Oz and beyond: The Fantasy World of L. Frank Baum

Oz and beyond: The Fantasy World of L. Frank Baum

by Michael O. Riley
     
 

Long before Judy Garland sang "Over the Rainbow," the denizens of Oz had already captivated the American reading public. The quintessential American fairy tale, L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has had a singular influence on our culture since it first appeared in 1900. Yet, as Michael Riley shows, Baum's achievement went far beyond this one book,

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Overview

Long before Judy Garland sang "Over the Rainbow," the denizens of Oz had already captivated the American reading public. The quintessential American fairy tale, L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has had a singular influence on our culture since it first appeared in 1900. Yet, as Michael Riley shows, Baum's achievement went far beyond this one book, or even the thirteen others he wrote about that magic kingdom.

The Land of Oz was just one in a whole continent of fantasy countries whose histories, geographies, and citizens Baum developed in detail over the course of his writing career. In this Other-world, Baum created a full-scale mythology that foreshadowed Tolkien's Middle Earth in its imaginative detail.

Taking us on an entertaining tour of this endearing and unforgettable Other-world, Riley illuminates Baum's richly creative imagination in the Oz books and other works of fantasy, like the much neglected Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. He restores for millions of readers Baum's original conception of Oz as it existed long before other writers were hired to continue the immensely popular series following Baum's death in 1919. Equally important, he shows us how Oz and its companion countries evolved over time, as Baum repeatedly responded to a loyal readership clamoring for an endless supply of Oz stories.

While there have been other studies of Baum, this is the first to examine his Other-world in its entirety. Oz and Beyond provides the first comprehensive analysis of all of Baum's fantasy creations and his evolution as a fantasy writer, demonstrating that Baum had a more consistent and disciplined imagination than is generally recognized. It also explains the influence of Baum's childhood and adult experiences on his writing and illuminates his philosophy concerning nature, civilization, and industrialization.

Oz's enduring influence on American culture is indisputable—witness its endless replication in books, films, musicals, and theme parks. In returning to the original source of that influence, Riley serves as our guide to that land over the rainbow and inspires renewed appreciation for a great writer's magical vision.

"An excellent introduction to the work of America's greatest writer of children's fantasy, Oz and Beyond is also a remarkable achievement in the criticism of Baum and American popular culture. It breaks new ground and opens up, really for the first time, all sorts of entrancing possibilities for critical dialogue."—Douglass Parker, professor of classics, University of Texas.

"This is not, I hope, the last work that places Baum's Oz books into an account of his entire career, but it is a most welcome first one. Queen Xixi of Ix and The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, marvelous books almost lost to us, are here given the attention they deserve."—Roger Sale, author of Fairy Tales and After: From Snow White to E. B. White.

"The best critical analysis of Baum and his contributions to American children's literature since the publication in 1929 of Edward Wagenknecht's Utopia Americana. Given that Baum still has a huge readership, the book should also have a large commercial market."—Douglas G. Greene, director, Institute of Humanities, Old Dominion University.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
A most readable guide to that land over the rainbow. Will inspire renewed appreciation for a great writer's magical vision.
Yellowback Library
Of interest to both 'old timers' in the Oz field and to those who are just discovering L. Frank Baum.
The Baum Bugle
Oz fans will feel vindicated as Riley accords Baum proper literary recognition and celebrates his most important achievement.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Baum created Oz in 1900 and wrote 14 Oz novels but sometimes had a less cohesive and consistent idea of Oz than his devoted fans, who faithfully welded together the scraps of information scattered throughout the books. Riley, though a professor of children's literature, is for the most part simply an academically grounded fan. Unlike such critics as Roger Sale (Fairy Tales and After), who saw Baum's faults as clearly as his achievements, Riley sanctifies Baum's (1856-1919) artistic and personal life. Born to a happy and eventually wealthy Syracuse, N.Y., family, Baum grew up with ambitions for a life in theater. Except for the huge success of a stage musical based on (and quite different from) The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Baum's show-business aspirations all ended disastrously. His identity as creator and sustainer of Oz was thrust upon him through economic desperation and reader demand. Riley reads Baum's many other, non-Ozian stories and novels as "drawn together into a single Other-world" with the Oz books, which really just means that Baum's creations are characteristically Baumian. He demonstrates how Baum expanded, distorted and changed Oz through both intention and carelessness, as when, in the fifth book in the series, he "banished natural death from Oz... Oz has become more than a haven from danger; it has become a haven from death itself." But rather than explore the meaning of this shift, Riley simply details the inconsistencies it creates in earlier books. (July)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780700609338
Publisher:
University Press of Kansas
Publication date:
10/28/1998
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.50(d)

What People are saying about this

Douglass Parker
An excellent introduction to the work of America's greatest writer of children's fantasy, Oz and Beyond is also a remarkable achievement in the criticism of Baum in American popular culture.

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