[Princess Ozma and Dorothy meet for the second time in this John R. Neill watercolor from the fourth Oz book, DOROTHY AND THE WIZARD IN OZ (1908). All the art in this month’s blog is Neill’s work, drawn for the Oz titles of 1904, 1907, 1908, 1909, and 1910.]
This month’s blog is a long overdue gratitude to L. Frank Baum for fulfilling so many of my childhood expectations – in particular, one specific emotion he perhaps never realized his writing would achieve!
Baum’s book, THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, rolled off the presses exactly 120 years ago this May, and his sage storytelling and alternately quiet, uproarious, and sometimes sly humor not only permeated that adventure but all the other Oz tales that followed. From the onset, such a combination made Baum’s prose cross-generational in its appeal, but there’s no question he was basically writing “to please a child” (his own descriptive phrase, attendant to one of his pre-Oz efforts).
All of this came back to me earlier this month when I was reflecting on the limitless joys of Oz characters and adventures. In the process, I “fastened” for the first time on a specific characteristic of the series, and I hope you’ll find it fun to share here and now.
One thing most children come to love very early on in life is the concept of “reunion-ing”: reuniting with those with whom there’s an emotional and/or familial tie, but who aren’t seen on a regular basis. For me as a little boy, this meant distant grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, family friends – and the best buddy from “the old neighborhood” after we moved away. (I was seven at the time!) There’s no question that seeing these people again, whenever possible, made for a happily anticipated and ultimately rewarding occasion, unique in itself during childhood.
[Across the first ten chapters of the second Oz book -- THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ (1904) -- the reader is thoroughly thrilled by the adventures of (among others) Jack Pumpkinhead and the young boy Tip, at right above. But a major delight was provided when the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman reunited, apparently for the first time since their adventure with Dorothy.]
Of course, I had this self-same experience every time I read an Oz book, too: meeting again (and again) the familiar compatriots -- those standard-bearer residents of The Marvelous Land. Baum, however, sometimes took this a wonderful (and wonderfully emotional) step further.
My “study” here is only cursory, to be sure, but I now realize how he tapped even more deeply into this reader’s love for the characters – to the point that I additionally anticipated THEIR reunions, and I loved THEIR joys at getting together again in the subsequent Oz books. I’m scarcely singular in this reaction, I’m sure, but I wanted to acknowledge -- even at this late date -- that L. Frank Baum wrote their encounters (and, often, John R. Neill illustrated them) in ways that gave superlative satisfaction to the expectations and hopes of a very young reader.
THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ (1900) was conceived as a stand-alone title; Baum never intended a sequel, never mind a series. But the book was a runaway success, as was the 1902 stage production that used it as the basis for a musical extravaganza; this led Baum to author THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ in 1904. Originally titled THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF THE SCARECROW AND TIN WOODMAN, the story introduced wonderfully appealing new characters and situations, but had its foundation – for this fan, anyway – when the two legendary protagonists teamed up for a second time.
Further gratifying a sense of nOZtalgia, Baum also tossed into the plot a sequence with the Queen of the Field Mice and her subjects. They once again – as in the first Oz book -- came to the aid of the Scarecrow and his party in their attempts to regain control and rule of the Emerald City.
[With the permission of Her Majesty, the Queen of the Field Mice (directing traffic, center), a dozen of her subjects run to nestle in the Scarecrow’s straw and travel with him to the Emerald City. Their company then enabled him to overthrow – if briefly – the all-female Army of Revolt that had invaded the capital of Oz. Onlookers, from left, include Jack Pumpkinhead (astride the Sawhorse), Tip, the Woggle-Bug, and Nick Chopper the Tin Woodman.]
OZMA OF OZ – book three! – gave me perhaps the most joyously awaited reunion. By demand of Baum’s child readers, Dorothy made her first return to Oz in this volume, and wind once again played a pivotal role in her journey. Blown off a ship during a Pacific Ocean storm, the girl clung to a chicken coop that eventually, gently found its way to the shores of the continent that included the Land of Oz. She then was imprisoned by the vain princess of Ev (Dorothy refused to trade her head for one of the princess’s cast-offs; ya gotta read these books, folks!), but rescue was soon at hand, when a whole procession of Oz folk – including her three boon companions – arrived in Ev with their own agenda. To this day, I recall my joy as an eight- or nine-year-old when Dorothy ran to reembrace the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion for the first time since the silver shoes took her back to Kansas.
[Getting reacquainted in OZMA OF OZ (1907): Three of the best-loved characters in history meet again for the first time since their initial adventures on the Yellow Brick Road.]
The success of these three titles insured that Baum would journey back to Oz again, and the title character of his first book accompanied the plot in book four: DOROTHY AND THE WIZARD IN OZ. This time, a series of California earthquakes dropped Dorothy, her cousin, her cat, a horse, the Wizard, AND his balloon deep into the earth. Before gaining safety in Princess Ozma’s realm, the travelers were challenged by living vegetable people, a black pit, invisible killer bears, a less-than-sane old man on a mountain, the flying wooden gargoyles, and a den of ravenous dragonettes. It’s Oz, of course, and everything ends well, with the Wizard welcomed home and given permanent residency in the Emerald City. (Under the tutelage of Glinda the Good, he even becomes a genuine Wizard – but that’s part of another story.)
In this tale, I was most anxious to read about Dorothy and the Wizard as they “found” each other again in the underground kingdom of the Mangaboos. The clever (and sassy) Baum prolongs this, as it takes the Wizard’s balloon three hours to descend through the air and land, but there was certainly childhood nirvana when the girl and man finally reconvened:
“Why,” cried Dorothy in amazement, “it’s Oz!” The little man looked toward her and seemed as much surprised as she was. But he smiled and bowed as he answered, “Yes, my dear. I am Oz, the Great and Terrible. Eh? And you are little Dorothy from Kansas. I remember you very well.”
(There was further gratification in store when the Wizard re-met the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and citizens of the Emerald City, all of whom were delighted to have him back.)
[Celebrating his return to Oz, the Wizard – and accompanying piglet -- give an exhibition of magic to Princess Ozma, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Eureka the Cat.]
By the fifth Oz title, THE ROAD TO OZ, Dorothy was (thanks to Ozma’s Magic Belt) pretty much coming and going as she pleased. The reunions were, as a result, becoming more regular – especially as, by this point, the little girl knew so many Ozian residents. Her original friends were now augmented by Billina the Yellow Hen, Tik-Tok the Machine Man, the Hungry Tiger, the Sawhorse, and many others. In turn, in THE ROAD TO OZ, she presented all of them to the Shaggy Man, Button-Bright (a lost youngster from, as it turned out, Philadelphia), and Polychrome, daughter of the Rainbow. Oz was now a family reunion for its participants – and thanks to Baum’s all-embracing journalese, it had become an extension of my own family, as well.
[One of John R. Neill’s most resonant pieces of art was drawn for THE ROAD TO OZ (1908), as Dorothy reunited with a cherished chum. The original pen-and-ink drawing was part of the collection of preeminent collector and book dealer Justin G. Schiller and was sold at his auction in 1978.]
By 1910, however, Baum had grown somewhat tired of telling tales of Oz-land and wanted to write children’s fantasies about other magical realms and creations. He determined that THE EMERALD CITY OF OZ would be his final Oz book, and to neatly wrap up some of the ongoing threads of story, he permanently moved Dorothy and Toto to Oz. Glinda the Good then made the land invisible to all outside eyes, so that neither Baum nor anyone else would be able to find it – or determine what else was happening there -- or share any further hOZtories.
Of course, as it turned out, THE EMERALD CITY OF OZ didn’t remain the final book, but I think most of you already know that. (Baum went on to write eight others before his passing – and six additional authors added twenty-six more.) Even planning the sixth title as a finale, however, Baum’s comprehension of a child’s expectations and wonderment was no less thorough than before. In bringing the Kansas girl to Oz, Princess Ozma also answered the child’s heartfelt request to grant Aunt Em and Uncle Henry a new home in the Emerald City, as well. The astonishment of the old couple -- when magically and unexpectedly transported to the throne room of the most amazing castle in the world – was another expectation fulfilled for this reader. And their subsequent scenes of acclimatization were fun and funny and meaningful; they, of course, were never quite certain that Oz was real – despite all of Dorothy’s stories when she’d returned home from her earlier visits.
[Farewell, Kansas! Aunt Em was caught doing dishes and Uncle Henry “doin’ chores” when the magical summons came to take them to their new, forever-after home in Oz. Neill shows them here as they . . . er, landed.]
Needless to say, all of the foregoing barely scratches the surface of my love and appreciation. But . . . thank you, Mr. Baum: again and again and again. For uncountable joys, impressions, influences, and – especially today – for satisfying the longings of a child. Whether they were conscious or underlying emotions, my expectations were heightened, glorified, and then gratified, as only you could have done it.
Article by John Fricke