Welcome to my blog, featuring various pieces from my collection of Oz books, artwork and memorabilia!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Utopia Americana

Utopia Americana is the first critical study of the Oz books, published in 1929. It was written by Edward Wagenknecht, a professor at the University of Washington from 1925 to 1943, and published in chapbook form. This was ten years after Baum's death, but the series was still very popular, with Ruth Plumly Thompson working as the Royal Historian of Oz.

Wagenknecht was born in Chicago in 1900, the year Wonderful Wizard was published, and lived a long life, passing away in 2004. This study puts forward the importance of fantasy works, and argues that fairy tales are in fact the highest form of literature. While admitting that Baum's books are not necessarily the best written, they deserve attention as popular literature with a distinctly American flavor. There is so much inventiveness in the stories that they can't be ignored. The study ends with a letter Wagenknecht received from Baum in 1919, two months before the author's death.
Back in the late 70's, I happened to be in Seattle and visited the university bookstore. I was amazed to find a full shelf filled with multiple copies of hardcover, white edition Oz books; at the time, I had been struggling to assemble a set of Rand McNally paperbacks, and the series was not easy to find - certainly not in hardcover! Perhaps the association with Wagenknecht had a far-reaching effect...

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