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Real Wizard Of Oz, The: The Life And Times Of L. Frank Baum

by Rebecca Loncraine
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Gotham
  • Publishing date: 03/08/2010
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9781592405589
  • ISBN: 1592405584

Synopsis

In the first major literary biography of L. Frank Baum, Rebecca Loncraine tells the story of Oz as you've never heard it, with a look behind the curtain at the vivid life and eccentric imagination of its creator.

L. Frank Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1899 and it was first published in 1900. A runaway hit, it was soon recognized as America's first modern fairy tale. Baum's life story, like the fictional world he created, is uniquely American, rooted in the transforming historical changes of his times. Baum was a complex and eccentric man who could never stay put for long; his restless creative spirit and voracious appetite for new projects led him across the U.S. during his lifetime, and he drew energy and inspiration from each new dramatic landscape he encountered,. Born in 1856, Baum spent his youth in the Finger Lakes region of New York as amputee soldiers returned from the Civil War; childhood mortality was also commonplace, blurring the lines between the living and the dead, and making room in Baum's young imagination for vividly real ghosts. When Baum was growing up, P. T. Barnum ruled the minds of small towns and his traveling circus was the most famous act around. Baum married a headstrong young woman named Maud Gage and they ventured out west to Dakota Territory, where they faced violent tornadoes, Ghost Dancing tribes and desperate droughts, before trading the hardships on the Great Plains for the excitement of Chicago and the fantastical White City of the World's Fair.

Baum's writing tapped into an inner world that blurred his own sense of reality and fantasy. The Land of Oz, which Baum believed he had "discovered" rather than invented, grew into something far bigger and more popular than he'd ever imagined. After the roaring success of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900, he became a kind of slave to his creation, trapped inside Oz as his army of demanding child fans kept sending him back there to create new adventures for Dorothy, Toto and the humbug wizard. He went on to write thirteen sequels to his first Oz book. He also wrote the first Broadway adaptations of his Oz tales, and turned his Oz books into some of the first motion pictures in a small and undiscovered rural settlement called "Hollywood". Baum co-founded the Oz Film Manufacturing Company, even as critics warned that no one would pay to see a children's story. And they were right- his early ventures were box office flops and the world was not ready for Oz on screen until 1939, when MGM released "The Wizard of Oz" in brilliant Technicolor. Baum was not around to see it-he'd died in bed in 1919 just weeks after completing his final Oz book. But the book and film alike have become classics, just as well-loved today as they were when they first appeared.

The Real Wizard of Oz is an imaginatively written work that stretches the genre of biography and enriches our understanding of modern fairytales. L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its thirteen sequels, lived during eventful times in American history-- from 1856 to 1919-- that influenced nearly every aspect of his writing, from the Civil War to Hollywood, which was emerging as a modern Emerald City full of broken dreams and humbug wizards, to the gulf between America's prairie heartland, with its wild tornadoes, and its cities teeming with "Tin Man" factory workers. This is a colorful portrait of one man's vivid and eccentric imagination and the world that shaped it. Baum's famous fairytale is filled with the pain of the economic uncertainties of the Gilded Age and with a yearning for real change, ideas which many contemporary Americans will recognize. The Wizard of Oz continues to fascinate and influence us because it explores universal themes of longing for a better world, homesickness and finding inner strength amid the storms.

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  • Underwhelming
    From Amazon

    Like many of the other reviewers, I have been a life long fan of Oz. When I saw this book, I had to read it. L. Frank Baum was an interesting man living in interesting times. Unfortunately the book is choppy and insufficiently researched. The author appears to have been unable to gather the appropriate information to allow her to convey legitimate occurrences. The book is absolutely filled with "might have" and "must have" statements. One example of many is that based on Baum's early residence in Syracuse and knowledge that P.T. Barnum's show traveled through Syracuse during the same period, that Baum may have visited the show or must have seen the parade. The author then takes the liberty to suppose that Baum's thing and therefore later works were influenced in some way by Barnum. Making this sort of supposition now and then is one thing, but this book is overrun with them. The first hundred pages (the early years of Baum's life) are especially ponderous. The few facts that the author was able to locate are over expanded by repetition, relation of parallel events and the author's attempt to psychoanalyze the subject. The book flows better as Baum relocates his family to South Dakota and he takes over the reins of a local newspaper. Obviously his newspaper clippings were available and this book begins to more closely resemble a biography. Unfortunately, the momentum is short llived and the last few chapters become a running superficial review of one Oz book after the next. This work is a complete tease. I have to believe that a more accomplished biographer could do wonders with the subject matter. If you must read this book, save your money and borrow it from the library.

  • Interesting, Though Somewhat Impersonal
    From Amazon

    Lyman Frank Baum created the first really American fantasy when he wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its sequels during the last twenty years of his life. This biography by Rebecca Loncraine does a reasonable job of recreating Baum's life and the times in which he lived, though at times the writing seems somewhat impersonal and even passive. This is not really the fault of the writer, but rather the result, apparently, of there being so few of Baum's letters and other first-person accounts of his life. Thus Ms. Loncraine was forced to write many times that Baum "probably visited" or "must have seen" or other variations. Lyman Frank Baum was born into a family that had already lost several children and was to lose several more before he grew up. Loncraine does a masterful job of explaining the psychological impact that had on Baum, as well as the impact of the development of spiritualism, the Civil War, the economic ups and downs of the late nineteenth century, and countless other events in Baum's life. Despite the poor circumstances of his birth, Baum grew up a happy man willing to try his hand at almost anything. He was an actor for awhile, later owned and managed a store, then a newspaper, then worked as a travelling salesman, and all the while developing and writing fantastic stories for his own, his customers, and his children's delight. Eventually he became a successful children's author and attained literary immortality with the Oz series. He continued to have financial ups and downs, but he was fortunate in that he was always able to get back onto his feet and try again. He was also fortunate in his love life, meeting and marrying a woman who was his ideal partner. I loved the Oz books when I was growing up and I still like to dip back into them every now and then. Rebecca Loncraine's biography gave me a better sense of who L. Frank Baum was and how his life experiences shaped his fictional world.

  • A Wealth of Detail
    From Amazon

    Almost everyone in the United States knows the story of the Wizard of Oz. Whether you're familiar with it from TV reruns of the 1939 MGM classic or from reading the books, chances are you're well acquainted with Dorothy and her quest to follow the Yellow Brick Road. What you may not know is that like Dorothy, her creator, L. Frank Baum, experienced a tornado when he was young. Or that Baum's interest in spiritualism informed his creation of the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion. In his Oz books, Baum clearly followed the old adage: write what you know. He may not have physically been to Oz and walked through the Emerald City, but he used everything from his life to inform his creations. Rebecca Loncraine [...] takes a detailed look at Baum's life and its ties to his fiction in The Real Wizard of Oz: The Life and Times of L. Frank Baum. She begins eight years before Baum's birth with a glimpse at the growing fad for mediums who could contact the dead and the effects of a diphtheria epidemic on Baum's family. Her attention to detail is great, and a reader comes away from the early parts of the biography with a full understanding of growing up in the latter half of the 19th century. At times, the level of detail can frustrate a reader, who wants to get to the good stuff, when Baum comes into his own and begins writing. Patience is a virtue as each chapter detailing Baum's young life sets the stage for the next chapter. His family newspaper, created when he was a child, holds the seeds of his later fiction. As does his interest in theater. In 1882, Baum married Maud Gage. His close ties with her family would lead him to follow his brother-in-law to Dakota Territory where he experienced droughts and conditions similar to those Dorothy Gale would face before her fateful tornado ride. He also wrote about reports of Sitting Bull's ghost dancers in his Aberdeen Saturday pioneer, a newspaper he acquired in 1889. Baum began working on The Wizard of Oz in 1898. He drew on his memories of Civil War amputees, his fear of scarecrows, the Chicago World's Fair and a powerful imagination to create his world. His niece, Dorothy Gage, was born one month after Baum started writing. She would die five months later. Once The Wizard of Oz is published, Loncraine's book picks up momentum. Oz becomes a incredible success, allowing Baum to write other fairy tales and to further explore Oz. He creates a stage musical of the book, which dazzled audiences with its use of electric light and stage trickery. Financially successful, Baum continues the Oz series, using the books to create a world that should be, rather than the world rapidly growing in the 20th century. Uncle Henry and Auntie Em face bankruptcy in an Oz sequel so Dorothy arranges for them live in a utopian Oz. Loncraine follows Baum through the wild success of Oz and his alter ego pseudonyms, his financial highs and lows, all the while emphasizing Baum's love of children and childhood and his dedication to imagination. The book continues past his death in 1918 to Maud's attendance at the 1939 MGM premiere. The Real Wizard of Oz isn't just a biography of L. Frank Baum, but a biography of Oz. The two are intertwined, perhaps just as Baum would have it be.

  • A Wizardly Wonderful biographical read!
    From Amazon

    This book is quite simply one of the most entertaining reads I have had for a while. In coming to write a review, here, I have "stopped to read" Theodore A. Rushton's review, above, and frankly, I find it hard to do so after reading Mr. Rushton's fine take on this wonderful book. Thus, I bow out, and, instead, send you to his review...it is dead-on, and I cannot say more.... ~G

  • How Baum Discovers Oz
    From Amazon

    This book tells the story of the creator of the beloved tales of Oz. Author Rebecca Loncraine feels the geographical places and the historical times where and when L. Frank Baum lived informed his writing and most specifically influenced this most famous work "The Wizard of Oz". For instance, she describes how his life in North Dakota parallels the dull drab plain that Dorothy leaves for the colorful world of Oz. She shows how the influence the suffrage movement influenced his use of female characters (and his publishers' responses to them). Baum is a man of many talents. Before Oz, he was a manager of entertaining road shows and a traveling sales rep. As an entrepreneur and he owned, as sole proprietor, a luxury goods store, a newspaper and a trade magazine devoted to display windows. His loves his wife, writing, gardening and the world and personalities of Oz which he feels he discovered (as opposed to created). Despite the many good things about this book, I can not give it 5 stars. Some areas need more attention, others need pruning. Baum's editorials from the "Aberdeen Daily News", which may be at the heart of his character, are presented, but only slightly discussed. Little is said of this children's author's relationship with his own children. (Did he take his kids to Cairo and/or on other travels? Why did Maud go alone to the opening of the film when her children were present?) Similarly, more is needed on Baum's association with Wallace Denslow. Some text could be shortened. For instance, giving just enough on the Chicago World's Fair for the author to build her thesis that it was the inspiration for Emerald City. Spiritualism, similarly is overdone. (Dorothy's heal clicking having its genesis in the Fox sister's toe clicking seems to be stretching.) This is a good readable book and if you are interested in Baum and his period, this is a good starting point. It may be a starting point for future biographers as well.

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