Reading the books of Oz by L Frank Baum
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...? :-)
This provokes a melange of moody memories:
1) I saw the movie in 1961, when I became four. In August of that year, the Berlin Wall was erected. Somehow, the imposing walls of the Witch's castle become conflated in my mind with the Berlin Wall. I used to march around my Grandmother's House, during Friday night Sabbath dinner, chanting "Berlin Wall," assiduously aping the cadences of the morose witch's soldiers chant, "Ole Oh, Ole Oh." I wrote a story about this on substack, which was posted on substack on October 26, 2020 and entitled "My early memories of the Berlin Wall and Movies about nuns," Part One.
2) The Wizard of Oz is probably a satire of progressive criticism of the economy of the 1890's, which was heavily tilted in favor of the rich.
a) The tin man represents the urban, industrialized proletariat oppressed by working conditions in factories.
b) The scarecrow represents the pauperized and victimized famers. (Farm income, for various reasons, had been dropping from the Civil War until world War one)
c) The yellow brick road is, allegedly, a satire on the "free silver" movement. Some agrarian progressives held that we should inflate the economy by making silver legal tender, as was gold, eg. William Jennings Bryan, at the Dem convention of 1896 or 1900 said "no man should be crucified upon a cross of gold."
Great idea, Jackie! I hope readers join you on the yellow brick road.
From January 1890 through March 1891, L. Frank Baum was publisher of a weekly newspaper, The Saturday Pioneer, in Aberdeen, S.D. From all accounts the Pioneer wasn't much different from other newspapers of its day. What differentiated it from newspapers in neighboring communities were Baum's editorials that addressed the complete annihilation of the Indian people.
Two of his more infamous editorials concern the massacre at Wounded Knee and the death of Sitting Bull. Historians and scholars who have long studied both the Oz phenomenon and the man behind it are alarmed by Baum's call for the annihilation of the Indian people. Many condemned Baum's writings, calling them racist. Modern historians have even gone as far as calling them the ranting of a white supremacist or neo-Nazi.
The following is the first editorial, written by Baum Dec. 20, 1890, as it appeared in the Saturday Pioneer:
"Sitting Bull, most renowned Sioux of modern history, is dead.
"He was not a Chief, but without Kingly lineage he arose from a lowly position to the greatest Medicine Man of his time, by virtue of his shrewdness and daring.
"He was an Indian with a white man's spirit of hatred and revenge for those who had wronged him and his. In his day he saw his son and his tribe gradually driven from their possessions; forced to give up their old hunting grounds and espouse the hard working and uncongenial avocations of the whites. And these, his conquerors, were marked in their dealings with his people by selfishness, falsehood and treachery. What wonder that his wild nature, untamed by years of subjection, should still revolt? What wonder that a fiery rage still burned within his breast and that he should seek every opportunity of obtaining vengeance upon his natural enemies.
"The proud spirit of the original owners of these vast prairies inherited through centuries of fierce and bloody wars for their possession, lingered last in the bosom of Sitting Bull. With his fall the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished, and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them. The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirits broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are. History would forget these later despicable beings, and speak, in later ages of the glory of these grand Kings of forest and plain that Cooper loved to heroism.
"We cannot honestly regret their extermination, but we at least do justice to the manly characteristics possessed, according to their lights and education, by the early Redskins of America."
The second editorial was printed on January 3, 1891, and is about the massacre at Wounded Knee:
"The peculiar policy of the government in employing so weak and vacillating a person as General Miles to look after the uneasy Indians has resulted in a terrible loss of blood to our soldiers, and a battle which, at its best, is a disgrace to the War Department. There has been plenty of time for prompt and decisive measures, the employment of which would have prevented this disaster.
"The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. In this lies future safety for our settlers and the soldiers who are under incompetent commands. Otherwise, we may expect future years to be as full of trouble with the redskins as those have been in the past.
"An eastern contemporary, with a grain of wisdom in its wit, says that "when the whites win a fight, it is a victory, and when the Indians win it, it is a massacre."
Interpretations of the two editorials are varied among scholars and historians. In Kansas local historic societies have had to battle with the Oz label for years, Tammy O'Rear, Osage Country Archivist said every time she travels out of state, the questions and remarks about Dorothy and Toto have worn thin, "I am sick of it," O' Rear said, "I think the theme park is kind of ridiculous really"
O'Rear continued, "I think it's a shame they would honor a man like that (Baum). My most passionate interest is the Native Americans. I think they got the shaft, I've found the proof over and over again that they got the shaft, it was horrendous. I would rather they found a way to honor the persons ... Kansas, Osage, all the streams in this county are named for a Sac & Fox chief. I would rather see the state of Kansas honor the Native Americans than honor a man like Baum."