L. Frank Baum
Guy Lochhead, 29/10/11
Popular American author best known for his Oz books – The Wizard of Oz etc.. He wrote between 1895 and 1918 but filled his books with ideas way ahead of contemporary technology and social norms. Later, he produced theatre and film. He died of a stroke in 1919. L. Frank Baum’s Oz series is still incredibly popular and incredibly well known, but I find it a bit too twee, with all the supposedly fantastical places and names pretty unoriginal and unimaginative. Also, all of his good work is somewhat undermined in a modern context by a couple of strange and misguided passages he wrote about Native Americans (which he later seemed to undermine…) and by his occasional use of the word nigger (always by detestable characters to make them seem more detestable). He was originally an atheist but became Christian later on. Thankfully he maintained his belief that religious decisions should be made by a mature mind, not forced onto children, so they never appear in his work. I think he has a great understanding of the older-child’s mind (9-11ish) – his protagonists make mistakes and have that awesome childish assuredness/arrogance, as well as an innate sense of what is right. There is also no presence of romantic love as he felt it was totally irrelevant and didn’t make sense to children. He was also very adept at writing with a believable female voice. His books written as Edith Van Dyne were very popular novels for young girls with genuinely interesting, pro-active and self-sufficient female characters. I will include the ‘Aunt Jane’s Nieces’ series. I would also like to include ‘The Magic Key’, a wonderful electrical adventure that succeeds even now in recreating the magic of a discovery that we blindly absolutely rely on. He was unafraid of bringing well-developed political ideas into children’s literature, but was never didactic or one-dimensional about it.

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