23 July 2020

Making the Most of the Magic of Oz Manuscript

Back in 2005 I examined L. Frank Baum’s handwritten manuscript of The Magic of Oz at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas, comparing it to the finished book. I published my findings and analysis in an article for the Oz Club’s Baum Bugle called “The Magic Manuscript.” Since then, the Ransom Center has digitized the manuscript pages, letting everyone see how Baum worked.

My article noted how when Baum sat down to write his first draft for The Magic of Oz (or maybe The Magic of the Wizard of Oz), he hadn’t decided on important details, such as the name of a major character and the exact spelling of the crucial magic word. Those vary from one page to the next, and sometimes even on the same page.

Paradoxically, that study also showed how little revising Baum did on his way to publication. As he wrote, Baum wrestled with some small details, such as how to describe Ozma’s age. He later polished his phrasing in little ways, usually by hand and sometimes at the missing typescript stage. But that was fussing over small stuff.

Baum inserted one short episode while still writing in hand and later added another to tie off a loose end at the request of his publisher, Frank Reilly. A couple of times he deleted sentences from the first draft that opened plot possibilities which he had never followed up on. But the manuscript shows no other major rewriting—no shuffling scenes, no big cuts or reworking. At least at this late stage of his career, Baum stuck to the structure of his first draft.

Another question about Baum’s writing process that I addressed in that article was the sequence in which he drafted his last three Oz books. The most recent Baum biographies posited that he didn’t compose those books in the order they were published: The Tin Woodman of Oz (1918), The Magic of Oz (1919), and Glinda of Oz (1920).

In L. Frank Baum: Royal Historian of Oz, Angelica Shirley Carpenter and Jean Shirley suggested the sequence was Magic, Glinda, Tin Woodman. The first two were “a kind of insurance” for his family if he took sick, this book said, and he completed the third after gall bladder surgery in 1918.

The Magic of Oz manuscript makes that sequence untenable, however. The handwritten manuscript includes a mention of the Tin Soldier, a character introduced in The Tin Woodman of Oz. Baum therefore must have written Tin Woodman before Magic.

Baum’s Magic manuscript offers two more clues about the timing of his last books. He wrote two pages of his story on the back of an accounting of money raised at a local D.A.R. war relief event in June 1917. And on the first page a relative wrote, “This was next to the last book Father ever wrote. It was written in the fall of 1917.” Since Tin Woodman could not have come after Magic, Baum must have moved on to Glinda of Oz. In sum, he wrote the books in the order they were published.

COMING UP: Glinda of Oz and the end.

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