[Why is Santa Claus encased in a giant bubble – as the Wizard of Oz himself doffs his hat in acknowledgment? Read all about it below, in this month’s holiday blog! The illustration itself comes from L. Frank Baum’s book, THE ROAD TO OZ (1909), where it originally appeared in black and white. John R. Neill’s beautifully detailed pen-and-ink work was colorized, as shown here, for a 1939 adaptation/reprint of the story.]
’Tis the season, and the wise Know an Oz gift is The Prize! So, when ’neath the tree you look, I hope you find an Ozzy book!
Over the years of THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF OZ blog, we’ve found different ways of journalistically recognizing the December holidays. We’ve examined, if only briefly, the presence of Santa Claus in the Oz (and other) writings of the incomparable L. Frank Baum, the author who first discovered the marvelous land and its inhabitants. We’ve celebrated his successor, Ruth Plumly Thompson, who continued the Oz Book Series after Baum’s passing and, indeed, wrote more “official” Oz titles than any other historian. We’ve reprinted, as well, one of Ruth’s Oz holiday poems, and saluted her charming non-Oz fantasy novelette, THE CURIOUS CRUISE OF CAPTAIN SANTA. This year, however, I’d like to return to Baum, as his incorporation of Santa in an Oz book had a personal impact on me – and, I would imagine, on countless other children who read (or had read to them) his story, THE ROAD TO OZ.
The first Oz book I received (and studied!) – as a six-year-old – was also Baum’s first: THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ. It was just a year later, though, that I discovered there was a long list of Oz sequels; soon thereafter, I began to acquire those, and the initial volume I was given arrived on my eighth birthday: THE ROAD TO OZ. Chronologically, this was actually the fifth Oz novel that Baum had published, but as it began with Dorothy, Toto, and Kansas (on pages one and two of the text), I felt no bothersome lack of continuity whatsoever!
In the story, the intrepid duo of a young girl and treasured pet traveled again from Kansas to the magic kingdom, arriving just in time for the birthday party of beauteous and beneficent Princess Ozma, the rightful ruler of Oz. Imagine -- if you will, please! -- the joy of a wide-eyed, brand-new eight-year-old, “sharing” that journey of laughter, adventure, danger, sorcery, and comical or wondrous new characters. For me, the perfect topper to the chronicle came with its grand finale in the Emerald City. Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion (who’d become my best-friends-via-book across the preceding two years) were asked by Ozma to gather in the palace throne room to receive “in state” the enchanted guests who were arriving to celebrate the Princess’s natal day. Suffice it to say that my imagination went into astounded overdrive as Baum paraded them in. There was a gingerbread man, a candy man, and a wax doll queen – all of them alive. There was an enormous “woggle-bug” and a bizarre “braided man.” There was diverse, fairy-tale royalty from many of the countries surrounding the Land of Oz.
Of course, I elatedly recognized Glinda the Good when she swept in; she’d been a pivotal character in THE WIZARD OF OZ book and, of course, in the MGM film version of that tale (which I’d seen two years earlier). But even her presence -- and that of the aforementioned other invitees – was surpassed: I clearly remember that my innocent and believing heart not only thrilled but definitely leaped in reverential wonder at one particular and subsequent entrance. As Baum described it, the High Chamberlain of the Emerald City suddenly knelt to announce, “in an awed voice,” the approach of the man he termed, “The Most Mighty and Loyal Friend of Children, His Supreme Highness –
[Above: As this blog relates, Santa Claus visited Oz in THE ROAD TO OZ. But some of the favored citizens of that country – including the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman – later stopped by the North Pole to visit him. The merry old soul is pictured here by Dick Martin in THE VISITORS FROM OZ storybook (1960), which tells of that Ozian encounter.]
Across the concluding chapters of THE ROAD TO OZ, the beloved gentleman went on to play a happy role in Ozma’s birthday festivities; indeed, Baum defined him as “the jolliest person present, as well as the most important.” Santa offered the congratulatory toast (in verse) at Ozma’s banquet party and, the next day rode the wooden Sawhorse in a grand, commemorative procession of notables through the Emerald City. According to Baum, “The merry old gentleman had a basket of small toys with him, and he tossed the toys one by one to the children as he passed by.”
Then, at the climax of the merriment, the Wizard of Oz created a series of gigantic, beautiful bubbles, enforced with glue, so that “they were strong enough to float for hours without breaking.” The attending Ozian citizenry and celebrity guests were one-and-all understandably dazzled by the huge, balloon-like soap bubbles – and no one more so than Santa. He exulted, “That is really fine . . . . I think, Mr. Wizard, I shall have you blow a bubble around me; then I can float away home and see the country spread out beneath me as I travel. There isn’t a spot on earth I haven’t visited, but I usually go in the night-time, riding behind my swift reindeer. Here is a good chance to observe the country by daylight, while I am riding slowly and at my ease.”
Aided by the artwork of the unmatched John R. Neill, I was able to wondrously envision the departure of Santa from Oz, as well as that of several other guests who delighted in his idea and undertook the same journey-by-bubble; please see the illustration at the top of this blog. And for those who want to read in detail about Santa’s visit – not to mention Dorothy’s other adventures on THE ROAD TO OZ – this happy eight-year-old LONG since grown (but still believing!) is happy to note that the L. Frank Baum classic has remained “in print” for almost 110 years. So, please check out ozmuseum.com – and click on the “Museum Store” link. If they don’t have THE ROAD TO OZ, they’ll know where to find it for you -- not to mention countless other Oz classics!
[Above: Accompanied by his fairyland denizens, The Ryls and The Knooks, Santa Claus arrives for Ozma’s birthday party. The Claus companions were fancifully imagined and invented by Baum for his 1902 book, THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS. The Ryls have been described as “merry little sprites like fairy elves,” whose job it is to “paint the colors of the flowers when they bud and bloom.” The crooked, gnarled, and whiskered Knooks are trusted to “water and care for the young trees of the forest.” John R. Neill’s extraordinarily detailed drawing was created for THE ROAD TO OZ (1909).]
In conclusion – and whatever your particular holiday celebrations may be at this time of the year -- may I please take this opportunity to greet, and especially thank, all Oz fans and readers everywhere. Here’s to great, good health and joy for everyone -- and for every one of those for (and about whom), you care. There’s a reminder that has been quoted in this blog once or twice in the past, but there’s no better time than now to echo it: According to the gentle observation and benediction of Princess Ozma, “The Land of Oz is love.” May your own land(s) and lives, however near or far afield, be blessed with that same, eternally, magical quality.
Article by John Fricke
Article by John Fricke