One of Robert Pattrick’s essays in Unexplored Territory in Oz, “Books in Oz,” discusses just what it sounds like. It’s interesting to examine what books characters IN books read. Since fantasy adventure stories often don’t have a lot of down time for reading, there often isn’t much focus on reading material unless it’s plot-specific. Reference books show up fairly often in the Oz series, but works of fiction less so, possibly because it’s difficult to imagine what people in a magical fantasy land would think was more interesting than their actual history. Princess Gureeda in Speedy in Oz reads a book of Unfairy Tales, and there have been suggestions in non-canonical books that Ozites sometimes read about the United States in what they think of as works of fiction. Dennis Anfuso’s Winged Monkeys has an elvish author on Artisand Island named Rank (Elf Rank, get it?) who wrote a book called The Marvelous Land of Tacoma about the city in Washington.
And in Jeremy Steadman’s Emerald Ring, Princess Annette of Torr thinks America is “a make-believe place in storybooks.” Of course, not all fiction is fantastic, and there are some things that would probably come across as outlandish in both the mundane and fairy worlds. I’ve examined before how much overlap there is between reading material in Oz and the Outside World. Pattrick mentions the Dictator of Dicksy Land‘s book by Dickens as “the only book mentioned in Oz which had an author from our side of the rainbow.” The King of Foxville is familiar with (and critical of) Aesop, but not necessarily through a book. Besides, Aesop had a good 2400 or so years on Dickens. The essay also makes reference to Professor Wogglebug’s comment in Wonder City that he found information about the Heelers on page one million and six of a book he wrote. I guess it could be part of a multi-volume set where each volume starts its page numbers where the last one left off, but that’s still a lot of volumes. John R. Neill did draw this book that’s seemingly too big to close, presumably the Encyclopedia of Oz.
I believe the entire Heeler incident, however, was written by the editor rather than by Neill himself.
In Tik-Tok, we’re told that Jo Files grows book trees, but the books grown on them don’t last very long. They grow in green husks that turn red when they’re ready to be read, and unripe books are uninteresting and full of errors. When read once, they wither away, which L. Frank Baum calls “the worst fault of all books which grow upon trees.” In Cowardly Lion, King Theodore of Doorways says that his books grow on vines, but doesn’t specify whether they last after one reading. Margaret Berg’s Reading Tree features a giant tree near the Emerald City on which an entire library of books grows, tended by Glinda’s brother, the Lozbrarian Thoth. There’s a mention in Hungry Tiger of book mines in Oz, but no indication as to how they work. It’s also not clear whether these books are written by actual authors or just write themselves. There’s an incident in Melody Grandy and Chris Dulabone’s Thorns and Private Files in which one of Files’s trees starts producing books that hadn’t been written yet. Files is said to read most of his books himself, because while he’ll give them out freely, the other inhabitants of Oogaboo aren’t big on reading.
Ruth Plumly Thompson occasionally provides what come across as rather odd judgments against too much reading for someone who makes her living as a writer. King Fumbo of Ragbad bankrupts the country partially by buying too many books. Prince Pompadore and Kabumpo think the book houses of Rith Metic look unpleasant, but that’s likely for because they’re arithmetic books.
Speedy sees Gureeda’s constant reading as somewhat of a bad habit, if a forgivable one, preferring action and exploration when possible.
And King Ato‘s subjects are angry that he cares more for stories, which Roger the Read Bird reads to him, than for more ambitious pursuits.
Pattrick also mentions the two instances of book people appearing in the series. Gnome King introduces the Bookman, who has a book for a body, and claims that he doesn’t need to sit around waiting to be read because he can chase after people and make them read him. He seems to be an anthology of sorts, containing various kinds of stories, verses, and a chapter on saving money.
Ruth Plumly Thompson describes him as having “a round jolly face with floppy dog ears,” but the tall hat is apparently Neill’s idea. Interesting, because in the same book, he never draws the cap Peter Brown is said to wear. Rachel Cosgrove’s Hidden Valley has an entire town of book people, but they have books for heads, and are thoroughly unfriendly. They live in shelves, and hold trials for outsiders in which the jury assumes their guilt beforehand.
The king is the Book of Royalty, and other prominent citizens include the Book of Judgment and the Guide Book. The Rhyming Dictionary, who served as the king’s jester, defected and helped Dorothy, Jam, and their friends escape the village.