The Wonderful Wizard of Oz | Study Guide

L. Frank Baum

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Published in 1900, L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is an American treasure. The Library of Congress considers it the first truly American children's fantasy book, calling it "America's greatest and best-loved homegrown fairy tale." It has been adapted for stage and screen and has spawned dozens of sequels.

The tale of Dorothy Gale of Kansas, who is transported via cyclone to a magical land, has been interpreted as a feminist tale and a political allegory. But to the children everywhere who love it, it is simply a delightful story of magic, adventure, friendship, and family that has endured for more than 100 years.

1. According to one myth, Baum got the name for the magical land in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from his filing cabinet.

Baum began writing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz without a clear idea of what his land of witches and Munchkins would be called. Baum explained he was telling tales about the characters in the novel to a group of children in his office when one of them asked what the magical land was called. The author glanced over at his filing cabinet, saw the drawer labeled "O–Z," and replied, "Oz!" Later he denied this, insisting that the name came to him "out of the blue."

2. Some critics believe the Emerald City in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz represents Washington, D.C.

In 1964 a history teacher named Henry Littlefield wrote an article claiming The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a parable about a political movement of the early 20th century called Populism. As critics looked more closely at the book, they began to find allegories in every aspect of character and setting. The Cowardly Lion was said by some to represent William Jennings Bryan, a presidential candidate called a coward for his refusal to support the war with Spain in 1898. The Tin Man was the American industrial worker. The Wizard was the president, whose power was an illusion, and the Emerald City was Washington.

3. Baum and the illustrator of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz had a terrible falling-out.

The original edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was illustrated by William Wallace Denslow, known for his newspaper cartoons. He had illustrated Baum's earlier book, Father Goose, and the two teamed up again for the Oz book. When The Wonderful Wizard of Oz achieved immediate success on publication, both men took credit, and this led to a rift between them. Denslow illustrated one other Oz book before their relationship ended.

4. Baum was so proud of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that he framed the pencil he used to write it.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz began as stories the author told to neighborhood children. He then wrote them down in pencil, calling the group of stories The Emerald City. When the book was finished, he was so pleased with it he framed the pencil he'd used, writing as a caption, "With this pencil I wrote the MS. of 'The Emerald City.' Finished Oct. 9th, 1899."

5. The 1939 film The Wizard of Oz was a box-office failure.

The Wizard of Oz film had a budget of $2 million, which was huge at the time. It took nearly 20 years from its 1939 release for the movie to make back that initial investment. Reviewers claimed the movie ''weighs like a pound of fruitcake soaking wet,'' and showed ''no trace of imagination, good taste, or ingenuity.'' However, when it was first shown on TV almost 20 years later, it was an immediate hit, which is rebroadcast and seen by millions each year.

6. The actor originally cast as The Wizard of Oz's Tin Man was poisoned by his silvery makeup.

The set of the movie version of The Wizard of Oz was plagued by disasters. Actor Buddy Ebsen—originally cast as the Tin Man but replaced by Jack Haley—was poisoned by the aluminum dust in his Tin Man makeup and ended up in an iron lung. The dog who played Toto had several onstage canine nervous breakdowns. And Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch of the West, was badly burned in a scene because a trapdoor didn't open.

7. Thousands of readers wrote letters to convince Baum to write sequels to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

After the incredible success of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, readers wrote to Baum by the thousands to try to convince him to write a sequel. He did so, and in fact he wrote a total of 14 books about the land of Oz. At one point he tried to convince his readers Oz had lost contact with the outside world, so the books would have to stop coming, but he wrote several more volumes after that.

8. There's an abandoned Wizard of Oz theme park in North Carolina.

In 1970 the Land of Oz theme park opened at the top of a mountain in North Carolina. It attracted 20,000 visitors on opening day to its yellow brick road, Wicked Witch's castle, and Emerald City, but the park suffered a fire that destroyed much of it. In 1980 it closed, and in the years following, it deteriorated. Then in 1990, it was taken over by a development company. Many of the original attractions have been restored, and though it is not often open, it's possible to visit the park.

9. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is considered an early feminist novel.

Baum's choice of a female protagonist, the spirited Dorothy, has led critics to view The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as one of the earliest American feminist novels. Dorothy protects herself and helps the male characters whom she meets, and many of the other characters in the novel and its sequels are strong women. At the time it was written, suffragettes—including Baum's own mother-in-law, Matilda Joslyn Gage—were pressing for the right to vote, and the author supported their aims.

10. There is an all-black musical version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Producer Ken Harper first proposed the idea for The Wiz, an all-black musical stage version of the book, in 1972. The show started its run in 1974 to slow ticket sales, but after a TV advertising blitz, its Broadway run became successful. The 1978 film version, starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, was a flop; but as a stage musical The Wiz continues to fill theaters.

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