Oz and Beyond

Riley, Michael. Oz and Beyond: The Fantasy World of L. Frank Baum. University Press of Kansas, 1997. ISBN 0700609334, tp, $15.95.

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(This review originally appeared in Mythprint 36:4 (#205) in April 1999.)

Reviewed by David Bratman

Michael Riley has not written a book about Oz, and therein lies much of the unique value of what he has written. Oz and Beyond is a book about the children’s fantasy oeuvre of L. Frank Baum. The difference is that Baum is more than Oz, and Oz is more than Baum. Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz intending just one more of his many children’s fantasies about magical realms and colorful characters, and The Land of Oz was intended as just a sequel. It was only afterwards that their popularity drew Baum slowly and reluctantly into his later role as The Royal Historian Of Oz.

Riley puts the Oz books in the context of Baum’s other fantasies, showing how all the books display their author’s interests and concerns, but he does not waste much space on finding elaborate implausible allegories: he is interested in the books as they are. He devotes much attention to consistency between the Oz books, for instance the role of colors in the Emerald City and the four kingdoms, showing where Baum’s conceptions changed over time, and where he simply didn’t give a hoot about keeping his creation straight. And only in a final chapter, putting the matter firmly in its proper context of “what happened afterwards,” does Riley deal with the usual concern of Oz devotees, Oz as an overarching place and concept, one which bears more fingerprints of Ruth Plumly Thompson than it does of L. Frank Baum. Throughout the book, however, Riley addresses the effect on Baum’s work of his collaborations with illustrators, W.W. Denslow no less than John R. Neill. It’s a sober, thoughtful book, yet written with enthusiasm, which can be appreciated by the general fantasy reader as much if not more than by the Ozophile.

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