I attended a bunch of Oz Conventions back in the 1990s, and the Centennial Convention in Indiana in 2000, but haven’t been to any since then. The International Wizard of Oz Club used to do at least three per year, the Munchkin in the east, Winkie in the west, and Ozmapolitan in the center of the country. Most of the others I attended were Munchkin Conventions, the title of which is kind of confusing as people have asked me if it’s a gathering of little people. Due to sparse attendance, they’re generally down to two every year, and the Winkie one is largely run separately from the Club, and is now officially OzCon International (although it’s still informally the Winkie Convention). The other one, the National Convention, moves around the country. Anyway, the western one is still usually in California, but this year it was in Portland, Oregon. That’s not any closer for me, but I felt I might be able to make it work this time. I dragged Beth along with me, and while she’s not into Oz, she did enjoy at least some parts of it. I’ll include her own thoughts at the end of this post. It seems that conventions are a major thing nowadays, but while many of them are huge, crowded affairs, Oz ones tend to remain small and largely informal. That’s not to say there isn’t some serious and/or scholarly discussion, however.
This convention has been honoring the centennial of a particular Oz book each year, and this time it was Rinkitink in Oz, the one that didn’t start out as an Oz book. Speaking of which, I usually pronounce the title of that book with sort of a schwa, like “rink-uh-tink.” Apparently it’s more common to pronounce it like “rinky-dink” but with a T, at least among convention attendees. There are a lot of names in the series like this. Panels based around this book included Eric Shanower discussing the mistakes in John R. Neill’s illustrations, Eric Gjovaag’s take on how the book influenced Baum’s other writing, Sean Carlson performing his interpretations of King Rinkitink’s songs, and a roundtable discussion of various issues in the story. There were also talks on Baum’s boy protagonists, the MGM film and Judy Garland, the odd directions on various maps of Oz, Dick Martin’s The Ozmapolitan of Oz, Peter and Inanna McGraw’s memories of their mother Eloise, and the books written by Gina Wickwar, Paul Dana, and Jared Davis. Inanna, formerly Lauren Lynn, is the last semi-official Royal Historian, but she’s said she does not have anything Oz-related in the works.
I asked about Eloise’s unfinished manuscript featuring the Flittermouse, a chapter of which was published in Oziana. It didn’t get very far, but apparently it was going to feature Ruggedo. I sat at the same table as Peter and Inanna for Saturday dinner, and remarked on how I’d sat with their mother at my very first Oz Convention in…1992, I think. I was also on my first panel, along with Paul, David Maxine, and Scott Cummings, at which we discussed Ozian geography and maps. Beth recorded at least part of it, but I haven’t watched it yet. I don’t mind public speaking, but I get embarrassed watching and listening to myself. Another event was the Ozprah Winkie Show, featuring L. Frank and Maud Baum and some of the actors from the original stage play. Okay, they were actually actors playing other actors.
The phrase “You get a Scalawagon, and you get a Scalawagon!” was not spoken, and Beth pointed out that they also didn’t do anything with Dorothy’s last name being the same as Oprah’s best friend’s first name (although I think she spells it with a Y). I did not wear a costume, even though I have several times in the past. I’m kind of hoping I can get something together for the Philadelphia convention in August, but I’m not counting on it. Fellow convention attendee Susan Higbee recorded the costume contest, which didn’t have that many participants, but the ones who were there were quite impressive. There was a skit of the disenchantment of Prince Bobo, featuring stuffed animals standing in for the mid-level transformations.
Events ran from morning until evening on Friday and Saturday, after which there were after-parties in David Maxine and Eric Shanower’s room. Eric created a cocktail called a Pink Pearl after the charm of protection in Rinkitink.
On Sunday, we took a sternwheeler cruise on the Columbia River. At first it looked like I wouldn’t have been able to go on that due to some miscommunication, but it worked out in the end.
It did mean I had to miss Robin Hess’s panel on the size of Oz, however. We carpooled to the boat with Peter Hanff and his friend Larry.
The only thing I ended up buying in the auction was a copy of The Hungry Tiger of Oz with no color plates or dust jacket or anything. It’s in much better shape than my old Del Rey edition, though, and I think it was cheaper than if I’d bought another paperback. Other purchases were two pins, a copy of Ruth Plumly Thompson’s The Comical Cruises of Captain Cooky, a few old Baum Bugle issues, Robin’s book L. Frank Baum and the Perfect Murder, a T-shirt, Sean Carlson’s CD of Rinkitink songs, the Shadow of Oz Tarot deck, and the prelude to The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles. I think I might have finished this entire series now, but the numbering is confusing. And for winning the master’s level quiz, I received a Wicked Witch keychain and a Dover paperback edition of Patchwork Girl.
I’ve never been much of a book collector; I’ll buy interesting things I can find and afford, but don’t look for first editions or anything. I get the impression that the Club started out focusing heavily on the collecting aspect of fandom, but doesn’t emphasize that quite as much these days. But then, Club membership is also dwindling, and I know some fairly significant fans take issue with the way it’s run. I’m really not privy to the internal politics, but there was some argument as to whether conventions should be held less often, and how they should be promoted. If there are too few attendees, they become way too expensive to run. That said, I would imagine MGM-related events tend to attract more of the general public, and while I certainly don’t mind some parts of the convention focusing on the movie (John Fricke’s stories are always entertaining, for instance), I like that the books tend to be the main theme.
Now, here’s Beth’s take on the convention:
Even though I’ve read the first three Oz books, I am no kind of Oz fan. But Nathan wanted me to come to the convention with him anyway for some reason. As it drew closer, my feeling of dread increased, and I kept asking myself what I’d gotten into. I thought that maybe I’d see Nathan shriek with delight every few minutes, but that never even happened once. :( By the middle of the first day, Friday, I think I started to come around. I enjoyed seeing people recognize Nathan, and everyone was exceedingly friendly to both of us. It’s not that I thought they wouldn’t be friendly. MonsterMania is my frame of reference for every convention. The crowds are bigger, and even though I occasionally recognize someone, I never talk to anybody that I didn’t come there with. People are nice, but there’s no chatting for Nathan or me. Another difference for me is that we go to MonsterMania only on Saturday, and the events don’t start until maybe noon or one, and we leave at ten. So having events begin at 9am and end around 9:30pm (on Friday and Saturday) was a huge difference for me. I even went to bed before Nathan each night, which is really unlike me. Anyway, I’d say the whole thing was a positive experience for me. I like listening to people’s stories, so favorites of mine were John Fricke (especially when he teared up), because I love stories about television/broadcasting; and Peter McGraw because I found a really nice sense of Americana and charm in his stories about growing up. I also liked seeing Nathan ask questions and make comments at panels and participate in a panel. The river cruise on Sunday was also really nice, and I include the company on the ride to and from the ship in that, even if I ended up feeling really self-conscious about my South
Jersey accent. Even though I’m still not an Oz-fan, I left with a great appreciation for the convention. I should have expected as much, since I like when people love things. I like the enthusiasm that comes with fandom. I think I was less of a cynical creep when I left than I was when I arrived. I’m still probably a great big cynical creep, but I readjusted my ways in this one respect. So I think it was worth it.