- Historic Sites
The Father of the Wizard Oz
December 1964 | Volume 16, Issue 1
Baum loved to recount some matter-of-fact event and then embroider it with increasingly grotesque details while maintaining a perfectly serious attitude. The game was to see how far he could go before his listeners realize he was joking. He could fool even his own family, who of course knew the trick. Once he was telling his serious-minded mother a fantastic tale which deceived her for a long time, until she finally caught on and said severely, “Frank, you are telling a story.” Her son replied, “Well, mother, as you know, in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, he said ‘all men are liars.’ ” His bewildered mother, saying, “I don’t recall that,” got her Bible and began to search until she suddenly realized she had been tricked again.
Delighted as he was by the success of the Wizard , Baum had no intention of writing another Oz book. Convinced that he had found the perfect formula for writing fairy tales, he followed the Wizard with Dot and Trot of Merryland, American Fairy Tales , and The Master Key , the last a science-fiction slory with philosophical overtones. They had only a moderate success. He then tried The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus , which many consider a far better work than the Oz books. Unfortunately for Baum, the children didn’t agree. He then wrote The Enchanted Island of Yew , a story more in the old European tradition. It had only a modest sale. To children, Oz. was a real place. These other stories were only “fairy tales.”
Shortly after the success of the Wizard , Baum had jokingly lold a little girl —who was also a Dorothy—that if a thousand little girls wrote him asking for a sequel he would write one. At the moment, that hardly seemed likely, but he got the thousand letters and more. At last, in 1904, he wrote The Marvelous Laud of Oz , dedicating it to the two comics, Montgomery and Stone. Three new Oz characters appear who were to become famous: Jack Pimipkinhead, the Sawhorse and H. M. Woggle-Bug. Part of the book is a satire on the suffragette movement, but a cheerful one. The pretty General Jinjur defeats the army of the Emerald City by waving a knitting needle but is panic-stricken when the Scarecrow releases some mice from his stuffed bosom. The hero ol the book is Tip, a boy who is later transformed into a sweet young girl—Ozma, rightful ruler of Oz. The Land of Oz is the only Oz book in which Dorothy does not appear. Baum had a special feeling for her and at first resisted making Dorothy part of a routine series.
By 1904 Denslow and Baum had had a lalling-out, and for this second Oz adventure the publishers hired a new artist, a twenty-five-year-old Philadelphian named John R. Neill. Neill’s illustrations would become as closely identified with Baum as Tenniel’s with Lewis Carroll, or Shepard’s with A. A. Milne. Neill made Dorothy a pretty, slender girl instead of Denslow’s dumpy farm child, and transformed Toto from a nondescript cur to a Boston bull. Denslow bitterly resented Neill’s changes, but the younger man had a quiet revenge. In The Road to Oz , Dorothy visits the castle of the Tin Woodman, who has erected statues of his friends in the garden. Neill drew the statues in Denslow’s style and showed his own Dorothy and Toto looking with amazement and amusement at their former selves. To stress the point, he drew Denslow’s trademark, a seahorse, on the bases of the statues.
The Land of Oz was nearly as great a success as the Wizard , although the children missed Dorothy and wrote Baum hundreds of letters protesting her omission. Baum again tried to do other books. He wrote Queen Zixi of Ix , a beautifully plotted fairy tale; John Dough , find the Cherub, about the adventures of a gingerbread man; and three adult novels which were unhappy mixtures of Anthony Hope ami H. Rider Haggard. At last, in 1907, financial pressures forced him to write Ozina of Oz. Here Dorothy returns with Billina, the yellow hen, to rescue the royal family of Ev from Ruggedo, the Nome King. Ruggedo was Baum’s most successful villain and turns up in book after book. The Cowardly Lion has a companion in the Hungry Tiger (who longs to eat fat babies but is forbidden by his conscience), and Tiktok, said to be one of the first robots in American literature, aids them. The success of Ozma was so great that Baum never again wrote an Oz book without Dorothy.