Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Oz

The first successful – and still the most famous – US fantasy Otherworld, created by L Frank Baum in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900; vt The New Wizard of Oz 1903). Sequels by Other Hands are numerous (see below). Oz is a rectangular, landlocked Polder, and stands in vivid contrast to the US Great Plains from which it is first reached, though the geography which connects this Garden to the circumambient desert is – albeit detailed by Baum – clearly imaginary, and turns anyone who trespasses upon it into dust (Dorothy arrives initially by air). To the north of Oz is Impassable Desert, to the east Shifting Sands, to the west Deadly Desert and to the south a Great Sandy Waste. Oz itself is divided into four colour-coded provinces (> Colour-Coding): northern, forested Gillikin Country is purple; eastern, quaintly urban Munchkin Country is blue; western, windblown Winkie Country is yellow; and southern Quadling Country, inhabited by eccentrics, is red. At the heart of Oz is the Emerald City. The inhabitants of Oz are likewise colour-coded, their clothes and their skins reflecting their region of origin.

The argument concerning Colour-Coding should not be taken to imply that the lands of Oz are literally coloured differently: they are coloured differently on Maps, and there is an allusion in the series' first book (nowhere else repeated) to the various countries' inhabitants having a slightly different skin colour.

Oz is governed by Princess Ozma, though later volumes of Baum's sequence lay down some utopian principles for the organization of the land (> Utopias). Nevertheless Ozma – who is a classic Ugly Duckling (> Hidden Monarch), having been "disguised" from birth as a poor boy named Tip and transformed back into a girl when it comes time for her to assume the throne (> Gender Disguise) – rules by hereditary right. The inhabitants of Oz are variously creatures of fantasy, though relatively few of them reflect the European Fairytale tradition from which J R R Tolkien evolved his cast and which was commandeered by US Genre-Fantasy writers from the late 1970s in their creation of stories set in Fantasyland. The creatures of Oz are sometimes generated by Magic rules (of a sort more commonly found in 19th-century fantasy than later), often through acts of animation (> Animate/Inanimate) that produce beings – like the Glass Cat, or the Scarecrow – whose physical characteristics directly reflect their natures. Magic itself – even the rationalized magic Baum clearly found comfortable – is banned, adding to the sense of Oz as a secular paradise. Though its surrounding desert is treated as impenetrable from the first volumes of the sequence, Baum clearly felt his polder needed a more thorough magical protection, and a later volume tells us that one of the resident Witches in Oz – at Ozma's request – sets a series of Spells to make Oz invisible from the air and impossible to find by land.

Populous with eccentric beings whose greatest fulfilment is being themselves, rendered eternally safe from the wilderness of the world, Oz continues to represent what might be called the daydream of the Matter of America. It is the dream that we will not spoil the territory through the act of discovering it. Oz can be found, by children; but it cannot be desecrated.

After Baum's death, the Oz sequence was continued by other hands, the first and most important of these being Ruth Plumly Thompson (1891-1976), who contributed The Royal Book of Oz * (1921) as by Baum, Kabumpo in Oz * (1922), The Cowardly Lion of Oz * (1923), Grampa in Oz * (1924), The Lost King of Oz * (1925), The Hungry Tiger of Oz * (1926), The Gnome King of Oz * (1927), The Giant Horse of Oz * (1927), Jack Pumpkinhead of Oz * (1929), The Yellow Knight of Oz * (1930), Pirates in Oz * (1931), The Purple Prince of Oz * (1932), Ojo in Oz * (1933), Speedy in Oz * (1934), The Wishing Horse of Oz * (1935), Captain Salt in Oz * (1936), Handy Mandy in Oz * (1937), The Silver Princess in Oz * (1938) and Ozoplaning with the Wizard of Oz * (1939); plus two late titles, Yankee in Oz * (1972) and The Enchanted Island of Oz * (1976). John Rea Neill, Baum's preferred illustrator from almost the beginning of the series, wrote The Wonder City of Oz * (1940), The Scalawagons of Oz * (1941), Lucky Bucky in Oz * (1942) and The Runaway in Oz * (written 1943; 1995). Jack Snow wrote The Magical Mimics in Oz * (1946), The Shaggy Man of Oz * (1949) and Who's Who in Oz * (1954). Further titles include: The Hidden Valley of Oz * (1951) by Rachel Cosgrove (1922-    ), who later wrote as E L Arch; Merry-Go-Round in Oz * (1963) and The Forbidden Fountain of Oz * (1980) by Eloise Jarvis McGraw (1915-    ) and Lauren McGraw Wagner; A Barnstormer in Oz * (1982) by Philip José Farmer; Ozma and the Wayward Wand * (1985) by Polly Berends (1939-    ); Dorothy and the Seven-Leaf Clover (1985) by Dorothy Haas; Mister Tinker in Oz * (1985) by James Howe; Dorothy and the Magic Belt * (1985) by Susan Saunders (1945-    ); and Return to Oz * (1985) by Joan D Vinge.

The influence of Oz as a model for US fantasy is vast but diffuse, though some earlier texts show its more overt effect; a typical example is William Rose Benét's The Flying King of Kurio (1926). [JC]

see also: Geoff Ryman; The Wizard of Oz.

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.