Introducing Children's Literature: From Romanticism to Postmodernism

By Deborah Cogan Thacker; Jean Webb | Go to book overview

Chapter 8

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Pleasure without nightmares

L. Frank Baum's first book about the Land of Oz was published at the turn of the twentieth century. Although at first glance a timeless tale of fantasy, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) expresses more about the age, as a period of disruption and uncertainly, than its author, who claimed himself to be nonpolitical, probably intended. Whether or not Baum planted a complex political parable of the failure of populism in the Gilded Age within his tale, it is the book's relationship to those American values of 'home and self-determination' (Lurie 1990) which make it interesting within the context of the fin de siècle. What is more, the surface simplicity of the book and its history reveal the changing status of children's literature during that period and places it firmly within the boundaries of the popular, in opposition to the high culture of such literary fairy tales as those of Oscar Wilde, for instance.

Frances Hodgson Burnett, like many of the authors discussed above, was deliberately influenced by the British tradition of children's literature and spoke with a dual address to both adult and child audiences. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, however, is unashamedly aimed at children. The episodic nature of the narrative, the flamboyant use of fantastic characters and magical events seem crafted in a free and careless way, and critics often comment on the poor quality of writing in Baum's work. Certainly, the books do not earn many mentions in critical histories of children's literature.

The fact that there is not much to say about the language in the stories is probably deliberate, however. Baum claimed, in his introduction, that he intended to leave behind the 'old-time fairy tale' which, he implied, was no longer relevant to the children of the twentieth century. Looking to education to provide moral

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