Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Birthday Boy: The Royal Historian
The man who was born 156 years ago today is rarely - if ever - included in lists of Great American Writers. That's a shame, for I think I a real case can be made that Lyman Frank Baum has had as significant an effect on the American consciousness as many of his more appreciated fellows (and more than many, too, for that matter - I'm looking at you, Herman Melville, you over-praised old bore, you).
Is the Emerald City, beckoning in the distance, any less potent a talisman than Fitzgerald's green light on a Long Island dock?
Here we see a healthy sampling of some of Oz's better known citizens toasting their sovereign, the enchanting Ozma of Oz. The Oz books are can be surprisingly complex things, with their intricate plots and sudden, odd explosions of dark whimsy. I readily admit that as a child I was particularly taken with Princess Ozma, for example, because she first appears as a little boy, enchanted by an evil witch and only rescued by that same Glinda who sent Dorothy home with a click of her heels (which, in the book are silver; ruby came later).
Somewhere off in storage are all my Oz books, gathering dust these dozen years or more since I got swept off from my own Kansas (well, Manhattan) to this desert as fierce as the Great Sandy Waste that surrounds Oz. I look forward, some day, to diving back in.
On his birthday, then, let's ourselves (as varied a group, I think, as any gathering of Oz-ites, and twice as fanciful) raise a toast to L. Frank Baum, The Royal Historian of Oz, unsung hero of American literature. 156 seems to me a very Oz-zy age indeed, and I hope that celebrations in that far-off land are appropriately festive.
Spectacular John R. Neill illustration borrowed from that cornucopia of all things Oz-ian, Hungry Tiger Talk.