Friday, June 21, 2013

Baum's Road to Oz: The Dakota Years

This little book might not look like much, and some casual Oz fans might not be interested at all. What it is a collection of two essays by Michael Patrick Hearn and Nancy Tystad Koupal about Baum's life in Aberdeen, South Dakota.

This time in the frontier is believed to be one of the most critical influences on Baum's later life, and Koupal believes that it is one of the most misunderstood sections of Baum's life due to how under-documented it is.

Hearn takes us to the baseball diamond in "The Wizard Behind The Plate" as he examines the baseball phenomenon during Baum's time in Aberdeen, including Baum's own contribution to it and the earliest connections of Oz and baseball.

Following it is a selected number of verse by Baum about baseball.

Next up is Koupal's extensive essay about Baum's interest in Spiritualism and his writing during Aberdeen, examining the times and Baum's activities extensively, putting it all in context. Following this is a generous selection of Baum's work from The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer.

Mark I. West examines "The Dakota Fairy Tales of L. Frank Baum," looking at stories from Animal Fairy Tales and Twinkle and Chubbins that deal with distinctly Dakota-based settings and themes. Following this is Baum's story "The Discontented Gopher."

Almost a hidden Easter egg in the book is the Appendix. It's listed as an "Appendix" in the table of contents, but when you get to it, it's the essay "What Children Want" by Baum himself, in which he discusses what he believes children ask for in their stories. I think he gets many points right: the blatantly moralized story from childhood is forgotten in the splendid wonder tale they enjoyed.

It dates from November 1902, and contains a good piece of evidence that Baum wasn't really incensed against W.W. Denslow after they parted ways. He writes that "I am not sure that the great modern illustrators of children's books, such as Peter Newell, Oliver Herford, Fanny Y. Cory, and W.W. Denslow, are not worthy as much as much love and reverence as the great story-writers themselves." (Cory also illustrated The Master Key and later The Enchanted Island of Yew for Baum.)

Baum's Road to Oz: The Dakota Years seems to be out of print, and is going for over $30 on any site I can find. However, for anyone wanting to read up on Baum's life, I'd highly recommend this one.

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