We spent a few posts looking at the world around The Wonderful Wizard of Oz rather than just he world confined to the page, because I firmly believe we have to understand everything about the book, the author, and the society and history around all of it to truly understand the nuances and messages we are supposed to take away as readers.
Today, let us take a look at a brief history of L. Frank Baum to learn a little bit more about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
The life and times of the literature wizard
We know quite a bit about Baum from his work at the newspaper and through correspondences throughout his life. He was a creative but complicated force (as were most of the people from his era due to inept racial attitudes). Baum was born Lyman Frank Baum on May 15, 1856, in Chittenango, New York. As mentioned in a previous post, this was a time of change in America (or at least it would be soon enough) as the turn of the century loomed.
Baum started his writing career in Aberdeen, South Dakota, as an editor of the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer.
“The newspaper is both the reason for, and the product of, the only period in Baum’s life when his energies were channeled solely into the creation of nonfiction materials for a general adult reading audience”
This quote makes perfect sense because Baum would spend most of his life writing fictional children’s literature in the wonderful world of Oz. Before heading down the road of literary immortality, however, Baum attempted many other professions, including “editor and printer of an amateur magazine, Rose Lawn Home Journal … reporter for the New York World; printer for New Era … manager of a string of vaudeville houses in New York and Pennsylvania, author, writer, composer, and director of Irish musical comedies and melodies …” and a whole lot more (Sale).
“I think a lot of the things that he did were trying to see what was popular and trying for himself to profit from that,” said creator of the documentary American Oz. “… I think that comes through all the different things that he did, including in Chicago when he started the magazine about window dressing show windows” (Rockett).
As such, after relocating and working in Chicago, Baum’s published his first book Father Goose (1899), which was went on to be successful, and the next year he published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
“Baum wrote 13 more Oz books, and the series was continued by another after his death. Using a variety of pseudonyms as well as his own name, Baum wrote some 60 books, the bulk of them juveniles that were popular in their day”
KOUPAL, NANCY TYSTAD. “THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF THE WEST: L. FRANK BAUM IN SOUTH DAKOTA, 1888-91.” Great Plains Quarterly, vol. 9, no. 4, 1989, pp. 203–215. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23531112. Accessed 23 July 2021.
“L. Frank Baum | American Author.” Encyclopedia Britannica, britannica.com/biography/L-Frank-Baum.
Rockett, Darcel. “‘American Oz’: L. Frank Baum Doc Traces ‘Wizard of Oz,’ ‘Wicked’ Roots to Author’s Formative Chicago Years.” Chicagotribune.Com, 19 Apr. 2021, chicagotribune.com/entertainment/what-to-watch/ct-ent-l-frank-baum-wizard-of-oz-american-experience-0419-20210419-r7ftmrzvtrejleq2hz56sbp5ge-story.html.
Sale, Roger. “L. Frank Baum, and Oz.” The Hudson Review, vol. 25, no. 4, 1972, pp. 571–592. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3850065. Accessed 23 July 2021.