Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Baum, L Frank

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(1856-1919) US writer whose immense importance to the field of fantasy rests upon his creation of the land of Oz, the first successful Otherworld in US literature. He began his writing career in the 1880s with nonfiction, and over his life published some adult novels, including The Last Egyptian: A Romance of the Nile (1908), released anon; but he is of interest almost exclusively for his Children's Fantasy, beginning with some of the stories assembled in The Purple Dragon and Other Fantasies (coll 1976), which date from as early as 1897. Other early texts are Mother Goose in Prose (coll 1899), remarkable mostly for the illustrations by Maxfield Parrish, and A New Wonderland (1900; vt The Surprising Adventures of the Magical Monarch of Mo 1903).

In the same year as The New Wonderland, LFB published the first volume in the Oz sequence, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900; vt The New Wizard of Oz 1903), upon which was based the most famous of all fantasy movies, The Wizard of Oz (1939). The sequence continued with The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904; vt The Land of Oz 1914), Ozma of Oz (1907; vt Princess Ozma of Oz 1942 UK), Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz (1908), The Road to Oz (1909), The Emerald City of Oz (1910), The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1913), Tik-Tok of Oz * (1914), The Scarecrow of Oz (1915), Rinkitink in Oz (1916), The Lost Princess of Oz (1917), The Tin Woodman of Oz (1918) – featuring a human woodsman who has suffered a gradual Transformation into two successive versions of his Tin Woodman identity, problems of identity arising when the first version has a perplexed conversation with his former head and later, with the second version, encounters a patchwork character constructed from their former "meat" bodies – The Magic of Oz (1919) and Glinda of Oz (1920). Associated plays include The Wizard (produced 1902), The Woggle-Bug (produced 1905) – which generated The Woggle-Bug Book * (1905) – and The Tik-Tok Man of Oz (produced 1913). The latter play was a version of Ozma of Oz (1907); the novel Tik-Tok of Oz * (1914), based on the play, is thus closely related to the earlier novel. Six volumes of tales for younger children – including Jack Pumpkinhead and the Sawhorse (1913 chap) – were published in 1914 as the Little Wizard Series; they were reissued in one volume as Little Wizard Stories of Oz (omni 1939 UK). It is generally agreed that the later Oz volumes represent a falling-off from the standards of the earlier titles; the sequence was so popular, however, that other writers, including Ruth Plumly Thompson (1891-1976), continued to generate new stories (see Sequels by Other Hands). LFB's other work is competent, but without genius.

Oz is a Polder which is magically proximate to the surrounding desert of the Western USA; characters constantly make their way from Kansas across various Thresholds into this magic land of their Dreams – at least until Oz is rendered finally invisible ... although reader protests forced a reappearance. At the same time Oz represents a contradiction of the "real" world (hence, perhaps, the distaste US educationists and librarians have notoriously felt for the series). It is a kind of Eden inhabited by unfallen creatures, and stands in radical contrast to the implacable Bondage of impoverished dust-bowl Kansas, a state whose reality seems inescapable – hence, perhaps, some of the poignancy of Geoff Ryman's "Was ..." (1992; vt Was 1992 US), which also treats the historical Kansas as essentially inescapable.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a classic Fairytale in which a young orphan travels into Faerie, where she is set a task and safely accomplishes it. Dorothy's Quest for a way home – in the company of three magic Companions (a scarecrow, a Talking Animal – the Cowardly Lion who seems at first to be nothing but a Miles Gloriosus [see Commedia dell'Arte] – and the woodsman) – is superbly balanced and told. Further volumes offer numerous additions to the population of Oz, some highly bizarre and accompanied by explicit pleas for tolerance of odd-looking outsiders. The sequence as a whole is important for Oz itself, for the huge inventiveness that makes it seem so remarkably populous, and for the sense of liberation from bondage it continues to convey. [JC]

other works: Dot and Tot in Fairyland (1901 chap); American Fairy Tales (coll 1901; exp vt Baum's American Fairy Tales 1908, adding three stories); The Master Key: An Electrical Fairy Tale (1901); The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1902) and A Kidnapped Santa Claus (1904; 1969 chap) (see Santa Claus); The Enchanted Island of Yew (1903); Queen Zixi of Ix, or The Story of the Magic Cloak (1905); John Dough and the Cherub (1906); the Trot and Cap'n Bill sequence comprising The Sea Fairies (1911) and its sequel Sky Island (1912) – when this proved unsuccessful, LFB moved its characters to Oz for The Scarecrow of Oz, which is based on an unwritten third tale featuring Trot and her friends; Jaglon and the Tiger Fairies (1953); Animal Fairy Tales (coll 1989), stories first published 1905.

see also: The Wizard of Oz for discussion of the movies based on LFB's creation.

Lyman Frank Baum


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.