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The Lion and the Unicorn 27.3 (2003) 428-433
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Katharine M. Rogers. L. Frank Baum: Creator of Oz. New York: St. Martin's P, 2002.
In her introduction, Katharine M. Rogers describes her lifelong enthusiasm for the works of L. Frank Baum. A response to the opinion of a colleague in the English Department where she became an instructor in 1958, that Baum at that time was not considered worthy of inclusion in the canon of children's literature, Rogers is fueled by her enthusiasm for her childhood experiences with Baum's works and eager to resurrect his image in American literary history. L. Frank Baum: Creator of Oz is advertised as the "first full-length adult biography of Baum" (jacket copy), and it brings together a wealth of resources about Baum's life and writings. Readers and fans may appreciate Rogers's enthusiasm for and dedication to her project. Scholars, however, may wish that this volume made more of an original, substantive contribution to Baum studies.
Rogers organizes her work chronologically. Beginning with chapters on "Early Life: Actor, Playwright, Oil Salesman, 1856-1888," "Frontier Storekeeper and Newspaper Editor, 1888-1891," and "Becoming a Writer in Chicago, 1891-1900," she focuses on the way Baum's youthful activities, love for and involvement with family, and optimism, as well as his failure in a number of different business ventures, inspired his writings. Following "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, 1899-1900," she details the many different works Baum wrote or produced (including theatrical "Radio" productions, musicals, and motion pictures, in addition to the books themselves) and provides summaries of the many different names he published under, with a characterization of each pen name persona. These chapters, including "Successful Author, 1901-1903," "Reilly & Britton's Star Author, 1904-1907," "Royal Historian of Oz, 1907-1910," and "A New Life in California, 1909-1914," convey the [End Page 428] extent to which Baum was able to produce an astonishing number of works (as many as four or six books a year, at times). Readers emerge from these chapters with a renewed appreciation for the many, diverse voices of Baum the professional writer. For example, Baum labored to make "Edith Van Dyne," the pseudonym under which he published the Aunt Jane's Nieces series and other works for girls, characteristically more prim and proper than "Floyd Akers," who ostensibly penned The Boy Fortune Hunters adventure series. Aficionados are aware that Baum attempted to conclude the Oz books with The Emerald City of Oz in 1910 and only reluctantly resurrected the series with The Patchwork Girl of Oz in 1913, but Rogers dedicates a substantive chapter to detailing the other works he published--and the many other money-making schemes he pursued--in the interim. The biography concludes with "A Writer to the End, 1914-1919" and "Baum's Achievement: The World He Created," a short, general commentary on the merits of Baum's body of work. The chapters are accompanied by extensive notes and a bibliography.
One of the strengths of Rogers's work is that her notes will lead readers to a wealth of resources, particularly articles which appeared in the journal of the International Wizard of Oz Club, The Baum Bugle, published three times a year since 1957. Many of these articles are not easily accessible, but Rogers's citations will alert scholars and fans to their existence. Rogers also has made good use of research centers across the country. Materials for The Tin Woodman of Oz (1918), for example, are held by the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas (a complete manuscript) and Yale University (an "intermediate draft" of chapters nineteen and twenty). Rogers has examined both manuscripts and developed detailed observations about the nature of Baum's writing process as a result. In Rogers's analysis of Baum's last two Oz novels, The Magic of Oz (1919) and Glinda of Oz (posthumously published in 1920), she is able to use what she has learned about Baum's process to speculate on Baum's terminal illness...