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Vail Valley books: 70 years later, Emerald City lives on

Jacob Curtis
Special to the Daily
Special to the Vail DailyVail Daily books: "The Real Wizard of Oz: The Life and Times of L. Frank Baum," by Rebecca Loncraine, is a biography to be sure, but one that examines the times nearly as much as the man.
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VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – August marks a great milestone in American entertainment history – and we’re not talking about Woodstock. It’s the 70th anniversary of the Technicolor release of “The Wizard of Oz.”

An adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s children’s novel, the 1939 film brought alive a marvelous land of yellow brick roads and ruby slippers. And the imagery lives on – Oz is that magical place Americans think about when they recall the Great Plains, childhood and the damage dusty twisters can do. There is no doubt that the land over the rainbow firmly resides in our collective American imagination and memory.

That memory is provoked over and over again while reading the new book “The Real Wizard of Oz,” by Rebecca Loncraine. Through her research, we understand the roots of Baum’s most famous and original fairy tale.

The book is a biography to be sure, but one that examines the times nearly as much as the man. Readers will better understand how the myth-making process of the classic American tale was rooted in the contemporary issues of the day, with examples like the Civil War amputee who served to inspire the Tin Woodman, or the plaster-of-Paris electric palace of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair as the archetypal Emerald City.

In this sense, the historical biography serves the same function for adults today as the fairy tale does for children, filling our imaginative minds with visions of a far away land so close to home. Loncraine paints an intriguing picture of late 19th century America, complete with all the struggles and technological bewilderments that faced the people of the age.

“The Real Wizard of Oz” presents us with an image of America through Baum’s eyes. Coming away from the book, readers get the feeling that Baum was as much a science fiction luminary as a child folklorist. Dorothy eventually communicates with Oz through wireless telegraphy. And in a later Oz book, Tik-Tok appears from the age of horse and buggy as a robotic soldier. How marvelous and stirring it must have been to see a moving picture that Baum produced, complete with time distortions and double exposures that he would call “cine-magic.”

Loncraine asserts that Baum is a man responsible for our own modern mythos. By examining our collective long strange trip, she uncovers the revolutionary vision of a lesser known hero whose influence is ever felt in today’s world. Like Tesla or Seneca Falls, Baum’s life and work shows that relatively obscure people and events can create as much rippling resonance today as any Woodstock.

In short, “The Real Wizard of Oz” is worth reading for anyone interested in American history, the politics of the time and the wonders of new technologies. These currents shine through the narrative biography and will surely captivate historically minded readers.

What: The Wizard of Oz film screening.

When: Saturday, at 4 p.m.

Where: The Bookworm of Edwards, Riverwalk.

Cost: Free.

More info: Call 926-READ or visit http://www.bookwormofedwards.com


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