July 25, 2014: The (Original) Road to Oz -- Part Two
Well, despite its then-foreboding price, a copy of that book was my best eighth-birthday present four months later. The Road to Oz chronologically was the fifth title in the overall Oz series (please see last week's blog for the back-story), but it was a singularly appropriate offering for my second journey "over the rainbow." Originally published almost fifty years earlier in 1909, The Road to Oz -- like The Wizard – familiarly begins with Dorothy and Toto at home on Uncle Henry's farm. When she is asked for directions by a passing vagabond ("The Shaggy Man"), the girl decides to lead him to the appropriate local crossroads. Once they arrive, however, she finds the paths have multiplied at least threefold...and unexpectedly, she is off on what was actually her fourth trip to the Emerald City.
A bit of (as we say) hoztory here: L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was an instant best-seller when published in 1900. Two years later, his basic story was much adapted for a musical extravaganza and quickly became the theatrical triumph of the age, touring cross-country with multiple companies for the better part of seven seasons. The combined success of book and stage show led several thousand children to write to Baum, asking – in effect – “after Dorothy returned to Kansas, what happened to the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman?” (A former vaudeville team, Fred A. Stone and David C. Montgomery, had achieved stardom and won fervent fans by originating those two roles in the Oz musical; youngsters were especially entranced by their tomfoolery and “personations” of the already-famous characters.) In response to what was later defined as a “blizzard of Oz” mail, Baum penned The Marvelous Land of Oz for 1904 publication. Therein, he returned the country’s rightful girl ruler to the throne of the Emerald City -- with the aid of the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Glinda, and such bright and bizarre new compatriots as Jack Pumpkinhead, the Saw-Horse, and the Woggle-Bug. The joys and sales of that book next led children to vociferously write to its author and suggest that Dorothy should meet the new princess, Ozma of Oz, which happened in the Oz book for 1907. A year later, Baum realigned both the Kansas girl and everyone’s favorite humbug in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz.
At age eight and coming to only my second Oz book after The Wizard (and one viewing of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Judy Garland movie), I didn’t know any of that. I just knew The Road to Oz was something I couldn’t wait to travel. On her way, Dorothy -- and I -- met a lost boy-waif from Philadelphia, Button Bright, and an actual daughter of the rainbow, Polychrome. With the Shaggy Man and Toto, “we” also visited two separate, magical villages inhabited by talking foxes and donkeys. The next encounter, however, was far less pleasant: a band of frightening, two-faced cannibals, each with a different, horrifying visage on the front and back of his head. Compounding that charm, these Scoodlers could also detach said heads and throw them as weapons at intended victims, all of whom – they gleefully insisted – would be made into soup.
That was just the first ten chapters.
The story culminated in a huge Emerald City celebration for Princess Ozma. (Her natal day, according to the book, is upcoming on August 21st, if anyone wants to party). Attendees included many characters from non-Oz book fantasies Baum had written and published between 1901 and 1906, which instantly provided me a crash-course in his imagi-nation(s). Perhaps most thrilling of all: Ozma’s guest list was topped by Santa Claus.
Ironically and historically, The Road to Oz isn’t considered one of its author’s best-plotted or structured books. But it was the perfect passport for me: an echo of The Wizard, with classic protagonists Dot and Toto on an enchanted journey, fraught with friends and fun and fear, and culminating in a happily-ever-after finale in Oz. Then, on the very last page, the Kansas girl and her dog were, at her request, magically and safely whisked back home to Kansas.
I’ve been blessed with many life-changing or (at very least) life-enhancing moments. That book and that birthday provided one of them.
And less than a month later came Christmas, when I’d apparently and suddenly proved to be ‘way out in front as the-child-for-whom-it’s-most-easy-to-shop:
There were five more Oz books under the tree.
[to be continued]
Article by John Fricke