Thursday, November 22, 2012

Oz 101

With new Oz movies coming out, some new fans might be curious as to the origins and basics of the franchise. Here, I hope to answer a few questions and offer some information.

1. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published as a standalone novel in 1900. Eventual sequels were made due to popular demand and a publisher's agreement before becoming an annual tradition in 1913. Annual Oz books were turned out by three different authors—L. Frank Baum, Ruth Plumly Thompson and John R. Neill—through 1942. Additional titles were occasionally added to the series by four other authors until 1963, bringing the total to 40 novels.

2. In addition, all of the writers wrote other Oz stories that were not part of the main series. Series creator L. Frank Baum tied Oz to other fantasy stories he wrote, creating one of the earliest examples of an expanded universe for fantasy or sci-fi.

3. Oz fans also create their own Oz stories, some written to dovetail with the original series, some taking a divergent continuity, others wholly re-imagining the series (that's Wicked for you). Others even use Oz as a basis for completely new story, even if it's not a work of fantasy.

4. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz went into the public domain in 1956, allowing anyone to adapt or borrow from it freely without fear of legal prosecution. Many of the sequels—including all of L. Frank Baum's books—are now public domain as well.

5. Musical adaptations of Oz are rather common, as the first adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a musical extravaganza, hitting Broadway in 1903. It was the first of various stage adaptations of the Oz stories, which would later include the all-black musical The Wiz and popular musical Wicked.

6. Oz was adapted to film for the first time in 1908, then again in 1910, 1914, 1925, 1932, 1933, as well as a few unofficial shorts before the MGM musical film adaptation in 1939. Not all of these films received wide release, the 1933 production being a cartoon that actually saw its debut on VHS decades later.

7. The MGM musical film The Wizard of Oz is on the National Film Registry and is one of the most popular films of all time, its rights currently owned by Warner Brothers. It is believed that its popularity overshadows the original book. The film was a very costly but prestigious endeavor and was unable to recoup all its costs until a re-release, leading to the erroneous conclusion that it was a flop.

8. Oz has been adapted for stage, comics, film, television, home video, internet content and other media countless times, some of the most notable adaptations being the film version of The Wiz, Walt Disney Pictures' Return to Oz, the animated Journey Back to Oz featuring Liza Minelli and Tin Man, a miniseries that premiered on the Sci Fi Channel in 2007. 

9. The International Wizard of Oz Club was founded in 1957 and remains the main society for Oz fans, encouraging research into the Oz phenomenon and providing reprints and new material for fans. Memberships are available for as low as $25 a year.

10. Oz events are held across the United States. At this time, the International Wizard of Oz Club sponsors the Winkie Convention and a National Convention, held during the summer. Non-Club sponsored events are held in Chittenango, New York (Oz-stravaganza), Wamego, Kansas (Oztoberfest), and a defunct Oz theme park in Banner Elk, North Carolina reopens once a year for a weekend event called "Autumn at Oz."

11. Urban legends and myths have risen over the Oz phenomenon. Despite it being a functional interpretation, it is not true that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was written as a Populist allegory, particularly as its author just didn't have those political beliefs, being a Republican. The MGM film has its own wide share of myths, the most popular being that the hanging body of an on-set suicide can be seen in the film. Rest assured, this is not true and any video claiming to show it has been altered. Also, the matching of the timing of the film and Dark Side of the Moon is pure coincidence.

12. Oz's popularity is not limited to the United States: fans also hail from countries all over the world, including the United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, and Canada. In Russia, the original book was rewritten as the first book of a new series, which has branched off into its own franchise, which recently inspired a shopping center called the Emerald City. The original Oz books have since been more properly translated and fans in both Russia and the United States have been able to embrace both series on their own.

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