Land, and the Emerald City. Greg Hildebrant is one of my favorites.
Interested in an Oz Festival or Museum near you? Check out this partial list:
—Oz-Stravaganza in Baum’s hometown, Chittenango, New York; first weekend in June
—All Things Oz Museum in Chittenango, NY
—Oz Museum & Oztoberfest in Wamego, Kansas; October
—Wizard of Oz Festival at the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota (from which the stolen ruby slippers were just found!); mid-June
—MidwestOzFest in Tinley, Illinois; in October
—Land of Oz in Banner Elk, North Carolina; Saturdays in June & early September events
Without looking it up, do you know which lines at the top are also in the book?
Do you have a favorite Oz book?
I’d love to hear from you!
P.S. Next time, take the tour with me through L. Frank Baum’s hometown Chittenango and the All Things Oz Museum.
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