Saturday, May 30, 2009

Our Daily Bread Goes To Oz...

My dad showed me a devotional that appeared earlier this week on Our Daily Bread. I'll go ahead and link to it, but I'll also quote...

Calling Evil Good
The Wizard of Oz has remained popular for years. People of all ages have learned moral lessons from Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion as they traveled down the yellow brick road. Of course, in the plot line the great enemy to be overcome is the Wicked Witch of the West. Evil is clearly depicted and overcome by good.

A new Broadway musical, however, turns the moral sense of the original story on its head. In this rewriting of the story, the wicked witch is presented as a sympathetic character. Born with green skin, she feels like an outsider. Major characters, plot lines, roles, and other details are altered so that the wicked witch is really just a misunderstood person. The audience might come away with the idea that evil is good and good is evil.

It goes on, but sadly, it doesn't credit Baum at all (the mentioning of the Wicked Witch as the great enemy is a tip-off they're going after the MGM rendition), nor does it say that the musical in question (which isn't exactly so new anymore) is Wicked, nor that it is based on a book.

I rather appreciate that they looked kindly on Oz, praising it for being clear-cut in it's portrayals of good and evil, rather than complaining that "it says witches can be good!" Because, here's the thing: Baum took Dorothy out of the regular world. Here, regular rules, such as those imposed by religions and faiths, don't apply. Regardless of the audience's beliefs, the story is entirely palatable. Baum even says in his book that Oz's magic will not work in Kansas, and even in later books advises the readers against using magic.

So, thank you, ODB, for not being so picky in that respect.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

John R. Neill - An Appreciation - Volume 7

In earlier entries in my series of John R. Neill appreciation blogs, I've mentioned Neill's work as a staff illustrator for Reilly & Britton. I'm happy to finally share some of my own examples of his work with you.

The oldest Oz-related book I own is a copy of Rab & His Friends from "The Children's Red Book" series. The book was found in my grandfather's collection, but it actually belonged to his brother. I found the book on the ground outside, as it must have fallen out of a box we were taking to our garage after grandpa Davis' death. I noticed the artwork on the cover and thought, "That looks like John R. Neill's work..." I carefully opened the book and was delighted to find that it was indeed illustrated by Neill, and published by Reilly & Britton.

The series was called the Children's Red Books for their red covers. Of course, over time, the color faded.

This page for the series features a girl who looks very familiar. Apparently, Neill enjoyed drawing this type of girl.

Except for the standard line art, the illustrations were done in the format as shown below.

Each of the books featured two stories, the second was called J. Cole. Many times, there would be a two-page spread with just two illustrations on the pages.

This is the only thing I have to date the book by. I figure it's 100 years old now, as The Road To Oz is listed as the only Baum book of the year.

The rest of the back matter was an advertisement for the Twinkle Tales by Laura Bancroft (who was really L. Frank Baum, using a pen name), and the Christmas Stocking Series, each volume with an introduction by, you guessed it, L. Frank Baum.

To see all of my scans from this book (some are a little crooked and a little blurred in the middle), please follow this:
Rab & His Friends

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Rare John R. Neill Work Coming!

Right, I've finally got a new scanner/printer combo unit, and as I am typing, I'm scanning in my copy of "Rab And His Friends," very possibly the oldest book I own (there's an old abridgment of Uncle Tom's Cabin on my bookshelf somewhere).

I've decided to only put a few examples of the art on my blog, but I will have the whole book scanned as a PDF and I'll put it up for download somewhere.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wicked & Me

A little while ago, a couple Oz fans who contact me fairly regularly were asking me why I didn't like Gregory Maguire's Wicked series. (This is no reflection on the musical, which I've yet to see a live production of.)

I've said everyone is welcome to their own interpretation of Oz (except Todd McFarlane, and if you know what I mean, you know why I said it), but as a Baum enthusiast and Oz fan, I don't feel required to like every one of them, which is logical, because there have been so many takes on Oz.

Of course, I love Baum's original Oz, and do feel a little miffed when someone wants to include sex, violence, substance abuse, and whatnot that Baum wouldn't have had. One might even feel that if these books were not set in Oz and didn't use the Oz characters, that they wouldn't be as popular as they are now, leading one to surmise that Maguire is riding Baum's coat-tails. However, if I was to apply this criticism, it would also have to apply to other interpretations, including Tin Man, OZ (1976), The Wiz, and even Alexander Volkov's Magic Land series. (Note: I'm not saying all of these interpretations include objectionable content, just that they do take some twists the original author would not have.)

Now, before anyone accuses me of being judgmental and not giving the books a fair trial, I have read all three of Maguire's books in his Wicked series. If that's not giving them a fair trial, I don't know what is.

Now, I have to admit, Maguire does manage to tell three stories that keep the reader going through the books. My only problem is that when you look at it, they all break down to unique people being unable to fit into a normal society, very much the same story throughout. Yes, the stories are different, but the main characters' conflicts break down to the same formula.

My biggest problem with Maguire is his writing style. Every now and then, it picks up, but most of the time, it's flat and dry, as if he's relating the event, instead of telling it with zest. Maybe others disagree with how I see his style, but this is how it comes off to me. I've read authors who can write with actual vigor and enthusiasm, and I'm not talking about Baum, although he is one. (Joan Lindsay, Irvine Welsh, Anthony Burgess, even the long-winded Stephen King and the over-footnoting Oliver Sachs.)

I can tolerate the Wicked series, but it's not among my favorites of Oz interpretations. If you like it, fine. If you love it, fine. That doesn't mean I have to.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Anyone for a game?

Can anyone guess what not-so-Ozzy book this quote came from?

The hospice building is not unattractive. They have faced over the grey blocks with some nice yellow brickwork. There is no yellow brick approach road to the place, however.

I was re-reading this book last week (and found myself enjoying it more than the first time), and came across this subtle reference to Oz.

A hint is that I mentioned reading (but not re-reading) this book in my other, more personal blog.

Anyone want to guess what it is?

(This quote is copyright of the author, and quoted as fair use.)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


I'm getting my multimedia elements ready for L. Frank Baum's 153rd birthday, so there's no time to do a really good blog, but be sure to check back Friday! The special podcast turned out to be much longer than I'd originally intended, and I had to split it into two half-hour segments with a third thirteen-minute segment. The podcast features TWELVE guests, six times as many as we had last time. (Not bad for twenty-seven invitations sent out with less than two weeks notice, sheesh for these late-arriving ideas!)

Do Sam and Al return? Yes, they are among the twelve.

In addition, I'm also putting together a video. Sam had the idea for it, and sent me a plan, but I'm putting quite a bit of my own spin on it.

And that is why I need to go get back to work!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

John R. Neill - An Appreciation - Volume 6

I've been meaning to do this blog for awhile...

The Scarecrow of Oz was the the second of three books in the Oz series that some Oz fans take to be written in a creative rut of Baum's. The first of these books was Tik-Tok of Oz, which was based on a play called The Tik-Tok Man of Oz, which was based on the earlier Oz books, particularly Ozma of Oz. The third was Rinkitink in Oz, which was a revision of an unfinished manuscript Baum had tried to sell earlier, and now had Oz characters coming in to save the day.

The Scarecrow of Oz was partly based on Baum's film His Majesty, The Scarecrow of Oz. While I've never heard anything supporting this, it is also possible that he used the remains of an unfinished third "Trot" book. (Two of the new characters introduced in The Scarecrow of Oz, were Trot and Cap'n Bill, who had featured in their own books The Sea Fairies and Sky Island.)

Whether or not these books, or The Scarecrow of Oz in particular, were written during a creative low for Baum (it must also be noted that he was having health issues during this time), he made them enjoyable like all his other Oz books. And if Baum was lacking in imagination, illustrator John R. Neill certainly wasn't.

Here, Neill's illustrations are a little loose and comical.

This isn't to say Neill doesn't pull off his usual elegance and detail:

The Scarecrow of Oz was the last book by Baum that featured people from the Great Outside World coming to Oz. I noticed that Neill managed to do a portrait of each of all of the girls who featured in Oz stories:



Betsy Bobbin

And of course, Trot herself.

Neill also managed to give us a glimpse of what the Wicked Witch of the West may have looked like had he drawn her (she does appear in an endpaper for The Road to Oz, based on Denslow's version). Blinkie the Witch was based on Mombi the Witch in His Majesty, The Scarecrow of Oz, whose design was definitely based on Denslow's Wicked Witch.

To finish, while The Scarecrow of Oz may have lacked a bit in the text, Neill didn't drop the ball in his illustrations.

Quick Thought

Well, if you also read my personal blog, you may have seen this entry about Friday, when I got caught out while a tornado was going on while I was trying to get to work.

As we were at Dillon's, of course the famous cyclone from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz came to mind.

Now, we were all pretty close to the doors. You might think this odd, but here in Springfield, Missouri, we rarely get weather that turns destructive. At one point, I heard the wind blowing in a very creepy way. I suddenly thought, "I wish I could record that for reference for my Oz movie..."

Well, then... Now for a blog that's really worth reading...

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Looking For Oz Elsewhere

I'm going to talk a bit more about my adapting The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a film...

When you're writing a script like this, it's not enough to just transcribe the book into script form. The book's story works well on film, but this would offer you nothing that reading the book wouldn't.

It came to mind today where I got my inspiration on how to handle the melting of the Witch. Most writers would turn to a fantasy or maybe a comedy for this. Maybe they'd even try to make the scene reminiscent of the MGM movie, or some piece of artwork. (One animated adaptation made the Witch's final moments resemble "The Scream" by Edvard Munch.)

I saw the moment as breaking down into two parts, the visuals and the feeling.

The visuals, I didn't want her turning into water or just sinking into the floor (or a toilet...). Instead, I had the idea that the Witch's body is extremely dry, and only her magic is keeping her alive. When she is struck with water, her body soaks up the moisture like a sponge, but it's too much for her structure, so she loses control of the magic that is holding her together. As such, her body begins to sag and stretch before turning into this gelatinous goo that would be quite a nasty mess to clean up afterward. (Poor Dorothy.)

The feeling of the moment came from an not very-Ozzy source. Dorothy, is, of course, guilty of a murder (unless you want to say the Witch is still alive in this shape, but then, she's defenseless and unable to communicate), albeit unintentional. In which case, when she realizes what she's done, she's very distraught over it, mixed with only a little sense of victory.

Instead of turning to Oz or a fantasy, I turned to the movie Heavenly Creatures, Peter Jackson's retelling of the true story of the Parker-Hulme murder. The feeling that that movie's closing scene gave was perfect for this scene in Oz. (Two sobbing girls beating a woman to death, a woman who happened to be the mother of one of the girls.)

Yeah... Inspiration can come from a variety of sources.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Quick change of plans

That second Ozma of Oz podcast got delayed again... So, while we keep trying to find a good time to record it, we'll do other podcasts! The first one is going to be released on (maybe a little early for people in other time zones) May 15, L. Frank Baum's birthday. Like last time, it's not an ordinary podcast like most people do, but it's shaping up to be a good one, with at least eleven different people on it! (Maybe more to come!)

(Any readers who are in the know, please keep it under your hat.)

Sam is also planning a video for me to whip up for the occasion. (Hurry, Sam! We've less than two weeks!) In addition, there's another video I've started work on, so... I could really use a clone to help me out here!

And sorry for the lack of Oz blogs recently! I have a couple ideas for blogs, though. Always something in Oz to discuss...