Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, August 24, 2009

Rebecca Loncraine leads you down the yellow brick road to The Real Wizard of Oz

In the new biography of L.Frank Baum by Rebecca Loncraine,The Real Wizard of Oz,the author showcases the changing world around the legendary creator of the Oz mythos and seeks to point out the influences that made their way into his imagination and on the pages of his books.

L.Frank Baum(L stood for Lyman,but he was never called that name by family or friends)held numerous jobs in life but always had a love of the arts.

He met his wife Maud Gage while touring with his amateur theater group that performed plays written by him and he was even cast as the lead for one production. His family encouraged his interest in acting yet felt it was only an expensive hobby at best. Baum took on many other practical enterprises such as running a dry goods store,however he found his true calling in writing.

As a side business while trying to make a success from his shop in Aberdeen,South Dakota,Baum became editor of a small newspaper where he started to express many of his social ideas with a bit of whimsy. One of his more popular columns was a feature called "Our Landlady" where a character named Miss Bilkins took a common sense approach to local situations.

Baum didn't always hide behind fictional characters to get his points across. His mother-in-law,Matilda,was a prominent suffragist and Baum was an active supporter for women's right to vote. He wrote numerous articles and editorials to encourage his fellow townsfolk to support an amendment in the Dakota territories that allow women voting privileges(it was ultimately defeated).

Strong roles for women are a hallmark of his Oz books,along with the belief that females are more in tune with spiritual forces. The duality of the witches in the first book,The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,displays that nicely:

His writing always reveled a few of his flaws as well. Baum was careless with money and wrote about what he considered to be foolishness in having any savings(his wife managed the household finances).

While he did have some sympathy towards the plight of Native Americans,Baum wrote quite a few editorials that suggested the solution would be to put them out of their misery. Many of Baum's opinions and beliefs were reflected in the social fears and growing movements in the early days of the twentieth century,which held an uneasy balance between embracing new technological wonders and clinging to the familiar notions from the past:

Rebecca Loncraine blends in a bit of history lesson with each chapter,so that one can see how such things as the popularity of P.T. Barnum's circus,balloonists and seances contributed to the Oz series. Although those details can slow down the pace a bit,they do provide some depth and broader range of the fantasy material that Baum best became known for.

She also highlights the terrors that faced children growing up in rough terrain during those days(disease and early death being on top of the list)and despite how safe and serene the world of Oz may seem,Baum did not shy away from the darker tones of fairytale telling as set forth by the Brothers Grimm and other European folklore:

Despite Baum's many attempts at fame and fortune,his first and best introduction to the Land of Oz has turned into his truest treasure, becoming a long lasting pop culture icon due in part to the classic film made long after his death in 1919.

Dorothy Gale has become as potent a feminine fantasy figure as Alice in Wonderland and perhaps this new biography will revive interest in the other titles in the Oz series that have fallen out of the literary spotlight.

Rebecca Loncraine's take on what made Baum the literary wizard that he was may not suit all readers but her creativity in presentation shows the kind of showmanship and style that Baum himself strove for in his work. She dares to paint a more expansive picture of the world that helped to midwife Baum's tales for children of all ages and such boldness deserves to be rewarded. The Real Wizard of Oz is now available at a bookseller near you and is worth defying gravity to check out:

1 comment:

Ladytink_534 said...

Love that cover! I'm more of an Alice in Wonderland fan than a Wizard of Oz fan but I do like it. I've read several of the books but would like to sit down and read them all one day.