We're off to see the wizard!
Reading the books of Oz by L Frank Baum
Welcome to Story Cauldron! For all of my new subscribers, it’s great to have you here. Here in Story Cauldron, I offer my thoughts about storytelling as well as share some of my fiction. This time around, I’m discussing The Wizard of Oz and its influence on me as a writer, as well as how you can read the Oz books online!
Stepping back in time
What is your first memory of the Wizard of Oz? If you’re like most people, you first visited Oz by watching the 1939 movie starring Judy Garland as Dorothy.
As a kid, I had seen it at least once when I was very young but couldn’t remember a lot about it, so when I saw it a subsequent time, I was confused. Wasn’t it in color? But yes, of course, the film shifts from black and white to Technicolor.
Back then, Technicolor was a new technology, and although The Wizard of Oz wasn’t the first film to employ it, it was certainly one of the most memorable.
The other thing that was important about The Wizard of Oz was that it was shown pretty regularly on television in the 1970s, so of course, I saw it several times.
What stood out for me was that it depicted a world of magic, fantastic creatures, and most of all, witches and wizards. Although I also saw pretty much every Disney animated film, it was The Wizard of Oz more than anything that instilled my life-long passion for fantasy stories.
The books of L. Frank Baum
Having tasted the world of Oz as a grade-school kid, I was overjoyed to discover that the movie was based on a book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. Even better, I found out that he had written a total of 14 books about this magical world. As an avid reader, I checked out every single one available in my local library and read them with great excitement. I recall taking at least one along on a family road trip, and hunkering down in the back seat reading as my parents and I drove from St. Louis to my grandparents’ house in Florida.
As I dug into them, imagine my surprise to learn that there were deviations between the original book and the movie. For example, there were no ruby slippers in the original book—they were silver. And the Emerald City was only green because everyone wore green-tinted glasses! But the filmmakers wanted to take advantage of Technicolor and made adjustments that would show up better on camera,
But beyond that—Dorothy and the familiar cast of characters don’t all show up in subsequent books; instead, we meet a number of fascinating protagonists and explore every corner of Oz, including some that aren’t nearly as pleasant as Munchkin Land or the Emerald City.
Have you read Wicked (or seen the Broadway play)? As most people know, Gregory Maguire used Baum’s story as a starting point for a wholly new interpretation of Oz and the Wicked Witch of the West, but the flavor of his book definitely owes a great deal to the stories that came before. (Seriously—if you love Wicked, you really should read the original stories… but more on that in a moment.)
How Oz influenced me as a writer
As I noted, Oz was perhaps my first real introduction to fantasy stories, and it shaped the kind of reader and writer I would become. To this day, I prefer “portal fiction,” in which a character from our world lands in a magical world. When I write, I like to think about how the world works and the different landscapes and types of people who inhabit it, as well as the political and socio-economic underpinnings. But above all, I like to have morally grey characters who aren’t completely good or evil. You see a little of this in the film, but in the books, you get a better taste of it. Is Glinda really the ultimate “good guy”? Perhaps for some people, Dorothy wasn’t the best thing to happen to Oz. And so on.
As I work on my Favor Faeries series, I am often thinking back to Oz and trying to build a world that is vaguely reminiscent of it. Several years ago, in fact, I described my first attempt at a novel in my nascent faerie world as “The Wizard of Oz meets Neil Gaiman.” In other words, I wanted to create a world that was as expansive and peculiar as Oz, but also a bit darker and unsettling.
That first novel never quite came together, nor did a couple of subsequent attempts (although I’ve kept everything, and those stories may get a second look in the near future). Regardless, the time spent writing those books helped me craft a faerie world that might appeal to fans of The Wizard of Oz (though without talking animals, so far anyway).
Reading the Oz books
As I thought about the books that most influenced me as a writer, Oz clearly bubbled to the top. But then I realized that with books written over 100 years ago, and with a massive number of new Young Adult Fantasy novels written every year, people today might never discover the Oz books on their own. In fact, I doubt most people under 40 even knew the books existed.
So I decided to try something fun.
Starting on Aug. 2nd, I will be serializing the first book in the Oz series, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, on a free Substack called The Wonderful Books of Oz. Each week you will be treated to a new chapter along with some incredible artwork. And it will be 100% free.
Each Tuesday, subscribers will receive a new chapter magically delivered via email or via the Substack app. And from time to time, I may drop in here at Story Cauldron with some reflections about the stories.
(In case you’re wondering, the novel, and all subsequent novels by Baum, are in the public domain, so this is entirely legal).
Once we’re through the first novel, assuming there’s interest, my plan is to continue going and eventually serialize the entire 14-book catalog.
Join me on our journey down the yellow brick road to meet the Wizard of Oz. And tell your friends!
Thanks for reading—and I do hope you subscribe. It’s going to be a lot of fun!
In the comments below, tell me who’s your favorite character from the Wizard of Oz, and why. I would love to know who my subscribers love the most. (Me? I’m kind of partial to the flying monkeys!)
It's interesting how seminal that first book that lights the candle can be. For me I think it was Alan Garner's The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. Possibly E. Nesbit's Five Children and It or Wind in the Willows really came first -- it was a long time ago. But Weirdstone still holds a particular place in my heart. Not, mind you, that I have ever attempted to write anything quite like it. But it had a great deal to do with my wanting to write.
I actually read The Wizard of Oz long before I eventually saw the movie. I think I read the second book of the series as well, but did not like it as well. If I go on I'll just keep throwing out author names (Madeleine L'Engle, Lloyd Alexander). And that's just the fantasy side of things.
I swear I could reel off two childhood favorite for every favorite I have found as an adult. Our literary first loves stay with us for life, I think, or at least they should.
Fun! I was vaguely aware of the books, but I've never read them. Better late than never...? :-)