After I finished reading all the Oz novels, I decided I wanted to learn more about the man who had written such fanciful tales. It was harder than I thought it would be to find a decent biography about L. Frank Baum, but eventually I found Finding Oz by Evan I. Schwartz.
It follows Baum through his life, from childhood through to his death, through myriad failed careers, through the birth of this children, and moves back and forth across the country. He failed at a lot of things before he finally struck a home run with the Oz series, and he never did manage his money all that well, but no one could accuse him of not trying. This man lived a very full life.
Schwartz does a wonderful job painting a full and robust picture of this man behind the pages, but it also draws some conclusions, which, if accurate, are quite fun, but I’m not entirely sure there is the research to support them: conclusions about the inspiration for things like the yellow brick road, the Wizard, and the various other figures in his books. Like I said, if he’s right about the conclusions, its quite fun to see where the inspiration is coming from, but I’m not sure how entirely valid they are. And this comes from an author who isn’t sure where in heck some of the stories she writes come from.
But one other thing the biography talked about was the spiritual life of Mr. and Mrs. Baum. It introduced me to two very interesting characters from that time of American history: Madame Blavatsky with her Theosophy and Swami Vivekananda. Both of these religious figures espoused a certain unity to religion and make for fascinating reading in their own right. Who knows, maybe they’ll inspire characters of my own…
While I was AWP this last year, I found out about a new journal, the Fairy Tale Review, that publishes my kind of writing: reinterpretations of Fairy Tales, translations, and scholarly articles about fairy tales, and this year their call for submissions was looking for stories about the Land of Oz.
I developed an idea, but to make sure it would work with the world that L. Frank Baum had created, I decided I should probably read all the novels of Oz, just to make sure I got all the history right. And guess how many there are…Baum alone wrote 14 Ozian novels (as well as some shorter bits) and then after his death, his publisher contracted with other authors to write several more. The scope of tales about Oz and its surrounding countries is extensive and deep. Baum’s tales include the list below:
My favorite of all the stories was The Marvelous Land of Oz because we get to meet HM Wogglebug TE, a bug of unusual size and education who makes the worst puns I have ever heard. His traveling companions aren’t too fond of them either. But the whole thing is such an excellent farce of the culture and society surrounding education at that time that I couldn’t help but laugh.
There was one book, however, that I found terrifying in its absurdity: The Tin Woodman of Oz. This is a tale where Nick Chopper is convinced to go find his beloved and offer himself again to her. However, there are horrific twists and turns that I’m sure to a child were delightful, but to an adult were almost too dark. Just imagine a man made of the glued together chopped up bits of two separate men who goes on to marry the woman that those two men had loved before becoming metal…shudder. I can see that done as a Saw worthy sequel…
The books, for all that they are meant for a younger audience, are very entertaining and well worth the read, particularly if you’ve only ever read or seen the film made after the first book. They are much funnier, and incredibly intelligent parodies of American turn of the century culture, much as Flatland was to the Victorian culture.