16 October 2006

Analyzing All Forty-Plus Oz Books

For ten years, starting in 1997, Oz fans on successive email lists called the Ozzy Digest, Nonestica, and (currently) Regalia have discussed each Oz book in turn, along with related titles by L. Frank Baum and his successors. Those discussions now total more than 992,000 words, and comprise the largest bulk of critical commentary and scholarship about the Oz series that I think has ever been committed to digits.

Atticus Gannaway has now bravely compiled these discussions and, with Ivan Van Laningham's help, posted the record for all Oz fans to peruse. This archive is called the "Books of Current Focus." (That name was an attempt to avoid curtailing discussion of other books at the same time, or forcing each focused discussion into a certain month or other time unit. Of course, having undecipherable jargon like "BCF" is one way an online community distinguishes itself.)

I think the most important concept for understanding the BCF discussions is the following distinction:

  • Oz-as-history: Imagining Oz and its neighbors to be real countries, with the Oz books as imperfect histories of those countries. In this approach, one tries to reconcile contradictions and explain illogical acts by determining what the most likely "real" events were. This can lead to ascribing motives to Oz characters that authors for children would have glossed over.
  • Oz-as-literature: Examining the books as stories created by a series of American writers seeking to entertain their changing audience. This approach treats those same contradictions and illogicalities as clues to the authors' changing visions, or to simple carelessness. Oz-as-literature also considers how the series reflects America's politics and social environment.
I came upon and came into these discussions in September 1997, and rarely shut up after that. Now folks can judge for themselves whether that was an improvement.

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