Allison's Book Bag

Creator of Oz

Posted on: December 22, 2014

I have learned to regard fame as a will-o-the-wisp … but to please a child is a sweet and lovely thing that warms one’s heart and brings its own reward.

–Frank Baum, Biography

Author of Wizard of Oz, one of the most famous works of children’s literature, Lyman Frank Baum was born in 1856 in New York. He was also an entrepreneur, playwright, and journalist. Thirteen more Oz books followed before his death in 1919. Tomorrow I’ll review one of those subsequent Oz books, a personal favorite which I discovered in fifth grade, Ozma of Oz. Save the date: December 22!

PERSONAL BACKGROUND

You see, in this country there are a number of youths who do not like to work, and the college is an excellent place for them.

–Frank Baum, Smithsonian

Frank Baum Wiki Oz

Frank Baum
Wiki Oz

Baum’s father was Benjamin Ward Baum and his mother Cynthia Stanton. Named “Lyman” after an uncle, Baum hated his first name and chose to be called by his middle name “Frank” instead. Homeschooled, Baum enjoyed a comfortable upbringing as the son of a barrel factory owner who experienced success in the oil business. Biographers suggest Baum’s home life with nine siblings was happy.

Hours were spent reading in the father’s library where, according to Online Literature, Baum developed an aversion to the scary creatures and violence of popular children’s fairytales of the time. He ended up creating his own adaptations to give to other children, later including his own, and delighted in telling stories rather than grim and frightful moral lessons.

At the age of 12, Baum went to the Peekskill Military Academy. Smithsonian notes that having been born with a weak heart, Baum wasn’t a boisterous child but rather timid and shy. The academy’s atmosphere of harsh discipline and strenuous activity proved arduous to him. In the middle of a caning two years later, Baum clutched his chest and collapsed, seemingly suffering a heart attack. Although Baum attended a high school in Syracuse, he never graduated.

Instead, Baum spent his early adulthood exploring his creative interests. After his father bought him a printing press, with his younger brother Harry, Baum started his own newspaper. He started to write the editorials, articles, fiction and poetry that would fill the pages of the Rose Lawn Home.

Despite his distaste for academics, Baum did not mind work. He stumbled through a number of failed enterprises before finding a career that suited him. In his 20s, he raised chickens, started a business that produced oil-based lubricants, wrote plays, and even ran a theater company. Smithsonian says that Baum’s stint as a playwright and actor brought him the greatest satisfaction out of these early employments, although the work was not stable.

In 1882, Baum married Maud Gage, college roommate of his cousin and the daughter of famous women’s rights campaigner Matilda Josyln Gage. Smithsonian shares that when Baum’s aunt introduced Maud to Frank, she told him that he would love her. Upon first sight, Baum declared, “Consider yourself loved, Miss Gage.” He proposed a few months later, and despite objections from her mother, Maud accepted. The couple had four children.

Around this time, Baum also left the theatre life to go into private business. As part of that decision, deciding that the real opportunities lay in the Midwest, he moved his family in 1888 to South Dakota. Over the next ten years, Frank would run a bazaar, start a baseball club, report for a frontier newspaper and buy dishware for a department store. Next, in 1891, Baum moved his family to Chicago, where he experienced several more failed attempts to financially establish himself.

Upon encouragement from his mother-in-law, notes Online Literature Baum started in his forties to write down the nursery rhymes he had improvised and told to his sons over the years. Mother Goose was published in 1897, met with rave reviews, and led to his collaborative work on another success. Father Goose: His Book was a best-selling book in its time with an estimated 175,000 copies sold. On its heels, in 1900, was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

WRITING BACKGROUND

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was written solely to pleasure children today. It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heart-aches and nightmares are left out.

–Frank Baum, Biography

Baum_OzIn the spring of 1898, on scraps of ragged paper, the story of The Wizard of Oz took shape. According to Smithsonian, when Baum was done with the manuscript, he framed the well-worn pencil stub he had used to write the story, anticipating that it had produced something great.

Indeed, Baum had. The story of Dorothy’s quest to find her way home, accompanied by a tin woodsman, a scarecrow and cowardly lion, proved to be widely popular. Baum became not only the best-selling children’s book author in the country, but also the founder of a genre. Until this point, Smithsonian explains, American children read European literature; there had never been a successful American children’s book author. The New York Times declared that children would be “pleased with dashes of color and something new in the place of the old, familiar, and winged fairies of Grimm and Anderson.”

Yet the success of The Wizard of Oz didn’t necessarily secure Baum’s future. Two years later, Baum transformed his fairy tale into a successful Broadway musical. He re-imagined a popular culture figure around this time with The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. However, the next book in the Oz series, The Land of Oz, was Baum’s response to the demand for more stories about Oz and also to supplement his dwindling finances. In 1910, Baum moved his family to California, where he worked to bring his various stories to the big screen. The first movie versions of his Oz tales were made as short films. Only one year later, sadly, Baum had to declare bankruptcy. Thereafter, he referred to himself as “Royal Historian of Oz” and commenced writing one Oz book per year. Never undaunted, Baum started the Oz Film Manufacturing Company which experimented with film effects. He wrote many screenplays and directed two, but the company folded a year later. He also started acting again with an amateur group.

In the more than 100 years after the publication of The Wizard of Oz, Baum’s stories have continued to enchant. Several other authors, including Ruth Plumly Thompson, were hired to continue to create new Oz adventures. In 1939, twenty years after Baum’s death, the now-famous film version of his classic tale appeared on the big screen starring Judy Garland, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Ray Bolger and Frank Morgan. It went on to become one of the most watched movies in cinematic history. Writer Gregory Maguire has written several books exploring the lives of some of Baum’s most famous characters. His 1995 book, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, was used as the basis for the popular Broadway musical Wicked. And the list goes on….

It’s interesting to note that the first word ever written in the very first Oz book was ‘Dorothy.’ The last word of the book is ‘again.’ And that is what young readers have said ever since those two words were written: ‘We want to read about Dorothy again.

–Jack Snow, Smithsonian

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