Thursday, June 06, 2013

Why "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" sold

When we look at The Wonderful Wizard of Oz today, we often look at what made Baum's story work so well. While this is a perfectly valid assessment, it was only part of why the book became such a huge success. A big reason for its success comes from looking at the original edition of the book. (Or a reproduction thereof since not everyone can get their hands on an original.)

The way L. Frank Baum and W.W. Denslow designed the book was rather elaborate. Since the book was a novel and not a picture book like Father Goose: His Book, they found a new way to mix the text, illustrations and color.

The design involved multiple colored inks as well as black, not to mention twenty four color plates. There would be sections of the illustration printed in black and sections printed in color ink that would appear under the text. Furthermore, the color of the ink would change with each location of the story. A dull brown for Kansas:
Blue for the Munchkin Country:
Bright red for the poppy field:
Green for the Emerald City and the surrounding country:
A dark yellow for the Winkie Country:
A ruddy brown for the south country:
And red again for the domain of Glinda:
Not only was this an inventive use of color, it actually made color work with the storytelling, once again creating a union in color, text and illustration to create a lavish book for children. Not only was the story delightful, the way the book looked made it a popular item.

Denslow's illustrations are also to thank. Although his Dorothy doesn't look quite so girlish, she is not ugly and the rest of the characters are very charming. Denslow also doesn't draw the giant spider or the Wizard's form as a monstrous beast, and the Wicked Witch of the West has been given some comical details to soften her character. (The umbrella, eyepatch and pickaninny pigtails.)

No child would have nightmares from Oz. No chapter ends with a cruel beast or witch coming after Dorothy, and if there is bloodshed, it is not dwelled on. Denslow's pictures only help accentuate Baum's storytelling.

The Hill Company was once again hesitant to publish Oz, but Baum and Denslow decided to put their royalties from Father Goose: His Book into helping defray production costs, a gamble that paid off very well. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz remained in print until the Hill Company closed.

The plates and rights for Baum's books were bought up by the Bobbs-Merrill Company who issued a number of Baum's later books until Reilly & Britton came onto the scene. Following the success of The Wizard of Oz stage extravaganza, Bobbs-Merrill redesigned the book. It still used interior color and Denslow created some new artwork for it, including a new title page and endapers, but it was not quite as lavish as the original edition.

Perhaps the difference in design was why the original Bobbs-Merrill edition was called The New Wizard of Oz. Shortly after, Bobbs-Merrill changed the title to simply The Wizard of Oz, a name the book was published under for a very long time. In fact, it does not appear that the word Wonderful was added back to the title until after the book went into public domain.

Later editions of the Bobbs-Merrill Wizard of Oz became even simpler, interior color quickly being dropped to keep the cost of reprinting it low. Eventually, this led to the first re-illustrating by Evelyn Copelman, which opened the door to other artists creating new illustrations. While many fine artists have put their talents to Oz, none have matched the same charm Denslow produced when he and L. Frank Baum designed a novel for children that would never give them nightmares. Although John R. Neill would later succeed Denslow as illustrator for Oz and created amazing artwork, the fact remains that he never had the same relationship with Baum as Denslow did. While many have wished that Neill had re-illustrated Wizard, sometimes, I feel it is best that he left the book alone.

The original edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is indeed the most lavish the book had ever looked, and it is rather easy to contest that this is how author and illustrator wanted the book to look. The beautiful volume delighted many eyes in 1900 with the colorful pictures and a wonderful story. It was Denslow's success just as much as Baum's for creating such a great book.


Sam A M said...

My idea for the (hopefully) PERFECT Republish of this book would be to include the Denslow-Poppy endpapers, the ORIGINAL DETAILED Illustrations (some of which, such as Dorothy and Lion before the River) and other things not seen in ages/since. Not a 100% replication of the Original First edition, but a combination of the variants.

Anonymous said...

I think Denslow actually did a sketch of Dorothy meeting the Wizard/Beast but inked over the Head instead.

Jared said...

I did recall that note from "Annotated Wizard." In the end, author and illustrator decided that actually seeing the beast form of the Wizard was not something they wanted in their book, so for the sake of brevity, I omitted it.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

As a little kid I found the Kalidahs scary.