20 March 2024

The Characters of Oz “a real treat”

In the latest Baum Bugle from the International Wizard of Oz Club, Scott Cummings calls The Characters of Oz “a real treat and a fresh addition to the Oz reference shelf.”

I’m flattered by the review’s praise for my essay on the Wizard himself, especially how the “insightful comment that ‘Baum built most of his characters around contradictions’ casts a valuable light on the entire volume.” I’d been looking for a place to install that comment in Oz commentary. Those paragraphs got some extra airing back here.

Part of the brief for contributors to this collection was to examine the characters through multiple forms of the Oz mythos. The story has long sprawled across stage, screen, comics, and other media. Thanks to the public domain, there has been an explosion of adaptations in the last few decades, though only a few have really embedded themselves deep in the culture.

I could have applied my lens of “a good man but a bad wizard” to such later retellings as The Wiz, Wicked, and Oz the Great and Powerful. But I felt on surer ground looking at the Wizard as he appeared in the first forty years, from the original book to the MGM movie. That allowed for a more manageable narrative, and narrative is how I naturally think.

That choice evidently worked out, with Cummings calling that chapter, “Perhaps because of the tighter focus,…especially successful.”

Looking back, I see that approach paralleled how I looked at the first thirty years of Dick Grayson for another collection from the same publisher. So I guess that’s what I like.

19 March 2024

On the Road to CharlOz, Sept. 26–29

On September 26-29, 2024, the city of Charlotte, North Carolina; the University of North Carolina at Charlotte; and other local and national organizations will host CharlOz, a stretching over four days to explore the Oz mythos and its cultural legacy.

I’ll be there, speaking at two events on the schedule for Friday, 27 September:
  • a panel discussion of the new essay collection The Characters of Oz, featuring editor Dina Massachi and fellow contributors Mark West, Katharine Kittredge, Walter Squire, Paige Gray, Angelica Shirley Carpenter, and Gita Dorothy Morena.
  • a talk later that afternoon titled “‘My! what a lot of Kings and Queens!’: The Meanings of Monarchy in L. Frank Baum’s Fantasies.”
The schedule of CharlOz events includes many other speakers and presentations, including:
  • an opening keynote speech by novelist Gregory Maguire.
  • presentations by comics artists Eric Shanower and Janet R. Lee, puppeteer and director James Ortiz, and film restorer Nate Barlow.
  • talks by scholars Ryan Bunch, Angelica Shirley Carpenter, Atticus Gannaway, Judy Bieber, Anastasia Rose Hyden, Brady Schwind, Paige Gray, Katharine Kittredge, and many more.
  • a Saturday full of family programming.
  • theatrical, cinematic, and gallery interpretations of Oz.
The International Wizard of Oz Club will also have its national convention in Charlotte coinciding with this festival.

16 March 2024

“Historic Children’s Voices” Coming from American Antiquarian Society

The American Antiquarian Society in Worcester will launch a website on “Historic Children’s Voices, 1799-1899.”

Its introductory page explains: “The holdings to be digitized are not children’s literature, i.e., works created BY adults FOR children, but rather are direct testimony as well as imaginative works created BY children. As such, they constitute an archive of historical evidence not previously accessible.”

The materials to be digitized include diaries, letters, stories, poems, and the AAS’s “large amateur newspaper collection—most printed on home parlor presses.” There will be 15,000 pages of content in all.

Those presses were very popular in the late 1800s. When L. Frank Baum issued the Rose Lawn Home Journal and later self-published works on stamp collecting and chicken farming, he was among thousands of young people working their own small presses.

Accompanying the website, the AAS will host an in-person and online symposium on 2–3 May featuring panel discussions on “Authentic Children’s Voices,” “Archival Silences,” “Visual Culture of Children’s Production,” and “Hearing the Child’s Voice.”

On 5–9 August, the AAS will host an institute for K-12 teachers on the subject, with hands-on workshops using the collection and a field trip to Lowell National Historical Park.