L. Frank Baum
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
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The story of Dorothy, blown by a cyclone into the Land of Oz, has been one of the best known children’s books for far more than a century now, and for good reasons — it is a fascinating tale, well told, that is both a fairy tale and a fantasy story, but also includes references to the real world. While Baum, influenced by Lewis Carroll, maintained that children’s books should not contain any moral lessons, it still promotes the idea that love, kindness, and unselfishness make the world a better place (to quote Russel B. Nye). The book has been attacked by religious fundamentalist for godlessness, for claiming that witches can be benevolent, and for teaching that females are equal to males. It is a good book — if you haven’t read it as a child, you may still thoroughly enjoy it as an adult.
About the Author
Lyman Frank Baum was born in 1856 in a village in New York State, as the seventh of nine children, into a devout Methodist family with German, Scots-Irish and English ancestry. A sickly, dreamy child, he was tutored with his siblings at his parents’ expansive estate, of which he later had fond memories. At the age of 12 he was sent to a military academy where he was unhappy; having been severely disciplined for daydreaming and having suffered a possibly psychogenic heart attack, he was allowed to return home after two years.
From early years on Baum was interested in writing, printing and journalism, and had a great love of the theater. When he was 24 his father built him a theater in Richburg, New York, for which he wrote his first play, The Maid of Arran, composed its songs, and played the leading role. In 1882 Baum married Maud Gauge, a daughter of the famous feminist activist Matilda Joslyn Gage. When the theater burned down Baum and his wife moved to Aberdeen, South Dakota, where he opened a store which soon went bankrupt, after which he began working as an editor and columnist for a local newspaper. In 1891 the newspaper failed, and Baum and his family (meanwhile they had four sons) moved to Chicago, where he worked as a journalist, founded a magazine that focused on store windows displays (which still exists), worked as a traveling salesman, wrote and successfully published two children’s books, Mother Goose in Prose and Father Goose: His Book and finally, in 1900, had his groundbreaking success with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Baum wrote 13 more Oz books and, often under pseudonyms, an even larger number of other novels — mostly for children, but three of them for adult readers. He envisioned an Oz theme park on an island, and kept investing, with dire commercial results, in musicals and films. In May 1919, at the age of 62, Frank Baum died from a stroke.