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One of the things that happened when I moved into my lovely proper new house here in Leeds is that I finally took possession of all the accumulated gubbins which I had left behind with my parents when I first moved out at the age of 18. Mainly, this meant the books of my childhood and my teens - with which I am now at leisure to get nostalgically re-acquainted.

The Oz books were, in no uncertain terms, the central axis of my childhood. In fact, see this picture of me reading to my little friends on my sixth birthday?

Well, that's an Oz book I'm reading to them - The Land of Oz, I think, judging from the colour of the spine. I had all fourteen of the original L. Frank Baum series, in lovely bright paperback covers as published by Del Rey, and read them religiously and repeatedly from the ages of approximately four to seven years old. (I had a random hardback copy of Lucky Bucky in Oz, too, but even as a child, I sneered at it and looked down upon it for not being a 'proper' Oz book). Dorothy, the Wizard, Ozma and all their little friends were fiercely real to me, and I was quite, quite convinced that the magical Land of Oz existed, if only one knew how to get there.

I selected this volume as a means of re-visiting the series partly on the grounds that I wanted to read a fairly 'ordinary' book from the series - and that rather ruled out the first three, which very much define the parameters of the Land of Oz as it then exists in the rest of the series. It also had the advantage of having Dorothy and the Wizard as central characters, which was a plus because obviously they are very much central to the series, but don't always feature very heavily after the first few books. But, above all, I chose it because I had vivid memories of the Braided Man of Pyramid Mountain, whom they meet part-way through the story, and I wanted to find out why I'd liked him so much that he had stuck in my mind for what must be more than twenty years (*wibble!*).

The basic story is of the Odyssean type - Dorothy and a boy named Zeb get stuck deep under the surface of the Earth after an earthquake, hook up with the Wizard (I can't tell you how nearly I typed 'Doctor' then), and have to undertake an epic journey through a series of weird and wonderful lands before they can get home again. In the event, in fact, they fail, getting stuck in an underground cavern where they can see the sky, but can't reach it - but that's OK, because it then turns out that Dorothy could have sent a special signal to Ozma and had them transported safely to Oz all along... which rather undermines the whole point of the story up till then, but never mind.

Plot-holes like that don't bother you when you're five years old, anyway - and as for the rest of it? No wonder I loved it! Baum is endlessly imaginative, serving up vegetable people who grow on plants, invisible folk plagued by invisible bears, aggressive wooden gargoyles and hungry baby dragonettes in quick succession - not to mention a whole host of other inventive fine details. His prose is also absolutely gorgeous - light, simple and vivid, without seeming in the least bit patronising. This book is exactly 100 years old, but it hardly feels like it, and I hope the series as a whole retain their status as children's classics for a very long time to come.

Arguably, things start to drag a bit at the end of the book, when about five chapters are devoted to what is basically a hit-parade of all the chief characters from the books so far - surely rather self-indulgent when this is only the fourth. And I was also rather puzzled as to why the character of Zeb was in the book at all, given that he barely seemed to do anything other than provide a handy means of transport via the hansom cab which he was driving when he and Dorothy fell into the centre of the Earth. But, like I say, you don't really read these books for their tightly-honed plotting, but rather for their fantastical settings and sunny characters.

As for the Braided Man, I couldn't have put a finger on it when I was a child, but actually I think what I probably liked about him most of all was his touching loneliness. He lives in a cavern half-way up a mountain, and it's blatantly obvious that no-one ever passes, since the stairs which pass by him in either direction lead from the nice-but-dangerous land of the invisible bears at the bottom of the mountain to the downright hostile land of the gargoyles at the top. As a result, the Rustles for silk gowns and Flutters for flags (both of which I assumed were real items I wasn't familiar with as a child, rather than JOKES FFS!) which he makes in his cavern are piled high in unsold boxes up to the ceiling, and Dorothy and the Wizard end up buying some of them out of pity, in exchange for a much-coveted blue ribbon for his braids. But, despite all this, he is kindly and sweet-natured, and not in the least bit self-pitying - just genuinely thrilled to have seen some passers-by and sold some of his goods after all this time. Quite what it says about me that I should be so taken by such a character, I think had better remain left unexplored...


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 12th, 2008 08:38 pm (UTC)
You had friends when you were six? Lightweight!
May. 12th, 2008 08:45 pm (UTC)
Well, less friends and more pupils, to judge from that picture! ;-)
May. 12th, 2008 08:44 pm (UTC)
I loved those books! I had the set of the first 8 when I was younger - it really disappointed me that Puffin only published up to Tik Tok of Oz, and never further than that.

Did you see Return to Oz, the 80s film starring Fairuza Balk? That is definitely not a children's film!
May. 12th, 2008 08:47 pm (UTC)
Yes, I did. I remember being all snooty about that, too, because it wasn't the same as the books. I think I had very highly-developed ideas of authenticity and canoncity even then!
May. 12th, 2008 08:49 pm (UTC)
Its a weird film It seems to mash together Ozma, Tik Tok, and Land of Oz - and seemed rather unsure of what it should do with it.

As for authenticity, when you've grown up with something, and you love it, watching Hollywood mash it to make a quick buck is infuriating. There are some films I loved as a kid I'm still happy to look at now, but that is one I never, ever want to see again.
May. 13th, 2008 11:25 am (UTC)
Ha ha, I got really cross over Disney's 101 Dalmatians when I was about 7!
May. 13th, 2008 08:47 am (UTC)
Good god, you were a hardcore child. That film gave me nightmares for years and years and years. It is a prime locus of trauma for me. The notion of being snooty about it was far from my terrified little seven-year-old self!
May. 13th, 2008 09:07 am (UTC)
No, oddly I remember it being loud and (visually) dark, but I don't remember it being frightening in any very serious sense. Maybe it's just that my belief was thoroughly unsuspended by my awareness of how different it was from the books - since it wasn't 'really' Dorothy in the film, I didn't care what was happening to her?

Anyway, by the time it came out (1985), I'm pretty sure I was already quite well into Dracula films and similar, so I was probably already happy enough with evil demons and dark peril.
May. 13th, 2008 09:17 am (UTC)
Ah! Whereas in 1985 (so I was ten), I was still in my Arcadian state without a television, and had absolutely no suspension of disbelief whatever.

(Things have changed now, of course. A lot. No, really. You saw me in Sweeney Todd...)
May. 12th, 2008 10:09 pm (UTC)
I've never read any of the Oz books, I have to admit.

When I was a nipper, the main series for me were the Narnia books- we had Lion/Witch/Wardrobe for our class read and then I read most of the others from the school library. I used to borrow the Tintin ones a lot an'all
May. 13th, 2008 08:50 am (UTC)
I had all the Narnia books, but I only really seemed to like TLTW&TW and The Magician's Nephew. In fact, I'm pretty sure I started some of the later ones and never finished them... And you definitely have the edge over me as regards Tintin - I've barely read any of his books at all, bar maybe the occasional browse when at friends' houses.

Normally, I would offer to lend you some of the Oz books - except that my copies are 25-year-old paperbacks, which I clearly didn't treat as well as I could have done as a kid. Several of them are already held together with Scotch Magic tape. :-( I'd certainly recommend tracking down at least the first one, though, which turns out to have Layers and Hidden Meanings when you read it as an adult.
May. 13th, 2008 11:29 am (UTC)
These passed me by too, though I'm sure I would have loved them - I was a huge Narnia fan, and your description of the underground world made me think of The Silver Chair straight away.
May. 13th, 2008 12:54 pm (UTC)
I'd still recommend reading them now anyway, even if you missed them as a child.
May. 15th, 2008 11:40 am (UTC)
If you like CS Lewis do read the out of the silent planet trilogy, yes it is religious, but absolutely ace especially the first and last books. The last book is extremely creepy!
May. 13th, 2008 08:19 am (UTC)
I'm so glad re-visiting your childhood favourites was not disappointing - I am always terrified to do that kind of thing in case it goes horribly wrong. I only ever read first the Oz book - I was quite scathing about sequels when I was small (I should listen to myself, I'm kind of right, sequels do tend to be weaker than their predecessors). But having read your post I'm actually really curious and may look into the other books myself.

Just out of interest, have you read Wicked? Truthfully I don't think it's that wonderful but I thought it might have appealed to you since you're such an Oz-fan.
May. 13th, 2008 09:02 am (UTC)
I'd agree that some of the later Oz books aren't as strong as the first, but I think the trick is to see them as a series, rather than sequels. They're bound together by the fact that they all at some stage involve the Land of Oz, but within that framework they tell the stories of a whole range of different characters and places, rather than continuing the story of the same initial group of characters. Anyway, I would unhesitatingly recommend the first three, and by the time you've read those you will know whether you want to pick and choose from the rest of the series or not.

Wicked - no, I haven't read it, but thanks for reminding me about it, as I did think it sounded intriguing. In fact, I have just added it my Amazon wishlist for future perusal!
May. 15th, 2008 11:37 am (UTC)
Is that me in the flowery dress? :)

I still read the Oz books regularly although I'm missing loads. Apparently there are many many ones not written by Baum...
May. 15th, 2008 12:05 pm (UTC)
Re: books
Hehe, no - you are the one whose dignity I had to cover up with an air-brush, because you apparently spent that entire party stark naked! Oh, for the innocence of childhood, eh? ;-)

Yep, there are more non-Baum ones than Baum ones, in the end - but I still treat his as the 'real' stories. And now I've got mine back, I might well be dipping into more of them as time goes on.
May. 15th, 2008 12:08 pm (UTC)
Re: books
Oh, and - if you would like me to take that picture down, or crop you out or something, just say. Even though it's a long time ago, and even though I've done what I could to make it decent, I can still see why you might find it a bit weird to have that picture on the internet.
May. 15th, 2008 06:38 pm (UTC)
Re: books
Ah just enlarged the picture and saw what you meant (What I thought was a flowery dress was me and airbrush... hmm bad eyesight)

Ha ha ha! No you don't need to take it down, I think only you and I know it's me ;)
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )

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