We are all familiar with “The Wizard of Oz,” the fantastical 1939 MGM film that follows young Dorothy Gale (played by Judy Garland) as she encounters her friends, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion, on her trek to the Emerald City. There she will find the “Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz” who will help her return home. Nearly three-quarters of a century after its debut, people around the world are still singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” the ballad made famous by Garland, and practically everyone is familiar with the phrase, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” While most people realize the movie was based off of the popular children’s book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (1900), written by L. Frank Baum, they don’t realize that Baum actually followed this up with a collection of 13 other novels, each venturing further into the depths of Oz.
Oz is a fairy country where books and lunch boxes can grow on trees, animals can talk and magic is everywhere. There are no diseases or no poor inhabitants, because money is nonexistent. Everyone (all 500,000 residents) is given as much as they can reasonably desire. As the reader skims the pages, he or she will likely encounter the Winged Monkeys in Gillikin Country, the great Mt. Munch in Munchkin-land, Chinatown in Quadling Country and many great sites in Winkie Country, including the homes of Jack Pumpkinhead, the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman. Tread carefully, however, because the Wicked Witch presides here. In the South Country (part of Winkie) you may also come across the Hammer-Heads and the Kalidahs — creatures with the body of a bear and the head of a tiger. But this will soon be forgotten when you reach the Emerald City by way of the Yellow Brick Road and come upon its stunning 9,654 buildings. One thing to keep in mind, however: as an outsider entering Oz, you will remain just as you are. This is perfect for those who wish they never had to grow up.
Baum first wrote “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” which had sold five million copies by 1956. There are no recent estimates regarding how many have been sold since; however, the Library of Congress estimates that the film is the most-viewed in history. With this in mind, the fact that many are unaware of the rest of the series’ existence is perplexing. Following “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” is “The Marvelous Land of Oz” (1904) and “Ozma of Oz” (1907). Here we are introduced to Ozma of Oz, the benevolent girl-ruler of Oz. Her reign is so good that none ever defy her or her fierce yet loving guards, the Cowardly Lion and the Hungry Tiger. Billina, the talking hen, also becomes a central character. Next comes “Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz” (1908), “The Road to Oz” (1909) and “The Emerald City of Oz” (1910). In “The Road to Oz,” we are met with the Shaggy Man and Polychrome, the daughter of the rainbow who accidentally slid off her father’s bow. In “The Emerald City of Oz,” Dorothy comes across Utensil Town, an example of Baum’s terrific wit, as he created the Spoon Brigade and all magical utensils ruled by King Cleaver. There is even the High Priest Colander, the “holiest” of them all! In Oz, even the smallest utensils can have the biggest of voices and the greatest of lives.
Beginning in 1913, Baum wrote an Oz book per year. In 1913, he published “The Patchwork Girl Of Oz,” and in 1914, “Tik-Tok of Oz.” The next batch includes “The Scarecrow of Oz,” with more on our beloved Scarecrow, “Rinkitink in Oz,” about the King who fled on his goat Bilbil from the Nome Caverns, and “The Lost Princess of Oz,” in which all of the magic used by Ozma and the other good rulers has been stolen. The final three books of the series from 1918-20 are “The Tin Woodman of Oz,” “The Magic of Oz,” in which Professor H.M. Wogglebug T.E. is the principal of the sole university in Oz, and “Glinda of Oz,” about the witch who only uses her powers for good.
Even with so many great books, however, most replications only ever focus on the first one. The classic story has been reproduced in countless Madison Square Garden performances, but was first reproduced as a musical in Chicago in 1902 that moved to Broadway in 1903, running for 293 performances. It was brought to life again in the film “The Wiz” in 1978 starring an entirely African-American cast, including Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. In 2011, “The Wizard of Oz” musical previewed for the West End. It was adapted by Broadway musical composer Andrew Lloyd Webber as well as Jeremy Sams. There is also the popular Broadway musical “Wicked” based off of the 1995 novel written by Gregory Maguire, which takes a new look at the origins of the Wicked Witch. Disney Channel released a version starring Ashanti and the Muppets in 2005. And just this month “Oz the Great and Powerful” premiered, with James Franco as the wizard. There have been differing reviews on this recent adaptation, but it did shed light on the many books by introducing the little girl of Chinatown and by using similar wit as Baum displayed in his writing, like the sign at a fork in the road pointing to both the Dark Forest and Chinatown.
Besides these reproductions, literary historians have been trying to decode Baum’s creation for ages. Some say the characters resemble political figures of the time and that little Dorothy represents the American people in a time of political instability. The Scarecrow is parallel to American farmers, while the Tin Man represents the mistreated industrial workers. The Yellow Brick Road is also meant to represent the gold standard. Regardless of what people may try to read between the lines, Baum’s primary intention was to create a world of magic and fantasy in which no child would ever be alone or ordinary. They could delve into this wondrous utopia and be embraced with open arms. Oz is more than just a place — it is another universe entirely, made practical only by compassion, tolerance, love and peace. The possibilities are endless and the company is stupendous. While you may be familiar with the book that started it all, don’t stop there. Once you read the rest of the series, you won’t ever want to leave the “Marvelous Land of Oz.”