1907. Oklahoma becomes a state, the United States decides to limit immigration, a major financial crisis is averted, and on December 31 at midnight, the first electric ball drops in Times Square. This is also the year in which UPS is founded, the Great White Fleet departs on a 14 month circumnavigation of the globe, and by popular demand, L. Frank Baum writes Ozma of Oz, the third book in his Wizard of Oz series.
The Great White Fleet leaving from Hampton Roads, Virginia
This is the middle of the Progressive Era in the United States. A period of widespread social activism and political reform. Prohibition is a popular idea, women are demanding the right to vote, efficiency and modernization are being introduced into every aspect of society, and fairy tales need to be produced to match these changing times. Fortunately L. Frank Baum is more than up to the task.
Lyman Frank Baum (1856 – 1919), was an American author, best known for his children’s books, specifically The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and all its sequels. He had an obsession with theater, supporting and financing stage musicals, often going above and beyond what he could actually afford. Baum also made numerous attempts to bring his own works to the stage and adapt them for film, which he succeeded at with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. His greatest achievement though (in my opinion) was his long lasting impact on U. S. children.
In 1900, Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz with the goal of writing a fairy tale for modern American children. Harsh moral lessons were eliminated along with the stereotypical character roles played by dwarves, genies, and fairies. Baum also got rid of romance because he felt that young children weren’t interested in reading love stories. Fairy tales needed to entertain children in a wholesome manner, not educate them. That’s what schools were for.
Baum more than succeeded. All 10,000 copies of his book sold out during the first month, by 1938 more than a million copies had been printed, and by 1956, the number had grown to three million. The book is still in print today, and has been translated into over 40 languages. The Wonderful wizard of Oz has also been adapted to comics, plays, movies (see trailer below) and cartoon series, along with countless spin-offs.
Originally, Baum did not intend to write any sequels to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. However, after the book came out thousands of children wrote to him requesting another story so in 1904 he wrote The marvelous land of Oz. And as children kept on requesting from him more stories, he proceeded to write another 12 sequels, until his death in 1919. Baum did this because he felt “that to please a child is a sweet and lovely thing that warms one’s heart and brings its own reward.”
Ozma of Oz reintroduces the character of Dorothy Gale to the series. Dorothy is on her way to Australia with her Uncle Henry when a storm causes her and the yellow hen Bill (who Dorothy renames Billina) to be thrown overboard. She then proceeds to wash ashore in Ev, a fairy country neighboring Oz. Dorothy is not in a rush this time to get home so she sets about to explore the country. She then proceeds to discover a lunch-box tree, find the clockwork man, Tik-Tok (possibly the first robot to be introduced in twentieth century literature), get herself locked up in a tower, and then proceed with Ozma, the new child-queen of Oz, her army of officers (and one private), and the scarecrow, tin man, and cowardly lion to rescue the royal family of Ev from the Nome King.
I was so thoroughly entertained by the book that I managed to finish it in a single day. I read a version that included the original color illustrations (by Artist John R. Neill), which helped bring the book to life. The adventures were fun and frequently made made me laugh out loud. Dorothy, Billina and Ozma are all very practical-minded female characters who are not afraid to express their views, damn the consequences, which lead to some very entertaining outcomes (fresh eggs used as a blackmail device). Baum also uses the book to poke fun at various aspects of modern society, such as an army comprised entirely of officers whose only function is to order the private around, or college as a place for youths who do not like to work. I strongly recommend reading this book to your kids; you’ll both enjoy it.
The Omer today is kingship in kindness. Ozma of Oz gives us a queen who embodies both these attributes. Ozma is the kind ruler of Oz, who embarks on a perilous journey to rescue a captive royal family from the clutches of the nome king. She takes many personal risks in the process while also demonstrating along the way how a kind ruler is supposed to behave. Evil queens have been a common trope for a long time; kindly queens not as much. Here’s hoping that more Ozma types get their day in the sun.