When I worked at a large, chain bookstore, my boss once remarked to me that there’s no point in knowing anything about an author or their life. He explained that a story should stand on its own. I disagreed then, but I wasn’t sure why. I couldn’t come up with a counter-argument. I still disagree, but I’m still not sure I can come up with a counter-argument.
I suppose I have a drive to understand how things work. I may find a story enjoyable, but I want to understand why the author wrote it. What’s the motivation? What’s the story behind the story? Why does a story feel the way it does?
Why does a piece of music sound the way it does?
Why do I write this blog?
I suppose this is why I’m so obsessed with these Oz books lately. I know that L. Frank Baum wrote the sequels to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz more because his readers asked him to than because he wanted to. But what’s going on behind each sequel? It’s a bit of a puzzle to me.
To be honest, I thought The Road to Oz felt a little strained – what my grandfather would call “strictly from hunger”. It felt like a series of funny adventures (the first two identical to each other) in search of a plot.
I’m barely into the next book – The Emerald City of Oz – and it’s vastly different from Road. It has plot and intrigue. There are two plots, actually. The Nome King is planning a massive military invasion against The Emerald City, mostly to retrieve the magic belt Dorothy stole from him, but also because Nomes hate good people. Meanwhile, in Kansas, Uncle Henry is about to lose the farm. He had to rebuild the house after the cyclone destroyed the last one. Then he had to take a trip to Australia for his health. He’s borrowed against the farm to pay for all this, the crops haven’t been doing well, the loan payment’s due in a couple of days, and he and Aunt Em are broke.
(The book points out that just one of the gems that are common building materials in The Emerald City could pay off the mortgage, but that Dorothy is too young to understand that.)
Neither Uncle Henry nor Aunt Em believe Dorothy’s stories of Oz, but they can’t explain the long stretches of time that Dorothy disappears. They’ve explained to Dorothy that after they all become homeless, she’s going to have to get a job – probably as a maid.
Dorothy has another idea, however. She’s gone to Oz to ask Ozma’s permission to move her uncle and aunt to The Emerald City, permanently.
The Emerald City of Oz gives us details about the workings of the Land of Oz. We learn that the Ruler of Oz owns everything in Oz, except its citizens. There is no money in Oz. Everyone works for their own fulfillment. No one is ever sick in Oz, and no one ever dies of natural causes. We learn that the population of Oz is around a half-million, and that the population of The Emerald City is exactly 57,318 (unless Uncle Henry and Aunt Em move in, that is).
The strangest thing about this fifth sequel, so far, is that it explains things that have already been explained in the previous books. We learn that Dorothy’s parents have died and that she’s been raised by her aunt and uncle. We’re introduced to Dorothy’s faithful dog, Toto. We’re told of another foreign citizen of Oz, The Wizard, a humbug, who arrived in Oz after his balloon blew off course from Kansas, and who was briefly the wrongful Ruler of Oz.
The end of The Road to Oz felt like a wrap-up. The beginning of The Emerald City of Oz feels like a reboot.