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Returning to the Land of Oz
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If you’ve heard the rumors that Disney and former Spider-Man movie director Sam Raimi are making a “prequel” to The Wizard of Oz, you heard right. It’ll even star Raimi’s Spider-Man co-star James Franco. It’s all about how the humbug carny man (Franco) got swept to the the land of Oz and became the great and wonderful Wizard.

I’ve been spending some time with my boys in Oz lately, thanks to some vintage editions of L. Frank Baum’s books  of mine -- yes, there’s definitely more than one -- my father rescued for me from years ago.

If you’ve never read the original story Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, then  -- I’m afraid to say -- you don’t know Oz. Even in 1939, Hollywood was messing around with source material.

Did you know that Glinda is not the Good Witch of the North? Or that the Wicked Witch of the West never appears in Muchkinland to threaten Dorothy? Or that the ruby slippers aren’t ruby, but silver? Or that, while that Wicked Witch is melted, it doesn’t happen exactly the way you remember?

Baum, born in Chittenango, N.Y., and raised outside of Syracuse, was a dreamer. If you ever get the chance (Netflix, perhaps?), watch “The Dreamer of Oz,” with the late, great John Ritter playing Baum. You’ll have a much better idea of where the author’s came from.

Like many families, we’ve watched the Judy Garland color epic movie adaption of The Wizard of Oz many times. It’s an American classic in its own right -- “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is in our hearts at least as strongly as the “Star Spangled Banner.”

But it turns out Baum’s vision was even more fantastic than has been brought out in any of the adaptations and non-Baum sequels Hollywood could come up with.

Baum wrote more than a dozen Oz books, two published after he died in 1919.

Right now, we’re reading his direct sequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, released in 1904, four years after the first book. It’s called The Land of Oz and there’s not a stitch of Dorothy in it. There are, however, the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman who are, respectively, the King of the Emerald City and Emporer of the Winkies (who were previously in thrall to the Wicked Witch of the West). We’ve gotten about two-thirds of the way through the book and there’s no sign of the Cowardly Lion, either.

Here’s what there is: a boy named Tip who escapes a a evil woman who practices magic named Mombi. With him are the newly brought-to-life Jack Pumkinhead (literally), a Saw-Horse they discover along the way (and bring to life, too, with Mombi’s magic powder) and H.M. Woggle-Bug T.E. (who’s pretty full of himself).

Tip’s adventures bring into contact with Scarecrow whose rule of the Emerald City is interrupted by an army of girls. This may have been Baum’s nod to his mother-in-law, Matilda Joslyn Gage, a suffragist. Baum supported the movement and is thought to have laced this book as well as several non-Oz books he wrote.

I read this story many, many years ago. I know the ending, but -- as I said -- we’re only part way through the book. I told the boys as we started reading that there was a big surprise, a huge mystery whose secret would be revealed at the very end.

Sorry, I won’t give it away here. Astute readers will know where to go to find the answer. I hope you’ll actually take the time to read the story yourself. Even better, read it to your kids or grandchildren. It’s just as delightful as the original and the surprise is well, well worth it.

OK, I’ll give you a clue: one of the next books (published in 1907) is called Ozma of Oz.

I don’t have all of Baum’s works. I understand all 15 of his books are avaialable on Kindle as a single e-book edition. I have the Ozma book. It’s very different from its predecessors, taking place almost entirely outside the land of Oz. This is also the first of the sequels reintroducing Dorothy, complete with her last name: Gale. Most of the book is spent following Dorothy’s adventures crossing through a different fairy-tale land trying to get to Oz after being tossed from a steamship. (Uncle Henry was ordered to Australia for health reasons.)

In 1908, Baum published Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. This time, Dorothy is in California and an earthquake drops her into an underground world. Again, she must have many adventures before reaching Oz and back home, of course, to Kansas.

In the middle of the adventure, down drops the balloon carrying the Wizard of Oz and so they meet again.

The next book I own is The Road to Oz. Somehow, Dorothy ends up following a hobo on the road and the road splits and one of the roads ends up taking them and more friends into yet another fairy-tale land, eventually leading back to Oz.

One of my favorite books is the sixth, The Emerald City of Oz. It’s the one that proves, once and for all, that Dorothy hasn’t been dreaming up all these adventures. That Oz, for the reader -- and for Baum, I suppose -- is a real place that real people can go to.

I won’t give away how that comes to be. I will say that’s another thing the Garland movie changed. Anyone reading the original The Wonderful Wizard of Oz knows that Dorothy wasn’t dreaming.

More books followed: The Patchwork Girl of Oz, Tik-Tok of Oz, The Scarecrow of Oz, The Lost Princess of Oz, The Tin Woodman of Oz and The Magic of Oz. There are a few others, but I don’t have them.

No matter, I’m satisfied that I and my boys can enjoy our travels to The Marvelous Land of Oz.

Care to join us?