Broken Slippers: The Creation of L. Frank Baums The Wizard of Oz

On Christmas Eve of 1900, an exhausted children’s author was worried about having enough money to buy gifts for his family. He decided to ask his publisher for an advance on the finances of the five books he’d written that year. He took the check and, without looking at it, went home and handed it to his wife. After taking the check and seeing the amount, she burned a hole right through the shirt she was ironing. The amount was $1,423.98, the equivalent of $40,000 today. The author was L. Frank Baum, and the book of course was The Wizard of Oz. The story goes that a young girl named Dorothy, runs away from home. Soon after, she becomes caught in a twister and finds herself in the unknown, mystical land of Oz. Dorothy then becomes a pawn in a battle between good and evil as she is now the unlikely owner of a pair of magical slippers that are wanted desperately by a wicked witch who has terrorized the land of Oz. To find her way back home, she must find a way of killing the wicked witch. On the way, she befriends a talking scarecrow, a rusty tin-man, and a cowardly lion. In order for their help, she promises to ask for the pieces that are missing from her friends along her with her journey home.

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           Now, it isn’t the question of why the story was and is still so popular. The question is: How did L. Frank Baum come up with this masterpiece? By the time Dorothy was prancing down the Yellow-Brick Road with her friends, Baum had already published two books, both children’s tales. After trying his luck and failing as a journalist and a businessman, Baum discovered that he had a talent for telling children’s tales to his four sons. After writing his first two books: Mother Goose in Prose and the sequel, Father Goose: His Book, Frank Baum’s career took off. The inspiration to The Wizard of Oz came when Baum spent the day looking at the drawers of his office filing cabinet: one labeled A-G, the next H-N and the last O-Z. Thus, the idea for Wizard of Oz was created.

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         Next came the utter disgrace of  trying to bring the Wizard of Oz to the Big screen. Before Judy Garland sang “Over the Rainbow”, 5 failures of the story were created. Even though MGM’s version of the story was a success, it had quite a few changes added. Quotes including “I’ll get you, my pretty, and you’re little dog too!”, were purely created by the film. Musical numbers, including the Munchkins, were also the film’s creation. Even Dorothy’s slippers, which are originally silver in the books, were switched to ruby to show off the new film technology of the time. The greatest change from the book is the idea that Oz was simply a dream. In the original story, Oz was very real, in fact, later in the book series, Uncle Henry and Auntie Em move to the Emerald City to eat and hang out with talking animals. Since MGM’s 1939 adaptation with Judy Garland, no movie or story has been able to touch the originality of Frank Baum’s work.

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          Even without the imagery, symbolism, and downright epic theme of the story, there was another component that helped Frank Baum’s success. According to a biographical article by Kelly K. Ferguson in Mental Floss magazine, “Kids loved his tales because they weren’t thinly disguised morality lessons. Instead, Baum’s stories were fantasies filled with candy, toys, magic and adventure”. The children of the world wouldn’t let Baum stop making tales for Dorothy, either. After the first book was published, children couldn’t get enough of Dorothy. Frank Baum wrote several stories for Dorothy after the original. Eventually, there were plans to have a final installment for the series, but this plan failed after a film project went haywire. Frank Baum was down on his luck again, and Dorothy’s tales continued on simply for the sake of keeping his wallet full.

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3 thoughts on “Broken Slippers: The Creation of L. Frank Baums The Wizard of Oz

  1. I enjoyed the backstory that you’ve laid out on the author. Although my personal experience with The Wizard of Oz goes back to my childhood, I never knew that this was actually a written story before it became the masterpiece starring Judy Garland. I have a personal connection with this story, once staring in the FLOT play as a youngster, and having Over the Rainbow saved on my songs, the story of Oz has become dear to me.

    I agree that the original, like any story, tends to be better than the adaption. A few years back I watched the 2013 movie “Oz the Great and Powerful” starring James Franco. The movie was a feeble attempt to add a prequel to the Oz universe centered around Oz himself. It was cringe worthy to say the least.
    Some things are better left the way they are, even if it hurts to let them go. We see this frequently today with TV shows and movies where they attempt to stretch the story out as much as possible. This stains the originality and the seemingly golden vision we have of the stories implanted on us. If I could go back in time to warn Baum and other producers of the dangers they’d be imposing on their stories I would.

    Thanks for making this post!

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  2. The Wizard of Oz is undoubtedly one of the most memorable stories of my childhood. However it was just because of the movie. I knew there was a book but have never gotten around to reading it. Its well known that films based off books usually change and add things to make them more appealing and it was interesting hearing you point out some of these differences that I hadn’t known before. Another thing I find interesting is that in 6th grade my brothers class wrote a Wizard of Oz themed play but in their own words. Looking back on the play they used nothing but references from the movie and little to none from the book. I think this says something about the impact that the different mediums have on us.

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  3. Thank you for the post! I actually learned a good amount about the originality of the wizard of OZ that I did not before! Baum definitely made a mark with his story. The follow up movies just veered in a different way unfortunately. Another thing I learned was that he had many more books about Dorothy and almost had his complete series. The blog on THE CREATION OF L. FRANK BAUMS THE WIZARD OF OZ was a really good one. Nice work.

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