What Oz, What Was, and What Could Have Been


Was, by Geoff Ryman – My friend Tavie lent me this book because of the Oz connection. It’s weird how she’ll read books related to Oz, but not the actual Oz books. Anyway, in one of the first issues of The Baum Bugle I ever received, there were two reviews of this that were basically polar opposites, with one reviewer loving the book and the other hating it. I thought it was a pretty good read, but it was very dark. It presents the real Dorothy as an abused girl. Uncle Henry rapes her, and Aunt Em kills Toto. As a result, she becomes a bully at school. When L. Frank Baum serves as her substitute teacher for a little while, he resolves to give her the life he wished she had. Historically, Baum’s presence as a teacher in Kansas is quite unlikely, as he received little formal education and was not known to have spent much time in the state. In a more modern setting, an actor named Jonathan who has had an Oz obsession with childhood is dying of AIDS, and is determined to track down the story’s background before he goes. I was reading the end of this while in the doctor’s office today, and I have to say that’s probably not the best place to be seeing symptoms of AIDS described. There are also a few chapters about Judy Garland and her family, and while they fit the tone and structure of the book, I don’t feel they add that much to the narrative. Overall, it’s a call not to forget childhood, and a defense of escaping into fantasy. I have to wonder if Ryman, who mixes elements from Baum with MGM (for instance, Uncle Henry’s last name is Gulch, but there’s no indication as to how that would influence the movie script when Baum didn’t do anything with it), was familiar with Oz books beyond the first one. He might well have at least read Ozma of Oz, since he makes a mention of Ev, suggesting that “Öz Ev” is Turkish for “real home.” No idea whether there’s any truth to that, but a Google Search does reveal that there’s a restaurant with that name in Ankara.

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9 Responses to What Oz, What Was, and What Could Have Been

  1. rebeccalakey says:

    I don’t quite understand all the need to make OZ darker in fanworks (but then I don’t understand it with Alice And Wonderland ether). I mean for one , it was meant as a escape from things being pretty less than good in the real world when it was written anyway and it was already dark in its undertones :\. I wonder how many of them have read all the books and really thought about its themes.

    • Nathan says:

      Well, in this particular book, it wasn’t Oz itself that was dark. Rather, it represented an escape from the cruelty of the world. That said, it is a bit over-the-top in spots, particularly in terms of Dorothy’s abusive childhood. In general, though, I agree. It’s not so much that such books are bad as that they seem to get more attention because critics would rather look at deconstruction of children’s literature than actual children’s books. Like with the Wicked books, which were interesting reads, but it bugs me that they’ve eclipsed the original Oz books in the public consciousness.

      • rebeccalakey says:

        True, I mean I’m not calling the reworkings bad books exactly it’s just…I wish what OZ actually was\is was fleshed out more for this generation. A retelling maybe that stayed more faithful. Sometimes I think of trying my hand at one myself but I’m not sure how you go about writing OZ anymore? :\ It seems to have become as much a shared fairy tale as something like Snow White now.

      • Nathan says:

        There are still faithful Oz stories coming out, but they generally have limited distribution because the market isn’t that big. Still, if you check Lulu, there’s some cool stuff there.

      • rebeccalakey says:

        So they are only to write? Do you need special permission from someone? I just thought I’d ask in case it came up someday :)

      • Nathan says:

        Baum’s books are all in the public domain, so you’re free to write whatever you want with them. The rights to many (but not all) post-Baum characters are tied up in some legal Quadling red tape.

      • rebeccalakey says:

        I forget where is the cut off for the books he wrote?

      • Nathan says:

        The last one he wrote was Glinda of Oz.

      • rebeccalakey says:

        Oh okay :3 I need to get copies of a few I’m missing.

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