Saturday, April 02, 2016

Ozbusters! What's the official title of the Oz series?

The Chronicles of Narnia. The Space Trilogy. The Alice Books. The Harry Potter Series. The Hunger Games Trilogy. The Little House Books. A Song of Ice and Fire. The Earthsea Cycle.

What do these (and other) series have in common? Each has a title that immediately identifies them. If it was not approved by the author, then they are generally known by that title by fans and are generally marketed by the publisher as such. In this way, they have an "official" title.

So, what's the official title of the Oz series?

The answer is...

They don't have one.

Now, this isn't exactly true, the Oz books are generally identified as "the Oz series" and "the Oz books" by fans and literary agencies. But yet, the Oz books have a problem as to what that identifies. Generally, if they say, "The Oz series by L. Frank Baum," it generally means Baum's 14 original novels, not the books the original publisher of most of his books published after his death, and not the ongoing series of books by fans.

But there's a term we've seen fans of the books use over and over, "the Famous Forty Oz books." Is that the official title?

Not quite in the same capacity. I admit, I haven't fervently researched the origin of the term "Famous Forty," but I believe it actually came from how Reilly & Lee eventually listed the Oz books on flaps of dustjackets and inside the books themselves. The series was listed as "The Famous Oz Books," and when the list was completed (and seen inside some of the White Edition Oz books), the total came up to 40. The Famous Oz books of which there were forty. The Famous Forty.

In recent years, fans have ran with this, and I've even heard Baum's books listed as "The Founding Fourteen," and Joe Bongiorno has designated a "Sovereign Sixty" on his Oz Timeline website.I even used the title "Famous Forty Plus" to refer to not just the Famous Forty, but other works by the authors of those books.

And that is where things begin to get messy as we look at the Oz series as it stands. No one publisher publishes the entire Oz series these days, and while copies of all the books can be found with a little searching, having a complete uniform collection is very difficult. And considering other entries to the Oz series, mainly Baum's
Little Wizard Stories (since Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz and The Woggle-Bug Book can get messy when attempting to place them in with the others) and the books and stories the International Wizard of Oz Club, Hungry Tiger Press and Books of Wonder have published by the Famous Forty authors? What about Baum's fantasies he tied to Oz? Particularly The Sea Fairies and Sky Island, do these count as Oz books? Other series have side series that flesh out the worlds from the main series, do these count as a tie-in series, and if so, what is their official designation?

Baum's fantasies that he tied to Oz eventually have been given the honorary title "Borderlands of Oz" books because some reprints of
The Sea Fairies and Sky Island were given that designation in advertising and even on the cover of Sky Island. Those two books are more closely linked to the Oz series than, say, Queen Zixi of Ix and John Dough and the Cherub, but it's a nice title for them since those stories take place in lands that are close to Oz on the maps Baum created.

But still, what about those other directly Oz stories? And what if you just don't like Thompson, Neill, Snow, Cosgrove, and McGraw's stories and just consider Baum's books to be the only real Oz books?

This is why the lack of an official designation is a blessing as well as a curse. If my understanding of "Famous Forty" is correct, that term was not used as a means of designating what are the "official" Oz books, but a pure marketing ploy. Yes, those books were published with authorization of Baum's estate and under the same publisher as his own books, but there was really no authority to ensure that the books had a good continuity. As much as Oz fans may love them, it's a clear point that many details about Oz change from author to author, and sometimes even that author changes details with no real explanation.

Thus, I counter, Oz continuity can be subject to personal selection. Don't like Neill's talking houses? (No one does.) Ignore his books. (And if you were thinking of writing a derivative work, since they're still under copyright, take that advice as well.) There's so many nooks and crannies to Oz that if you ignore those details, it doesn't necessarily mean you're saying they don't exist, you're just not acknowledging them at this time.

The Oz series is unique in that you can apply any title you'd like to the series and decide what books are contained therein.

I mean, it's not like Baum invented a series title, right?

... Well, actually... He did.

In the introduction of
Rinkitink in Oz, Baum drops a few teasers for his next Oz book, and says, "I have an idea that about the time you are reading this story of Rinkitink I shall be writing that story of Adventures in Oz."

That could be read as Baum saying the story will tell of adventures in Oz, except he capitalizes the word "Adventures." So, has the Oz series had a name all these years in "Adventures in Oz" and it just hasn't been applied?

Well, apparently so. But unfortunately, it doesn't seem as if Reilly & Britton (later Lee) took the hint and marketed the series under that title, nor have fans really accepted it and applied it to the series. So while Baum gave us a title for the series, we've just never used it.

(Edit 4/13/2016: Eric Gjovaag points out that
Adventures in Oz was actually the working title for The Lost Princess of Oz. So, I'm actually not correct there. Still, the title could work for the series, except that a number of books take place outside of the proper environs of Oz.)

Still, not having an officially agreed on title puts the Oz series in a spot with J. R. R. Tolkien's works. While there are three books collectively known as "The Lord of the Rings," there's a number of his other books that tell of the same world, and they don't really have an official collective title either.

So, result: the Oz books do not have an officially agreed on title or continuity. There's some good titles to work with, one even offered by the series creator, but nothing seems to have stuck. It's strictly up to you to decide how you enjoy the series.


Eric said...

I'm afraid we're back at square one. Adventures in Oz was the working title for the next Oz book following Rinkitink in Oz, presumably the one Baum was working on when he wrote that introduction. Fortunately, someone came up with a more exciting title, and it was published the following year as The Lost Princess of Oz.

Sam A M said...

I've often heard, or read, people say "the Wizard of Oz books".

Ozfan95 said...

I've always just called them "The Oz Books." Usually, when referring to books in the series that Baum didn't write, I refer to them as the "Semi-Canonical Oz Books." I used to call those ones the "Most Famous Oz Fan-Fiction," but I've realized since then that it's not a very fitting title to those books.

So, anyway, since you brought it up, I'm trying to think of a good title for Baum's Oz books. Hmmmmmm......

Maybe "The Wonderful Series of Oz."

Or maybe there doesn't have to be a title to the series, since they're all self-contained stories, and you don't need to know what happens in any of the other books (with the exception of a few of them).

I don't know. Maybe it's just one of those things that will remain a mystery.

Colin Ayres British Fan Of Oz said...

I'm curious to the list of the Sovereign Sixty, I've had a look on Joe's site, but I could not see a clearly defined list of what books make up the Sovereign Sixty, and I'm curious anyone else spotted this?

Ozfan95 said...

They're listed in the appendices on that site.

Basically, you know that some of Baum's own Oz books, such as the "Little Wizard Stories" and "The Woggle Bug Book," aren't part of the Famous Forty, but they are still considered canon because Baum wrote them. So they must be included in the list of canon books.

If you accept the books Thompson, Snow, and Neil, and all the rest of the authors of the Famous Forty, as canon (which the timeline does), then there are Oz books by them that aren't part of the Famous Forty because they weren't published by Reilly and Lee (which kind of confuses me, because "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" wasn't published by Reilly and Lee. So shouldn't it technically be the Famous Thirty-Nine instead?). But they are part of the same canon as the Famous Forty, because they have the same authors. So they are included in the list of canon books as well.

Once you figure out all the Oz books that they wrote, the list adds up the sixty Oz books. Hence the title, "Sovereign Sixty."

I hope this information helps.

Jared said...

@Ozfan95, Reilly & Lee published an edition of The Wizard of Oz as soon as it went into public domain. This was before they released "Merry Go Round in Oz," so yes, by that time it was forty.

@Colin here's a link to the page where the 60 and 75 are listed (scroll down a bit)

Colin Ayres British Fan Of Oz said...

Thanks for the help fellas! The Sovereign sixty certainly covers my collection apart from Sky Pirates, which I need to pick up. I am pleased with this selection as fits with my view canonical. It's been difficult to explain to other the famous forty, and addictions like books previously.