Baum never knew reach of his work

Published 1:41 am Saturday, September 10, 2016

Are you familiar with the German folk story about a visiting piper whose entrancing music rid the town of Hamelin of its rats? The tale goes that when the town refused to pay him for the job, he lured children away by the same method.

I thought of the Pied Piper when I read about Frank L. Baum—is his name familiar. If not, his writing is. He is the author who wove the story of Dorothy and her dog Toto and their adventures seeking the Land of Oz. He wrote stories at a young age and developed into a talented storyteller. He gained such a reputation as a spinner of fantasy tales that children actually followed him around, begging him to tell them stories.

He enjoyed reading nursery rhymes to his children. He wanted to write an American fairy tale because in his time (he was born in 1881) most published fairy tales had originated in other countries.

When was the last time you accompanied Dorothy, Toto, and their colorful companions to the Land of Oz? It occasionally comes on television and is just as captivating and sometimes frightening as when I first saw it. The exciting television production was in Technicolor. I wondered how much Hollywood had changed the original story to fit it into a movie. In the book, Dorothy’s imagination propelled her into the story; in the movie, it was her dream.

“The Wizard of Oz” was not the only writing that gained Baum fame. He and illustrator William W. Denslow collaborated on Baum’s first book, “Father Goose.” It soared to capture a best seller in the children’s book category in 1900. Later, another book, “Songs of Father Goose.” was published, with some of the verses put to music.

Baum actually wrote 17 sequels after the Oz book, inspired by letters from children who loved his stories and asked for more. After “Father Goose” gained so much attention, he and his wife bought a summer cottage. They named it “The Sign of the Goose.” They called their house in California “Ozcot.”

Unfortunately, the talented writer did not live the fairy tale existence his books portrayed. His health was precarious and he died in 1919 at 38. His last book, “Glinda of Oz” was published after his death.

I am not the only one in our family who especially enjoyed the movie. Throughout childhood, it was our daughter’s favorite movie. I remember her plea to her daddy to allow her to stay home to watch it on television one Sunday night. She was in middle school then and charmed him into answering in the affirmative. It still rates high among her favorites.

Oh, in case you might have forgotten, Judy Garland starred as Dorothy. The movie debuted in 1939, but the MGM Technicolor version was released in 1956.

Too bad the author died without an inkling that his story came alive on film and delights generation after generation of the young and young at heart


Nina Keenam is retired from the newspaper industry.