Lyman Frank Baum found his stride with just his third major book for children The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900). His narrative style, direct and unadorned, and the tale of a simple Kansas farm girl whisked by cyclone to a magical country inhabited by small adults, animated mannequins, and talking animals, captured the public's fancy. The whimsical main characters, who longed for qualities they manifestly already possessed, became American classics. William Wallace Denslow's profuse colored illustrations made the book one of the most elaborate of its era.
Oz proved to be Baum's most enduring work, which he was slow to recognize–perhaps not surprising, for between 1897 and 1903 he produced more than a dozen popular books for children. Baum's books were unusually lavish in design and production. Striking bindings, illustrations by prominent book artists of the era (Denslow, Maxfield Parrish, Frank Ver Beck, Fanny Cory, Frederick Richardson, John R. Neill), novel characters, and magical lands (Oz, Ev, Yew, Ix, Mo) enhanced demand.
Only in 1904 did Baum return to Oz with The Marvelous Land of Oz. This sequel offered further adventures of the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman and introduced a boy protagonist, Tip, who helped provide humor and action. Even so, Baum still did not envision Oz as part of an extended fantasy cycle. His subsequent book-length fantasies, Queen Zixiof Ix (1905) and John Dough and the Cherub (1906), exploredother realms.
Finally in 1907, acknowledging popular demand, Baum began writing an Oz book a year, reintroducing Dorothy and the Wizard as well as other American and fantasy characters to share her adventures inside and outside the borders of Oz. His 1909 Oz book, The Road to Oz, incorporated figures from his earlier non-Oz fantasies, suggesting that Oz was part of a larger magical realm and preparing readers for books about new places and characters. In 1910 Baum ended the Oz series with The Emerald City of Oz, in which he relocated Dorothy, Aunt Em, and Uncle Henry permanently to the land of Oz.
Baum's next two fantasy novels, The Sea Fairies (1911) and Sky Island (1912), did not enjoy the success of the Oz books, so Baum resumed the series, expanding his sense of Oz as part of a larger fantasy world. Colorful maps in the 1914 book Tik-Tok of Oz showed places not yet described, and some of these appeared in later books, but Baum's death in 1919 cut short his exploration and development of America's first major extended fantasy series. From 1897 to 1919 he had written more than sixty books, fourteen of them about the land of Oz.
The Baum family and the publisher contracted with other authors to continue the Oz series until it totaled forty titles. Authors of the series include Ruth Plumly Thompson, who wrote nineteen books between 1921 and 1939; John R. Neill, who wrote three books between 1940 and 1942; Jack Snow, who wrote two books in 1946 and 1949; Rachel Cosgrove, who wrote one book in 1951; and Eloise Jarvis McGraw and Lauren Lynn McGraw, who together authored one book in 1963.
In 1902 The Wizard of Oz, a musical extravaganza, enjoyed unprecedented success in New York. Baum's efforts from 1905 to 1914 to mount another major Oz hit on stage or screen proved disappointing. However, the Metro- Goldwyn-Mayer movie version in 1939 enjoyed such popularity (especially after 1956 when it was shown regularly on television) that the main characters became worldwide icons. Indeed, several aspects of the book have largely been over-shadowed by those of the movie: Dorothy's magical silver shoes became ruby slippers in Technicolor; the book's straightforward fantasy became only a dream; and the final resolution of the book, confirming how Dorothy's companions would employ their special talents, was eliminated when she awoke from her dream.
In 1975 The Wiz, a Broadway musical that reinterpreted the story in urban, African-American terms, enjoyed great success. Later Oz-related movies and television shows failed to achieve the popularity of the 1939 classic.
Baum, Frank Joslyn, and Russell P. MacFall. 1961. To Please a Child. Chicago: Reilly and Lee.
Baum, L. Frank. 1996. Our Landlady, ed. Nancy Tystad Koupal. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Baum, L. Frank. 2000. The Annotated Wizard of Oz: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, ed. Michael Patrick Hearn. New York: Norton.
The Baum Bugle. (1957–). Journal dedicated to L. Frank Baum and Wizard of Oz scholarship.
Greene, Douglas G., and Peter E. Hanff. 1988. Bibliographia Oziana: A Concise Bibliographical Checklist of the Oz Books by L. Frank Baum and His Successors. Kinderhook, IL: International Wizard of Oz Club.
Riley, Michael O'Neal. 1997. Oz and Beyond: The Fantasy World of L. Frank Baum. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.
Rogers, Katharine M. 2002. L. Frank Baum: Creator of Oz. New York: St. Martin's Press.
International Wizard of Oz Club. Available from www.ozclub.org.
PETER E. HANFF