Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Picture This: John R. Neill

I had a dream the other night, and it reminded me of one of my first childhood crushes. It might surprise you, but she was, in fact, a girl. Or at least a princess:

She was Ozma of Oz, as drawn by John Rea Neill. I read and reread Oz books, as much, I think, for the sinuous Art Nouveau lines of his illustrations as anything. They seemed a perfect complement to the sometimes equally sinuous plots.

While Ozma remained a favorite, she had rivals. One was Polychrome, the Rainbow's Daughter, with her floating robes like a Jane Austen heroine in midflight:

But best of all, O Best Beloved, was the antic Scraps, the Patchwork Girl, a gleefully amoral presence in L. Frank Baum's sometimes starchy world:

She had an enviable philosophy of life. I just looked it up, and perhaps she was more of an influence than ever I knew:

Then she laughed again, long and merrily, and the Glass Cat crept out from under the table and said:

"I don't blame you for laughing at yourself. Aren't you horrid?"

"Horrid?" she replied. "Why, I'm thoroughly delightful. I'm an Original, if you please, and therefore incomparable. Of all the comic, absurd, rare and amusing creatures the world contains, I must be the supreme freak... But I'm glad--I'm awfully glad!--that I'm just what I am, and nothing else."

As for Neill, he seems to have had a fairly quiet, and, after a certain point, a highly Oz-centered life. He ended up writing three Oz books himself (although they fall outside the canon as contained in my grandparents' upstairs bookshelf) and was known as "Imperial Illustrator of Oz".

And one could do a great deal worse, no?


  1. goodness, are you in my brain?
    I too read all the Oz books (even the Plumly-Thompson ones) for his illustrations mainly.
    I especially loved

  2. The Oz books are what got me hooked on fantasy to begin with. But i have Always loved the illustrations, they always enchanted me. but rival to both Ozma and Polychrome is Queen Zixi of Ix and the Queen of Fairies.