Even before the big new Oz prequel movie debuted this weekend, I was already thinking about the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, as yet another candidate for the Salem Athenaeum’s Adopt-a-Book program this year is the fourth title in L. Frank Baum’s series, Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz (1908). Like the new film (which doesn’t seem to be garnering the best reviews), this book features a wizard who plays a much larger role than in the first book and classic 1939 film. In fact, the Wonderful Wizard is really the star of the story, defending Dorothy and her companions (including a cat named Eureka rather than a dog named Toto) from fierce vegetables, invisible people and bears, gargoyles and “dragonettes”: all in an underground world which swallowed them up following an earthquake. The Wizard is so exhausted after his labors that he decides to remain in the Emerald City permanently at the book’s end, and so he becomes the Wonderful Wizard of Oz forever.
In his Preface, Baum as much admits that he was reluctant to keep writing about Oz: It’s no use; no use at all. The children won’t let me stop telling tales of the Land of Oz. I know lots of other stories, and I hope to tell them, some time or another; but just now my loving tyrants won’t allow me. They cry “Oz–Oz! More about Oz, Mr. Baum!” and what can I do but obey their commands? He also admits that his “tyrant” readers wanted to know more about the “humbug” Wizard who blew off in a balloon, and so he brought him to earth–or below the earth–again. Not only does the storyline of Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz focus on the latter’s heroics, the majority of illustrations in the book–both black-and-white sketches and watercolor paintings by John R. Neill, feature the Wizard, who does indeed enter the story in a balloon. Towards the end of the book, when everyone returns to the Emerald City, the Wizard reveals his and its origins, and this backstory seems to provide some of the plot for the current movie: a humble circus performer from Nebraska whose appellation was Oscar Zoroaster (and many other names) Diggs, he emblazoned the initials “O.Z.” on all of his possessions, including his balloon, and was blown away to a strange land of rival witches whose inhabitants took him for a wizard. And so he became one.
A decade of the Wizard: up and away in a W.W. Denslow illustration from the first book, 1901; fighting gargoyles in two watercolor illustrations from Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz and a “portrait” (“From the Wizard’s latest photograph taken by the Royal Photographer of Oz”) by John R. Neill, 1908; the real Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum, featured with his best-selling titles on a contemporary poster issued by his publishers, Library of Congress.