Oz Time Goes By


When trying to come up with a comprehensive timeline for the Oz series, such as the Royal Timeline of Oz, the main problem actually comes in with the first few books. It’s a popular idea that the books take place around when they were published, or maybe a year or two before, and for the most part the evidence supports this. With the earlier books, though, it’s trickier.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published in 1899 and The Emerald City of Oz in 1910, yet Dorothy is still only ten or eleven at the time of the latter. So it’s pretty much necessary to condense the number of years over which these books take place, although exactly how can’t be determined for certain. I’ve seen it suggested that Emerald City could take place as early as 1903, although most chronologists choose a somewhat later date. The earthquake in which Dorothy is caught in Dorothy and the Wizard is almost certainly based on a real one that hit San Francisco in 1906, but we’re not specifically told that it IS this quake, and I find it rather unlikely that six years had passed between Wizard and DotWiz.

To further complicate matters, there are several books that take place during the period in which Dorothy was still living in Kansas, probably mostly due to copyright reasons. Most of these stories take place over only a few days, but whether or not someone accepts them can affect how long it was between Dorothy’s first visit to Oz and her finally deciding to live there. Tyler Jones proposed that Dorothy’s aging could have been slowed by her time in Oz, but I’m not so keen on that idea.

In addition to Dorothy, we also have Button-Bright, who first visits Oz when quite young in Road, and is still younger than Trot when he moves there in Scarecrow. Since Trot claims to be ten in Giant Horse, it’s likely that Button-Bright is nine years old at the most. Six years passed in between the publication of these two books, which means it might be helpful to condense the years between them as well, albeit not as much as with the earlier books. Rinkitink is also an interesting case, as it’s based on an earlier manuscript, but with references added to fit it into its designated place in the series. J.L. Bell proposed the idea that the Nome King in Rinkitink might actually be Ruggedo, which would necessitate pushing this one back to before Tik-Tok. This would mean disregarding King Rinkitink’s song about Hank the Mule, as Hank doesn’t come to the Emerald City until the end of Tik-Tok, but that’s hardly a significant part of the story. Still, I generally prefer keeping Rinkitink as the tenth book in the series, and just figuring there was some other reason why Kaliko was acting out of character.

As far as the Ruth Plumly Thompson books go, 1930’s Yellow Knight has Speedy thinking of Charles Lindbergh, who made his famous flight in May 1927. As such, the story probably doesn’t take place any earlier than 1928. I usually like to think of her books as taking place the year before they were published, but there could be a problem here as well.

Dorothy Maryott’s essay on Silver Princess says that Thompson began writing it in February 1937, and the story takes place in May of an unspecified year. So wouldn’t it have had to have taken place in 1936 at the latest, in order for it to be history when Thompson wrote it? I think there’s plenty of wiggle room here, though. Sure, the authors presented themselves as historians, but this can’t be taken TOO seriously. Some more recent authors, particularly Chris Dulabone, have taken to actually writing the year in which a book takes place within the story, which is helpful to those of us who want to keep timelines straight, but comes across as a bit weird when the characters themselves use the AD system of years. In that way, I prefer Melody Grandy’s books, which tend to date everything from the beginning of Ozma’s reign. There’s no specific date for this that’s agreed upon either, but 1902 is a popular supposition.

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This entry was posted in Chris Dulabone, L. Frank Baum, Melody Grandy, Oz, Oz Authors, Ruth Plumly Thompson and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Oz Time Goes By

  1. Tarl says:

    The timeline is tricky. You’ve done a good job with major events in the Oz canon. Has there been a consensus version of the canonical timeline? Or is it kind of vague as far as years go?
    I’ve got a much different view of the timeline in my Hidden History of Oz stories, as I calculate BDG and ADG (Before Dorothy Gale and After Dorothy Gale, respectively)

    • Nathan says:

      It’s very vague. There have been attempts to straighten it all out, but I don’t know that Baum was thinking of specific years when writing. The books were clearly set in what were modern times for the authors, however, so it doesn’t make sense to separate them TOO much from when they were written.

  2. Tarl says:

    One more compliment – that is great artwork in this post. Where did you find it?

    • Nathan says:

      It’s mostly scanned from various Oz books. This page is a good source for pictures, although some of the links are broken. I scanned the one of the Parrot-Ox myself; it’s from Paradox in Oz, and drawn by Eric Shanower. The Castorine advertisement was something that turned up in a Google Image Search, and I included it because it featured Father Time and the Baum name.

  3. Anthony Will says:

    this is a great article!! I really admire your oz acumen. I always think of emerald city taking place in 1906, since Wizard is generally accepted as 1900 and emerald is the sixth book. I recommended your blog to Robyn Rhodes Knutson, who along with me is planning the revival of the South Winkie “conference”. It will take place in early October. More Oz articles, please!!

  4. Joe says:

    Just came across this article! Excellent! I forgot about that recollection in Yankee and didn’t know the real world setting of Silver Princess, and have made adjustments accordingly! Thanks!! Joe

  5. I may actually change the dating of the first few books to an earlier date. I came across a letter Robin Hess wrote to me 10 years ago, which puts forth several excellent reasons why the first few Oz books work with a starting date of 1893 for WWO. This also makes what Herby says in Giant Horse work much better. The only thing his explanation (which I’d like to post on my site at some point, as it’s rather brilliant) doesn’t take into account is Queer Visitors, which seems tied to the date of the strips themselves, and would throw off an earlier (and more logical) chronology. If I can work that out, however, I’ll make the changes.

    • Nathan says:

      Wouldn’t that actually make a LONGER gap between the events of Wizard and those of Giant Horse? Pushing the early books back that far would also require examining any references to technology or current events. For instance, while automobiles existed in the 1890s, would they have been common enough for Billina to have mentioned them in Ozma if it had taken place back then?

      • I hadn’t thought about the reference to automobiles. I can’t recall enough of Hess’ letter to quote here, but one day, when I transcribe it, I’ll post it (with his permission) or send you a copy. For now, I’m keeping things as they are. As it is, I at least got Orin’s timeline to work.

  6. Pingback: They’re Coming to America | VoVatia

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