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The Wizard of Oz First Modern Fairytale

The Wizard of Oz First Modern Fairytale

LiveAuctionTalk.com:  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of PBA Galleries.

“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was America’s first modern fairytale.  Over 100 hundred years have gone by and the book has lost little of its charm.  The subsequent film starring Judy Garland contributes to its staying power.   

“Stunt, dwarf, or destroy the imagination of a child and you have taken away its chances of success in life.  No man ever made a new invention or discovery without imagination, and invention and discovery have made human progress.”
— L. Frank Baum

Success as a traveling salesman, newspaper editor and trade-journal publisher eluded the would-be author L. Frank Baum.

In the 1890s he decided to listen to his mother-in-law and pen the make-believe tales he had been telling his kids and their friends to paper.  In Baum’s world the line between reality and fantasy was thin.  His writing tapped into an inner world in which fantasy actually served as a bridge for understanding reality, a safe setting for easing oneself into life’s tight spots.

“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was published in September 1900, one of the most richly illustrated children’s books ever published.  

Baum believed many of the Grimms’ fairytales he grew up with were terrifying to children, especially at bedtime.  He didn’t want to go there in his writing.  There are plenty of villains in the Oz books but Baum made sure they weren’t too frightening.     

For Baum, Oz seemed like a world he discovered, not one he invented.  Dorothy’s journey through Oz grew out of his own experiences, his fear of scarecrows, the folktales he read as a child and his never-ending fascination with illusion and tricks. 

It all came together for grand storytelling in “The Wizard of Oz.”  Baum’s point-of-view allowed him to eavesdrop on the magical world of Oz and bring back stories to share with us. 

When the book went to press he told his brother it was the best thing he had ever written.  After all, the fairytale was full of ideas honed from stories he had been telling his kids for years. 

“The Wizard of Oz” became a bestseller and has remained so ever since. 

“Stunt, dwarf, or destroy the imagination of a child and you have taken away its chances of success in life,” he said.  “No man ever made a new invention or discovery without imagination, and invention and discovery have made human progress.”

Baum urged parents to read up-to-date fairytales to their young ones, fairytales that would feed their imaginations and sense of discovery without scaring them unnecessarily. 

“See that the story is not marred by murders and cruelties,” he said.

Dorothy, Toto, the Tin Woodman, Scarecrow, and Cowardly Lion ended up etching their place in the hearts of fairytale lovers worldwide. 

Baum never lived to see Judy Garland play Dorothy in the 1939 MGM release of “The Wizard of Oz.”

He died in 1919 just weeks after completing his last Oz book.  In 1989 the Library of Congress designated the movie a “national treasure.”

On Aug. 8, PBA Galleries, San Francisco, featured a selection of L. Frank Baum Oz books and items in its Fine Books in All Fields sale.  Here are some current values.

“The Wizard of Oz”

Set of 14 Oz Books; specially bound for Patricia Taurog, daughter of Hollywood director Norman Taurog; who directed scenes for “The Wizard of Oz;”  $108.

“The Marvelous Land of Oz” book; 16 color plates; numerous black-and-white drawings by John R. Neill; signed by Baum; First Edition; Second Printing; 1904;  $300.

Pen-and-Ink Illustration; Frank Kramer; for “The Magical Mimics in Oz;” Hi-Lo speaking through his megaphone; 15 by 11 ¾ inches overall; circa 1946;  $300. 

Autograph Letter; signed; on Ozcot stationary; one page; with border showing cover titles of Baum’s books; June 23, 1917;  $360.   

“The New Wizard of Oz” book;  illustrated by W.W. Denslow; 208 pages; 16 color plates; dust jacket; penciled note;  Fifth Edition; First State; circa 1920s;  $1,800.


Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her LiveAuctionTalk.com website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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