Saturday, March 28, 2020

Baum's Oz novels

I just read the article “The Oddness of Oz” by Alison Lurie.  This article appears in the 12/21/2000 issue of the NYROB.  I was surprised to learn that L. F. Baum wrote a number of Oz books, none of which I read when I was young, and Lurie mentions that “in the 1930s and 1940s they [Baum’s Oz books] were actually removed from many schools and libraries.” 

In 1941 I was seven just two months before Pearl Harbor and since the Oz books were intended for children, and I was doing my best to read books for the more-mature, perhaps I chose not to read them.  Or perhaps my grandmother steered me away from them. 

Also, my parents took me to see the movie, “The Wizard of Oz” in 1939 when I was five and I was empathetically terrified when the tornado took Dorothy away from her home in Kansas.  I was appalled, or I assumed that she wouldn’t be able to find her way home again.  I certainly wouldn’t have been able to if a tornado swept me away.  I have had a very poor sense of direction my entire life and was apparently very aware of my limitation while sitting in the Grenada Theater with my parents at age five.

Of course in reading Lurie’s articles I now learn that Baum didn’t intend Dorothy’s adventures to be bad things.  Also, she did later find her way back to Kansas, but she didn’t stay there.  Furthermore, after the bank repossessed the family farm, she moved her Aunt and Uncle to Oz; which would have helped me a lot watching the movie, had I been told that by my parents – or maybe they did tell me and I didn’t believe them. 

Also, Lurie writes, “Though the Oz books have always been read by children of both sexes, they have been especially popular with girls, and it is not hard to see why.  Besides being a world in which women and girls rule, it is also, as Joel Chaston has pointed out, a world in which none of the major characters has a traditional family.  Instead, most of them live alone or with friends of the same sex.  The Scarecrow stays with the Tin Woodman in his castle for months at a time, while Ozma, Dorothy, Betsy, and Trot all of rooms in the palace of the Emerald City, and Glinda lives in a castle with a hundred of the most beautiful girls of the Fairyland of Oz.” 

Well, now, if Lurie had ended her comment with the word “rule,” I wouldn’t have questioned it, but the rest of it seems a feminist assumption, but none of the girls I grew up with seemed desirous of living alone or with friends of the same sex.  I had a girl-friend when I was five.  Her name was Arlene Cooper and she made a tremendous impression on me.  I can recall asking her if she liked me, and she replied, “I don’t like you.  I love you.”  I would ask her that question every day just to hear her say that.  I recall missing her when, probably, her family moved away and she had to go to school elsewhere, but I suspect that whatever became of her, she preferred a world in which there were boys, and then later on men.  And, it would seem, so does Alison Lurie.  She was born in 1926, married her first husband in 1948, had three children, divorced in 1985 but married again in I think 1989.  She seems to be living happily with her second husband today, and would have been married to him when she wrote the above paragraph in 2000. 

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