- Historic Sites
The Father of the Wizard Oz
December 1964 | Volume 16, Issue 1
A the turn of the century, a disillusioned man who had failed at almost everything he had attempted wrote to his sister: “When I was young I longed to write a great novel that should win me fame. Now that I am getting old my first book is written to amuse children. For, aside from my evident inability to do anything ‘great,’ 1 have learned to regard fame as a will-o-the-wisp … but to please a child is a sweet and lovely thing that warms one’s heart.” L. Frank Baum with an audience of young Oz buffs, 1905
The man was Lyman Frank Baum, and his best-known book began to take form when a group of children, led by his own four boys, waylaid him one evening in his modest Chicago home, demanding a story. After a hard day’s work, Baum often turned to fantasy as many men turn to alcohol. Sitting down with the children surrounding him, he began to talk. He gave no thought to what he was saying and later wrote in amazement, “The characters surprised even me—it was as though they were living people.” Baum told of a little Kansas farm girl named Dorothy who was carried by a cyclone to a strange land where she met a live scarecrow, a man made of tin, and a cowardly lion. One of the children asked, “What was the name of this land, Mr. Baum?” Stumped, Baum looked around him for inspiration. In the next room were filing cabinets, and one bore the letters O-Z. “The land of Oz!” exclaimed the storyteller and continued with the tale, unaware that he had added a new word to the English language.
Baum seldom bothered to write down his stories, but he was strangely attracted to this tale. After the children had gone, he went to his desk, pulled out a handful of scrap paper, and jotted it down. The next day, he took his collection of notes to W. W. Denslow, a hard-bitten newspaper artist with whom he had collaborated on an earlier juvenile, Father Goose: His Rook .
The two men could not have been more different. Baum was shy, delicate in health, and unsophisticated about money. Denslow was aggressive, aspiring, and a heavy drinker; a lady once called him “a delightful old reprobate who looked like a walrus.” Denslow outlined an ambitious program for the proposed book—twenty-four of his drawings as fullpage illustrations in a six-color printing scheme and innumerable sketches tinted in various tones to be superimposed on the text. Baum eagerly agreed to everything.
Publishers did not. The two men were turned down by nearly every house in Chicago. Baum’s conception of an “American fairy story” was too radical a departure from traditional juvenile literature, and Denslow’s elaborate illustrations would price the book off the market. At last, George Hill agreed to publish the book according to Denslow’s plan, provided Baum and Denslow would pay all printing expenses. The two men turned their loyalties from Father Goose over to Hill, who thought the new book “might sell as much as 5,000 copies.”
It was called The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and was published on August i, 1900. ByOctober, twenty-five thousand more copies had to be printed, and thirty thousand more in November—and all this through word-of-mouth advertising. Hill, who had put most of the firm’s resources into good, reliable books with a “sure sale” (the majority of which were remaindered), was totally unprepared for such a phenomenon. Unable to believe this fairy tale was really a best seller, he refused to push it until too late. His company failed while he was still trying to rush copies of the Wizard off the presses.
But another publisher snapped up the book and it continued to sell. Today, over five million copies of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz have been published, making it one of the great best sellers of all time. It has been made into musical comedies, silent and sound movies, puppet shows, radio shows, and LP records. The 1939 MGM Technicolor musical with Judy Garland is now shown on television every Christmas, a recognized American tradition. Judy has sung “Over the Rainbow” more times than anyone can count. There have been some thirty editions of the Wizard, and over ten are in print now. A first edition sold in 1962 for §875; another with an inscription by Baum went for $3,500. It has been translated into over a dozen foreign languages and in Russia is being used to teach school children English. A nice Russian touch: the Munchkins (the little people who first meet Dorothy when she arrives in Oz) are described as the Chewing People, the Russian experts reasonably arguing that to munch means to chew. But my own favorite is the Chinese version, in which the Cowardly Lion looks like a very cheerful argon.
Two years after the Wizard ’s success, a Broadway producer named Julian Mitchell conceived the idea of doing the book as a musical extravaganza—quite as fantastic a notion as Baum’s original inspiration. Delighted, Baum wrote the script, keeping strictly to the book’s story line, but Mitchell had a few ideas of his own. The play as it finally appeared featured a chorus in the standard “beef trust” tradition; Dorothy’s little dog Toto was transformed into a comic cow named Imogene; and Dorothy herself, a hefty soubrette, fell in love with a “Poet Prince” in the grand finale. But the cast also included two unknown but talented comics: Dave Montgomery as the Tin Woodman and Fred Stone as the Scarecrow. Within weeks, Montgomery and Stone became the best-known comic team in America. Baum protested Mitchell’s innovations, but when the play ran nearly ten years and earned him some $100,000 in royalties (then a huge sum), he published a letter apologizing to the producer. “People will have what pleases them,” wrote Baum philosophically.
The life of Lyman Frank Baum—he always used the initial L because he considered “Lyman” affected—was nearly as bizarre as those of his Oz characters. His father, Benjamin Baum, was a hard-driving oil man of German ancestry. He dared oppose the formidable Standard Oil Company and won at least a partial victory in the Pennsylvania oil fields. (In Sea Fairies , Baum describes an octopus bursting into tears on being compared to the Standard Oil Company.) Benjamin Baum made a comfortable fortune and settled on a large estate at Chittenango, near Syracuse, New York. Here Frank Baum was born May 15, 1856, the seventh of nine children. His mother, Cynthia Stanton Baum, was of Scotch-Irish descent and a strict Episcopalian. She would not even allow the children to play baseball on Sunday and filled the house with learned, solemn individuals whom Baum later caricatured in the person of H. M. Woggle-Bug, T. E. (Highly Magnified and Thoroughly Educated).
Frank Baum was a shy, sickly child. Unable to play games with the other boys, he spent most oi his time acting out fantasies with a host of imaginary playmates created by giving personalities to everything from his mechanical toys to the chickens he loved to feed. One of these chickens appears in the Oz books as Billina. Once during a walk the boy saw a scarecrow and was terrified by the strange manlike creature. For months afterward, he repeatedly dreamed that it was chasing him. The dream was so vivid that he could later distinctly recall the phantom’s ungainly lope, his lack of co-ordination, and his final collapse into a heap of straw. That this ogre could ever change into the beloved, friendly scarecrow of the Oz books seems incredible, but one of Baum’s great talents was the ability to transform a bête noire into an amusing, sympathetic personality.
When Baum was twelve, his parents decided that the sentimental boy needed to be shaken out of his dream world. He was sent to the Peekskill Military Academy. The tough discipline was too much for the delicate youngster, and he had a nervous breakdown. From then on he was educated by private tutors. Baum was always to dislike the military. A favorite theme in the Oz books is the overstaffed army, composed of hordes of generals, colonels, majors, and captains commanding one browbeaten private who is expected to do all the fighting. But Baum was never capable of real hatred: even the officers are affectionately described. A general’s explanation for his abject cowardice is the reasonable statement that “Fighting is unkind and liable to be injurious to others.”
Naturally enough, the imaginative young man became enamored of the stage and, with money supplied by his father, started a Shakespearean troupe. By his own admission the only successful performance occurred when the ghost of Hamlet’s father fell through a hole in the stage. The audience, which happened to be composed of oil workers, was so delighted that the unhappy ghost had to repeat the stunt five times. Baum also tried his hand at playwriting, and one of his plays, The Maid of Arran , was a great success with audiences of immigrant Irish because of its sentimental picture of Ireland. Through his mother Baum had developed a highly romantic conception of the Emerald Isle, which may explain why the heart of Oz is called the Emerald City.
Returning home from one of his tours, Baum met a twenty-year-old girl named Maud Gage, daughter of the militant suffragette Matilda Joslyn Gage. The young couple instantly fell in love—possibly because they were so different. The gentle Baum admired the girl’s bold outlook, and Maud felt a motherly interest in the eager young dreamer. Also, Baum was an unusually handsome man, slightly over six feet with wavy brown hair and a delightful twinkle in his eye. Mrs. Gage violently opposed the marriage, regarding Baum as hopelessly impractical, but in her resolute daughter the strong-minded old lady met her match. There was a stormy scene between the two, while the prospective bridegroom stood by helplessly. The couple were married in 1881.
Soon there was a baby son, and with a family to support, Batim left the theatre and went into his family’s petroleum-products business. For a while he sold Baum’s Castorine, a patented axle grease. But in 1887 Benjamin Baum was severely injured in an accident, and without the astute old man’s guiding hand the business failed.
It was Maud who rallied from the blow and kept the family going. The Baums had two sons now and had salvaged only a few thousand dollars from the wreck of the family fortune. From Aberdeen, South Dakota, where a gold rush was raging, Maud’s brother wrote that there were unlimited opportunities for anyone who wotdd open a small store for the gold seekers. So the Baums went to Aberdeen and started a shop called Baum’s Bazaar. Maud’s brother had been almost right; it was impossible for anyone to fail in a gold rush town—anyone, that is, except L. Frank Baum. He did it by refusing to accept money from those who were destitute. His habit of ignoring customers to sit on the curb outside the store telling stories to groups of enthralled children didn’t do the business any good either. In two years, he had 161 strictly nonpaying clients and the bazaar went bankrupt.
Baum then started a newspaper called The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer , setting the type himself and doing most of the writing, including a special column called “Our Landlady.” This was a fantasy describing a community where people rode in “horseless carriages” (the first American automobile had not yet gone on sale) or flying machines, did their dishes in mechanical dishwashers, slept under electric: blankets, and ate concentrated foods. The cattle were fed wood shavings, having been fitted with green glasses that made the shavings look like grass. (In the Emerald City, everything looks green to the inhabitants, even the sky. The Wizard achieves this magical effect by requiring everyone to wear green-tinted spectacles.) In spite of the prophetic element in these tales, they are told simply as burlesque—or as Baum would have put it, “banter.” Neither he nor his readers took such ideas seriously, and the stories resemble the typical “tall tales” of the West more than they do science fiction.
In the tradition of western newspapermen of that period, Baum made a brave attempt to turn his talent for satire against rival editors. He succeeded so well that he found himself challenged to a duel by an enraged subscriber. The two men, each with a revolver low-slung on the hip, were to walk around the town until they met and then shoot it out in nowfamiliar Grade B movie style. In this crisis, Frank Baum was magnificent. All his latent sense of the dramatic came to the fore, and he made an imposing picture as he strode off from his doorway, while passers-by took refuge behind the false fronts of nearby buildings. But as soon as he had turned the corner, Baum, like his Oz general, decided that fighting was unkind and someone was likely to be hurt. He quietly disappeared until the affair blew over.
Maud Baum had her third son in Aberdeen. The father was so sure the child would be a girl that he had even picked the name Géraldine for the baby. He desperately wanted a little girl, and Mrs. Baum made one more attempt to oblige. Alas, a fourth son arrived, and Frank Baum was never to have the little daughter he so greatly craved.
In 1891 the Pioneer failed, or as Baum put it, “I decided the sheriff wanted the paper more than I did.” The family left for Chicago. Baum had no regrets in leaving South Dakota and the great, barren prairie. A passage in the Wizard was to describe his feelings toward it: “Dorothy could sec nothing but the great gray prairie on every side. Not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of Hat country that reached the edge of the sky in all directions. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it. Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere.” Dorothy escapes from this bleak, colorless land to the cool green hills, soft shadows, and clear, fresh streams of Oz, which bore a strong resemblance to the Baum family estate in Chittenango.
But Chicago was not Chittenango. Baum got a job as a reporter for twenty dollars a week, and the family moved into a wretched house with no bathroom or running water. Maud gave embroidery lessons at ten cents an hour. When Baum’s salary was cut to 818.62, he IeIt his job with the paper and became a travelling salesman for a crockery firm. About the only recreation the four boys had was to listen to their father’s fairy stories, in which Baum himself became so lost that his wife once said rather unhappily, “I honestly don’t believe he can tell truth from fancy.” These tales were his escape from his miserable existence.
Then Mrs. Gage, Maud’s mother, moved in with them. Baum and his mother-in-law had never gotten along well, but he should have been everlastingly grateful to the old lady lor one contribution: listening to his stories, Mrs. Gage ordered, “You go out and have those published.” Baum laughed at the idea but his wife said firmly, “Mother is nearly always right about everything.” Nagged by the two women, Baum sent out a collection of stories suggested by the Mother Goose rhymes, which was published in 1897 under the title, Mother Goose in Prose . The illustrator was an unknown young artist named Maxfield Parrish. It was a “first” for both of them. The book did sufficiently well tor the publishers to ask for another, so Baum wrote the father Goose sequel, this time with Denslow as illustrator. Then came the miraculous success of the Wizard .
When Baum was possessed by his fantasies, he wandered around in a trance. “His best friends could speak to him at such times and he wouldn’t recognize them,” Mrs. Baum recalled. His characters were intensely real to him. Once when he had not written for several weeks, his wife asked him what was the matter. “My characters won’t do what I want them to,” replied Baum irritably. A few days later he was back at work. Maud Baum asked him how he had solved the problem. “By letting them do what they want to do,” her husband explained. An ardent naturalist, he never hunted, feeling, like the Tin Woodman, that killing animals was cruel. Ozma, the Ruler of Oz, says firmly, “No one has the right to kill any living creature, however evil they may be, or to hurt them, or make them unhappy.”
The format of the Wizard is simple. As Baum says in his introduction, he desired to eliminate “all the horrible and blood-curdling incidents” of the old-time fairy tales. He adhered to this principle in all his Oz books. Dorothy melts the Wicked Witch of the West with a bucket of water, but unlike the witch in Grimm’s Snow White , she is not strapped into red-hot iron shoes and forced to dance until she dies. The Nome King (Baum believed that “gnome” was too difficult for a child to pronounce) threatens to turn Dorothy into a piece of bric-a-brac but does not plan to ravish her, skin lier feet, and bind her toes so they will grow together, as in George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin . The late fames Thurbcr said he had suffered agonies as a child when the Sawhorse, in The Marvelous Land of Oz , broke his leg; but the injury did not hurt the horse, nor was the animal put into a furnace and reduced to a little heart-shaped lump while his sweetheart looked on, as in Andersen’s The Steadfast Tin Soldier . Robert Louis Stevenson was able to make the dialogue of his pirates seem brutal and coarse without ever using an oath, Baum managed to make his villains threatening without going into specific and horrendous detail, at the same time deftly maintaining suspense and an atmosphere of peril.
Baum also hoped to eliminate the “stereotyped genie, dwarf and fairy.” Here again he was remarkably successful. Like all his characters, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion are distinct personalities; children learn to know them, become genuinely interested in them, and feel concern over their fates.
Dorothy was perhaps Baum’s most successful creation. Unlike the immortal Alice, who wanders politely through Wonderland without trying to influence events, Dorothy—although always gentle and innocent—is a quietly determined little girl. She intends to get back to her aunt and uncle, and neither the Great and Terrible Oz nor a wicked witch is going to prevent her. She is undoubtedly the leader of the little group of adventurers; though she turns to the Woodman for comfort, the Scarecrow for advice, and the Lion for protection, they would obviously be lost without her. Dorothy is the descendant of the pioneer women who crossed the plains and the grandmother of every soap-opera heroine who ever faced life. She is as American as Alice is Victorian British.
Most amazing of all was Baum’s ability to make Oz a real place. Any child suddenly transported there would instantly recognize the country. It can even be mapped, and has been several times. Baum achieves this effect partly by precise details (there are 9654 buildings in the Emerald City and the population is 57,318) but mainly by extraordinarily vivid descriptions of the forests, the poppy fields, the rivers, and the winding Road of Yellow Brick.
Baum carried into his own life his peculiar talent of making the unbelievable believable. He was forbidden to smoke because of his heart condition, but he often held a large, unlightecl cigar in his mouth. The poet Eunice Tietjens, visiting the Baums at their home in Macatawa on the shore of Lake Michigan, asked why he never lighted the cigar. Baum explained that he did so only when he went swimming. “You see,” he explained gravely, “I can’t swim, so when the cigar goes out I know I’m getting over my depth.” Then he lighted the cigar and walked into the lake until the cigar was extinguished. “There now,” Baum said when he returned to land, “if it hadn’t been for the cigar 1 would have drowned.”
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.
In his next tale, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz , Baum wrote ruefully, “It’s no use, no use at all. I know lots of other stories but my loving tyrants won’t allow me to tell them. They cry ‘Oz—more about Oz!’ ” In this story, Dorothy and the Wizard are reunited when swallowed by an earthquake and work their way back to Oz via a series of underground kingdoms. With them are a farm boy named Jeb, a cab horse named Jim, and Eureka, Dorothy’s pet kitten. As a bird lover, Baum didn’t much like cats, and Eureka is a rather unpleasant personality, although Baum admired her independence, courage, and grace.
In The Road to Oz , Baum introduced Polychrome, the Rainbow’s daughter; Button-Bright, who is always getting lost; and the Shaggy Man. In his search for realism, Baum used a curious device. There are four countries in Oz, each with its individual color, and as the characters move from one to another, the pages of the book change to the appropriate shade. Baum was still complaining, “I would like to write some stories that are not Oz stories,” and at Ozma’s birthday party, he introduces characters from his other books —Queen Zixi, John Dough, and King Bud of Noland —obviously in hopes of weaning children away from the land of the Wizard. Finally, in The Emerald City of Oz , Baum made a determined effort to bring the series to a halt. Although Oz is almost impossible to visit, because it is surrounded by the Deadly Desert (Baum liked to call it “the Shifting Sands”), Glinda, the Good Sorceress, now makes the country permanently invisible. The book ends with a letter from Dorothy, “You will never hear anything more about Oz because we are now cut off forever from the rest of the world. But Toto and I will always love you and all the other children who love us.”
The panic that struck juvenile circles can only be compared to the consternation that hit London when Conan Doyle threw Sherlock Holmes off a cliff. For thousands of American youngsters, finding a new Oz book under the tree had become part of Christmas. A staff member at a children’s hospital wrote Baum that the books were such a valuable morale booster that “they are as integral a part of our equipment as a thermometer.” One of the most touching letters came from a mother whose little son had died of a lingering illness. “Only when I read your books to him could he forget his pain. As he died he told me, ‘Now I will see the Princess of Oz.’ ” In spite of such heartbreaking entreaties, Baum refused to continue the series. Instead, he wrote two books about the adventures of Trot, a little California girl, and her companion, Cap’n Bill, an old one-legged sailor. In Sea Fairies , the two have adventures with mermaids and in Sky Island go to a land above the clouds. To make the stories more appealing Baum brought in some Oz characters.
It was no good. The children wanted nothing but Oz, and Baum was no longer his own master. He had invested heavily in “Radio Plays,” hand-tinted transparencies designed to be shown by magic lantern in conjunction with motion pictures about Oz characters. (There was no connection with the radio, which had not yet been developed.) Baum was convinced that they would be a great success, but the process was too costly and the whole venture was a disaster. Several musicals that tried to duplicate the startling success of the Wizard failed also, partly because they lacked the magic of Montgomery and Stone. In 1911, Baum declared himself a bankrupt, listing his assets as “a five year old typewriter and two suits of clothing, one in actual use.”
He had no choice now but to return to the Oz books. He wrote eight more, beginning with The Patchwork Girl of Oz in 1913. He was now living in Los Angeles and, delighted with the new motion pictures, made eager attempts to enter the field. Backed by such Hollywood notables as Will Rogers, George Arliss, Hal Roach, Harold Lloyd, and Darryl Zanuck, Baum started the Oz Film Manufacturing Company, on a seven-acre lot opposite the Universal Film Company. This venture also failed, and Maud Baum, with her usual quiet but determined efficiency, demanded that in the future all royalty checks should be made over to her. As a result the family remained solvent; Baum could no longer describe himself (as he had to one journalist asking for biographical information) as “constantly bent and occasionally broke.”
Baum continued to turn out an Oz book a year, although he was suffering acute attacks of angina pectoris and his heart, never strong and now badly weakened by the strain of his repeated business failures, caused him constant trouble. Under such pen names as Floyd Akers, Laura Bancroft, Captain Hugh Fitzgerald, and Edith Van Dyne, he wrote a constant flow of juvenile novels, none of which even approximated the success of his fairy tales. The house he built near Sunset Boulevard he call Ozcot. Here he lived quietly, raising flowers and feeding the birds in his giant aviary. To children who came from all parts of the country to see the “Royal Historian of Oz” and listen to his stories, the house was a shrine. On May 5, 1919, he had a stroke, and died the next day. Maud Baum was with him to the end. His last words were, “Now we can cross the Shifting Sands.”
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.