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The Lion and the Unicorn 28.2 (2004) 321-323
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Suzanne Rahn's anthology, L. Frank Baum's World of Oz, consists mostly of articles published since 1983 and provides convenient access to work that originally appeared in periodicals such as the Baum Bugle and the Great Plains Quarterly.
Rahn's introduction usefully summarizes the changing reputation of Baum's Oz books for the first hundred years after the publication of The Wizard of Oz, although she overestimates the critical approval they got in their own time. High-prestige periodicals largely ignored the books that followed The Wizard. Rahn's most important point concerns Henry M. Littlefield's "The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism," an article that seems to have perennial life as a classic in Baum criticism, despite its flagrant misreading of the text of The Wizard and what is known of Baum's political views. We have grounds to hope that this article will disappear from view now that Rahn has drawn attention to Littlefield's admission, in an article in the Baum Bugle thirty years later, that his theory was never intended as serious literary criticism, but was rather an ingenious device for teaching the Populist period to his high school history students. The essay includes some errors that should have been caught. The Tin Woodman of Oz was written by Baum, not Ruth Plumly Thompson (xxiv); and Baum lived in South Dakota for two and a half years, not four (xxviii).
The most substantial essay in the book is Nancy Tystad Koupal's "The Wonderful Wizard of the West." A thorough researcher with impressive knowledge of South Dakotan history, Koupal narrates Baum's career in Aberdeen, analyzes his work as editor and writer of the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, and, perhaps most important, places it all in context. Among many details she has turned up is one that helps to explain Baum's derisive presentation of the egotistical suffragist General Jinjur in The Land of Oz (which is puzzling in view of Baum's strong feminism). She may have been inspired by a prominent South Dakotan suffrage leader, Marietta Bones, who "moved majestically across the floor with a suggestion of dash in every step" and was more interested in press attention than in winning the vote, Baum wrote in the Pioneer (12).
Marilynn Olson's "Roots of Oz: The Uptons' Vege-Men's Revenge" is a defense of Baum's least appealing Oz book. Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz consists mainly of a series of frightening underground adventures, starting in the land of the Mangaboos, a race of cold vegetables who intend to destroy Dorothy and her friends by killing them and refusing to [End Page 321] plant their bodies so they can sprout new ones. Baum may have got this idea from a gruesome fantasy by Florence and Bertha Upton, TheVege-Men's Revenge (1897), in which a little girl goes out to pick vegetables for lunch, is kidnapped by some of them, and is condemned to be planted like a potato: that is, buried alive. She is understandably horrified, but a cabbage consoles her with the thought that she will sprout, revive, and multiply, as indeed she does. Although it is a relief to find out that this was all a dream, the idea of a person's being planted and coming up renewed is not presented as horrible, because in the Uptons' story the natural cycle of plants dying and then regenerating in the spring is an emblem of human reincarnation. Olson does not, however, make clear how this relates to Baum. He was a theosophist who believed in reincarnation, but there is no evidence that he connected the vegetable cycle of dying and regeneration with human reincarnation or his optimistic belief that things would work out. Indeed, his animated vegetables, from the Fighting Trees...