by John Fricke
[Above: This is the third cover design by “Imperial Illustrator” John R. Neill for L. Frank Baum’s OZMA OF OZ; it was first used with the book in 1929. To see the equally splendid Neill concepts that preceded this one, please check out the brief introductory Vlog for OZMA OF OZ, to be found on the OZ Museum Facebook page (just an entry or so below the post/link that led to this Blog). There, among other pictures, you’ll find Neill’s embossed cover art for the first edition of OZMA OF OZ in 1907, as well as a completely different image for the book’s initial dust jacket. All three are favorites of Oz enthusiasts, and the one shown here, up top, has won an admiring appreciation as the “slinky Ozma”!]
By 1906, author L. Frank Baum was at a peak of his success. The musical comedy stage show of his book, THE WIZARD OF OZ, continued to produce revenue. To augment that income, he was branching out into the pseudonymous writing of series’ novels for more-or-less teenage male and female readers, as well as penning full-length narratives for adults. Best of all, he continued to turn out major fantasy fiction for youngsters, most recently QUEEN ZIXI OF IX (1905) and JOHN DOUGH AND THE CHERUB (1906). There’s no question, however, that he was principally and ever-more known as the man who created Oz – and Dorothy and her friends – in THE WIZARD OF OZ (1900). By public demand, he’d followed that with a further tale of Ozzy fantasticks, including the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman, in THE LAND OF OZ (1904).
It’s essential that “public demand” be referenced here. Along with his earnings through these years, the lifelong deluge of letters from Baum’s young readers also continued to increase. In summation, they enjoyed his other books, but their expressed glee and their primary requests were manifestly all about the country and characters of Oz. “More about Dorothy,” they clamored, while going on to ask, “What became of the Cowardly Lion?” and “What did Ozma do afterward?” (meaning after she became the Ruler of Oz). These are quotes from Baum’s “Author’s Note” at the onset of what would be the third Oz book, OZMA OF OZ (1907), and they stand as proof positive of the amazing hold his creations had on the daydreaming, thoughts, imaginations, and hearts of his following. They specifically suggested, “Why don’t you make Ozma and Dorothy meet and have a good time together?” So what else could Baum do but acknowledge that the fervorous recommendations of his readers were responsible for OZMA OF OZ, as they had been for its most recent predecessor. In the preface of the new book, he also and wisely announced that it brought back the popular and already legendary “old friends” -- the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion -- as well as offering “a good deal about some new folks that are queer and unusual. One little [girl] who read this story before it was printed said to me, ‘Billina is REAL OZZY, Mr. Baum, and so are Tik-Tok and the Hungry Tiger.’”
[Above: The cover of a Reilly & Britton advertising booklet for 1907. Notice that the name of the new Oz Book isn’t even referenced; the pamphlet’s key, headlined, and title phrase is “MORE ADVENTURES OF LITTLE DOROTHY IN OZLAND.” Ironically, all but the last two of twenty-one chapters of OZMA OF OZ take place in “borderland of Oz” countries, across the Deadly Desert from Baum’s cherished kingdom. Yet just the name of one of the book’s major heroines and of the magical country with which she was associated was all that was deemed necessary to attract public attention and achieve sales. (Frank Baum was also the author of FATHER GOOSE’S YEAR BOOK, as advertised in the bottom right corner of the cover, but that was a “calendar” volume, not a fantasy for children.) After the job they’d done for him with THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ in 1904, Baum’s pleasure with The Reilly & Britton Co. was fast in place; even before OZMA OF OZ was written, he’d promised them at least two more Oz books in the following five years. OZMA OF OZ has thus been deemed – if only unofficially -- the figurative onset of the Oz titles as a series. (Credit-Where-Due: The art above was adapted by Dick Martin for the cover of the Spring 1972 issue of THE BAUM BUGLE -- now in its sixty-seventh year of publication as the magazine of The International Wizard of Oz Club, Inc. For more information: ozclub.org).]
In OZMA OF OZ, Baum delivered an expert tale that did, indeed, present the favorites of his faithful readers, and -- at the same time -- embraced or embroiled them with soon-to-be-classic members of the greater Oz family. As will be cited below, the “embroiling” came via the presence of a haughty princess who wanted Dorothy’s head (!), as well as perhaps the most despicable, reprehensible villain in all forty official Oz Books: the nefarious Nome King. Although the traditional spelling is, of course, “gnome,” Baum felt it was unfair to ask a child to comprehend the silent “g.” (There may have been some point to this; as recently as the late 1950s, a fellow eight-year-old and comparatively “new” reader breathlessly announced to me that her suburban library had just stocked a new Oz book: THE GOON KING OF OZ. Well, even as a preteen, I knew THAT one wasn’t “on the list” of official titles, but it DID give me pause and a brief and ultimately hopeful longing for something of which I’d been hitherto unaware. However . . . you’ll see somewhere below the cover of THE GNOME KING OF OZ by Ruth Plumly Thompson, and you’ll notice that Ruth reverted to the accepted spelling of its second word. This provides an explanation of the 1959 situation/mispronunciation -- as unsatisfying as it was to me back in the day! Of course, given his behavior throughout the history of Oz, even “Goon King” might be considered too tender an appellation for the character under discussion.)
In OZMA OF OZ, Dorothy Gale makes an unexpected second excursion to Oz. This time, she’s detoured off the deck of a storm-tossed ship, in which she and Uncle Henry are traveling to Australia for his health. The girl, fearing her uncle has gone outside (despite the captain’s orders to stay below), is blown into the ocean, all the while clinging to the slats of a chicken coop.
A yellow hen, eventually rechristened Billina by Dorothy, makes the starting jaunt with her, and they drift ashore to the Land of Ev -- happily located just across the Deadly Desert from Oz. The fact that the hen can suddenly talk is further clue that our heroine is not in Kansas (or even the Pacific Ocean) anymore. By chance, the two of them rescue an altogether wondrous copper robot from imprisonment in a nearby cave. This Tik-Tok is an amazing creature, who can be wound up – like a clock – to think, speak, and move; he “does everything but live,” according to the placard instructions on his back:
He declares himself Dorothy’s obedient servant – and just in the nick of time. Once out of the cave, the clockwork man, Billina, and the girl are attacked by a band of brazen Baum creations: the Wheelers. With compact hard “tires” instead of hands and feet, the freaky fellows give chase, but Tik-Tok knows the breed to be cowardly and stands up to them:
[Above: The Wheelers were also included in the 1985 Disney live-action film, RETURN TO OZ, which liberally lifted plot elements from OZMA OF OZ. To many young children who’ve seen that motion picture, the Wheelers are as mystifying and frightening as the Winged Monkeys of the Wicked Witch of the West, commandeered by Margaret Hamilton in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1939 screen musical, THE WIZARD OF OZ.]
Under Tik-Tok’s control, the captured Leader of the Wheelers leads the trio to the Royal Palace of Ev, currently ruled by the snooty, arrogant Princess Langwidere. Baum has his fun with both her name (built on the words and attitude “languid air”) and the purportedly female penchant to be ever attractive. Yet where others of her sex, if possible, enhance their appearance by an ever-changing wardrobe, Baum’s Langwidere has but a single, “simple white costume.” She also, however, possesses thirty different and beautiful heads, and she alternates them every time she becomes bored with her façade – or wants to dazzle with a new one:
Unfortunately for Dorothy, Langwidere is quietly impressed by the girl’s fresh beauty, and wants her head in trade for one of the Princess’s own cast-offs. When the child (small wonder . . .) refuses such an exchange, Langwidere locks her in a tall tower and banishes Billina to the backyard chicken-house. Tik-Tok, meanwhile, has rundown, and the Princess plans to keep him as a decorative statue in her drawing room.
The next morning, the Kansas child leans out her upper-story window and looks across the desert on one side of the palace of Ev. She notices – to her delight – an advancing procession, and the entire party is traveling on a Magic Carpet, so as to avoid the destructive and murderous sands beneath them. This extraordinary faction includes the twenty-seven soldiers of the Royal Army of Oz; the Tin Woodman and Scarecrow (the latter riding the Sawhorse); and the Cowardly Lion and Hungry Tiger. The latter two pull a “magnificent golden chariot,” in which rides the beautiful, young Princess Ozma, about whom Dorothy has previously heard from Tik-Tok.
[Above: To many young Oz fans, this John R. Neill color page in OZMA OF OZ has always been some sort of unparalleled dream-come-true. Not only is Dorothy’s rescue-from-the-tower imminent, but the eager reader also knows she’s about to be reunited for the first time with her three glorious friends, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion. OZMA OF OZ – unlike the preceding WIZARD and LAND volumes – didn’t include color plates on glossy paper. Instead, the masterful Neill offered many more hued drawings in number, albeit printed on the more common paper stock used throughout the book.]
As the new ruler of Oz, Ozma has a special purpose in leaving home with her closest friends and army. She knows that Langwidere is a stop-gap ruler in Ev, and that the rightful young king, his four brothers, his five sisters, and his royal mother are captives in the nearby Nome Kingdom. Ozma plans to liberate them; the Nome King has – by his own admission -- transformed them all “into articles of ornaments and items of bric-a-brac” to decorate his underground palace.
Dorothy, Billina, and Tik-Tok join the Ozians in their journey; unluckily, almost all of the expedition falls into an evil plot concocted by the malevolent Ruler of the Nomes. An inadvertently eavesdropping Billina hears the secret of his scheme, however, and at the same time discovers the power of the Magic Belt he always wears. The next morning, when the hen does her morning lay, she also learns from a momentarily hysteric King that eggs are poisonous to -- and mean certain death for -- any Nome:
Armed (or winged . . .) with such information, Billina quietly effects the rescue of the Evians and also many of the Ozians; by this time, all but a few of the latter have also been transformed into ornaments. (Some of Baum’s most gripping writing describes the gradual disappearance of most of Ozma’s brigade – including Ozma herself.) When the Nome King threatens to destroy the restored company, the Scarecrow throws one of Billina’s eggs at the villain, as shown just below. The straw man fortunately had been keeping them safe in his pocket during their days of trek.
[Above: Notice, please, the jeweled Magic Belt worn by the King, as artfully displayed by John R. Neill. This picture was drawn only moments before that instrument of conjuring became Dorothy’s property and eventually a possession of the Land of Oz. The girl appropriated it – at Billina’s suggestion -- while the King frantically tried to divest himself of the vestiges of the hen’s egg. Billina knew that, without his belt, he could do no further magical harm to the champions from Oz.)
Soon thereafter, Ozma, Dorothy, and all their friends make their escape back to the palace of Ev and the Emerald City. After much rejoicing in both locales, the victorious Ozma uses the power of the Magic Belt to return Dorothy to her Uncle Henry in Australia.
Frank Baum was in his story-telling prime for OZMA OF OZ. In addition to the thrilling adventures above (which, believe me, severely suffer in summation), he created some of the most important tools of sorcery and necromancy-for-good in the entire lexicon of fairy tales -- the Magic Belt and Magic Carpet primary among them. There are also such fetching handiworks as the mechanical Giant With the Hammer (who guards the passageway to the Nome Kingdom), and the traveler-restorative lunch boxes and dinner pails that grow on unique but handy trees. In addition to new discoveries Tik-Tok and Billina, Baum enabled his readers to revel as well in the comical Hungry Tiger, whose incessant appetite made him eternally long to eat “fat babies! Don’t they sound delicious? But,” the animal charmingly admits, “I’ve never eaten any, because my conscience tells me it is wrong.”
Baum later gave Tik-Tok an Oz book of his own (1914), which will be celebrated here in a Vlog & Blog later this summer. Then, as the second Royal Historian of Oz (she took over the post after Baum’s passing in 1919), Ruth Plumly Thompson accorded the same honor to THE HUNGRY TIGER OF OZ (1926) and THE GNOME KING OF OZ (1929). Incidentally, that rascally monarch creates havoc in eight additional Oz Books in all, ever vengeful and indiscriminately malicious.
Reviewers once again heralded Baum’s accomplishment, with the Houston POST acclaiming OZMA OF OZ “the very Ozziest of the series” and referring to its author as “the greatest inventor of modern fairy tales.” The adventures of Baum’s characters were “delightfully set forth,” according to the Philadelphia NORTH AMERICAN. “Mr. Baum is manifestly the chief artist of the guild . . . [of] a difficult art, this writing of fanciful stories that shall enchain childish attention . . . Only a chosen few have the secret of making them.” Finally, the Boston MORNING STAR exulted, “If it requires genius to write children’s books, it certainly requires genius of a superior order to invest nonsense with an attractiveness beguiling to children and old folks.” Their critic also praised the work of Neill: “The keen appreciation and humor of the illustrator have doubled the charm of the book,” and the Houston review seconded that opinion: “The illustrations in color by John R. Neill, an artist of much talent, will make the little ones’ eyes grow round with delight.”
OZMA OF OZ repeated the sales success of the two preceding Oz titles, topping 40,000 copies in print in just two months and enjoying many reprintings in succeeding years. Princess Ozma herself has enjoyed longevity as well, remaining a dominant, peaceful, just, and beautiful sovereign ever since those first adventures in Ev. Apart from books, she’s also been omnipresent in numerous other Ozzy incarnations. Despite the failure of Baum’s musical extravaganza, THE WOGGLE BUG (1905; based on the second Oz book, THE LAND OF OZ), he began to plan – as early as 1908 – a similar stage presentation built around OZMA OF OZ. After much rewriting and reconfiguring, it was finally produced in 1913 as THE TIK-TOK MAN OF OZ, but you’ll have to wait until we Vlog/Blog the TIK-TOK OF OZ book to hear all the backstory of both play and novel.
Meanwhile, plot elements from OZMA OF OZ had already figured into the silent films shown in Baum’s 1908 multimedia touring production, THE FAIRYLOGUE AND RADIO PLAYS. Six years later, actress Vivian Reed’s countenance “as” Ozma was featured as a welcoming moment at the onset and conclusion of the reels of at least three silent motion pictures presented by Baum’s Oz Film Manufacturing Company. (A recent Oz historian has ventured that Reed got the job because no other contemporary actress possessed so startling a smile!)
When The Reilly & Lee Co. publishers (successors to Reilly & Britton) decided to modernize at least the outward appearance of the Oz Books circa 1959, they hired Roland Roycraft to illustrate new dust jackets for eleven of the series titles. OZMA OF OZ was one of these, although the artist apparently didn’t realize that the Princess was supposed to be within a year or two of Dorothy’s age – and basically the same height!
Dick Martin was a major and lifelong Oz fan, an extremely knowledgeable historian, a collector extraordinaire, and an immeasurably effective artist/designer. He had much better illustrative luck in picturing four abridgements of Baum’s first four Oz titles in 1961 – OZMA OF OZ among them -- and offered an at least somewhat more modified approach to the appearance of that title character:
A proposed “graphic novel” treatment of OZMA OF OZ was advertised by Marvel Comics in 1976; they’d already given the same lavish and oversized comic book treatment to MGM’s THE WIZARD OF OZ movie and Baum’s THE LAND OF OZ novel. The awkwardness of the product’s size worked against such a series, however, and bookstores were hesitant to carry them. As a result, this version of OZMA OF OZ never reached publication. (The observant will notice that the Marvel approach to OZ included the MGM variations of Dorothy and her companions, under license from that film company.)
Across the decades, there have been numerous other adaptations of Baum’s third Oz book: a much performed (since 1935) Junior League Play, animated cartoons, film variations, an acclaimed, successful, and widely circulated later graphic novel, and on and on. Many fans rank OZMA’s story as second only to THE WIZARD OF OZ as the most beloved of all the Oz titles; indeed, some of them like it even more than THE WIZARD.
Whatever the varied formats of the storytelling and its handling, however, Princess Ozma herself – as referenced above -- continues to reign, sagely supreme, in the Land of Oz. The succeeding 2023 Vlogs and Blogs will offer further evidence of that statement, as history confirms that she has been celebrated, saved, kidnapped, feted, honored, loved -- and loves in return -- in her kingdom. Please join us here for all of that information and much more; there are certainly blatant hints way herein, but do YOU think Dorothy will make a third trip to Oz? 😊 )
Many, many thanks for reading!
Article by John Fricke