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The Father of the Wizard Oz
December 1964 | Volume 16, Issue 1
Children could not believe he was dead. Even today Reilly & Lee, his publishers, get letters addressed to him. The Oz books were continued, first by a twenty-year-old Philadelphia girl named Ruth Plumly Thompson, then by John Neill, and afterward by Jack Snow, who took his work so seriously that he wrote a Who’s Who in Oz giving the names of all Oz characters and a short biographical sketch of each. Rachel Cosgrove wrote one Oz book, and the series is now being continued by Eloise McGraw and Laurie Wagner. But Baum’s originals still outsell their successors by six to one.
During Baum’s lifetime and for many years after his death, his books were not taken seriously—except by the ever-enthusiastic children. Now even among grownups there is a constantly growing Oz cult. Baum devotees have formed the International Wizard of Oz Club, whose members collect everything they can find on Baum and learnedly debate such problems as why the Magic Powder of Life (which brings to life everything it touches) didn’t animate its own container, and why Professor Woggle-Bug in his map of Oz put the Munchkin country to the west of the Emerald City when in the Wizard the Good Witch of the North says that it lies to the east. In the last thirty years the Baum books have been “discovered” by such notable persons as James Thurber, Phyllis McGinley, Philip Wylie, Clifton Fadiman, and, of all people, Dylan Thomas. Professor Russel B. Nye of Michigan State University, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and Professor Edward Wagenknecht of Boston University have published scholarly papers on Baum.
On the other hand, there has been a violent reaction against him on the part of many librarians, child psychologists, and teachers. His books have been, from time to time, withdrawn from the shelves of public libraries. One librarian protested that the books were “untrue to life and consequently unwholesome for children,” and another supported her, claiming that “Kids don’t like that fanciful stuff any more. They want books about atomic missiles”—a cheerful prospect which is fortunately untrue: the Oz books continue to outsell almost all other juveniles. In Russia the story is given a slightly anti-American slant—for example, Dorothy lives in a Kansas trailer, and knows little about life because the American books she has are such shoddy productions—yet on the whole the Land of Oz has proved to be as inviolable behind the Iron Curtain as anywhere else. It is a unique tribute.