The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
The Marvelous Land of Oz
Ozma of Oz
Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz
The Emerald City of Oz
The Lost Princess of Oz
The Tin Woodman of Oz
Glinda of Oz
The Making of the Wizard of Oz
In the preface to The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum says that he would like to create modern fairy tales by departing from Grimm and Andersen and “all the horrible and blood-curdling incident devised” by such authors “to point a fearsome moral.” Baum then makes the disingenuous point that “Modern education includes morality; therefore the modern child seeks only entertainment in its wondertales and gladly dispenses with all disagreeable incident.” Yet there is a certain amount of explicit as well as implicit moralizing in the Oz books; there are also “disagreeable incidents,” and people do, somehow, die even though death and illness are not supposed to exist in Oz.
I have reread the Oz books in the order in which they were written. Some things are as I remember. Others strike me as being entirely new. I was struck by the unevenness of style not only from book to book but, sometimes, from page to page. The jaggedness can be explained by the fact that the man who was writing fourteen Oz books was writing forty-eight other books at the same time. Arguably, The Wizard of Oz is the best of the lot. After all, the first book is the one in which Oz was invented. Yet, as a child, I preferred The Emerald City, Rinkitink, and The Lost Princess to The Wizard. Now I find that all of the books tend to flow together in a single narrative, with occasional bad patches.
In The Wizard of Oz Dorothy is about six years old. In the later books she seems to be ten or eleven. Baum locates her swiftly and efficiently in the first sentence of the series. “Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer’s wife.” The landscape would have confirmed John Ruskin’s dark view of American scenery (he died the year that The Wizard of Oz was published).
When Dorothy stood in the doorway and looked around, she could see nothing but the great gray prairie on every side. Not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached the edge of the sky in all directions.
This is the plain American style at its best. Like most of Baum’s central characters Dorothy lacks the regulation father and mother. Some commentators have made, I think, too much of Baum’s parentless children. The author’s motive seems to me to be not only obvious but sensible. A child separated from loving parents for any length of time is going to be distressed, even in a magic story. But aunts and uncles need not be taken too seriously.
In the first four pages Baum demonstrates the drabness of Dorothy’s life; the next two pages are devoted to the cyclone that lifts the house into the air and hurls it to Oz. Newspaper accounts of recent cyclones had obviously impressed Baum. Alone in the house (except for…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.