Saturday, April 6, 2013

Recent Visits to Oz

Ozma of Oz, one of the 20th century's
earliest transgendered characters. Isn't she fabulous?
I finally did get around to seeing the current film Oz The Great and Powerful in IMAX and 3-D. The prequel to classic MGM film The Wizard of Oz purports to tell the story of how the Wiz got to the enchanted land long before Dorothy. The production design was beautiful and I'm glad I saw it in 3-D, but you don't need to spend the extra $10 for IMAX, at least not in the theater I went to on 34th Street in Manhattan.

The mythology put forth conflicts with that of L. Frank Baum's Oz books and Gregory Maguire's Wicked series. Yes, for those who don't know there are about 40 Oz books altogether. Baum wrote 14 of them and Ruth Plumly Thompson carried on after his death. She stopped in 1939 and others carried on periodically after that. In the new movie, James Franco as the Wizard has affairs (or stays up all night "dancing") with both the Wicked Witches of the East and West and does some serious canoodling with Glinda the Good Witch of the South. The good witch of the North is missing. In the Baum books, the Wiz unseats the rightful ruler, a fairy baby named Ozma, who is turned by enchantment into a boy. Outside of Virginia Woolf's Orlando, Ozma is probably literature's most famous transgendered character. In The Land of Oz, the first book after the Wizard of Oz, the transformed Ozma, now named Trot, goes on an adventure with Jack Pumpkinhead, and is eventually re-assigned by Glinda to his/her original form. "I'm the same as I was before," she explained to the astonished Ozites,"only now I'm a girl." And a fairy to boot. This was in 1904, long before LGBTQ issues were on anyone's mind.

Seeing the new movie prompted me to revisit Baum's magical land. I read the first book when I was a little boy. (On a class trip to the public library, I was almost assigned a boring selection for a book report, but the librarian said to me "Are you the little boy who asked about The Wizard of Oz? Well, we have it.") As an adult, I read quite a few of the subsequent ones. In the 1980s, Del Rey published paperback versions of all of Baum's Oz books and most of Thompson's. Even though they were written for children, they still had a fascination for me. (I even directed a production of Jane Martin's Talking With which includes a monologue called "Scraps" about a bored Ohio housewife who dresses up as the Patchwork Girl of Oz. I hired a costume designer and everything.) Dorothy makes several trips back to the fairyland, and in The Emerald City of Oz, takes up permanent residence as a princess, never having to grow up. Uncle Henry and Aunt Em have gone bankrupt and tell her, "Dorothy, we think you'd better go and live in that Oz place because we can't afford to feed you no more." The little girl promptly vanishes to Oz, but she wishes her guardians to join her and they are whisked away to live a happy retirement in Munchkinland.

I believe the Del Rey series stopped at The Wishing Horse of Oz, originally published in 1935. All the rest are out of print and hard to find. Except on the Kindle where you can get all 14 Baum books for 99 cents. I found several of the post-Del Rey Plumly titles for only about $3 each, but without the beautiful John Neill illustrations. I bought Ozoplaning with the Wizard of Oz (1939) and Handy Mandy in Oz (1937). Ozoplaning came out the same year as the movie so they worked the title in. The Wizard gets modern in this story by building two airplanes for Ozma for joyriding, but they encounter the belligerent stratospheric people who live in the clouds and whose eyes flash lightning. Their foreheads are transparent so you can seem storm clouds forming on them when they are angry. Handy Mandy is a goatherd girl with seven arms who rescues a kidnapped little-boy king with the aide of Nox the Magic Ox.

After Thompson retired from Oz, illustrator John Neill tried his hand at writing as well. He turned out 3 Oz books, none of which are on the Kindle. Neill was followed by Jack Snow whose The Magical Mimics in Oz (1946) and The Shaggy Man of Oz (1949) are both on Kindle with the illustrations of Frank Kramer, reproduced by a company called Empty Grave---an odd name for a children's book publisher. I downloaded a sample of Magical Mimics which foreshadows The Invasion of the Body Snatchers with evil doubles of Dorothy and the The Wizard taking over the Emerald City while Ozma and Glinda are away at a fairy convention. (I'm not making that part up.) Oz definitely helps me escape from reality. I'll try not to get lost there.


  1. Good stuff, but a couple of misconceptions I'd like to correct. First off, Ozma's name when she was a boy was Tip, not Trot. (Trot is another character from later books, who has only ever been a girl, although there was that time she was a mermaid, and the other when she was shrunk... but I digress.) Also, although they're still hard to find, rumors of the post-"Wishing Horse" books being hard to find are not quite true. Both Books of Wonder and the International Wizard of Oz Club have reprinted them in recent years, and most of them are still for sale in new, fully illustrated editions. Even the ones that are now out of print are at least a lot more affordable thanks to the new product available on the used market. Anyone wanting to see what post-Baum Oz books are available can check out my website's bookshop (yes, shameless plugging, sorry, but I do try to keep it up to date for just the sort of people in your Oz situation) at

  2. Thanks for the comment. I appreciate the corrections from such an Oz expert.