My email told me this week was "Wizard of Oz" week at redroom.com. While I'm technically staying offline this month to get back on deadlines and to reclaim my life from internet-addictions, Baum's book was too important to me not to blog here.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Baum's 13 sequels to it are, to me, the foundation of American fantasy writing. While not perfect in all ways, Oz and its denizens mean more to more fantasy and science fiction writers than many folks realize. Just ask Harlan Ellison and he'll tell you that Dorothy the Small and Meek is one of the best female heroes out there. Ray Bradbury might agree with him as well, as would many other notable f/sf authors.
Now me? I'm hardly a notable writer (at present) what with only 2 novels, 6 short stories, and between five- and six-score gaming products to my name over 20 years. Still, Oz is important to me for another reason: it taught me to read.
From an early age, I had parents reading to me long before I could read for myself. My favorite book was, without fail, my mother's tattered copy of the Bobbs-Merril New Wizard of Oz from the 1940s, its art based more on the 1939 MGM movie rather than the original illustrations. Still, that book entranced me like no other and with repetition and focus, I'm certain this was the book by which I started to learn how to read. (That, and my mother probably helped me learn to avoid having to read it one more time aloud.)
Once I could read for myself, I moved on to the other books of the series, finally seeing that world through Neill's drawings. Over time, I went from Oz to Narnia to Middle-Earth to Barsoom, Pellucidar, Venus, the Hyborian Age, and many many other worlds and times.
Is Oz the greatest fantasy world ever crafted? Depends on your point of view, really. It's among the most important and seminal to me and to my writing. From the standpoint of a child, its sense of wonder and magic were paramount to adopting that world as a place I loved to explore. From my current standpoint as a writer, it underscores the need for any fictional environment to inspire, to awe, and to provide that sense of wonder for new and recurring visitors.
So, 110 years after its initial writing, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz continue to amaze new generations every day. Thank goodness. Anyone who grows up and doesn't meet the Scarecrow or Jack Pumpkinhead or (my favorites) Scraps the Patchwork Girl and Tik-Tok will be missing something wonderful indeed.
If YOU have never read any of Baum's Oz books (or others), do yourself a huge favor and pick one up. Any one. Try it out, or better yet, find a child and read it together. I guarantee it'll be an experience both of you will treasure.
who is happy to say his gifts of Oz books to friends have made at least 4 more lifelong Oz fans in Dan, Kelly, Nina, and Mila who "love the Dorothy books Daddy reads to us at bedtime"