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


  1. I was most taken with the princess who could change her head (she had a roomful of them to chose from) with a ruby key.

  2. Somewhere in my parents' sticky-paged photo albums is a Polaroid of a bunch of 8 or 9 yr old boys squirming and giggling and punching each other...except for one freckle-faced boy who insisted on being photographed amongst the shenanigans reading either The Tin Woodsman of Oz or The Scarecrow of Oz.

    I always thought Frank Morgan bore a certain resemblance to L. Frank in his mustachioed Emerald City roles as the horse of a different color driver and the guard at the Wizard's hall.

  3. Mr. Baum was also a noted Theosophist, which somehow makes me like him even more.

    1. Any friend of Madame Blavatsky's is a friend of ours!

      Remind to tell you about her cat, someday...

  4. I remember my beloved grandfather sitting next to me on the opium couch --they'd been in Thailand for the State Department and brought oodles of antique furniture to outfit our home inside the beltway-- reading the Oz books to me and carefully pointing out every political reference, complete with long asides about the lion's real name being William Jenny something, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and --most mysteriously to my six year-old self-- A Nude Eel. Nothing makes for golden childhood memories like literary political analysis.

  5. Oh, how I love his books.
    I read them all.
    No, really.
    As a (very bored lonely) kid.

    Even the Ruth Plumly Thompson ones.

  6. Lovely to know that there are so many fans. As for me, I was always a Patchwork Girl fan, myself, although I have a soft spot for the Shaggy Man and and Polychrome, as well. =I have no problem at all with the Ruth Plumly Thompson books (the O'Neill ones do get a little much - his sinuous Art Nouveau lines get into his prose, I think)...