Why I read The Real Wizard of Oz: The Life and Times of L. Frank Baum
Since I’ve started The Lois Level, and most particularly since I started doing reading lists to support teachers and families during the COVID 19 shut downs, L. Frank Baum has come to my mind over and over again.
Of course I knew that he had written The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I even knew that there were a lot more Oz titles even though I only read two or three that I ran across as I child…most of them weren’t available.
I had also discovered that Baum’s books are all in the public domain, which means they can easily be had for FREE.
While I’ve been doing The Lois Level, I also found out that Baum wrote even more books than I had realized under a variety of pseudonyms.
So all of these things together made me want to know something his life, and I found the biography, The Real Wizard of Oz, at the library.
Why you should read The Real Wizard of Oz: The Life and Times of L. Frank Baum
Why You (and your kids) Should Know about the Man Behind The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
L. Frank Baum was the J.K. Rowling of his time. He wrote the first Oz book in the middle of his life, and it, along with the rest of the series, brought him enormous celebrity. More than 100 years after his death, this legacy is still going strong.
After reading about the life of L. Frank Baum and his work, my biggest takeaway, and one of his most important legacies is his appreciation of women and their capabilities. While Rebecca Longcraine shows all the ways that he was a man of his time, he was also ahead of his time…most especially in his view of what woman can and would do. This understanding didn’t come out of “left field”, it was an amalgam of his life experiences, his times, and most especially, the influence of his mother and other strong women in his family.
From the cover of The Real Wizard of Oz, it’s evident that the author, Rebecca Loncraine, is going for a very specific tone. Between the title, the cover design, and the tone of the book itself, Loncraine (and her publishers) present the book almost as an extension of the Oz books.
At the beginning of the book, especially, Loncraine takes pains to interweave both world and personal events of Baum’s life into a narrative that helps the reader see what influences he might have had that led up to his invention of Oz.
Loncraine goes for a slightly spooky, definitely fictional sounding tone, if that makes sense, with an eye for detail that really makes us feel as though we can see and hear what Baum saw and heard. As a person being entertained, I enjoy that.
As a person reading this book as work of research, sometimes, I don’t buy her theories, and what’s even more difficult, all of her notes are at the end and how she connects some of her inferences to Baum’s life is not always clear.
My reservations aside, why I like this book, and recommend it, is that Loncraine takes a unique approach to a unique topic, and where she succeeds is making the reader see and feel the world as Baum did, a world metastasized inside him for nearly have a century before taking the form of the world he created.
Why you should read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the series of Oz Books
Even for me, the Oz books are a lot different than I remember. For some reason, I remember them as being difficult to read, but they aren’t really, at least not the first one. According to the biography (read if you have time), the books do get darker as they progress. Baum wrote them over a period of 15 years, and as he aged, the books changed in tone.
Oz: A Travel Guide
L. Frank Baum was considered by Ozites to be their official historian and liaison with the far-away countries, such as the U.S. Based on this information, we know a lot about this country.
The flag equally represents all the Provinces of Oz:
And we have a map of the area:
Also, you can keep up with all the news from Oz with Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz. Note that queer actually meant “strange” in Baum’s time.
The Original Series of Oz books by Royal Historian L. Frank Baum
Note: The books featured here show the original covers. There are many editions of the text available because it is in public domain, but double check each edition before purchase to ensure readable formatting and use of illustrations, if you want them.
A digital version from a PDF may not have the linking features you’re used to if you read e-books a lot.
1. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)
2. The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904)
3. Ozma of Oz (1907)
4. Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz (1908)
5. The Road to Oz (1909)
6. The Emerald City of Oz (1910)
7. The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1913)
8. Tik-Tok of Oz (1914)
9. The Scarecrow of Oz (1915)
10. Rinkitink in Oz (1916)
11. The Lost Princess of Oz (1917)
12. The Tin Woodman of Oz (1918)
13. The Magic of Oz (1919)
14. Glinda of Oz (1920)
More information on the Oz Books at the Fandom Wiki.
More books by L. Frank Baum:
Queen Zixi of Ix isn’t strictly considered an Oz book, but you can see Ix on the map of countries surrounding Oz above.
Obviously the Royal Historian of Oz would be a good choice for Chief American Folklorist.
Baum and his family were all voracious readers of fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersson and also the widely varied collections of Andrew Lang, so naturally, he added his own when he started writing.
To explore the fairy tales Baum and his family read, check out The Lois Level’s FREE Fairy Tales and Folk Stories for Kids, Teens, and Adults
And The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1902). This story is Baum’s own invention and has nothing to do with either the famous poem or the life of St. Nicholas…let alone the televised versions that came later.
The Aunt Jane’s Nieces Books
During his relatively short career as a writer, L. Frank Baum was prolific. In order to avoid flooding the market with his books, he used several pseudonyms. His best selling and most enduring series was Aunt Jane’s Nieces.
The first novel is called Aunt Jane’s Nieces, but the series is also collectively referred to under that title.
Double check editions before purchase as these books are also in the public domain, and quality varies widely.
Aunt Jane’s Nieces, 1906 (2005)
Aunt Jane’s Nieces Abroad, 1907 (2007)
Aunt Jane’s Nieces at Millville, 1908 (2005)
Aunt Jane’s Nieces at Work, 1909 (2005)
Aunt Jane’s Nieces in Society, 1910 (2005)
Aunt Jane’s Nieces and Uncle John, 1911 (2005)
Aunt Jane’s Nieces on Vacation, 1912 (2005)
Aunt Jane’s Nieces on the Ranch, 1913
Aunt Jane’s Nieces Out West, 1914 (2005)
Aunt Jane’s Nieces in the Red Cross, 1915/1918 (2006)
Oz and the Real World/The Real World and Oz
According to Rebecca Loncraine
What do you believe?
How did L. Frank Baum conceive of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz?
Here are some things that Rebecca Loncraine connects to Baum’s life and his books, particularly The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. You be the judge.
1. Baum’s family was meant to have many more children than it had; an unusual number of Baum’s siblings, not to mention extended family members, died as children from illness.
2. A family with the name of Fox lived relatively close by; two of their daughters became famous for communicating with the dead.
3. The family had a lifelong association with the Theosophical Society.
4. Baum’s childhood home featured a knotty wood that was good for picking out imaginary faces. The drawing below is not by Baum, but I think it conveys the idea quite well.
5.. A plank road near his house was made of wood that was bright yellow when new, and planks in roads needed to be replaced frequently.
6. There were many roads in the Hudson Valley, where Baum attended military school, that were made of yellow brick. Originally, these bricks were brought from the Netherlands; eventually bricks were manufactured locally from a yellowish limestone.
7. When Baum was growing up, there were many Civil War Veterans around who were living with lost limbs, perhaps more so than at any other time in U.S. history because medical advances allowed doctors to save patients, who in previous wars would have died, by removing a limb although apparently were unable to stop infection in the first place (germ theory came later, even if they had the supplies).
I found out about advances in germ theory when I read about the 1918 pandemic; see The Lois Level’s John M. Barry’s “The Great Influenza”: Reading about a Pandemic during a Pandemic
8. Baum’s mother, Mildred Gage, wrote a book called Women, Church, and State supporting women’s rights.
9. One way she wanted to improve women’s lives is by adopted some traditions of Native People Nations, which traditionally gave women more rights, authority, and privileges.
10. Gage also included a chapter on witchcraft in her book, asserting that women accused of witches were actually the scientists of their day.
11. But Gage also uncovered claims that at least one young girl had conjured a cyclone through a potion.
Many of us might agree that the hormones of young adolescents are pretty potent stuff in males and females.
13. Baum started his career as an actor and also had his own traveling troupe for a while.
14. He lived on the prairie frontier in South Dakota, where he started a store called “Baum’s Bazaar” that was designed to be fantastical. His marketing encouraged people to yearn for fancy goods that his store provided. When times got hard and crops failed, the locals could no longer buy things they didn’t need, as much as they might want them, and the store failed.
15. Before making it as a children’s author (in his 40’s), Baum was a pioneer of marketing through window dressing (storefront window displays) and started a successful journal to help merchants market this way. He taught owners how to build desire through fanciful and artistic arrangements of goods.
16. Advances in science and technology during Baum’s life, which were featured in the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, blurred the line between living things/organic matter and machinery in a way that was sometimes frightening and confusing for people.
17. Baum was living in Chicago during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and visited it several times. The site of this fair was known as “The White City” and electric lights were used, for the first time, to create amazing effects and promote the new technology.
Oz may have been influenced by “The White City”.
18. Baum’s childhood home featured a design with large windows that made it feel as though the inside and outside were intertwined, and the wall paper, which was a marbleized design seen in book endpapers, and other decor features, including the knotty wood mentioned above, heightened the feeling that one was living in a book. This aesthetic is evident in the first edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, on which Baum and the illustrator, W.W. Denslow, worked closely.
19. Baum preferred to use the older, flickering kerosene lamps at home rather than the bright steady light of electric bulbs.
20. Baum first found success as a children’s writer with a book called Father Goose, a twist on the Mother Goose rhymes in which Father had to stay home and tell stories to the children.
21. Throughout his life, Baum signed assets over to his wife to protect them from his business creditors. Since his wife owned all of his copyrights and their home, he was worth less than $1000 at his death.
22. Baum made the first Oz movies in 1914 with his own production company. Ironically, they weren’t successful because adults didn’t want to pay to see what was considered a children’s movie.
23. Baum had trouble controlling costs, which is partly seen by the number of extras he used, but he made judicious use of the latest techniques in trick photography to depict magical effects.
You Tell Us
So which do you agree with, and where do you think Loncraine stretched too far? Comment below.
Filmed alternatives…one you know, and another one you may not.
If you get the 70th Anniversary edition of the MGM film, this made-for-TV movie, Dreamer of Oz, stars John Ritter as Baum is included. If not, here is is from Youtube.