The Terrific Titles of Oz


Perhaps this is scraping the bottom of the barrel bird, but I’ve occasionally thought about the titles of the Oz books, and whether some of them could have had better ones. I’m sure it didn’t matter a whole lot after a while, as readers of series books likely want to read the entire series even if some of them have bad titles. I know The Wonderful Wizard of Oz went through several titles before being sold under that one, including The Emerald City and From Kansas to Fairyland. The rumor is that the former was rejected because of a superstition that a jewel in the title of a book is bad luck, although apparently that didn’t persist when The Emerald City of Oz came out ten years later. Then again, that WAS published by a different company. Since then, the book has been published without “Wonderful” in the title at all, probably because simply The Wizard of Oz was the name used for the popular stage play, and later the MGM film. When Bobbs-Merrill started publishing it, they rather confusingly called it The New Wizard of Oz, but soon dropped the nonsensical “New.”

No, it wasn’t about someone else taking the place of the original Wizard.
I think I’ve heard that L. Frank Baum’s working title for The Marvelous Land of Oz was The Further Adventures of the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman (letting audiences know ahead of time that Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion aren’t in it, I guess; their stage equivalents weren’t as popular). This one also often has the adjective dropped, perhaps just for the sake of symmetry. Once these two were published with “of Oz” at the ends of the titles, most of the others followed suit. There are three slight exceptions within Baum: Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, The Road to Oz, and Rinkitink in Oz. The impression that I, and others as well, seem to have gotten from this is that “in Oz” is used when the character in the title isn’t a resident, but is simply visiting. It makes sense, and a lot of the books do follow this pattern, but it doesn’t really appear to have been adhered to with the Ruth Plumly Thompson books. Kabumpo, Grampa, and Ojo are all residents of Oz, but still get “in” for their books. The Nome King (spelled with a G by Thompson) isn’t originally an Ozite, but he has lived there on and off, and the title could also refer to how he’s trying to become King of Oz. Captain Salt and the Silver Princess aren’t residents AND don’t visit the Land of Oz proper during their books, and they both were “in Oz.” If you wanted to get technical about it, you could say that the Captain was on Ozian soil because he was claiming countries for Ozma, and the Silver Princess became a citizen of Oz by marriage. And really, since Baum only used “in Oz” twice, was that really enough to establish a pattern? I’ve wondered before if “in” was used for Dorothy and the Wizard to distinguish it from the first book. True, the Wizard isn’t a resident when the story opens, but he’s still the Wizard of Oz. I believe I’ve also seen it suggested that they were “in Oz” in terms of being inside the Earth. There doesn’t seem to be any rule at all over whether Oz short stories end with the word “Oz”; Oziana and other collections do a mix of both. The individual Little Wizard Stories usually don’t have “Oz” at the end of their titles, although I believe they were published that way before.

I’ve also seen discussion over how few books are named after their main characters, instead using supporting ones. Although there’s some ambiguity here over which character is actually the main one, I would say that the Wizard, the Patchwork Girl, Tik-Tok, the Scarecrow, Rinkitink, and the Giant Horse were definitely not the primary protagonists of their respective books. I think that, in many cases, it’s the most noticeable character who’s likely to stick with the readers, often the comic relief, who gets the honors in the title. And while Wizard does refer to a character, I would say the title refers more to his centrality to the plot. The same could be said of Lost Princess, Lost King, Pirates, and possibly Wishing Horse. There are also cases where the title appears to come from an earlier work on which the book is based, like the stage play The Tik-Tok Man of Oz, the silent film His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz, and the unpublished manuscript King Rinkitink. Someone suggested at OzCon that King Rinkitink might have been intended as a parallel to Queen Zixi of Ix, in which the title character was also a ruler who wasn’t the main protagonist. I have to suspect that I’m also not the only one who was a little confused by the title Rinkitink in Oz because I’d seen the map of the countries surrounding Oz and knew Rinkitink as a place. Ozoplaning has such an awkward title because it had to have the Wizard in it in order to tie it to the original book and the upcoming movie. The only characters to feature in more than one canonical title are the Wizard and Ozma, although the Patchwork Girl would have also counted if Runaway had been published back when it was written. The Emerald City itself reappears in the title of Wonder City, which actually takes place a lot more within the city than Emerald City does. Michael Patrick Hearn’s essay in the International Wizard of Oz Club edition of Ozoplaning claims that Thompson usually submitted several possible titles to the publisher, which would then often choose what she considered to be the worst one. I remember seeing a page of Thompson’s possible titles for Grampa in a Baum Bugle issue, and I really do think the person who decided on the title dropped the ball on that one. At least with Speedy, another title that comes across to me as a bit unappealing, Speedy was already an established character (he was in Yellow Knight), while Grampa was not. Also interesting is that The Royal Book of Oz is also the title of a fictional book WITHIN the story, something I’ve seen occasionally with non-Oz works.

Must have been confusing to anyone with access to both books.

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This entry was posted in Characters, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Oz, Oz Authors, Ruth Plumly Thompson and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Terrific Titles of Oz

  1. marbpl2 says:

    “Queen Zixi of Oz”? You mean Ix of course.

    • Nathan says:

      Right. I’ll fix that. Gina Wickwar DID mention that she was working on a Queen Zixi in Oz book, but that isn’t what I was talking about.

  2. Pingback: Back to the Books | VoVatia

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