24 September 2009

“I naturally thought of Oz”

There may even be a rule that the closer American children’s books come to Kansas, the more they have to allude to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and/or its sequels. Case in point: Matt Phelan’s graphic novel The Storm in the Barn, set in Kansas in 1937.

Phelan wasn’t a childhood Oz fan. He told the comics website Newsarama, “I didn’t actually read the first Oz book until I took a college class on children’s literature. I was surprised about how truly weird it is.” But once he decided to tell a story inspired by Donald Worster’s Dust Bowl, Phelan felt a need to bring in the Oz books:

Since the story is set in Kansas, I naturally thought of Oz, so I named his sister Dorothy. I thought that a girl named Dorothy who lived in Kansas at that time would naturally be interested in the Oz stories, so having her read the books seemed natural.
That quotation comes from Kelly R. Fineman’s conversation with Phelan, and she went on to write:
Whereupon I praised Matt’s knowledge of the Oz stories and confessed that I’d only read two, maybe three of the books as a kid, and Matt confessed that he’d pretty much done the same, but that plot summaries on Wikipedia drew his attention to Ozma of Oz because of its reference to a desert.

Initially, Matt read the book “just to read it”, but the references to the Deadly Desert turned out to be perfect for incorporation into The Storm in the Barn, which is set in Dust-Bowl Kansas where it hasn’t rained for years. Add to that the benefit of the Oz books being subject to fair use, and text from Ozma found its way into Jack’s story as well. Says Matt, “I just lucked out that it worked.”
(Actually, all books are subject to fair use, even when they’re under copyright. L. Frank Baum’s Oz books are in the public domain, and thus subject to any use, even “unfair.” Not that this use is unfair. It’s quite a nice use indeed.)

Ironically, the “references to the Deadly Desert” in the Wikipedia article and in The Storm in the Barn itself (Jack’s mother looks at the book and uses the phrase) don’t actually come from Ozma of Oz. That 1907 book refers to “the deadly, life-destroying sands of the desert” around Oz. The phrase “Deadly Desert” appears first in The Road to Oz (1909). The author David Alvin composed Wikipedia’s entry on Ozma of Oz using facts established in subsequent books.

1 comment:

Chaucerian said...

This is the most doleful book I have read in a long time, including some grim adult mystery fiction. I cannot imagine reading it to a child. To keep to the point of this blog, though, I will say that the Oz quotations -- prominent among the very few words in the book, which consists mostly of dismal and repetitive drawings -- provide a tiny touch of lightness. Thank goodness.