The Oz Books of L. Frank Baum

I just completed reading all of the L. Frank Baum Oz books. I’ve had this collection for quite a while. They were inherited from my father’s Aunt Arlene, a teacher in Buffalo. When the books first arrived, I was a bit old for them. I had reached the mature age of about 12 or 13, and the covers looked rather ancient to me. They sat in boxes with my mother for quite a while. I got them back a few years ago.

Seeing a series of unread books on the shelf can nag at you, and these were yelling at me. “C’mon, man, read us!” So I dove in.

L. Frank Baum wrote 14 Oz books total:

The Wizard of Oz is the story most people know, but most people know it as a movie with Judy Garland. The movie is remarkably accurate to the text, leaving out only a couple of scenes that would have been difficult to film. You know the story – Dorothy gets carried via cyclone to Oz, where she meets the scarecrow, tin woodsman, cowardly lion, the Wizard, some witches, and Glinda.

The Land of Oz is an odd one. A young boy, Tip, runs away from a witch and he enchants a few items to take with him – Jack Pumpkinhead (similar to the scarecrow, but with a pumpkin for a head) and a wooden sawhorse that can travel without running out of energy.  Meanwhile, General Jinjur and her army of girls take over the Emerald City and force out Tip, Jack, the scarecrow, and tin woodsman. In the end, Jinjur is defeated and Tip is informed that he is princess of all Oz. Yes, princess. Turns out that the witch had changed him into a boy and tried to keep him from knowing that he was actually a girl named Ozma and rightful ruler of Oz. Tip isn’t sure he wants to be a girl, but decides to go ahead with the transformation.

Ozma of Oz has Dorothy return to Oz. She meets some new characters. Tik Tok is a mechanical man with three springs that need winding – one for thinking, one for speaking, and one for moving. There is a talking chicken named Billina, and a companion to the cowardly lion named the Hungry Tiger.  He is hungry because, while he would like to do nothing more than eat fat babies, he has a conscious and cannot. So he eats other things but remains hungry.  We meet a new foe –  the Nome King who lives underground.

Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz reunites the pair. Dorothy stumbles back into Oz via an earthquake, bringing along her cousin Zeb, Jim the cabhorse, and Dorothy’s pink kitten Eureka. It’s not one of the best stories, but keeps the series moving along.

The Road to Oz introduces quite a few new characters, including a rather dim-witted boy named Button Bright that keeps getting lost, the Shaggy Man, and a rather spectacular Polychrome, daughter of the rainbow. There isn’t much of a story here other than everyone ends up attending a birthday party for Ozma. In a bit of a stretch, Santa Claus also attends.

The Emerald City of Oz brings the Nome King back, this time with a plot to invade the Emerald City. It also brings Aunty Em and Uncle Henry to Oz, where they settle in and live at Ozma’s palace. They don’t go back to Kansas. Baum starts to figure out how to tell more interesting Oz stories with this book.

The Patchwork Girl of Oz is about Scraps, the patchwork girl with a head stuffed of cotton. She is unusual and says whatever comes to mind, and while it often sounds silly, she often provides her friends with the answer to the problem in front of them.  We meet a boy, Ojo, who is in search of ingredients to release his Unk Nunkie from a petrification spell. We also meet a Woozy – a box-like creature – and Bungle the Glass Cat who likes to point out that she has lovely pink brains that you can see spin around as she is thinking.

A new American girl comes to Oz in Tik-Tok of Oz. Betsy Bobbin and Hank the Mule are shipwrecked and end up in Oz with the Shaggy Man, who is heading to the Nome King to get his brother back. Polychrome returns. Tik-Tok is back. All of them fall through the earth to the other side where they meet a dragon, who helps them get back to Oz and handle the Nome King.

The Scarecrow of Oz brings more new people to Oz. Trot and Captain Bill get sucked into a whirlpool and off to Oz. The scarecrow and his brains help sort things out for everyone.

Rinkitink of Oz takes place outside of Oz for the most part, on a pair of islands in the Nonestic Ocean. Rinkitink is a jolly king who helps Prince Inga after his peaceful island is raided and parents taken away. They are aided and insulted by Bilbil the goat. Powerful pearls have magical properties that help solve this book’s obstacles.

The Lost Princess of Oz was one of my favorites. Ozma is lost and everyone goes looking for her. Not only is she lost, but someone has stolen her magic picture frame that allows her to see anyone, anywhere, at any time. They also stole Glinda’s magic book or records that makes note of everything that happens everywhere, the Wizard’s bag of magic, and Toto’s growl.  All animals can speak in Oz, and Toto has some good dialogue in this volume.

The Tin Woodsman of Oz introduces us to Woot the Wanderer and tells the backstory of the Tin Woodsman. His real name was Nick Chopper and was once a real person, in love with Nimmie Aimee. In this story, they go looking for Nimmie and run into someone else who liked her, too. They all go to see her and find out her views.

The Magic of Oz – will the Nome King ever give up? He comes to Oz again, this time with a Munchkin boy named Kiki Aru who has been practicing some magic illegally. They are able to transform into just about anything, and pretty soon everyone in this book has been transformed into something else. In the end, the Nome King drinks from the Fountain of Oblivion and forgets his evil ways.

The final Baum book was Glinda of Oz. This has Ozma, Glinda, and Dorothy, along with just about everyone else we’ve met, in an epic adventure to restore order in a distant part of Oz. Someone is practicing (bad) magic again and has imprisoned Dorothy and Ozma in a glass-domed city that has been submerged under a lake. Gotta find the magic fish!  Baum’s final words: “ is always wise to do one’s duty, however unpleasant that duty may seem to be.”

The books all move along at a good pace. Most end up with some sort of banquet at Ozma’s place to celebrate.

Each story in my collection is illustrated by John R. Neil.  Not only are the illustrations within the book a delight, but also the inside front and back cover have elaborate collages of characters that one can spend hours deciphering.

Baum adds a preface to each volume, usually reminding kids that he is merely the historian of Oz and relies on transmissions from Dorothy to find out what’s happening. He often thanks children for writing to him and sending him suggestions and ideas. In the final volume, we get a sad introduction from the publisher’s saying that Mr. Baum had passed away but that he had left notes and such for additional stories.

Baum seems to favor females. All of the strongest, brightest characters are young women. Boys exist, but are more likely to succeed by accident in an Oz story than by cleverness. It’s the young women that rule Oz. At times, there are armies of them. Glinda’s palace is filled with young women who hang around and assist her.

He made note of technologies as they came along, with mentions of phonographs, airships, telegraph and so on. He gave some magic devices – a picture frame that can see anything anywhere and a book that records everything that happens in Oz – that come close to what we have today with the internet.

It was a project well-suited for pandemic times. I’m glad that I can look at the collection of Oz books on the shelf and know that they have been read. It’s also fun knowing more about Oz, and some new Oz trivia (Toto can talk!) to drop into conversations.

Have you read these?

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