Sunday, May 28, 2017

Jesse Walker, Oz fan

The Wizard of Oz, the 1939 MGM musical, is ubiquitously known. The original L. Frank Baum novel is famous, too, of course, but it’s not long before you’re losing people if you talk Oz. You knew L. Frank Baum wrote sequels to Wizard, right? 13 of them, fourteen if you count a book of short stories. Then there are the children’s fantasies Baum wrote about lands he placed near Oz and characters from those fairylands would stop by Oz (or vice versa). But Baum wrote for a living and his was not the age when a children’s book author could become a billionaire (J. K. Rowling, you go, girl!), so Baum wrote other stories, like the series Aunt Jane’s Nieces for teens, and he collaborated on work for the stage and screen (though those actually are part of how he lost money!), and one must note Baum lived a full life before he wrote The Wizard of Oz. I’ve read all the Oz books and most the rest of Baum’s writing and have read biographies of Baum and studies of the many versions of Oz. I know a lot about Oz and Baum, so I recognize when someone else does, too. 

When I was reading Jesse Walker’s taxonomy of American conspiracy theories, The United States of Paranoia, I was a little surprised when L. Frank Baum showed up being quoted on American Indians. Baum is not going to top anyone’s list of authorities on the topic. Baum started and ran a weekly newspaper in Aberdeen, North Dakota, and in his newspaper Baum tried to calm anti-Indian hysteria, saying, “‘the Indian scare’ was ‘a great injustice’ fanned by ‘sensational newspaper articles.’” Recent Baum commemorations have been protested because Baum later wrote that the situation of the American Indian tribes had become so degraded that the Indians would really be better off dead, so, as Walker says, one “can’t accuse the man of special pleading” in his debunking.  

Oz, post-Baum, appears in Jesse Walker’s discussion of post-WWII era paranoia. After L. Frank Baum died, his publisher contracted with another writer to continue the Oz series. Thus the books continued to make money and provide royalties to Baum’s widow and sons. By the 1940s Jack Snow, a longtime fan, had inherited the mantle of Royal Historian of Oz, and got two Oz books published in the official series. Jesse Walker groups Jack Snow’s The Magical Mimics in Oz with other works of post-WWII dread like John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There? which “featured an alien with the ability to adopt the appearance of the people it consumes,” and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers which did pretty much the same thing. “In The Magical Mimics in Oz … supernatural creatures capture Dorothy and the Wizard, adopt their physical forms and take the opportunity to engage in espionage within the Emerald City, searching for the spell that will allow their race of monsters to invade Oz and subject the rest of its people to the same fate.”

L. Frank Baum is listed among famous theosophists in Walker’s chapter on religious conspiracies, and Baum’s Oz-adjacent fantasy, The Sea Fairies, gets quoted to exemplify the metaphor of the octopus as monopolistic capitalism. (The girl, Trot, tells her newfound undersea friends that “‘on the earth, where I live, we call the Stannerd [sic] Oil Company an octopus, an’ the Coal Trust an octopus …’” The octopus Trot is telling this to interrupts her to demand a less insulting metaphor.) 

Clearly Jesse Walker has an unusual depth of knowledge of Oz and L. Frank Baum. I wonder if he’s a member of The International Wizard of Oz Club, like me. 

source: The United States of Paranoia: a conspiracy theory by Jesse Walker

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