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.
March 10th, 2013 at 10:46 am
When I was seven, my grandma pulled a box of old books out of her attic. I thought two looked good. One3 of those was Tik-Tok of Oz by L. Frank Baum. I was transported by the stories and the writing, and I credit that very book with making me first decide I wanted to be able to write stories like that. It was a well-loved, 1914 first edition with great illustrations by John Neill. I’m proud to say it has a favored spot on my library shelves still. Thanks for giving me another reason to pick it up.
March 10th, 2013 at 7:41 pm
I was sick for a month as a child—and the Oz books, the volumes that had been read by my father and his brother before me, and originally had been their mother’s before that, were my salvation—and I still remember every wonderful moment, ever illustration…
I’m not sure however, that I can watch the prequel—we’ll see. The perfection of the first movie—as astonishing to watch at 60 as it was when I was seven–sets the bar very high.
March 10th, 2013 at 7:52 pm
I never read the books–never really thought of them until just recently. But I cherished my screening of the film every year when it was on television–a real event! I actually feel sorry for those younger than I, who can see anything at anytime.
March 11th, 2013 at 9:23 am
Books of olden days are much better than todays books.. This post fascinates me.