By: John Fricke
I guess everyone has recurring dreams, and some of those I’ve heard or read about from fellow Oz fans are certainly . . . well, I guess the catch-all word would be “interesting”!
Meanwhile, I only have one of my own, but it’s popped up over multiple nights and across multiple decades since I was a preteen. It takes place in the book department of a major store like Gimbels or Schuster’s (that’ll date me!), and in it, I gleefully come upon a huge table stacked high with Oz books — or multiple shelves with spines-out Oz books. They’re all brand new, they’re all for sale, and best of all, every one of them carries a title that is unfamiliar. NONE of them is any one of the “famous forty” of the official series.
In several of these dreams, I’ve even been able to pick up one or two of the books to look at them. They’re in the same, basic Reilly & Lee size and format that prevailed across the years they were publishing the catalog: neatly Neill-illustrated, and way beyond fascinating. The rear flap of each dust jacket lists “The Oz Books” (just as Reilly & Lee did on most of theirs), but again, they’re all different names — none of those that I’d actually ever seen in the past. The concept of a score or more of new Oz tales never fails to enchant and thrill me in my sleep, yet despite many such midnight reveries, I’ve only retained one title among the many volumes I perused while slumbering: THE NONESTIC OCEAN OF OZ.
Even that, though, is a happy reminder of the places our hearts may lead us when we’re asleep!
All of these memories are currently “in mind” here, because in recent weeks, I’ve been immersed in the first fourteen Oz books, their characters, their geography, the first “Royal Historian” L. Frank Baum, and the first two Oz illustrators, W. W. Denslow and John R. Neill. Such preoccupation occurred as accompaniment to the text I’ve been asked to prepare to accompany Gabriel Gale’s forthcoming book, THE ART OF OZ. (It’ll be published by Rizzoli in October, and I hope you’ll watch this space for forthcoming details.) In the overall Ozzy process, I also thought of the many years of Christmas cards sent by Fred Meyer (1926-2004) as secretary of The International Wizard of Oz Club (ozclub.org). Most of Fred’s cards depicted the covers and/or titles of Oz books that he and other fans wished had been written as part of the original series.
As work continued on THE ART OF OZ, however, my thoughts eventually – and logically — always returned to Mr. Baum himself, Chittenango’s Favorite and Favored Son. He discovered countless citizens in his own visits to Oz, but he only used nine of their names in the titles of his fourteen full-length Oz books. Not at all coincidentally, the heading of this month’s blog is taken from his “To My Readers” letter at the onset of DOROTHY AND THE WIZARD IN OZ. He often devoted that space in his Oz books to refer to the suggestions, enthusiasms, and (especially!) requests he received by mail from literally thousands of children; Mr. Baum affectionately (and he meant it in gratitude, I’m sure) dubbed them his “loving tyrants” who demanded “Oz – Oz!” to the exclusion of anything else.
Well, Mr. Baum . . . . As one of your latter-day “loving tyrants,” I didn’t become a fan until thirty-seven years after you left for Oz for good. But had I been able to make my recommendations, I would have wished (in the nicest possible child’s voice) for you to tell us “more,” volume by volume, about BILLINA IN OZ (the talking yellow hen who later created a minor cinema sensation in Disney’s 1985 film, RETURN TO OZ) and THE GUMP OF OZ (the assembled flying machine; ditto the Disney reference). Also, I’m sure THE SAWHORSE OF OZ must have encountered many knotty problems on his later travels, which I’m equally certain he solved with his sawdust brains. GENERAL JINJUR OF OZ surely teamed at some point with OMBY AMBY OF OZ (The Soldier With the Green Whiskers); perhaps they worked together with KALIKO IN OZ to protect the Nome Kingdom from hideous invaders. There might even have been some friendly KALIDAHS IN OZ, although given the flop of Mr. Baum’s 1905 stage musical, THE WOGGLE-BUG, it’s not surprising that the highly magnified and thoroughly educated insect never got a full Oz book of his own.
All of that being said, I’m mindful of the fact that Mr. Baum did the very best he could in the twenty years he wrote about Oz. And remembering that personal Oz passions are variegated and not carved in emeralds, I’ll just list here what I THINK my top-four/wished-for Baum books would be: 1) POLYCHROME IN OZ (see that lass just below!), 2) SANTA CLAUS IN OZ, in a real adventure of his own (his ”special guest” appearance in Mr. Baum’s THE ROAD TO OZ doesn’t qualify on that level); 3) THE WOOZY OF OZ, a little guy who’s a Fricke family favorite and an all-around sweetheart (ya gotta love someone whose eyes flash fire when he’s taunted with the mystery phrase, “Krizzle-Kroo!”); and 4) THE GIANT YOOPS OF OZ; please see the picture up top. As mentioned in that caption, there should be some sort of story in the activities of a physically overpowering, carnivorous male giant and his sorcery-prone wife – each towering twenty feet or more in height, and both with grudges against Oz residents and celebrities. (Thanks to Princess Ozma, Mrs. Yoop is now – and deservedly – wearing the form of a small green monkey as punishment for her past deeds. Who knows what twisted plot she and her husband might concoct in vengeance?)
Fortunately for Baum fans who’ve traveled to Oz during the past one-hundred-years, his successors DID think to give some of his preeminent discoveries their own Oz titles. The second “Royal Historian,” Ruth Plumly Thompson was savvy and jolly and inventive enough to report on the activities of THE COWARDLY LION OF OZ, JACK PUMPKINHEAD OF OZ, THE HUNGRY TIGER OF OZ, THE [G]NOME KING OF OZ, THE LOST KING OF OZ, and OJO IN OZ. Jack Snow later authored THE SHAGGY MAN OF OZ, and via The Oz Club’s special publications program, Gina Wickwar has most recently offered TOTO IN OZ
There are other dream books, of course, but they may have to wait to be read until that future date when one holds a card for the Royal Library of Oz — or for actual (and anticipated) meetings in the Emerald City with the various Royal Historians. For years, some Oz researchers puzzled over Mr. Baum’s “announced” title, THE WHATNEXTERS OF OZ – until it was contemplated that the interview quote in question may well have been pronounced in Baumian tongue-in-cheek humor. Purportedly, a reporter proffered a query (in words to this effect): “What’s next for you, Mr. Baum?” And the twinkling-eyed author responded, “Why, THE WHATNEXTERS OF OZ.”
Well, go figure . . . . (But they reported it!)
The concluding paragraphs of several Thompson Oz books posed her predictions of future histories: about the travels of popular Kabumpo the Elephant, Thun the Thunder Colt, King Randy of Regalia and his newly-wed Silver Princess; or about the further voyages of explorer Captain Samuel Salt, King Ato of Octagon Island (Salt’s cook!), Roger the Royal Read Bird, and King Tandy of Ozamaland, as they sailed in search of a roc’s egg for Princess Ozma’s Christmas stocking; OR the journey of the Tin Woodman and Wizard in the “Oztober” – one of the Wizard’s two Ozoplanes – as they flew away in search of its lost sister-ship, the Ozpril.
Beyond even that: Prior to his premature death in 1956, “Royal Historian” Jack Snow alluded to a book with the working title, OVER THE RAINBOW TO OZ. It was intended as an examination of the early history of the magic land, and Polychrome was to be a major character in that saga. And finally – for this conversation, anyway! – Eloise Jarvis McGraw (who coauthored MERRY GO ROUND IN OZ and THE FORBIDDEN FOUNTAIN OF OZ with her daughter Lauren Lynn) privately confided in the mid-1960s that she had developed “the whole plot – and a good one” for an Oz book to follow MERRY GO ROUND . . .called BABUSHKA IN OZ!
As you’ve probably realized, none of those books ever happened. But there are so many that have, I think all of us — fans, readers, authors, illustrators, kids of every age (not to mention the loving tyrants of each generation since 1900) – owe a whole lot to L. Frank Baum, who started this whole thing. That fact that his imagination has bred so much more, in so many ways, and in so many different directions, is all that need be said about his resoundingly generous gifts. Across 121 years, the man and his cohorts have had the power to impact, entrance, and delight. They’ve created indelible wonderlands and unforgettable lives eternal in the process — and all of that dwells in countless billions of hearts.
Anyway, I’ve been feeling PRECISELY that sort of gratitude. And I’m grateful to have this format in which to share such emotion. 😊
Many thanks for checking in!