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NA221412 - BAUM, L.F.: Wonderful Wizard of Oz (The) (Abridged)


L. Frank Baum




One afternoon, L. Frank Baum was with a group of children at his home in Michigan. He liked telling stories, and the children of the town loved to come and hear him. He had already become quite famous in America with Father Goose - His Book, and, instead of being a shopkeeper, or a salesman, or a journalist, which, he had been, he was able to spend most of his time dreaming up children’s stories.


On this day, he was telling the children about a girl called Dorothy, and her friend The Scarecrow. He was about halfway through the story, when he stopped. All the children begged him to continue, but he looked up for a bit and thought. He told them that he just knew he had to go and write this story down before he forgot it. — ‘I will finish telling it to you later,’ he said.


In his heart, he must have known that he had dreamed up something very special; a story which would become one of the most loved and enjoyed tales of good witches and bad witches and magic and hopes and fears that have ever been written. He went to his desk, picked up his pen and started writing. The magic of the world of Oz and its characters seemed to come alive, as his pen raced across the page: the Scarecrow who may have had a head of straw but who was really brainy; the Tin Woodman who believed that he needed a heart to love people — but managed better than most without; and the Cowardly Lion, who looked so fierce but felt so frightened...as so many big fierce people do.


The story was easy to tell, the characters were there in his mind’s eye. Curiously, only the title proved a problem. He first called the story ‘The Emerald City’, but his publisher didn’t think it was lively enough, and it took weeks before, one morning, Baum wrote: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It looked right on the page, it sounded right in his ear — and his publisher liked it. And that was that.


When originally published in 1900 with illustrations by W.W. Denslow, it instantly became a huge hit with children and grown-ups alike. The world of magic had become real, and was never to fade. Within a short time, there was also play and a musical. The craze began. Thousands of children wrote to Baum saying how much they enjoyed it, and, like Oliver, asked for more. He agreed, and, in 1904, he published The Marvelous Land of Oz, followed in 1907 by Ozma of Oz and four years later, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. Altogether, before he died, there were 14 sequels, with one book of short stories. He became known as The Royal Historian of Oz.


When he died in 1919, there were 26 further stories, some of them written by his own son! By the time the series finished in 1951, over seven million copies had been sold.


A film was first made of the story in 1925, but in 1939, a young actress called Judy Garland starred in a color musical film, and, like the book itself, it became one of the most loved films of all time. It seemed to be touched by magic. Staying quite faithful to Baum’s original book, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, The Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, the Great Oz, and the Wicked Witch lived on the screen in the way they had lived in the imagination of millions of children.

The songs also became part of our musical world. Somewhere Over the Rainbow, If I Only Had a Brain and the others are now classics of their kind.

None of this was even suspected when the author was born in 1856 in Chittenango, NY. His father, a rich businessman, called him Lyman Frank Baum, but even as a boy he never liked his first name. He was quite a frail child, with a weak heart, and spent his childhood reading and dreaming, rather than playing football or running around. When he was older, his parents tried to toughen him up by sending him to a military school, but he fell ill, and finally they recognized that he was not that kind of person, and allowed him to come home.  When he was 15, he started his own newspaper. From then on, he always wrote. He became a journalist, an actor, ran a theater company, and then became a salesman. He was never a very good businessman (he was too much of a dreamer) and various businesses he started — shops and newspapers — went bankrupt.


All this changed when he hit the big time, first with Father Goose - His Book, and then with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. He even started an Oz newspaper called Ozmapolitan. He died in 1919, knowing that his work would live on, but not having had the opportunity to see the film that would live, side by side, with his words.


Notes by Nicolas Soames

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