Wife of the Wizard of Oz

Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts is a delightful, well-researched novel about Maud Gage Baum. The book follows the life of the wife of L. Frank Baum from her childhood to the premiere of The Wizard of Oz. Maud was very much an individual in her own right, not just the helpmate of the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the books that followed. Maud started as the daughter of Matilda Joslyn Gage, an outspoken suffragist; was one of the first women in the Ivy League, and managed both the household of four boys and the precarious finances of the Baum family. Maud always wanted a daughter to carry on her mother's legacy, and a good part of the novel is taken up with her relationship with her sister and niece. The story bounces right along with Maud and Frank and their peripatetic existence until the publication of the beloved children's book. This is spliced together with the story of Maud, now a widow, befriending and looking out for a very young Judy Garland, who is already surrounded by people who only want something from her. If you have read the books Frank wrote and like the groundbreaking movie, you will get even more out of this rousing tale of the triumph of perseverance. Like this book and want more? Here's your reading list.

For nonfiction on Frank and Maud, but mostly Frank, there's Finding Oz by Evan I. Schwartz and The Real Wizard of Oz by Rebecca Loncraine, both of which also talk about the sources of characters and locales for the books. The DVD The Origins of Oz covers much the same territory, but also has information about the making of the movie. Also dealing with the film is the book The Making of The Wizard of Oz by Aljean Harmetz, which chronicles the miracle it took to get the movie made in the first place.

The Columbian Exposition here in Chicago is considered by most scholars to be the inspiration for the Emerald City, and if you want to get an idea of what Oz looked like in the mind of its creator, there are Historic Photos of the Chicago World's Fair by Russell Lewis and Spectacle in the White City by Stanley Appelbaum. Both use high-quality prints to document when Chicago was on display to the world.

The Baums were only ever briefly in Kansas, but they spent a few years in the Dakotas, the physical description of which stood in for Kansas in Frank's books. For an idea of what Julia, Maud's sister's life was like, there's Women of the Northern Plains by Barbara Handy-Marchello. Of course, Julia might have been better off on her own: Land in Her Own Name, by Elaine H. Lindgren.

And, of course, there is Matilda, Maud's impressive mother. Born Criminal by Angelica Shirley Carpenter is a biography aimed at teens, but might also be of interest to adults, particularly if they are interested into why so few people who know of Gage's friends Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton find her name unfamiliar. Gage also wrote a book, Woman, Church, & State, one of the first to call out systemic sexism in Western culture.

What's your favorite version of the tales of Oz? Tell us in the comments.

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