06 June 2006

Ozma in chains and other rare images

A few years ago, I understand, the Baum Family Trust made a deal with the heirs of Ruth Plumly Thompson, the first author to continue the Oz series after L. Frank Baum's death. Since Baum's own novels are all in the public domain and available from several publishers and Project Gutenberg, the Baum Trust needed some intellectual property to call its own. About a dozen of Thompson's Oz novels are still under copyright and therefore can be exclusive properties.

However, it turned out those Thompson books were already under contract to Random House due to an old agreement with the Del Rey imprint. And as long as Random keeps its print-on-demand editions on sale, I suspect, that contract remains in force. What to do?

Well, the Del Rey editions didn't include one ingredient of the original books: John R. Neill's color plates. Under the copyright doctrines of the early 20th century, illustrations were considered derivative of the texts they illustrated unless a contract specified otherwise, so the images on those plates had become part of Thompson's copyrights--but not part of the Random House editions.

The happy result of that situation is that the Baum Trust has posted those color images on its Oz-Central website. Small as the images are, this is the first time most of those pictures have been widely distributed in many decades--since the Reilly & Lee Company stopped printing the plates to save costs. (Books of Wonder and the International Wizard of Oz Club have each reprinted a couple of Thompson novels with color art, but most have been reprinted only in black and white.)

There are some wild images in the collection, such as the pictures of Ozma in chains (as aforementioned) and a frightening first glimpse of Jinnicky the Red Jinn from Jack Pumpkinhead of Oz; the many indignities of Kabumpo the Elegant Elephant in The Purple Prince of Oz; and different magical telescopes in The Yellow Knight of Oz and The Wishing Horse of Oz. Some color plates offer our only glimpses of certain Oz characters.

Thanks to Atticus Gannaway for this alert.

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