Lyman Frank Baum (who published under
the name L. Frank Baum) was born in New York in 1856.
He began his career at the age of 25 by writing for
musical theater; he was also an actor. Baum eventually
turned to journalism, and moved to Chicago in 1891,
writing for the "Evening Post." To earn extra
money, he also sold porcelain and china; you will see
evidence of that in the stories he tells in Wonderful
Wizard of Oz. In 1897 he published Mother Goose in Prose,
followed by Father Goose in 1899. Based on the success
of this book, he was able to give up his other jobs
and devote himself full-time to writing.
And in 1900 he published The Wonderful
Wizard of Oz. The book was a bestseller, and Baum immediately
created a musical stage version which successfully appeared
on Broadway and toured the country for ten years, from
1902-1911. (None of the songs from the theater musical
were later used in the musical film starting Judy Garland.)
In 1904, Baum published a next installment:
The Marvelous Land of Oz: The Further Adventures of
the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman. He went on to write
a total of fourteen books set in Oz, with a varying
cast of characters.
In 1910, Baum and his family moved to
Hollywood, California. He founded the Oz Film Manufacturing
Company and began making films based on the Oz books.
The problem was that back in the early years of the
century, nobody had really started making films for
children. Baum found it difficult to market the films,
and they were not financially successful. But Baum continued
to produce the Oz books, publishing a new book every
year until his death in 1919, just a few days before
his 63rd birthday.
After Baum's death, other authors -
notably Ruth Plumly Thompson - continued to produce
books for the Oz series. And in 1939, Warner Brothers
released the Victor Fleming musical starring Judy Garland,
under the title The Wizard of Oz. This film became an
icon of American cinema, and most people now know the
version of the Oz story presented in that film, rather
than the story told by Baum. Fortunately, unlike many
Disney productions of children's classics, the Wizard
of Oz is amazingly faithful to Baum's original book.
You will see some of the most important differences
in the reading this week: Dorothy's shoes are not red,
and the Emerald City is not actually green, and the
whole trip to Oz is real - it is not a dream, as in
the movie. Plus there are many adventures in the book
which had to be left out of the movie, while the movie
added more to the frametale, describing Dorothy's life
in Kansas, creating the characters Hunk, Zeke, Hickory,
Professor Marvel and Miss Gulch, who are all counterparts
to characters in Oz. These Kansas characters are not
part of Baum's original story.
Because all of Baum's Oz books were
published before 1923, they are in the public domain.
This means that you will find plentiful copies of all
of these texts on the Internet, although only two books
- the Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the sequel The Marvelous
Land of Oz are available in illustrated editions online.
There are many rumors and legends associated
with the Oz books, and with the film. One of the most
interesting has to do with where the name Oz comes from.
There are many conjectures about that, and Baum himself
promoted this charming explanation in a book introduction
I have a little cabinet letter file
on my desk that is just in front of me. I was thinking
and wondering about a title for the story, and had settled
on the "Wizard" as part of it. My gaze was
caught by the gilt letters on the three drawers of the
cabinet. The first was A-G; the next drawer was labeled
H-N; and on the last were the letters O-Z. And "Oz"
it at once became.
Of course, it is entirely possible that
Baum himself was making that story up. Other theories
abound. Martin Gardner's theory ("Mathematical
Games," in Scientific American. February 1972)
is that the name OZ is derived from the abbreviation
NY, Baum's home state, with each letter moved up one
place in the alphabet (like the computer HAL in 2001:
A Space Odyssey having the name IBM, with the letters
moved one back in the alphabet).
One of the more persistent legends about
the filming of the Wizard of Oz musical is that an actor
playing one of the munchkins, "driven to despair
over his unrequited love for a female munchkin,"
committed suicide during the shooting of the film. You
can allegedly seen the hanged munchkin in the scene
where Dorothy and the Scarecrow are gathering apples
from the angry apple trees. Like most grisly urban legends,
the story of the suicidal munchkin is not true. Apparently
there were some peacocks roaming the set, and one of
them spread its wings vaguely in view of the camera,
creating the strange effect that has been interpreted
as the dangling munchkin. Given the enormous popularity
of this movie, there is a lot of Wizard of Oz Movie
One of the most interesting legends
associated with Baum's book, The Wonderful Wizard of
Oz, is that it is actually a closely argued political
allegory in support of "The Radical Free Silverites,"
a Democratic populist movement in America in the late
19th century. To alleviate the effects of an economic
depression in the 1890's, some politicians were arguing
for augmenting the monetary gold standard with silver
coinage. This platform is most closely associated with
William Jennings Bryan, who was the Democratic candidate
for President in 1896. You probably read about his "Cross
of Gold" speech in your U.S. history class, when
Bryan demanded the abandonment of the strict gold standard
in order to bring relief to the working classes of America:
"You shall not press down upon the brow of labor
this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind
upon a cross of gold." Baum was a lifelong Democrat
and supporter of populist politics.
So, what does this have to do with Oz?
You will find out that Dorothy does not have ruby slippers
in the book; her slippers are silver. Meanwhile, the
road to Oz is paved with gold. Here is how Mark Lovewell
summarizes the allegorical theory of the metals:
Dorothy, the heroine, symbolizes mid-America
at its best -- honest and open-hearted. Uprooted by
a tornado, she is enticed to follow a yellow brick road
to the fantasy-land of Oz (an ounce of gold). The Scarecrow
she meets symbolizes the Western farmer who thinks he
has no brain but turns out to be more capable and intelligent
than he realizes. The Tin Woodman who joins them represents
the American worker whose grinding labours have left
him, at least for a time, rusted and heartless. And
the Cowardly Lion who tags along depicts none other
than William Jennings Bryan, the leader whose lack of
courage finally caused him to betray the pro-silver
cause. [...] Dorothy is then able to return to the security
of home by clicking her silver (not ruby, as in the
According to this theory, Oz is not
a fanciful name made up based on the letters on a filing
cabinet: it is the abbreviation for "ounce."
In any case, whether Baum was inspired
to write a political allegory, or whether politics were
the farthest thing from his mind at the time, the final
result is a classic of children's literature. I'm guessing
that probably everyone who is doing this unit has seen
the musical film version. You will find this week that
the book has a different and special charm all its own.
In the original story, Dorothy is swept
away from Kansas in a tornado and arrives in a mysterious
land inhabited by "little people." Her landing
kills the Wicked Witch of the East (bankers and capitalists),
who "kept the munchkin people in bondage."
In the movie, Dorothy begins her journey
through the Land of Oz wearing ruby slippers, but in
the original story Dorothy's magical slippers are silver
[a reference to the bimetallic monetary system advocated
by W.J. Bryan]. Along the way on the yellow brick (gold)
road, she meets a Tin Woodsman who is "rusted solid"
(a reference to the industrial factories shut down during
the depression of 1893). The Tin Woodsman's real problem,
however, is that he doesn't have a heart (the result
of dehumanizing work in the factory that turned men
Farther down the road Dorothy meets
the Scarecrow, who is without a brain (the farmer, Baum
suggests, doesn't have enough brains to recognize what
his political interests are). Next, Dorothy meets the
Cowardly Lion, an animal in need of courage (Bryan,
with a loud roar but little else). Together they go
off to Emerald City (Washington) in search of what the
wonderful Wizard of Oz (the President) might give them.
When they finally get to Emerald City
and meet the Wizard, he, like all good politicians,
appears to be whatever people wish to see in him. He
also plays on their fears... But soon the Wizard is
revealed to be a fraudonly a little old man "with
a wrinkled face" who admits that he's been "making
"I am just a common man,"
he says. But he is a common man who can rule only by
deceiving the people into thinking that he is more than
he really is.
"You're a humbug," shouts
the Scarecrow, and this is the core of Baum's message.
Those forces that keep the farmer and worker down are
manipulated by frauds who rule by deception and trickery;
the President is powerful only as long as he is able
to manipulate images and fool the people.
Finally, to save her friends, Dorothy
"melts" the Wicked Witch of the West (just
as evil as the East), and the Wizard flies off in a
hot-air balloon to a new life. The Scarecrow (farmer)
is left in charge of Oz, and the Tin Woodsman is left
to rule the East. This populist dream of the farmer
and worker gaining political power was never to come
true, and Baum seems to recognize this by sending the
Cowardly Lion back into the forest, a recognition of
Bryan's retreat from national politics.
Dorothy is able to return to her home
with the aid of her magical silver shoes (Ruby shoes
in the movie), but on waking in Kansas, she realizes
that they've fallen off, representing the demise of
the silver coinage issue in American politics.
Regardless of the true nature of the
message in Baum's story, it is a true classic, and my
niece and nephews did a fine job of entertaining us
in their recent
school production of the original.