The Wizard of Oz is my jam. Always has been. Growing up, L. Frank Baum’s original fourteen Oz books held in their pages the first story world I ever became lost in; Dorothy Gale was my first ever storybook crush. I read and re-read and re-re-read Baum’s books dozens of times, each time as wonderful as the time before it.
They are, though, unmistakably children’s books, and as such I grew up and away from them, towards other stories, into the worlds of Jedi and superheroes and a crazy-ass island with a monster made of black smoke whose true identity ends up being maybe not as awesome as one may have hoped it would be.
But Oz has re-entered my life in recent weeks (or perhaps I should say that I have re-entered Oz), and if box office receipts are to be believed I’m not the only one who has returned to Oz. Sam Raimi’s Oz: The Great and Powerful, though, has not been my only return ticket… but it is where things got started.
I’m very protective of the Ozian mythos. As such, I don’t much care for the legendary MGM musical film. Make no mistake about it: historically, it is a great film, and artistically, it’s a very, very good film. But it’s not, you know, “Ozzy” enough. I’m too much of a Baum purist to really care for it. That’s why, as excited as I was to see Oz: The Great and Powerful, I still approached it with trepidation. I won’t leave you in suspense: I very much enjoyed it. It is very aware of its famous musical grandfather, which the adult in me understands but the kid in me still resents, but the screenplay credited at least in part to Pulitzer Prize winning playwright David Lindsey-Abaire flaunts uber-knowledge of it’s Ozian heritage, in particular proper Ozian geography: Michelle William’s Glinda the Good is appropriately housed in Oz’s southern region (Quadling Country) instead of in the north (Gillikin Country). The Forest of the Fighting Trees, situated in the eastern Munchkin Country in the MGM lore, lies on the road to Glinda’s palace, as is China Country, not an invention of the Sam Raimi’s film but a town along the Yellow Brick Road in Baum’s Oz.
Of course, comics fans know these things already, or they should. Oz has found new berth in my household as my daughter finds her way to this fairyland. It’s a collision of three perfect storms that has her newly enamored of Dorothy’s adventures. First, the Oz: The Great and Powerful trailer has been in heavy rotation on Nickelodeon of late. Like a good American child, she saw an advertisement and wanted to buy the product. Secondly, her drama school is performing a kiddie-tized version of The Wizard of Oz this spring, using music from the MGM film, of course. She’s in the Lollipop Guild. Her mother and grandmother have learned from this experience that it is indeed the Lollipop GUILD and not the Lollipop KIDS as they had always believed. I live among Philistines.
My daughter’s new obsession with all things Oz led me to offer to read the books to her. I do own the complete Oz in two collected volumes. Instead of going to these, however, I reached up to the graphic novels that sit on a high shelf above our computer station and pulled down the first of the Skottie Young/Eric Shanower hardcover Oz adaptations Marvel has been so graciously publishing now for the last five years. These are gorgeous books, as you all well know (and if you don’t I encourage you to go and discover that for yourself, immediately), and she has found her way to Oz through these tree-pulped portals of enchantment as easily as I found my way there years ago through Baum’s simple but elegant prose. In addition, I have come to appreciate the Young/Shanower collaboration in a new way, now I’m seeing it through a child’s eyes, and now as a writer myself I more readily recognize the boundless creativity and imagination of L. Frank Baum. His creations, the people and places of Oz, possess a fantasticalness unrivaled in the canon of American literature, and the nudge-wink satire of Oz is more apparent to my thirty-something eyes than ever it was to my child self. (Baum seems particularly unimpressed with the intelligentsia and upper-class, painting them as blowhards and buffoons, while putting on pedestals the type of hard-workers that in traditional perception make up America’s backbone.)
It makes me happy, then, splendiferously so, to find Oz is not dead in this world, that it lives on in cinemas and in the comic pages, as colorful and beautiful as ever it was. No, Oz is not dead. It was just hidden, as always, emerging as it will once in a generation from the other side of the rainbow, beckoning for us all, young and old alike, to fly over its Deadly Desert, to pay a visit to its color-coded quintuplet of countries, to take a stroll down the road of yellow brick, to put on a pair of green goggles so as not to be blinded by the brilliance of the Emerald City, to spend a day making paper dolls with Miss Cuttenclip, to try and get Toto to share just one word, JUST ONE, to dance down the rainbow’s end with Polychrome, the rainbow’s daughter, to take a refreshing sip from the Forbidden Fountain and forget all your troubles (and everything else), and to visit again with Dorothy, the Wizard, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, Glinda the Good… as well as the Shaggy Man, Tik-Tok the Machine Man, Scraps the Patchwork Girl, Tip, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Saw-Horse, Trot, Ojo, Jeb, Jim the Cabhorse…
The list is almost endless. This is a good thing. It is also one of the first things you’ll come to realize upon your inevitable return to Oz.
Tom Hoefner (@TomHoefner on Twitter) is a playwright, theatre director, college professor, and would-be novelist living in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter. Truth is, there’s about a gazillion ways to return to Oz, as the books are in the public domain and non-Baum writers have produced close to a hundred other Oz books over the past century. Be that as it may, just stick with Baum, and Shanower and Young.
Check out “From the Casefiles of Race and Cookie McCloud”, a blog of super-short stories chronicling the adventures of Race McCloud, Private Eye, and his 15-year old former-secret-agent-in-training niece Cookie: http://raceandcookie.blogspot.com