- Researching Oz:An Interview with Michael Patrick Hearn*
GD: How did you get started in children's literature?
MH: I guess I never grew up. I was still reading kids' books in high school and college. I was always interested in writing or illustrating children's books and I started collecting out-of-print books when I was about 10 years old. I started with the Oz books that were not in the library, so I had to go to second-hand bookstores and finally to rare book shops. My first book was The Annotated Wizard of Oz which I wrote while I was still in college. I admired Martin Gardner's Annotated Alice and I knew he was an Oz fan so I wrote him to encourage him to do an edition of The Wizard of Oz. He wrote back that he had been trying to find someone else to do it. So I thought I would try it myself. I was a sophomore at Bard. I wrote a proposal and six weeks later I got a contract. I found out later that the publisher had sent my proposal and sample chapters to Gardner for his opinion and he told them to sign me up. So Gardner is really my literary god-father. I finished the manuscript when I was 21, and I came into New York to deliver it. That was my first meeting with Clark Potter, the publisher. He was very gracious to me, and then he excused himself. I heard him [End Page 51] asking the editor in the next room, "How old is he?" But he published the book anyway.
GD: Were there people in your life who encouraged your childhood interest in books?
MH: My father, certainly. He used to take us to the library on Sundays. Then when I was 10 years old, I joined the Oz Club. I corresponded with the secretary, Fred Meyer. He was a school teacher from Escanaba, Michigan and was, with Gardner, one of the founders of the Oz Club. Another founder was Justin Schiller, the pre-eminent rare children's book dealer, who was 14 at the time. I started a lively correspondence with Meyer who says I didn't send him letters, I sent him questionnaires. He found it much easier to send copies of the books than to tell me about them. He also sent me scholarly articles about Oz. So he literally schooled me in Oz.
RN: When you were doing research for The Annotated Wizard of Oz, did you find material that was particularly interesting or startling?
MH: The most startling thing about Baum was his interest in the occult. His family was very involved in it. His mother-in-law, Matilda Jocelyn Gage, was a major feminist, part of a triumvirate with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Eventually she became too radical for Anthony and Stanton and thus has been written out of feminist history. She was fascinated with religion. She wrote a very radical book called Women, Church, and State in which she claimed that the worst subjugation of women had been done by the church. So she turned to theosophy—she was interested in Blavatsky and Annie Besant—and she claimed that all sorts of strange phenomena were occurring in their house. She said there were ghosts. The family used to hold seances, and Maud, Baum's wife, used to levitate the table. They all believed in reincarnation: Baum was convinced that he had known Maud in other lives and would in later ones. Whenever they had any business problems, they would contact a clairvoyant or astrologer. She was also a phrenologist and a palm reader who was fascinated with numbers and colors and the occult factors of everything.
GD: What are some of the tenets of the theosophists?
MH: They believed that nature could be explained in terms of spirits. [End Page 52]
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All forms of matter were related to what they called elementals which basically break down to four branches of the immortal or fairy. There is the...