4/7/11 - the wizard of oz

In today's encore excerpt - L. Frank Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a new American fairy tale based on the awe and wonder he felt at the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition, but also filled with pervasive fear:

"[The] 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, [was] the huge fair held on the outskirts of Chicago to celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of America's discovery. ... With 50,000 exhibitors from fifty countries, the size and scope of the Chicago Expo was unprecedented. Between the beginning of May and the end of October 1893, the site was visited by one-quarter of the then total population of the United States. As no other event had done before, it offered a complete, snapshot of a continent at its moment of self-definition. ... With its sparkling white Beaux-Arts architecture and massive scale, the 633-acre Jackson Park site was a staged illusion that had the power to transform reality through sheer force of will. For some ... it had the quality of a hallucination. ...

"After the 1893 Expo, America would not only be defined by the incredible fertility of its commercial and technological prowess, but also by its ability to create tangible dreams out of thin air. (emphasis added) ...

"Among the 27 million Expo visitors was a thirty-seven-year-old traveling salesman, [L. Frank Baum]. By 1893, [he] had already been through several careers as a pIaywright, a store owner, and a newspaper editor. ... At the same time, a young illustrator named W. W. Denslow was busy capturing the wonder of the Expo: 'It is literally stunning, the immensity of the thing,' he wrote in his diary.

"As the decade wore on, [Baum] found a new vocation as an author: after the publication of Mother Goose in Prose in 1897, he decided to write a new kind of children's story that would also attempt to capture America at a crux moment in its history. In November 1899, the team [of Baum and Denslow, who were] behind the year's most successful children's book, Father Goose, presented their next project to publisher George M. Hill: The Emerald City. ... Published the next August as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the book featured twenty-four color plates and over one hundred illustrations within an arresting green and red cover. It sold out its first printing within two weeks and became the bestselling children's book of the 1900 Christmas season.

"Oz was designed as a break with tradition. Baum wrote in his introduction, ...'The modern child seeks only entertainment in its wonder-tales and gladly dispenses with all disagreeable incident. Having this thought in mind, the story of 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz' was written solely to pleasure children of today. It aspires to being a modern fairy-tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained, and the heartaches and nightmares are left out.' This was an American story, full of 'exciting adventures,' 'unexpected difficulties,' and 'marvelous escapes.' ...

"Immediately enthralling to children, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz also appealed to adults as a world of psychological depth. Published within months of Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams, Baum's narrative was bookended by powerful evocations of flying and falling: an archetypal dream state within which, according to Freud, 'the pleasurable feelings attached to these experiences are transformed into anxiety.' Despite Baum's avowed intent to leave out the musty nightmares of European folktales, Oz was full of trickery, dismemberment, and pervasive fear."


Jon Savage


Teenage: The Prehistory of Youth Culture:1875-1945


Penguin Books


Copyright 2007 by Jon Savage


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