|The Wizard's Wireless
Interviews with People Inspired by Oz
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The March Hare of Oz
A Conversation with Paul Bienvenue
Paul Bienvenue runs March Hare Books, a used and rare book service with special emphasis on Baum and Oz. In 2009, Paul published The Book Collector's Guide to L. Frank Baum and Oz. It won the gold medal for Best Reference Book at the 13th Annual Independent Publisher Book Awards. I asked him how he began his library of Oz collectibles...
PB: I first read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz when I was ten, as one of several books my mother had brought home from the local public library. I enjoyed it immensely, relishing the ways in which it differed from the MGM movie that I watched annually on television, and was intrigued to learn that the library had a whole shelf of Oz stories. These turned out to be a mostly-complete set of the hardcover “white editions” of Baum’s Oz books published by Reilly & Lee in the 1960s and ‘70s. I devoured them voraciously. Some of these books bore lists that included the entire Oz Canon, including twenty-six exotic-sounding titles by writers not named Baum. By this time the books by the later Royal Historians were completely out of print. My mother was already an accomplished antique hound and regularly dragged me to garage sales, swap meets, and antique shows, and the search for Oz changed me from being passively dragged about to actively participating. Shortly thereafter I was able to visit bookseller row on
WW: What are some of the Baum series
books that you wished he had continued?
PB: As a kid, I enjoyed The Sea Fairies (1911) and really loved
WW: What is your rarest treasure?
call! I have an original pen-and-ink illustration by Frederick
Richardson from Queen Zixi of Ix. Beyond the obvious
that any original artwork is “one-of-a-kind,” I’m not aware of any
illustrations having survived from Zixi.
I also have a salesman’s sample copy of
the second edition of The New Wizard of Oz
from ca. 1905-10 that has
a brilliant cloth cover, pictorial illustrated endpapers, and 260
blank pages. On the rear fixed endpaper are the cloth spines for four
Baum books issued by Bobbs-Merrill: The
Magical Monarch of Mo, The
WW: What is the one item you would most like to add to your collection?
PB: Beyond some one-of-a-kind pieces in private and institutional collections which could not be obtained without a shameful amount of skullduggery, I’d have to say a copy of The Book of the Hamburgs (1886), the compilation of articles originally published in The Poultry World magazine in 1882 and technically Baum’s first “book.” I know of just seven surviving copies, and only two of these are in private collections. Or perhaps the first printing copy of The Marvelous Land of Oz, in dust jacket and inscribed by Baum to his sister Mary Louise Brewster, that was part of rare book dealer Howard Mott’s catalog of wonders from Jack Snow’s personal collection (ca. 1950). That copy seems to have dropped off the face of the Earth, so conceivably it could show up here at a neighborhood garage sale. Barring either of those, I’d love a copy of The Sea Fairies in Binding A and dust jacket; to date, no such copies have ever been observed. Bloomsbury held an auction recently that included Neill’s original artwork for one of the color plates from The Sea Fairies. I already deeply regret that I was unable to buy it.
WW: What do you feel is Baum's best piece of literature and his worst? Why?
PB: It can
certainly be argued (and has been), that The Wonderful
Wizard of Oz is not Baum’s finest work. Critics have
cited Queen Zixi of Ix as his most
polished fairy tale, and at the end of his life Baum himself viewed
I must confess to not having read all of Baum’s pseudonymous works! But in terms of his contributions to children’s “literature,” the consensus that The Woggle-Bug Book (1905) is his weakest effort is probably spot-on. As an adult, I would argue that Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz (1908) is an endlessly grim story full of conflict from beginning to end, but as a child reader I saw it as a thrilling adventure. Of his best-known books, perhaps Tik-Tok of Oz (1914) deserves special mention in that the story is essentially a blatant rehash of Ozma of Oz (1907) with a good dollop of The Road to Oz (1909) thrown in for flavor.
WW: How many years has it taken you to compile the information for "The Book Collector's Guide to L. Frank Baum and Oz"?
PB: I began
the project early in 2002, and although the bulk of the writing was
done by the
end of 2004, I continued to add new information and photographs until
moment the manuscript left for the printer in the fall of 2008. And
been some new discoveries since then that I hope to work into a second
of the Guide.
WW: Why do you think the Oz books were dismissed by
librarians and (for the most
part) have gone out of print over the years?
books have never really gone out of print. As for the books of Baum’s
successors, I must assume that poor sales led to the Regnery Company’s
to discontinue them after Regnery acquired Reilly & Lee.
WW: A number of people do not like the direction Ruth Plumly Thompson took with the Oz series, yet she ended up writing five more than Baum did. How do you think they hold up as children's literature?
PB: I enjoyed many of Thompson’s books as a child, but they didn’t have the resonance of Baum’s work. Even then I could sense their superficiality, and was not drawn to reread them nearly as much as the Baum books. And a few of her books I actively disliked, which is something I could never say about even the weakest of Baum’s Oz stories.
WW: How groundbreaking do you consider The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to be in children's literature? Why?PB: Its importance was and still is phenomenal. Baum intended, first and foremost, to create a jolly good story, and in that he succeeded brilliantly. At a time when children’s literature was overwhelmingly obsessed with providing moral instruction, Baum noted in his introduction that “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was written solely to pleasure children of today.” The suspense and scares throughout the story were crafted in the service of entertainment rather than to provide “cautionary” examples, so the threats against Dorothy and her companions are not due to their moral failings and the reader is certain they will prevail even while breathlessly awaiting the outcome. The enormous popularity of the book across many diverse cultures worldwide makes it clear that in his creation of a Scarecrow without a brain, a Tin Man without a heart, a Lion without courage, and a little girl seeking only to return home, Baum somehow tapped deeply into Jung’s “collective unconscious” of human experience.
WW: What do you think of the
WW: It seems that more Oz books and original artwork are becoming available at auction lately. How do you decide what to buy for yourself or resale? Do you have a personal limit on how much you're willing to pay for something, or do you get the bidder's frenzy?
PB: When it comes to Oz I am a collector first and a dealer second, although being a dealer provides me with an excellent rationalization for upgrading. My resources are definitely limited, so I am always very conscious of cost and set firm limits prior to any auction. For me, one of the greatest aspects of Internet bidding is the ability to submit a bid in advance of the auction date and then just walk away. If I win the item at my price, terrific; if not, I haven’t been working myself into a lather waiting for the hammer to fall.
WW: As a book dealer, how has the internet affected your business?
Internet IS my business. The vast amount and diversity of material
eBay and book sites like Abebooks.com allows me to target what I wish
and sell in ways that would have been very difficult prior to the
It also takes a great deal of guesswork out of pricing, since it is
easy to see
what the competition is charging for a given book. Many old-time
this new transparency, but I think it is of great benefit to both
sellers. The only ones who are really adversely affected are those who
profited from arbitrarily high pricing.
WW: "The Book Collector's Guide to L. Frank Baum and Oz" is amazingly thorough. Tell us about your research, and the various book collections you traveled to catalogue.
PB: I saw a
need for a reference that covered all of Baum’s book-length output, not
Oz, and with a special emphasis on ease-of-use. As a collector, I have
been drawn to auction and dealer catalogs, such as Schiller/Swann
Peggy Christian #11 (ca. 1970). The best of these provide basic
information without overwhelming detail, but also include capsule
that feature interesting tidbits about the histories of the books
always viewed the project as a cross between Hanff & Greene’s Bibliographia Oziana (1976/1988) and
Greene’s & Martin The Oz Scrapbook
(1977). I wanted to produce a useful tool that was also “browsable” and
collectors I encountered were incredibly gracious, and with my
Schmidt I was fortunate to be granted unlimited access to some of the
private collections in the country. I spent literally weeks examining
of these. Some collectors preferred anonymity while others didn’t mind
receiving credit, but I became uncomfortable with the idea of
locations of so many treasures and ultimately decided to keep the
unnamed. Though I was constrained by logistics from visiting every
collection, those I did examine provided opportunities to photograph
essentially every piece I sought, with a single exception (the dust
the first printing of The Marvelous Land
of Oz as mentioned
above). We found interesting variants in even the most modest of
collections, and there are still some east coast collections that I
forward to visiting in the future.
PB: Unless pressed, I generally keep my hobby to myself. I suppose I present myself more often as a “Collector of L. Frank Baum” than as a “Wizard of Oz fan.” Reactions vary widely: people with some knowledge of the books are enthusiastic and ask questions; people who collect other things can at least relate to it as a hobby and discuss their own interests; and some people just look at you blankly as if you’d said you play the washboard in a jug band or enjoy cow-tipping. ∆
he first thought of going into the used book business, several
dealers he knew said he'd have to be "crazy as a march hare."
He lives with his
beautiful wife, Catherine and their new son, Robert Louis in Southern
Blair Frodelius lives in
upstate New York and is the
--Interviewed by Blair Frodelius; November 20, 2009Home Again