It took most of a decade, but by 1908, the Oz books were officially a series, and L. Frank Baum was riding high on success. Ozma of Oz, the first book of his new contract, started the Oz books on a yearly track that would be maintained for the rest of the decade; alongside of those, under various pseudonyms, Baum was engaged in writing animal fairy tales for tiny children, adventurous stories for both older boys and girls, and an Egyptian thriller for adults. He had recently returned from a six-month voyage with his wife, Maud, that encompassed visits to Egypt and a number of European countries, and whether it was as the author of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz book or the Wizard of Oz stage extravaganza, he was considered a celebrity wherever he went. In 1908, L. Frank Baum truly had it made.
With all Baum had to look forward to that year, it may seem a little surprising that in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, he chose to look back, tying up the original, eponymous loose end from his original breakout novel. Perhaps, though, he was already feeling the strain, for as he said in the note to his readers, “It’s no use . . . 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…”
I’m ashamed to say I didn’t read this book in the fancy Books of Wonder edition you sent me, Sarah, says Nick. I have so much nostalgia attached to my original Del Rey edition. It actually has a little “This book belongs to…’ where I have written somewhat clumsily, “Nicholas Campbell, the biggest Oz maniac in Britain.” I vividly remember the shock and delight at discovering this book in the UK, presented so authoritatively with that bizarre cover. Do you remember reading Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz as a child?
I do, Sarah replies. A friend of my mother’s – a librarian – gave me a whole bundle of the Del Rey editions when I was quite small. She gave them to me at a pizza restaurant, I remember, one at a time. Whenever I left the table, I’d come back and there would be another book. It quickly became a game; I couldn’t refill my drink fast enough! And I remember specifically the very last one was Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. It certainly sticks in my mind, and I couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 years old.
That’s really lovely. It’s like you shared my experience of discovery and surprise, even though she was arranging that for you.
It was very exciting and very silly.
Like this novel, perhaps?
A Little Bit of History Repeating
For years, Sarah, I’ve been calling this one of my favorite Oz books. Compared to Ozma of Oz, there’s just so much stuff that happens. The Mangaboos, the Gargoyles, the Dragonettes, the Invisible Bears – there’s a chapter called “They Fight the Invisible Bears.” How can you not love that? Given that we were talking last time about Return to Oz being more frightening than Baum, did this book scare you as a child?
I’m afraid, Nick, I found this an absolutely boring bloody book as a child – but I can tell you why. As a child, my entire motivating interest in Oz was the amount of magical creatures involved, so a book primarily populated by “real-life” figures – ordinary American people and their animals – was automatically going to be less interesting.
I think I was also just a bit disinterested in the lack of a story. Things happen in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, and there’s certainly a drive to escape things, but there’s not even the light semblance of a plot such as that you find in Marvelous Land, for instance.
I do know where you’re coming from, but at the same time, the book feels like it has a lot more atmosphere than its predecessors. It’s more inventive and there’s a lot more jeopardy. Compared to Ozma of Oz, there is also a much more natural narrative flow. It feels to me as if Baum was really coming into his own as a writer in terms of style.
Yes, I think I will agree with you on that. I noticed several times that this felt to me like the work of a more mature writer than any of the previous Oz books; Baum became more evocative in his descriptions, more able to engage the reader emotionally instead of presenting scenes as illustrative tableaus. There was less of a remove for me as the reader than in previous Oz books.
For the most part, there’s not even a suggestion that this novel could have become a theatre piece down the line, unlike the earlier books. It felt like a real engagement in writing a book where the most impossible things can happen, and the most impossible people, too.
Yes. As much as I like the previous books a lot, this one seemed the most like someone was trying to write a genuine novel since The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Actually, I get the sense that he might have gone back and reread Wonderful Wizard following his readers’ requests for returning characters. There are countries made of glass and wood, just as the original has one of china, and the very last lines of the book are almost a re-enactment of Dorothy’s return to Kansas. It’s as if he hadn’t previously acknowledged the special pleasures of the book, distracted all that time by theatre.
If I were being cynical I would say that he’s trying to replicate certain dramatic incidents from Wonderful Wizard, at least. The sequence with the Gargoyles reminded me very strongly of the siege by the various creatures of the Wicked Witch of the West, especially the way the Wizard fends them off with the gas fire. When they finally do attack and fight our heroes, it made me think of the attack by the Winged Monkeys.
And Jim’s escape with the wings…
…That’s very much the Gump, yes. Again, were I more cynical about it, I might call Baum unoriginal here. However, by now, I also think he knows what works. It’s a little bit unfair to get too critical of him for it, because this book is eight years after Wonderful Wizard and theoretically, he’s writing to an entirely new child audience. A child who was four years old in 1900, and read Wizard by his or her parents, is now twelve years old and potentially reading Dorothy and the Wizard to a baby brother or sister.
Are Friends Delicious?
There are definite questions about how appropriate this book is for young readers. Wouldn’t you agree that it’s a rather disturbing read?
Oh, it is indeed. There’s an article by Marilynn Olson called “Roots of Oz” (which you can find in L. Frank Baum’s World of Oz: A Children’s Classic at 100, edited by Suzanne Rahn), which is chiefly focused on Baum’s use of vegetable people like the Mangaboos. Right at the outset, Olson quotes Baum’s oldest son, who called Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz “the harshest, the sombrest, the furthest removed from Baum’s kindly philosophy of all the Oz books.” I found that quite striking. It’s a very violent, grim book, and I think, as a child, I always picked up on the general darkness of it. I remembered a lot of it taking place underground, in the dark, and I certainly always remembered the Mangaboo sorcerer being sliced in half, perhaps because there’s a very memorable color plate of that event.
I have a vague memory of thinking “Is this really happening?” and turning the page and seeing the illustration confirm it, in no uncertain terms. It’s certainly more violent than anything that’s happened since the very first book.
The darkness I did not remember is that which comes out in character interactions. There is conversation after conversation where characters discuss eating or killing each other. In particular, there’s a long strand about Eureka’s interest in eating the nine tiny piglets that goes well beyond the previous book’s joke of the Hungry Tiger, to the point where it forms the final act of the novel.
As if that’s not enough, the Hungry Tiger himself is back to have a completely passive-aggressive conversation with Jim the Cab Horse. The Tiger’s conscience “would never permit” him to eat Jim; Jim’s conscience, on the other hand, apparently keeps him from kicking in the Tiger’s skull. “Some day I will let you try to crush in my skull,” says the Tiger, “and afterward you will know more about tigers than you do now.” It’s all very threatening – and a bit unsettling, too.
There’s a surprising amount of violence and threat of death, even for Baum. There are eleven uses of the word “death”; seven of “murder”; nine of “destroy”; and there’s a constant discussion of “Are we going die now?” Does it suggest some fixation on the part of Baum, or was death just so ubiquitous at this point? Because not all of this is serious conversation…
Particularly in the later part of the book, the discussions of death seem to veer uncomfortably from serious discussion to jokes and back again. Even when they’re discussing putting Eureka on trial, the Scarecrow keeps coming in with little pithy comments, as if to break it up with cues for audience laughter. That’s the one bit of the book that felt theatrical to me, in fact.
Well, perhaps that comes from the 1902 stageplay, somewhat. Isn’t Dorothy threatened with execution there?
In the final act, all of the heroic characters are going to be executed: Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Woodman.
Equally, though, in the actual book of Wonderful Wizard, Dorothy is ordered to “destroy” the Wicked Witch; she quite blithely accepts that instruction and carries it out.
Well, there’s always a very matter-of-fact attitude toward destruction in Baum’s work. For instance, he completely glosses over the moment where the Wizard creates a ring of fire and manages to destroy most of the Mangaboos.
I think that’s connected to a strange question mark over the nature of life itself, which Vivian Wagner discusses in a great article called “Unsettling Oz: Technological Anxieties in the Novels of L. Frank Baum” in the journal The Lion and the Unicorn. There are questions raised constantly about the nature of life. Here the Mangaboos are very dignified and we are just “meat people,” and the question is whether that removes some of the sanctity and identity of human life.
Tik-Tok, who is manifestly not alive, is another example of Baum’s continuous interest in the boundaries of life. Where this book seems to be different – and it reminds me more of John Dough and the Cherub than other Oz books – is the constant conversation, not so much about death, but of one character willingly destroying another. That, I think, is what makes it so grim.
Yes, I also read an article by Tison Pugh (“Food, Interspecies Cannbalism and the Limits of Utopia in L. Frank Baum’s Oz Books,” also in The Lion and the Unicorn) about the fear of civilized people eating one another. Baum raises the question of whether a talking, sentient animal could – or should – lose their animal nature and appetite by living among in a civilised manner among other people. The Hungry Tiger is the most optimistic version of that, but one of the arguments against Eureka’s execution in the concluding trial is that, well, she’s a cat, and it’s in her nature to eat small animals.
If I didn’t know anything about Baum, I would think he was trying to say something about vegetarianism. Really, though, I think he’s pointing out the absurdity of the logic we take for granted. In much the way he often does with authority and intellectual figures, he’s mocking the justifications we come up with for mere acts of survival. Mind you, I don’t know why it’s specifically coming up here, at this time, in this book; I might have expected it a little bit more one published ten years later, during or after World War I.
Ozma’s Divine Authority
Your point about Baum and the inherent absurdity of human logic seems one of many aspects that recalled Lewis Carroll’s Alice books to me: Dorothy having a kitten, falling through the earth, the trial. I can’t think of any other reason for things to turn so suddenly into CSI: Oz at the end.
Olson makes an interesting suggestion that the bulk of Dorothy and the Wizard is about human despair, with our heroes coming up against all sorts of roadblocks, obstacles, and ultimately, things they can’t get past. From that perspective, Ozma’s magic teleportation is seen as religious salvation as opposed to s simple plot device. Olson herself admits that’s a little bit of a leap – and I agree – but it is, at least, interesting to consider.
Yes, especially because so much of the novel is escapist. It’s about an inventor – a showman – continuously finding a way out of danger, admittedly sometimes by shooting at people or setting them on fire. In the final part of the novel, they almost reach the surface, but he can’t get them through it.
Right. Is the get-out Baum offers symbolic of salvation by God? Then, the Wizard becomes accepted in Oz but remains essentially powerless to stop the trial of Eureka. Does that represent the judgement of God? That’s a heady concept, and I’m not sure we can take it too far, but the trial of Eureka is so unusual and such a strange way to conclude the novel. It feels like our heroes are being punished in a way they simply usually aren’t in a Baum book. I don’t know what Baum was trying to do there, but it’s hard not to think he was trying to do…well, something.
I missed the idea of a parable altogether; I would have said it goes back to Baum’s take-down of legal process by Carrollian means, as when the Woggle-Bug keeps talking about the image in his mind’s eye – piglet, no piglet, you must have eaten it – and the Scarecrow says, “I suppose, if the cat had been gone, instead of the piglet, your mind’s eye would see the piglet eating the cat…”
Let me offer you this. If Ozma represents a divine authority, is it possible that Eureka’s actions – first, accepting her own trial and then, refusing to be saved by the Wizard – are an implied criticism of the idea of divine authority? We know Baum was not Christian; he was a theosophist, which has aspects of Christianity in it but also (in a mass simplification) believes in reincarnation as opposed to a Heaven and Hell-type scenario. Could that be, through Eureka, his “showing up” of the ludicrousness of accepted religious systems?
The very idea of an ultimate judgement seems constantly critiqued in Baum – whether about Chick the Cherub as boy or girl, whether the Scarecrow is alive or not, Baum seems to be about ambiguities and borderlines. I wouldn’t necessarily have put that in a religious schematic, but if you see Baum as a man whose work is not underpinned by a sense of religious moral authority, you can see that manifesting here.
I think he’s criticizing something, for sure, but you’re oversimplifying. It’s not that Baum’s religious belief was free of the absolutes of morality. However, he is certainly interested in playing with ideas of moral relativism. The very fact that the Wizard is originally presented as a deceiver, a con man, and a pathetic figure without being linked to explicit evil is proof to me that Baum thought a little bit outside of the rigid box.
It’s interesting that of all the people his readers were asking to have back, he picks a character who is, if not overtly criticized in Wonderful Wizard, certainly morally questionable to a degree – and outright villainous in flashback in Marvelous Land. Here, it’s not that he’s wholly redeemed, it’s just that the aspects of him that were dodgy in the past are now useful in a tight spot.
Definitely. The Wizard has moved from being a pathetic loser to being a trickster character – and a heroic trickster character at that. There’s never any question that he might “pull a Dr. Smith” from Lost In Space and save his own skin at the expense of everybody else. When he returns to Oz he is openly hailed as a hero, which is, of course, consistent with how the Ozites felt about him in the first book. But he’s also greeted and welcomed by Ozma, who (you would think) wouldn’t be very happy to see him. Over the next few novels, Baum is going to subtly reshape the Wizard. Most obviously, he’s going to de-age him somewhat. His stated age here isn’t really reflected in Neill’s illustrations, but I think later books rework him to fit those illustrations better.
How to Appal an Author
I do want to talk a bit about Neill because his style seems to change quite drastically between Ozma of Oz and Dorothy and the Wizard, and it’s only been a year. I’d say personally, I didn’t like these illustrations as much as his previous ones. The color in the plates seems quite washed out and muddy, and all the characters except for Dorothy and Zeb look semi-grotesque. Although actually, that does suit this novel…
Neill is coming into his own in this book. That’s intended as an objective statement: I’m not trying to say that he’s becoming better or worse, just that he’s coming into his own style. I think in his first three books for Baum (remember John Dough?), he’s trying intentionally to imitate Denslow’s very flat, poster-like, graphic illustrations, and with each successive novel, he’s done it a little less. I feel like his own character is coming out more in Ozma of Oz, and now…here we are.
I really like the book’s last image of Ozma on a divan, looking forlornly out of the window. That seems to me a really interesting adjunct to the text, with the implication that Ozma is waiting for them to come back – she misses Dorothy. She does say it in the text, but without much feeling, whereas this is truly Romantic.
At his best, Neill romanticizes things in a way that Baum does not, and sometimes that’s very beautiful even though it doesn’t necessarily match the text. There’s a brilliant plate showing the fight with the Gargoyles, for instance. Neill’s fight with the Gargoyles is about a million times more dramatic than Baum’s; you actually see the Wizard being throttled.
It’s also quite modulated for a child reader, I think. Neill takes a scary scene and brings the Wizard right into the foreground, fending off the villains. Dorothy and Zeb are being attacked as well, but you really have to peer closely to see them. One Gargoyle is running away with Dorothy’s parasol, which is quite cute…
In this book, Neill has gone full-on Art Nouveau, and I think that was the style in which he was most comfortable. His comic page and advertising work is very much of this same style. There are lots of little lines, lots of natural shapes, lots of curves; it’s all considerably less stark than in his first books for Baum. I think it is absolutely beautiful line work if you can see it at its correct size.
I also love the color plates, but I see what you mean about them being muted. It is one of the only two Oz books where Neill painted watercolors, and therefore, it’s one of only two Oz books where Neill colored the plates himself. I can absolutely see why L. Frank Baum was appalled because it’s clear that Neill just read the book and did what he wanted.
Baum was appalled…?
I think early on he was appalled, yes – he didn’t think of Neill’s work as being humorous enough, which is fair. As a reader, I almost think “my” Oz is more Neill’s than it is Baum’s, because I read these books with these illustrations as a child and my brain sort of papered over all the inconsistencies. I love them wholeheartedly, and it takes me some effort to really dislike them at any level.
It’s true that only a couple of images are truly comic – I like Dorothy being stealthy, almost exactly like a Scooby-Doo character – but I don’t think Baum’s books were as funny as he thought they were.
When he said “humor,” I don’t think he necessarily meant “funny”; he meant that he wanted the art to be more absurd, whereas Neill’s art is filled with beauty and romance. Every time I see Neill’s work from these next few books – not just Dorothy and the Wizard, but The Road to Oz and The Emerald City of Oz – I’m immediately reminded of Alphonse Mucha, whose posters were so prototypically Art Nouveau. Baum surely knew Mucha’s work, too – and probably wouldn’t have thought him appropriate to illustrate Oz, either!
The Stories We Tell
Some of my very favorite parts of this book are the little absurd images and moments that don’t last very long. The conversation with the Dragonettes is funny and dark and totally unnecessary in every way, but perhaps it’s the unnecessary aspects that stand out the most strongly. Another instance of that is Dorothy’s strange little interaction with the Gump, which reminds me of a fairy tale called The Goose Girl, where the heroine talks with a horse’s head nailed on a wall –
Yes, but it’s like The Muppets Meet the Goose Girl.
Yeah, exactly! I think this is the last time we see the Gump, or if not, very close. I can’t help but wish Baum had just included a little scene with him in every book.
“I’m still here! Hello!”
Right. There’s also an interesting moment that caught my attention where Dorothy talks about when Ozma “was a boy,” and Zeb says, “Was Ozma once a boy?” Dorothy’s reply is incredibly matter-of-fact, ending in “but she’s a girl now, and the sweetest, loveliest girl in all the world.” Zeb doesn’t comment on it any further, not even to say that it’s strange or that he finds it confusing. He just accepts it as given and moves on, and that feels like the single most progressive thing I’ve ever read in an Oz book.
There are pages and pages of people explaining their backstories to one another, and I think there’s something about the volume of that, and the rapidity of going through it, the funnier it becomes. “Hey, do you remember when you asked me to go and kill a wicked witch, and I did, but accidentally, and then you turned out to be a fraud…” It’s sort of lifelike, in a way, as when you meet someone ten years ago and say, “Oh, you know, I was in love with you, and you didn’t know or care, and then somebody died…”
Yeah, there’s a sequence where Dorothy and the Wizard go through their entire history like that, and at the end, you think they’re going to high-five one another or something, like fast-talking teenagers in a modern TV show. It does become increasingly absurd and, thus, increasingly realistic in that you often can’t reduce the relationship of one person to another in one concise sentence; it’s weird and convoluted and doesn’t always make sense. The interesting thing here is that Baum completely ignores the opportunity for Ozma to display benevolent compassion and forgiveness toward the Wizard. Instead, Baum just rewrites history again. Things no longer happen the way they did in Marvelous Land, where the Wizard was shown to have kidnapped Ozma and left her with Mombi. We’re denied the chance to see Ozma come to terms with someone who usurped her throne and radically altered her childhood.
Instead, we suddenly get this whole new history for the Land of Oz with witches at war and the Wizard in the middle. That actually sounds like quite an exciting novel; it’s a shame he didn’t go back and write the prequel himself.
Oh, that’s okay; seventy-two billion film and TV projects are vying to do it for him. Oz the Great and Powerful, for instance, takes some definite cues from this book (including the use of the Wizard’s full name).
In this novel, it does feel like Baum’s trying to, in a surprisingly clumsy way, put together a structure for the county and its history – to stabilize it and make it a safe place. My memory is that in a lot of the coming books, Oz becomes “some place like home,” where Ozma’s realm is sanctified and solid, and this whole sequence seems to be shoring up that space.
Two Horses Enter, One Horse Leaves
I think it’s at least fair to point out that one thing we see as adults and missed as children is what a bizarre, inconsistent, naïve, and rather autocratic ruler Ozma is. She was extremely naïve in dealing diplomatically with the Nome King in the previous novel. Here, she inflicts justice in a way that simply doesn’t make sense – and she will do that again, in a later book, too.
She’s not very interesting here, either. She’s not funny or clever or adventurous. She doesn’t seem to do very much except to ask, in a lordly way, for a maid to bring her her piglet.
She also oversees a gladiatorial contest for her own amusement – not to mention a horse race.
One of the problems with the race – and the whole novel – is that Jim the horse is so very unpleasant throughout that chapter and the ones before and after. Much as I do enjoy this novel up until, perhaps, the last quarter, I don’t think Baum’s characters here are charming or likeable, whereas that was the real strong point of the previous three books.
I agree with that, and as we’ve said, some of his characters have even been made vaguely threatening. The Sawhorse is somewhat sanctimonious, the Woggle-Bug is even more pompous than ever before, and the Lion and the Hungry Tiger feel peculiarly like Ozma’s enforcers.
Zeb and Jim don’t enjoy being in Oz from the minute they get there, and it’s understandable. Oz feels genuinely alien. It doesn’t have any horses, cats or chickens – it’s like a completely other world.
Can we talk about that for a minute? How is it that there are sawhorses in Oz but no horses? How does that even happen? How does anyone ever manage to do fieldwork or farming, and why is there a scarecrow at all in a country where there are no chickens and no horses…?
In a weird way, it feels like the human world is almost a contradiction to Oz, upsetting it when humans visit. It’s as if our world can’t co-exist with the fantasy world and constantly causes discord and confusion. There are people from our world who prefer it in Oz, like the Wizard and Billina – but there are also people like Jeb, who constantly say they’re not happy here and want to get home.
Like Dorothy in the first book.
Is that a class thing?
Possibly. I think Baum might be saying something vague about people functioning best in their own spheres. If so…he doesn’t carry through on it very well. I think Baum wants very much to say that Oz is a great place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there, but with each passing book, he finds that harder and harder to keep up.
It’s almost as if, rather than painting it as a great utopia, Baum is still working through some issues with Oz, and for the moment he’s sort of ambivalent about it. What seems uncanny about the novel might come out of Baum’s indecision about magical solutions – whether that’s analogous to technology or industry or even gender emancipation. He’s really excited by them but also really uncomfortable, and he doesn’t subscribe to them personally.
I think it’s reasonable to cast L. Frank Baum as what a friend of mine would call socially liberal but personally conservative, where he believes in these progressive ideas as a whole, for society, but doesn’t subscribe to them necessarily himself. Does that make any sense?
Absolutely, although you could also say the reverse, I suppose: he inherits these very conservative impulses, but there’s something in the times that makes him continually doubt them.
Did you enjoy revisiting Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, Sarah?
Yes, I did. I had been worrying about whether or not I would like the book as an adult; I enjoyed it more than I did as a child, but I still think it is one of the weaker of the Oz series. Bear in mind, of course, that when I call it one of the “weaker Oz books,” I mean my childhood self only read it twenty or so times as opposed to thirty or forty! Did you enjoy it?
Yes, I really did. I was prepared not to not like it, because over the years I’ve told people, “Oh, it’s one of my favorite Oz books,” and I know you’ve always raised an eyebrow at that, and the people I’ve recommended it to have gone, “Hmm, I didn’t really like it…” I actually felt it was really, very well written up to a point, but it was just lacking in charm, and the plot is like someone whipping the needle off a record.
What I’d say is that there are a lot of good moments in the book, but it’s lacking momentum.
If you knew a child who had read the first three books, would you give them this one or just skip straight to The Emerald City of Oz?
I think If I knew a child who had enjoyed the first three, I would give them this book – because they’re going to be hooked by now, and at the very least, they’re going to enjoy meeting the Wizard again, and they’re going to enjoy these new strange adventures with Dorothy. Where I diverge from previous books is that I wouldn’t give this book to someone who hadn’t read any of the others. It doesn’t make a particularly strong “first Oz book.”
Haven’t we crossed that line already? It’s become a series now. Would any of the future Oz books stand by themselves?
Actually, yeah – I think there are a few still to come.
I guess we’ll be testing that theory from month to month.
Absolutely, Nick. As you say, we’ve crossed the Rubicon, and there’s no turning back now. It’s a long road ahead – in fact, somewhat literally…
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