On Rereading the Oz Books

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

by L. Frank Baum

The Marvelous Land of Oz

by L. Frank Baum

Ozma of Oz

by L. Frank Baum

Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz

by L. Frank Baum

The Emerald City of Oz

by L. Frank Baum

The Lost Princess of Oz

by L. Frank Baum

The Tin Woodman of Oz

by L. Frank Baum

Glinda of Oz

by L. Frank Baum

The Making of the Wizard of Oz

by Aljean Harmetz
Knopf, 320, 115 illus pp., $12.95

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 …

This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Premium Subscription — $94.95

Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.

One-Week Access — $4.99

Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.

If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.