What American- child or grown up- is not familiar with the fantasy land of Oz? Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and the Wizard are now familiar t television viewers through the 1939 movie, "The Wizard of Oz", even if they never read the book L. Frank Baum wrote in 1900.
The Wizard of Oz has become the classic American fairy tale. Together with the 14 succeeding books he wrote about the fairy kingdom, it is estimated that Baum's Oz books have sold well over 5 million copies. The series was so popular with young readers that it was continued after Baum's death, eventually reaching a total of 40 books.
Lyman Frank Baum, whose fertile imagination would delight future generations of children, lead an early life almost as colorful as some of his fictional characters. Born to a well-to-do upper New York state family in 1856, he became a reporter for a New York paper at 17, and successively the owner of a print shop and an opera house before becoming an actor and a playwright. His first literary success came with an Irish melodrama he wrote in 1882, "The Maid of Arran"; Baum himself played the lead. His marriage the same year to Maude Gage proved unusually happy, despite his many career changes.
Three other playwrighting attempts failed. By 1887, with a wife and growing family to support, Baum moved to south Dakota, where ha managed a variety store, then edited a newspaper. Moving on to Chicago, he worked as a reporter for the Chicago Post, then as a traveling salesman of crockery and crude oil. In 1897, his luck changed; he founded a successful monthly trade journal that brought him a steady income and some measure of security.
Baum had delighted his four sons with ingenious stories woven around Mother Goose themes; now he began expanding into the field of juvenile fiction. In 1897, a collection of his short stories was published, illustrated by Maxfield Parrish and titled Mother Goose in Prose. He followed this with By the Candlelight's Glare, which he issued himself in 1898. Who wouldn't love to be the collector who stumbles upon on eof these rarities? Baum's third book, published in 1899, was Father Goose- His Book, a collection of nonsense rhymes that sold well. Continuing to edit his trade journal, he published The Art of Decorating in 1900, along with four children's books. Two were small volumes of verse, one was a collection of short stories, and the fourth book that introduced us to Oz, The Wizard of Oz. Before a year had passed, it had sold 1,000,000 copies.
Baum brought Dorothy back to Oz in his third Oz book, Ozma of Oz, published in 1907, and she has appeared in all subsequent books. He continued to write other books, none as successful as the Oz stories, and even tried to end the series after the 6th book, The Emerald City of Oz, by having Glinda the Good cast a spell making it impossible for the Royal Historian to gain anymore information. The outpouring from heartbroken readers made it necessary for Baum to revise his plans, and he continued to write sequels until his death in 1919.
Oz is real to its many readers because of the careful way that Baum crafted his stories. The geography of the country- four counties joined in the Center by the fabulous Emerald City, the introduction of the myriad fantastic personages, the humor and common sense of the stores all make this series of books the all time favorite of generations of children.
Ruth Plumly Thompson, a 20 year old writer of children's books, was chosen to continue the Oz stories after Baum died in 1919. The next 18 books were written by Thompson, after which John R. Niell, who illustrated all but the first book, took a turn at writing. There were two more written by Jack Snow, one by Rachel Cosgrove, and the 40th book, Merry Go Round in Oz, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw and Lauren McGraw Wagner was published in 1963.
A loyal band of followers has grown around this wonderful series, culminating in an organization called the International Wizard of Oz Club. Membership is open to anyone interested in L. Frank Baum, Oz, or related subjects; the address is PO Box 95, Kinderhook, IL 62345. This 90 year old fairy land still lives in the hearts of thousands. -Barbara Williams Sackett
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