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  • The Wizard of Oz in the Twentieth Century:Studying Baum's Masterwork
  • Anne K. Phillips (bio)
The Wizard of Oz: Shaping an Imaginary World, by Suzanne Rahn. New York: Twayne, 1998.

In time for the centenary of L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz (1900), Twayne has published Suzanne Rahn's The Wizard of Oz: Shaping an Imaginary World as a selection in its Masterwork Studies series. The volume includes a detailed chronology, three short background chapters, "The Historical Context," "The Importance of The Wizard of Oz," and "The Critical Reception," and four chapters presumably organized around Rahn's own reading of the novel: "The Road to the Emerald City," "Dorothy Opens the Door: The Inner Landscape of Oz," "'Now We Can Cross the Shifting Sands': The Outer Landscape of Oz," and "'Toto, I've a Feeling We're Not in Kansas Anymore': The Movie's Oz." Rahn's book includes a striking frontispiece of Baum, representative illustrations by W. W. Denslow and John R. Neill, and maps of portions of Oz and the surrounding countries. Nonetheless, the text itself suffers from a lack of organization and an unclear conception of its audience that undermine its substance and usefulness.

Problems with organization, particularly with unnecessary duplication and repetition of material, plague the volume. There are no different contexts or circumstances justifying the repetition; instead, such examples convey the impression that the book was hastily written or not carefully edited. For instance, Rahn uses the same quotation from The Wizard of Oz, "Everyone seemed happy and contented and prosperous," on page 34 and again on page 36, with no apparent recognition in the latter instance that she has previously addressed it. In chapter 4, she refers in only slightly greater detail to the scholarship of Henry M. Littlefield, which she has already summarized in chapter 3. She introduces and returns to very similar descriptions of Rose Lawn, Baum's childhood home, in chapters 4 and 6. The same quotation from C. Warren Hollister, "Where is the theme? The theme is Oz," [End Page 245] appears on pages 27 and 79, and Rahn's summary of the movie's popularity (touching on exactly the same details) can be found on page 9 and page 109. In none of these cases does the second reference significantly expand on the subject matter. The repetition also gives the volume a curiously circular approach that undermines its effect. These duplicated materials suggest that the chapter organization developed for this volume has not served its content as it should, or that Rahn needed to reconceptualize the content of the early chapters in particular.

The volume's sense of its audience is equally unfocused. Is it intended for teachers, as the appendix, "Approaches to Teaching The Wizard of Oz," would suggest? If so, the ideas contained here, including map-drawing and celebrating the author's birthday, are not especially challenging, even for elementary school students. Although Rahn includes a list of other fantasy novels that might serve as related reading, there is no substance to her comparisons, no guideline for teachers to consider or follow in studying fantasy. Rahn's potentially useful suggestion in this section that teachers introduce their students to the kinds of discussion generated by enthusiasts and scholars through such groups as the International Wizard of Oz Club or "any of several Oz discussion groups on the Internet" (133) would be more valuable if she included the addresses for these groups in the appendix or elsewhere in the volume.

If the volume isn't well-designed for teachers, might it be effective for students, as the promotional material printed on the back cover of the dust jacket would suggest? We are told that the Masterworks series provides "[a] necessary addition to collections serving high school and university students." If so, the overview of critical commentaries on the novel and other sections need to be developed to be comprehensible to this audience. For instance, in chapter 3, "The Critical Reception," Rahn provides no more than one- or two-sentence references to the critical analyses of Baum's book; she doesn't provide enough context for students at any level to comprehend or apply them. Referring...


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pp. 245-248
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