The Wizard's Wireless
Interviews with People Inspired by Oz
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The Real Wizard of Oz
A Conversation with Rebecca Loncraine

Rebecca Loncraine is the author of the first literary biography of L. Frank Baum.  Rebecca traveled around the United States to see the places where Baum lived and how the times he lived in influenced his writings.  What makes this book especially interesting is that Rebecca is from Wales.  I recently asked her how Oz made it's way to a country almost 4000 miles away from where Baum penned his stories...

WW: How do people on the "other side of the pond" view the great American fairy tale?

People in the UK love Oz and although many British people don’t know very much at all about Baum, they have a deep knowledge of Oz; I see references to it everywhere in the UK, so it seems to have penetrated British culture and our collective psyche as well as America’s.

WW: Growing up in Wales, what was your exposure to Oz in the UK?

RL: The Wizard of Oz, both Baum’s book and the MGM movie, are fantastically popular in the UK, although I didn’t read Baum’s subsequent Oz books until later in life. I really enjoyed them.

WW: Having received a Doctorate from Oxford, you must have read Lewis Carroll's works. Why do you think the world has embraced Oz more readily than Wonderland?

RL: I think Carroll’s Alice books are as popular over in the UK as Oz, but it’s difficult to compare them because their similarities are, I think, only superficial; they’re really very different types of story. For me, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has always been far more direct and elemental, whereas the Alice books are more intellectual, and were less satisfying to me as a child.

WW: If Baum had not written The Wizard of Oz, but had instead continued in the vein of A New Wonderland and Mother Goose in Prose, what would have happened (or not) to American children's literature? Would someone else have come along to write their version of the Great American Fairy Tale?

RL: I think Baum’s life and imagination were entirely unique. If he hadn’t written his great tale, someone would surely have created some kind of truly American fairytale, but it would have been completely different.

WW: Did you do any investigation into the numerous books that were published in order to cash in on the success of TWWOO? Books like Eva Katherine Gibson's "Zauberlinda", or Alexander Volkov's "The Wizard of the Emerald City".

RL: I've read absolutely loads of the Oz-inspired books (and seen the movies, shows, etc) - some of which are very intesesting, some less so. I've got to the point where I see references to Oz absolutely everywhere! Baum's Land of Oz seems often to lie beneath American culture, as part of its imaginative bedrock. But in my biography I wanted to steer clear of these later works and focus fully on Baum's times, the historical moments he lived through, and really try to reimagine his world in three dimensions. 

WW: How many of Baum's non-Oz books have you read? How do you feel they stand up in the field of children's literature?

RL: A summer spent in the Butler library at Columbia University gave me the opportunity to look through their collection of Baum’s non-Oz writing. I particularly enjoyed his two Flying Girl books, but I think his heart was always in Oz.

Certainly, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has held up brilliantly, and will always remain a classic of children's literature. I really like most of his later Oz books, though I think they are in a different category - more of their times and perhaps more appealing to younger children and less so to adults - but I would certainly read them to my children. I think most of Baum's later Oz books are chock full of inventive, imaginative characters, set in a highly appealing and believable alternative world, even when some of the stories lack a tight plot.

WW: What inspired you to write a biography of L. Frank Baum?

RL: I was inspired to write a biography of Baum by my deep and abiding love of both Baum’s original story, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the marvellous 1939 MGM movie. I had a beautifully illustrated copy of Baum’s story as a child, and reading it initiated me into a life-long love of reading and stories. Although there is a wealth of excellent research and information about Baum’s life out there, nothing I read quite satisfied my curiosity, so I set about researching and writing the book about Baum and Oz that I really wanted to read.

WW: What places did you visit while doing your research? Were you able to find anything that was previously unknown? 

RL: I had a wonderful time researching this book and visited Syracuse, Chittenango, Peekskill, New York City, Chicago and Aberdeen, South Dakota. I particularly enjoyed my time in Aberdeen because it was great to see, smell and listen to the landscape in which Baum lived and which so inspired his later writing. I even went storm chasing across the whole of the Midwest, and was caught in a terrifying storm on the Pine Ridge Reservation (though I wasn’t whisked away in a tornado!). I went storm chasing with some professional chasers to get up close to the unique Plains weather that inspired the tornado of Oz. I think I found out lots of extremely interesting contextual material during my research that shaped Baum’s life and imagination in ways that perhaps hadn’t been made visible before. Also, my perspective as a British writer has, I think, given me an outsider’s view that I hope readers will find refreshing.

WW: Were you surprised to discover the amount of misinformation about Baum? The story about him writing in a birdcage, or that he was a racist due to his one editorial about Native Americans in the Saturday Pioneer?

RL: Given how famous his brilliant fairytale has become, it’s hardly surprising that there’s a lot of misinformation about Baum out there. In regard to his editorials about the Native Americans of the Great Plains, I think we have to accept that, like many people of the time, Baum did harbor some racist ideas; but like many settlers out west, his feelings and ideas about the Native Americans were extremely mixed. He also revered and feared them. I tried not to sidestep this very difficult issue and deal with it head-on and empathetically. I hope readers of my book will have a wider understanding of where Baum’s terrible comments came from.

WW: Some people have theorized that Baum used his Theosophical beliefs to promote an agenda in his works. What are your thoughts on this?

RL: Baum was certainly influenced by theosophy and he read theosophical writings. At times, he seems to have taken some of the ideas more seriously than others. But I don’t see Baum as consciously promoting any agenda in his fairytales; he wrote intuitively from his subconscious.

WW: Talk a bit about Baum's unusually forward thinking ideas about women's rights.

RL: Baum was in many ways a forward-thinking person. His love for his wife Maud Gage inspired his commitment to Women’s rights, to the Vote in particular.

WW: Do you think that Baum was a man of his time, or a man ahead of his time? Why?

RL: Baum was both embedded in his age and looking beyond it. He engaged directly, imaginatively and intuitively with the issues of his age and explored them indirectly in his Oz books. What makes him unusual was the way in which he grappled with his times.

Baum grappled with new technologies - electricity, cinema, photography, the automobile, mass produced machines of many kinds, and he fully felt the ambiguities of these novelties - the loss of intimate daily proximity to horses, the fear that machines might take over and make the human body and mind redundant. But he was also extremely excited about new technologies and wanted to celebrate them.

He knew that women deserved equal rights with men, but I think he also feared the rise of female power slightly, and worried that the New Woman might overpower men. He was divided over many issues of his times, including the role and rights of Native Americans, and the appalling treatment the tribes received at the hands of white settlers. Baum's inner tensions, which surfaced in his writing, make him an honest barometer of his times.

WW: Do you feel that any particular events in Baum's life led him to be such an entrepreneur? After all, he was from fairly well to do family and suffered from poor health? What drove him to keep trying new things?

RL: Baum’s nature was divided, I think, and he constantly sought new projects to compete with his fellows in the late Gilded Age, but he also sought to realize his own quieter, more contemplative, inner nature. He was also driven to keep trying new things by sheer financial necessity. The interesting thing is that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz surfaced from out of his mind later in his life when he’d almost given up trying to succeed, and just wrote naturally, non-judgementally and when he had got in touch with his deeper creative side that was often squashed by his other work in various business ventures.

WW: Will you be doing any signings or publicity for the book?

RL: In the near future I plan to make it over to the US to meet readers and do signings, but probably not this year. All the details for my future plans are available on my website which is I also have a mailing list which people can sign on to if they want to know when I will be coming over to the US.

Rebecca Loncraine lives in the United Kingdom and has been in love with Oz since she was a little girl.  She has a Doctorate from Oxford University and writes regularly for the British press, including the Independent, the Guardian, and the Times Literary Supplement.  "The Real Wizard of Oz: The Life and Times of L. Frank Baum" will be released on August 20, 2009.  She can be reached at

Blair Frodelius lives in upstate New York and is the editor of The International Wizard of Oz Club's Electronic newsletter, The Ozmapolitan Express; The Daily Ozmapolitan; and  He can be reached at

--Interviewed by Blair Frodelius; Aug 11 & 17, 2009

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