Never one to blog on somebody else's topic , I nearly ignored Red Room's request that today I, along with their other authors, blog about The Wizard of Oz. As I was moving on to another email, the subject finally leapt out at me. The Wizard of Oz. The Oz books. The fantasy life that very likely brought me to my career choice.
I grew up in a working class family, with a mother who had fond memories of all the books she had loved as a child and wanted to share them with me. Although she didn't drive, she made certain I got to the library as often as possible. From the age of five, I was as frequent a visitor as our ersatz transportation scheme would allow. Our library was three rooms and a reception desk. One small room was devoted to children's literature, and inside those four walls packed with books I found a secret world all my own.
I discovered the Oz books in second grade. The library's copies would now be priceless. Leather bound and handsomely illustrated, they may well have been first editions. By the time I got to them, they were well loved, yellowing and tattered and sometimes marked with crayons. Lead me back to that library, and I'll show you exactly where they were, a bottom shelf, catty-corner to the door. A row of them. I remember the way they smelled and felt, and the way I would trace the colorplates with my fingertips.
I was an indiscriminate reader. Eventually I gave up trying to choose the best books and just circled the room, grabbing anything that didn't look familiar. Only the Oz books were different. I returned to them again and again. I learned the geography of the Land of Oz as thoroughly as my own neighborhood. I knew the characters and their trials. I went to sleep at night imagining myself on the yellow brick road, or happily settled in a bright green cottage in the Emerald City. I yearned for Munchkinhood, particularly in high school when I was taller than most of the boys in my class. I pondered the lessons that L. Frank Baum tried to teach, and internalized many of them.
As a young mother I took my children back to Oz with me, but for them, the journey never had the same meaning. Middle-earth and "a galaxy far, far away," captivated them as Oz had captivated me. By the day's standards the language seemed stilted and sometimes hard to explain. We saw the movies, the original Wizard of Oz, then The Wiz, and the occasional cartoon forays. The children knew the basics. It was the best I could do.
When the fourth child was born, I found myself at loose ends. Reading was still an escape, but my own fantasies--begun in Oz and expanded through the years--were a better one. I began to put those fantasies on paper, and now, almost 25 years later, I continue to do so. I owe my career to L. Frank Baum, the world he created and the catalyst it provided to an imagination just beginning to take shape.
Recently I discovered many of the Oz books as Google classic ebooks, and I downloaded all I could. I have a granddaughter now. I think we'll fight our way through the old-fashioned language and read them together as soon as she's old enough. If we don't? She'll find her own fantasy world, as my own children did. Still, just in case, and as a head start, the first gift I presented her at birth was a quilt I'd made from colorful Wizard of Oz fabrics.
Some traditions are worth passing on.
I'll leave the dissection of the Oz books to the scholars. They are free to ponder the Freudian implications and worry about political significance. I'll simply remember Oz as my single most important reading experience. After all these years, I still fully expect heaven to look like the Emerald City.
Causes Emilie Richards Supports
Habitat for Humanity, Christian Children's Fund, Doctors Without Borders, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Holdeen Fund of the Unitarian Universalist...