So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Visitors from Oz. L. Frank Baum

This book is considered by some to be the lost "Third Book of Oz" since the material it contains was written in 2004 and 2005 after the publication of Baum's first two Oz books: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) and The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904). The book features six characters from The Marvelous Land of Oz who leave Oz to travel through the United States of America.

This is probably the worst of Baum's Oz writing. Baum reused ideas from other books, and engaged in what are today offensive racial and ethnic stereotypes. Twenty six chapters of this book were originally Sunday newspaper pieces that were written as promotional material to advertise the books and the upcoming 1905 stage musical called Woggle-Bug. Seventeen of these were part of a contest in which each story ended in a situation that puzzled all the visitors except the Woggle-Bug who told them the answer but which wasn't revealed until the next week. The readers were invited to guess the answers for a chance at a prize. The last and longest chapter was originally published in 1905 as The Woggle-Bug Book. This segment follows the plot of the stage musical and, with its heavy reliance on ethnic humor, gives a pretty good idea as to why the musical failed. At the end of the book are 15 newspaper articles dated between August 18 and October 3 1904 that detail the flight to Earth by the Oz characters and relate their adventures in false news story style.

At the back of the book is a history of the material's creation and publication called "American Fairyland" that was written by David Maxine. Here we learn that two prior attempts to publish these stories in 1960 and 1986 were edited or abridged to remove offensive words and dialect. This is the first time since its original publication that the stories are printed as they were written.

The book does provide a look into life in the US as it was perceived by Baum 100 years ago. In that sense it provides a clearer perspective on Baum's world than his fairy tales. Also the illustrations by Eric Shanower, although created much later than the text, are delightful representations of the stories by the best Oz illustrator.


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