Book Spread

[Perhaps only John R. Neill, the “Imperial Illustrator of Oz,” could have so definitively “panorama-ed” the exact center of the marvelous land; he created this art for the first Oz book he authored, THE WONDER CITY OF OZ (1940). That volume was also the thirty-third full-length Oz story for which he did the pictures.]


It seems singularly appropriate to be greeting you today, as May 15, 2020, marks the 164th birthday anniversary of L. Frank Baum. As you probably don’t need to be told, he was the first person to discover Oz, record its history, and share his findings with (via one medium or another) what now tallies in the billions and billions of people, world-wide. This is additionally astounding – and heartening -- when we consider that the initial billions of that achievement were impacted long before the internet, social media, streaming services, and other such means of instant communication!

More than sixty years ago, Oz enthusiast Ted Eisen began writing a story about Baum’s own adventures in that land somewhere “over the rainbow.” We actually don’t know much about Eisen’s fan fiction, although it was titled THE ROYAL HISTORIAN OF OZ; it’s probably safe to assume that Mr. Baum’s triumphal (and most assuredly rapturously received) entry into the Emerald City might have been included in the saga. Meanwhile -- and here comes the segue! -- THAT supposition happily leads us to a second blog about art and imagery inspired by the capital of Baum’s magical land.  In last month’s installment, we examined some early Emerald City depictions by W. W. Denslow and John R. Neill for the Oz books published between 1900 and 1910. We also briefly contemplated the famous 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer concept of the Oz metropolis, as seen in their 1939 movie musical of THE WIZARD OF OZ.

As reference in the caption up top, it wasn’t until volume thirty-four of the Oz series that Neill first penned AND illustrated one of the books: THE WONDER CITY OF OZ (1940). While his tale was somewhat rewritten by a staff editor at The Reilly & Lee Co. publishers’ office, there was absolutely no mistaking the increased spectrum and glory of the Neill drawings that accompanied the text. (In the author’s note that opens WONDER CITY, he – perhaps slyly – muses, “Now that the book is ready for you to read, up pops a question: ‘Were the pictures made to go with the story, or was the story written to explain the pictures?’ I am wondering. Perhaps you can tell me, after you have read the story and examined the pictures.”) Whatever anyone’s conclusion, however, Neill offered page after page of extraordinary art. “Wonder city” was his euphemism for the Emerald City, and he more than did the town proud.


[Above: The first Emerald City chapters in THE WONDER CITY OF OZ describe a glorious birthday celebration for Queen Ozma. Before joining a parade of celebrities gathered in her honor, Ozma – scepter held high -- posed here on her palace balcony, greeting an assemblage of subjects from all over the country. Close by are Dorothy (wearing her princess coronet and waving an Oz flag) and the regal Glinda the Good; on a slightly lower terrace, one can glimpse such noteworthy Ozians as Professor Woggle-Bug and Tik-Tok.]


That Neill was a more gifted artisan than chronicler is an opinion generally shared by Oz book aficionados. However, his writing was most definitely the equal of his astounding imagination; Neill brings to life – quite literally – the Emerald City dwellings and neighborhoods that surround the palace and its gardens. The drawing above gives indication of his elaboration on the architecture of Oz homes, and he once again provides them “eyes” and “mouths” via their carefully placed windows. In one outlandish (but child-engaging and enrapturing) turn of THE WONDER CITY OF OZ plot, Neill describes a brief but tumultuous outbreak of war between the dwellings. During this uproar, the chimneys of some houses slammed adjacent buildings. Trees were uprooted and used as battering devices; a piano was thrown; “water pipes, sinks, garden statues, and flower pots rained” down – and the “air was filled with flying rafters, beams, bricks and glass.”

This is, however and after all, Oz. According to Neill, the fighting soon stopped. “There was a deep sigh” from one of the homes, “and then the piles of broken buildings began to pull themselves together bit by bit . . .. They set back their chimneys, straightened their railings and fences, stood up their stoops, and returned every last brick and flower pot to its place. At last, the street looked as neat and pretty as ever.”

Only in OZ; fantasy . . . squared! (And pun . . . intended! 😊 )


[Above: This double-page illustration from THE WONDER CITY OF OZ displays the height – or depth – of Neill’s housing madness and mayhem. That’s the Emerald City “Town Crier,” taking his job literally, in the right foreground.]


After Neill’s passing in 1943, Frank Kramer and “Dirk” Gringhuis illustrated subsequent Oz books. It was ultimately the work of Dick Martin, however, that brought both sleek modernizing to pictures of the land and its characters, while simultaneously maintaining and demonstrating the deep and obvious love and respect Dick felt for the traditions and appearances expected by fans.  This blog paid happy homage to Dick in January of this year, and if you haven’t read that entry, I encourage you to scroll in that direction at some point – just to see some colorful specimens of his adoration for all things Oz. Meanwhile, here are a couple of examples of his specialized approach to the Emerald City itself.

Dick’s first major Oz drawings were prepared for five Reilly & Lee titles: THE VISITORS FROM OZ (1960) and four 1961 “picture-book” adaptation-abridgements of the earliest Baum books in the Oz series itself. The cover of the initial volume of that quartet here speaks for itself in its contemporary design and jovial style in presenting the palace of Oz:


Elsewhere in that edition of THE WIZARD OF OZ, Dick provided his view of Dorothy and her companions as they enter the Emerald City on their first visit, hoping to meet “the Great and Terrible” Oz:


It was nineteen years later, however, that Dick had perhaps his most jubilant encounter with the structural design of Baum’s fairyland capital. In 1980, Dover Publications, Inc., published his CUT & ASSEMBLE THE EMERALD CITY OF OZ, a project/craft book that enabled children of all ages to create a dimensional playset of castle, city dwellings, and shops – and then “people” them with (in Dick’s parlance) some of “The Inhabitants (Or Ozmopolitans).” The latter included Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, Cowardly Lion, Wizard (and the Humbug Wizard’s Giant Head), Glinda, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Sawhorse, Professor H. M. Woggle-Bug, T. E., Old Mombi, the Guardian of the Gates, the Soldier with the Green Whiskers, Jellia Jamb (Head of Palace Staff), and Ozma herself.

In addition to the palace, Dick provided such additional local landmarks as the Emerald City Gates, the Emerald City Emporium (“Toggery”/”Bootery”), Sweet Shop (“Ozcream”/”Emerald Ice”), Grocery (“Prize Pickles”/”Fresh Fish Caught Today”/”Drink Oza-Cola”), Blacksmith & Hardware Shop (“Lawn Movers Sharpened”/”Armor Repaired While You Wait”), Toto’s House, Shop Row (“Toys”/barber shop: “Quartet Concert Tonight!”/bakery), large and medium and small personal dwellings, a cottage, the Hozpitality House (“Tourists Welcome”/”Home Cooking”), and the OZMAPOLITAN Building (“Greatest Newspaper in Oz”); the last of these also included the library and post office. (CuriOZity: There was some happy foreshadowing in Martin’s final two structures. Six years after Dick empowered countless fans to CUT & ASSEMBLE THE EMERALD CITY, the only post-series Oz book that HE both wrote and illustrated built its story around an ambitious young hero who worked for THE OZMAPOLITAN OF OZ newspaper and lived at the Hozpitality House!)


Obviously (and as we’ve seen in many of the past blogs in this series), the physical appearances of Oz personalities, landmarks, and domiciles are limited only by the imaginations of readers and artists. International visionaries --  stage/movie/TV set and costume creators, book illustrators, painters, sketchers, cartoonists, sculptors, craftspeople, and more -- have shared their visual translations of the descriptions penned by the “official” Royal Historians: Baum, Ruth Plumly Thompson, Jack Snow, Rachel Cosgrove Payes, Eloise Jarvis McGraw, and Lauren Lynn McGraw. And, as noted, two of the Oz illustrators – Neill and Martin – also belong among that litany of authors.

It’s true that one could do countless, contrasting pictorial examinations of the Oz citizenry and vistas. But what better, single, “Ozzy epitome” to celebrate and commemorate than the Emerald City itself – that ultimate goal and wish-fulfillment of all travelers . . . and the happiest haven in all of the Imagi-Nation.  😊

And, yes, here’s a P.S. Our limitless appreciation, as always, to the man who started it all:

Happy birthday, Mr. Baum!

Article by John Fricke


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