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L. Frank Baum and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

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Book Cover of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz 100th Anniversary Edition

100th Anniversary Edition

HarperCollins

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a cultural icon in the United States. Dorothy and Toto, the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man, the Wicked Witch of the West, and the Wizard of Oz have all become part of the American vocabulary. Dorothy's heartfelt statement, "There is no place like home," still reverberates today.

For many people, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is one of their favorite children's books even though they have never read it. They really feel they must have read it because they have seen the classic 1939 Judy Garland movie and are so familiar with the story. I fit into that category until I became interested in learning about the book and its 100+ years of popularity. That's right. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was first published in the 1900, and 2000 was its centennial year.

L. Frank Baum's Life

Happily, I found out that there's much to be gained by reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and learning about the author L. Frank Baum, who started it all. Despite a lifelong heart condition, Baum, who was born in 1856, lived to the age of 63. He was born in Chittenango, New York, lived and worked in New York City, Dakota Territory, and in Chicago. His work varied from managing, then owning, the family's string of opera houses in New York and Pennsylvania, acting and writing plays in New York City, operating a general store and a newspaper in Dakota Territory, working as a reporter, then a traveling salesman in Chicago, and writing. From his first newspaper, published when he was only 15, to his first book (on raising poultry), which was published when he was 30, to his first musical, The Maid of Arran, Baum was always writing.

He gained quite a local reputation for his storytelling, and his wife, Maud began encouraging him to write the stories down. In 1897, his Mother Goose in Prose was published. But it was his collaboration with artist William W. Denslow that brought him his first bestseller, Father Goose, His Book. Their most enduring collaboration was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published in 1900, which, like much of Baum's work, began as stories told to his children. Baum wrote more than a dozen other Oz books and became known as the "Royal Historian of Oz." When he died, his publisher appointed Ruth Plumly Thompson as the new "Royal Historian." Several other authors were designated "Royal Historian" over the years.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: A New American Fairy Tale

After paying homage to the fairy tales of Grimm and Andersen in his introduction to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum stated that:

    ...the old-time fairy tale, having served for generations, may now be classed as 'historical' in the children's library; for the time has come for a series of newer 'wonder tales' in which the stereotyped genie, dwarf, and fairy are eliminated, together with all the horrible and blood-curdling incident [sic]devised by their authors to point a fearsome moral to each tale...["The Wonderful Wizard of Oz]aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heart-aches and nightmares are left out.

At first, I was somewhat taken aback by this. After all, the first thing that happens in Oz is that Dorothy's house lands on and kills the wicked Witch of the East; later, a vicious animal is beheaded, and then, Dorothy is promised her freedom if she will kill another wicked witch. However, compared with the bloodshed, violence, and dark atmosphere of many European folk tales, this is very mild. More importantly, the spirit of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, is one of kindness, respect, and consideration for others. There are some valuable lessons to be learned and much enjoyment to be gained from reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Compare prices of the 100th anniversary edition, a facsimile of the first edition.)

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