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The MGM film The Wizard of Oz, is one of the most beloved films of all time; yet did you know it contains one of the biggest fabrications in the history of cinema? At the end of the film, Dorothy awakens and finds that her sojourn into the magical Land of Oz was just a dream, and thats the end of the story. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth! L. Frank Baum, the Royal Historian of Oz wrote thirteen books following The Wizard of Oz; in almost all of which Dorothy appears, first as a frequent visitor, and finally as a permanent resident of the Emerald City. The Wizard is not a mere humbug, but has genuine magical powers, though he needs some training to tap his potential. The Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion are only a few of the vast array of strange beings in Oz. Glinda is not a banal, ditzy fairy, but a wise, regal and vastly powerful sorceress. And Oz is benevolently ruled over by the sweet and devastatingly beautiful Queen Ozma.
Such is the real Oz described by L. Frank Baum, and since Baums death in 1919, more than a hundred pastiches have been written, the original 40 of which make up what is known by Oz scholars as the Oz Canon, or The Famous Forty. When I was young I loved the books, I positively reveled over them; and I always wondered why I seemed alone in my passion, my schoolmates preferring Narnia, Middle Earth, etc.
As I grew into an adult and developed the desire to write Oz stories of my own, I gained some insight in the Oz books' relative obscurity. When I stated my intentions to my fellow diehard Oz fans to write Oz stories that had tighter and more intricate plots, more well-rounded characterizations, more sophisticated humor, and love and romance, their reaction was vehement to say the least. That was when the "dogma" of Oz book authorship became known to me.
Throughout the Canon, and the Quasi-canonical books that have been written more recently, the depiction of the Oz universe has been governed by three immutable golden rules, which in the spirit of James Carville I here present:
No lasting change can ever be made to Oz or its inhabitants (No one in Oz ever ages or dies, and by extrapolation, no ones character ever grows or develops in any meaningful way). The beloved status quo established by Baum cannot be altered in any way, not even for the better, because it is assumed that Oz and all its inhabitants are utterly perfect. If Harry Potter and his friends lived in Oz, Harry would be condemned to remain forever a meek, awkward 11-year-old and Hermione could never start dating because shed be required to always remain a little girl witch after all!
The Oz Canon is dominated if not positively overrun by strange creatures such as the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Patchwork Girl, the Wogglebug, &c., &c. The lovable, endearing antics of these beloved grotesques have traditionally upstaged the potentially deeper and more complex hopes and dreams of persons of flesh and blood, like Dorothy, Glinda, Ozma, the Wizard, and many others, who are even referred to by the somewhat degrading label of meat people.
One of the original Oz authors is famous for decreeing that Oz is for Kids. In other words, there can be nothing unchildlike in Oz, which is stark contrast to other fantasy worlds... Nothing like the high adventure of Middle Earth, the poignant allegory of Narnia, the tongue-and-cheek witticism of Xanth, or the wry satire of Harry Potter are to be found in the Oz Canon or its successors. To have such things are considered a direct assault on Ozs so-called childlike innocence. And the biggest taboo of all is romantic/carnal relationships Ozian VIPs like Ozma and Glinda are assumed to be bastions of immaculate chastity; and in any case a romance involving an Oz celebrity is considered to violate the no change axiom (1).
Now in fairness, these rules made sense for the original Oz authors, who after all were writing about Oz primarily to please a child (to quote Baum). And I think some Ozian mores like the perfect Oz characters and the prohibition on romance grew out of Baums Victorian background.
But this is the 21st century, and I believe that the main reason that Oz does not today enjoy the popularity of Xanth, Middle Earth, or Harry Potter is because modern Oz authors have been shackled by a small but powerful number of self-appointed Oz scholars and publishers of new Oz books, who vehemently insist that new Oz books be bound by these same hard-and-fast strictures that emerged a century ago, before Harry Potter, Narnia, or even Mickey Mouse ever existed. The tragic result is that modern Oz books tend toward the mundane and monotonous, centering largely around repeated attempts by villains to invade and conquer Oz, and struggles by the heroes to escape from remote and bizarre Ozian provinces whose denizens want to make all outsiders stay and become just like them A weird twist of irony as the defenders of the integrity of the Oz Canon insist that modern Oz writers become just like them.
I do not mean to belittle the worth of the original Oz stories. Theyre wonderful. I grew up with them and they hold a very fond place in my heart. But Baum was Baum, and I think to insist that modern authors rigidly emulate his writing style and story content is not only hopelessly limiting to those authors, each of whom will have their own style, but is also insulting to the great Royal Historian of Oz, the attempted imitation of whom is bound to be disastrous.
I firmly believe that if the Oz series is to emerge from its relative obscurity and come into its own, it has to be allowed room to grow, room to expand its audience There needs to be books that can be enjoyed by adults and teens who love Harry Potter and other modern fantasy worlds. Now actually, some such Oz stories have surfaced, such as the Dark Oz comics, Oz Squad, and Wicked: the Life and Times of the WWW. But these books are extremely dark, often violent, and deviate sharply from the Oz of Baum, which I believe is swinging the pendulum too far the other way. The gaping void that I see is for books that break the stagnation that has developed in the series, not by mutilating it into some hellish nightmare, but rather, preserving Baum's vision of Oz as a beautiful, idyllic magical land, and merely building upon it, expanding it and fleshing it out. I've adopted a series a goals to this end, which I implement in my own Oz sub series, the first volume of which, The Unknown Witches of Oz, has recently been published by Galde Press.
Goal number one is to popularize Baum style Oz to those who only know the MGM film. Now, the fact that Unknown Witches of Oz is published by a mainstream press, rather than one that exists to distribute Oz books, means that my book get exposure to those who are not Oz aficionados already, and that way Oz may become known to many people who would otherwise go through life thinking that Oz is only an MGM film, an HBO prison series, and a nickname for Australia.
My second goal is to rediscover "lost" characters. For example, unlike in the MGM film, Glinda and the Good Witch of the North are actually two different characters. Glinda is the most powerful sorceress in Oz, and wise advisor to Queen Ozma; but the Good Witch of the North is a roly-poly, grandmotherly old witch who only appears at the beginning of the Wizard of Oz and then disappears from the series. The Good Witch of the North was always one of my favorite Oz characters and I resolved to write about her adventures and how she returns to Oz after a long absence, which is what my first published book, The Unknown Witches of Oz, is about. Also prevalent are the three brilliant and beautiful Adepts at Sorcery, who are generic and interchangeable in Baums book, but I endow each of them with a distinct personality, and so do for them what Disney did for the Seven Dwarfs.
My third goal is to create new and interesting plots and storylines, which I achieve in a number of ways. I introduce new characters and exotic locales such as the dinosaur-dominated land of Op, ruled by Ozmas cousin Gyma, who wants to open a school of magic in Oz. I also add a bit of a science fiction element to Oz. I reveal that Oz is on a parallel version of Earth in a parallel universe (and there will be some universe jumping going on in future books), and I explore the "science" of magic. Dan discovers that magic actually has a lot in common with computer programming and fundamental physics, and by that means he in future prove to be a frequent aid to his magical friends.
In my series I am focusing on the adventures of Ozma, Dan, and another of my favorite Oz characters, Jellia Jamb. By centering on these characters, I am developing their personae into the sort of complex personages we can identify with, and thereby "Flesh Out" the "meat people", especially Ozma and the other Oz sorceresses, who are not angelic goddesses but have emotions as human as our own, which leads to yet another of my goals...
I also strive to "get Ozma et. al. out of the nunnery", by which I mean that I allow Ozma, Glinda and other beautiful sorceresses not only to leave the protection of their palaces and have adventures of their own, but even allowing them to have an interest in the opposite not to mince words sex. Because, again, I believe that there is room for growth in the psyches of the Ozites. So Ozma, formerly "only a little girl fairy after all", can become a young woman with romantic feelings stirring in her, and fall in love with the sweet and gallant Dan.
My first book, Unknown Witches of Oz is the first step toward fulfilling my main goals in Oz writing, and these innovations will expand and develop in future volumes. My next book and current work in progress is Jellia, Maid of Oz, which will center around my personal favorite of all Oz characters: Jellia Jamb, the palace maid and friend of Ozma, famous for her sprightly and somewhat mischievous personality, who has been long neglected by Oz authors, and in my opinion deserves to appear in a starring role.
Also in future volumes will feature more about Gyma and her dinosaurs, How Dan applies his computer knowledge to maintain the uncontrollable forms of magic breaking out, the opening of Oz's first ever school of magic, and more Oz romance: Not only Ozma and Dan's budding love affair, but Glinda and Jellia also take worthy consorts, even though they will all have to combat the often aggressive objections of the Fairies of Burzee, who, like certain people in the Oz community, seek to enforce celibacy in Oz at all costs.
This is how the Oz 2.0 movement started, and I am gratified to find that it has inspired other authors to take Oz in new directions. My colleagues Charles Phipps, with his Umbrella Man of Oz trilogy; and Mike Conway, with his upcoming Darkstar Oz series are likewise developing new, exciting, and mature sagas for the 21st century, which present new and unexpected facets to the marvelous land of Oz, and seek to stimulate enthusiasm for this magical world in adults and teens everywhere, so that someday Oz authors may joyously proclaim, Oz is for everybody!
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