Thursday, January 01, 2015

Craig's Bookshelf: L. Frank Baum's Pseudonymous Books (Part One)

Laura Bancroft's six Twinkle Tales were published in 1906
QUESTION: What do "Anonymous," Floyd Akers, Laura Bancroft, John Estes Cooke, Capt. Hugh Fitzgerald, Suzanne Metcalf, Schuyler Staunton, and Edith Van Dyne have in common?

The 3rd Aunt Jane's Nieces Book
ANSWER: They are all pseudonyms for L. Frank Baum, who wrote a staggering 39 books using pen names between 1905 and his death in 1919. In 1906 alone, Baum published the following 10 titles, only one of which was issued under his own name:
  • John Dough and the Cherub by L. Frank Baum
  • Aunt Jane's Nieces by Edith Van Dyne
  • Daughters of Destiny by Schuyler Staunton
  • Annabel, A Novel for Young Folk by Suzanne Metcalf
  • Mr. Woodchuck (Twinkle Tales) by Laura Bancroft
  • Bandit Jim Crow (Twinkle Tales) by Laura Bancroft
  • Prairie-Dog Town (Twinkle Tales) by Laura Bancroft
  • Prince Mud-Turtle (Twinkle Tales) by Laura Bancroft
  • Twinkle's Enchantment (Twinkle Tales) by Laura Bancroft
  • Sugar-Loaf Mountain (Twinkle Tales) by Laura Bancroft
Title page to one of Bancroft's Twinkle Tales
Baum's publisher, Reilly & Britton, advised him to use pseudonyms for a number of reasons. First and foremost, he was so prolific that it was deemed unwise for him to have multiple new titles on the shelves competing against each other. Other reasons: R&B questioned whether the intended audience of adults or young adults for many of these titles would be willing to purchase books written by a known author of childish works like the Oz books; and the quality of Baum's pseudonymous writing (with a few exceptions) was frankly not up to snuff compared to his children's fantasies, and he and his publisher did not want this to reflect poorly on him.
John Estes Cooke's "Summer Comedy"

Until this year I had not read a single one of Baum's pseudonymous works. Even though I was trying to collect them all, I didn't feel compelled to read them because I believed the conventional wisdom that Baum's pseudonymous writing was mostly "hack" work. However, last spring I embarked on a reading marathon and consumed all 39 of them. I was pleasantly surprised.

It's true that these stories are not as well crafted as Baum's Oz and similar fantasies. Even so, I really liked them. What was it that I enjoyed so much? It reminded me of being entertained by a movie even when I know it's not great cinema. Yes, these stories were entertaining, but there was something more to it, something that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Then I realized it. It was the voice. I recognized the voice. It was the familiar voice of my favorite storyteller. It was L. Frank Baum!

Edith Van Dyne wrote 10 books about Aunt Jane's Nieces
By the time I finished reading the ten Aunt Jane's Nieces books— which rival in number Baum's fourteen Oz books—I had come to care about the three nieces.

In the first book, Aunt Jane’s Nieces, I was invested in knowing which of the three cousins—Beth, Louise, and Patricia—would inherit Aunt Jane's money. As the series progressed, I followed with interest their encounters with a volcano and kidnappers in Aunt Jane’s Nieces Abroad, their forays into politics and society in Aunt Jane’s Nieces at Work and Aunt Jane’s Nieces in Society, their road trip across the country in Aunt Jane’s Nieces and Uncle John, their exploits reporting and publishing a small town newspaper in Aunt Jane’s Nieces on Vacation, their efforts to solve the mystery of a missing baby in Aunt Jane’s Nieces on the Ranch, their escapades in the nascent movie industry in Aunt Jane’s Niece’s Out West, and their contributions to the World War I relief effort in Aunt Jane’s Nieces in the Red Cross. And all the while, I grew to admire Uncle John’s unpretentiousness and his love for his nieces. By the end of the series, the three nieces and their uncle had become fond friends of mine in much the same way as Dorothy and her comrades in Oz.
Van Dyne's "flying girl" was 17-year-old Orissa Kane

Next I read the two books in Edith Van Dyne's short-lived Flying Girl Series, The Flying Girl and The Flying Girl and Her Chum, which follow the adventures of seventeen-year-old Orissa Kane in the early days of aviation. This was followed by the Mary Louise Series, which tells of Mary Louise Burrows and her girl detective friend Josie O'Gorman solving various mysteries.

Mary Louise was named after Baum's sister
The Edith Van Dyne books may have faded from memory compared to the Oz books, but they were successful enough in their time that Reilly & Lee continued the series for five years after Baum's death in 1919, much as it did with the Oz series. Only this time, instead of publishing the books under the new author's name like it did with the Oz books (with the exception of The Royal Book of Oz, which was published under Baum's name even though it was written by Ruth Plumly Thompson), the five Mary Louise books written by Baum's successor Emma Speed Sampson were still published under the pen name Edith Van Dyne.

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