Friday, May 13, 2011

"Official Oz Books?"

I'll be honest. This blog entry cribs from this message board thread. As you can see, this topic got quite derailed. However, there were some great insights. This entry is to present the best of the thread, a "good parts" version for The Princess Bride fans. Posters are quoted and credited by their screen names, unless they weren't hiding their real identities.

Please note that I have taken the liberty to edit for easier reading in this context. Also, due to this, the terms "canon," "continuity," and "official" are used pretty interchangeably.
So, just what does "official" mean when applied to the Oz books? To be honest, if you want to go by Baum's original intention, the only official Oz book is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, since he didn't want to write a sequel. But then, he relented and expanded it to two, then six, and then ongoing.

How would Baum have felt about people continuing his series?

In my own thought, he was reluctant to write more Oz, so probably, if he could have turned it over to someone else in his own lifetime and write other successful stories, he may very well have gone for it.

As it is, the series was continued postmuthously. Bill Campbell has discovered Justin Schiller has a letter from Baum to Ruth Plumly Thompson, apparently telling her that he was pleased she was continuing the series. However, it may be noted that this letter may not be all it appears to be, as it was apparently dictated to and written by his wife, Maud. However, it is dated before Baum's death and contains his signature. David Maxine has wondered why a letter of such importance is such a recent discovery and is getting such a low profile, as it would be important and would change what we know of the history the Oz books.

Still, Baum turned the rights to his books over to Maud, and she approved the continuation of the series. Later, when Frank J. Baum, her son, attempted to create his own Oz books, she was forced to go into court against him, and the court decided in her favor. Sounds pretty official to me.

But still, should Oz fans actually consider these later Oz books as "official?" Some Oz fans point out differences in tone and continuity. Here's what forum member Strasheela had to say.
Considering that Baum himself was known to be self contradictory from book to book, you could argue that not even he can be considered "canonical" 100% of the time.

Personally, I think the idea of there being a rigid canon is stifling. One needs some sort of idea of what it is to make a coherent and believable story, but if you get to the point where you say, "Oh, I can't write that,good idea as it is, it contradicts the canon" then you should feel free to twist it. In literature, the canon should be your framework and support, not your cage. In what little I have written I have challenged the canon of the picture on an almost constant basis, and have challenged the canon of the Thompson text openly on at least one minor point. It's really all what you feel comfortable with.

Eric Gjovaag has this to say about the opinion that each fan can choose their own "official" Oz stories.
Nobody, least of all me, disagrees with that. There are people out there who even reject some of Baum's books from their own personal canon. Of course we all have books we like or dislike more than others, that's perfectly natural. And we're not all going to come up with the same list, either. A hypothetical new publisher of the Oz books can decide which books to issue, and I'd even go so far as to say that they shouldn't feel limited by the old definition of canon. Heck, I think they might want to consider publishing The Runaway in Oz in this not-yet-existing series, and I'd even tell them that, once the FF+ (the FF and other books by those writers) are out in this very-likely-never-to-happen-new-series, they should look at some of the other non-FF apocrypha and see what looks good there, and also commission new Oz books for their series. Wouldn't that be something, going to your local well-stocked bookshop and seeing fifty- or sixty-some Oz books, all lined up in modern, uniform new editions?

I hope fans can stay off this track that, somehow, Thompson and the rest shouldn't be counted at all? While it's true that Baum himself didn't commission them to continue the series, they did write under the auspices of Baum's publishers, with the permission and agreement of the Baum family. More recent Oz books can not make that distinction. For research purposes (but not for the sake of personal enjoyment), can we at least agree that the Famous Forty Oz Books exist?

Baum didn't get all caught up in his own canon and contradicted himself more than once within the series. And the rest of the Famous Forty writers didn't, either.

Marcus Mebes weighed in with this idea on how Baum would have felt about a posthumous continuation.
I personally believe that Baum would've loved the idea, for one simple reason: to please the children.

Ruthie's books are very silly and light-hearted, and more geared toward children than Baum's were. Hers were very well received, though sales did decline. People's tastes changed.

But in the end, what matters is that she made children happy, and that trumps profit any time.
My own opinion is that he would have wanted Maud to be cared for after his death, and the later books provided a way for this to happen.
Wanting to bring a view on what is normally considered "canon" with works of popular fiction, Blair Frodelius referred to this Wikipedia article.

Eric Gjovaag, in response to that article, reaffirmed his "selective canon" opinion:
The trouble is, the line between fan fiction and everything else is a lot blurrier with Oz than with anything else. The latter "official" Oz books were written by fans. Jack Snow, Rachel Cosgrove, and the McGraws all wrote their books because of their love for Oz, yet they were also published by the official Oz publishers in the same format and listed on the jackets as part of the Oz series.

Second, since The Wizard of Oz and other books have now entered public domain, anyone can write and publish a book and say "It's part of the series" (or at least "It's an Oz book").

There is no official sanctioning body any more to say what is and isn't "official", and so we are all allowed to decide for ourselves what books to consider part of whatever series of Oz books, however we want to define that. This is why I use "official" instead of official (note the quotes) in my FAQ, and take great pains to say that it's personal. I also say that one can still read and enjoy any Oz books (no matter how you define that) even if they're not part of your personal "official" series.

So, there you go, folks. What are the "official" Oz books? According the original publishers, the Famous Forty. At the heart of most fan works, Baum's books and sometimes the others. And for you, whatever you want.


S.P. Maldonado said...

The whole reason there is an Oz series is about money. The reason The Marvelous Land of Oz was written was because both the book and the stage musical became hugely popular. Then he was contractually obligated to write a few more Oz books. He tried to end the series with The Emerald City of Oz. Due to some bad investments and poor sales of the Trot books, he had to go back to the Oz series. Not a gun to the head, but sometimes people do things for the sake of money.

Nathan said...

I tend to be very inclusive as to what I'll consider "official," but I give the Famous Forty more weight than anything else.