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Free Preview: Finding Oz: How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story by Evan I. Schwartz | Land Of Oz | The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz

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A groundbreaking new look at an American icon, THE WIZARD OF OZ Finding Oz tells the remarkable tale behind one of the world’s most enduring and best loved stories. Offering profound new insights into the true origins and meaning of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 masterwork, it delves into the personal turmoil and spiritual transformation that fueled Baum’s fantastical parable of the American Dream. Prior to becoming an impresario of children’s adventure tales—the J. K. Rowling of his age—Baum failed at a series of careers and nearly lost his soul before setting out on a journey of discovery that would lead to the Land of Oz. Drawing on original research, Evan Schwartz debunks popular misconceptions and shows how the people, places, and events in Baum’s life gave birth to his unforgettable images and characters. The Yellow Brick Road was real, the Emerald City evoked the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, and Baum’s mother-in-law, the radical women’s rights leader Matilda Joslyn Gage, inspired his dual view of witches—as good and wicked. A narrative that sweeps across late nineteenth-century America, Finding Oz ultimately reveals how failure and heartbreak can sometimes lead to redemption and bliss, and how one individual can ignite the imagination of the entire world.
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  PROLOGUE America’s Adventure The world of Oz, as created by L. Frank Baum, has becomean adventureland of the heart and mind.  ◆ Then a strange thing happened. — L. FRANK BAUM, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz O ne day in 1898 , an unusual sequence of images leapedfrom one man’s mind: A gray Kansas prairie. A lively girlwith a brave little dog. A terrifying twister. A mysticalland ruled by both good and wicked witches. A colorful township of little people. A road of yellow bricks stretching through a dangerousfrontier. A trio of comical characters — a scarecrow, a tin man, and acowardly lion — who join the girl from Kansas on her quest, a jour-ney to a magical city of emeralds controlled by a mysterious wizard.“The story really seemed to write itself,” author L. Frank Baum told hispublisher.Baum relied on a favorite pencil as he put the tale to paper. By thefall of  1899 the pencil was just a stub, and he fastened it into a frameand surrounded it with a caption: “With this Pencil I wrote the ms.[manuscript] of  The Emerald City. ” He sealed the frame and hung iton the wall above the desk in the den of his Chicago home. The finalname of the novel would have to be changed, as Baum soon found out.“The publisher believes that books with jewel names in their titles donot sell well,” he lamented.Frank was forty-four by the time the book hit stores in the year 1900 , and this business of being an author of children’s stories was stillnew to him. By then he had failed at so many wildly different pursuits— as a breeder of chickens, as an actor in stage plays, as a purveyor of petroleum products, as an owner of a variety store, as a secretary for abaseball team, as a publisher of a newspaper, as a traveling salesman of fine china — that he might have simply given up on doing anythingspecial with his life. If he had never experienced that one special mo-    ◆   PROLOGUE   ◆   xi ment that one day in 1898 , he might even have gone on to succeed inhis current full-time job — and gone down in history as the founder of the National Association of Window Trimmers of America. But thetruth was, even that effort wasn’t going so well.Yet it wasn’t in Frank Baum’s nature to get down on himself, andhe became newly energized by each of his schemes, determined to“ somehow manage to provide for those dependent on me.” He was asunny man, tall and handsome with a graceful gait and a deep, reso-nant voice. Prone to flights of fancy, he was lucky to have a wife whokept him grounded. Her name was Maud, and as a young beauty shehad dropped out of a good college to marry Frank, only to face yearsof struggle, constantly uprooting their home in search of a better situ-ation. Together they raised four active sons, boys who demanded thattheir father tell them stories every evening, stories that seemed to givetheir lives a sense of constancy.Rounding out the household was Maud’s mother, who lived withthe Baums for months at a time. Even by the high standards of theworld’s most menacing mothers-in-law, she set herself apart. Her namewas Matilda Joslyn Gage, and she reigned as the most radical and prin-cipled leader of the women’s rights movement in America. Mrs. Gagerailed against religious leaders and politicians for a living and wasso controversial and so scary to some that she was deemed “an infi-del,” her activities called “satanic.” She had warned her daughter thatshe’d be a “damn fool” to give up her schooling to marry this man whoshowed little promise of holding a steady occupation — and for a longwhile she was right.So Frank had to keep forging ahead, with the faith that somethingwonderful lurked beneath the surface of his failures, that somethingmystical swirled within the turbulence of his family, and somethingmomentous stirred in America at large during this time of cyclonicchange.That something  called him from his hometown in the East to an ad-venture out West, to the treeless Great Plains during the final days of the American frontier. Frank had tuned in enough to realize that hewas traveling on his own journey of discovery, and he became fasci-nated with finding what spiritual sages had long called the True Self.But out there on the prairie, a land of killer tornadoes and deadly  xii   ◆   PROLOGUE   ◆ droughts, Frank came face-to-face with darkness and shadow, aspectsof a mythic pattern of symbols and events that he encountered in hisown life and times.For too long he had suppressed his childhood dream of becom-ing a great writer, instead choosing to focus on the economic and so-cial demands being placed on him. When such a choice is made, saysmythologist Joseph Campbell, one’s “vital powers disintegrate” and awould-be hero can become trapped by resentments and rationaliza-tions “until he finds himself locked in the labyrinth of his own disori-ented psyche.” When this happened to Baum, when he found himself on the verge of losing everything, he gathered up his family and hislast shreds of hope, hitting the road for Chicago, the host city of theglimmering Columbian Exposition, a majestic world’s fair that wouldinspire his most fantastical fabrication, a place he would call the Em-erald City of Oz.It may have been the most incongruous instance of inspiration inhistory, an ordinary man struck by an extraordinary legend that wouldbecome America’s most enduring tale of adventure. For no other storyconceived on American soil would become as well known and as wellloved as The Wizard of Oz. The stream of images that had built upover the years and that poured forth from Baum’s mind that one day— every one of them would become a cultural icon, imprinted in theminds of billions. Heralded as America’s first native fairy tale, the storyis filled with references to the American spirit and its landscape. Buteven though it couldn’t have been forged in any other country, thefable would go on to live as a universal touchstone, transcending na-tional borders and language itself. Framed pencil stub in Baum’sChicago home, 1899
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