Who are you, and how did you come to discover the Oz books?
I’m a middle class guy raised in the suburbs of Southern California, though I live in San Francisco now. My first exposure to Oz was the MGM movie, which made its very first TV appearance about four days after I was born in 1956. I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t far and away my favorite movie. I loved it so much that when I first learned to read, my mom decided to buy a copy of the Baum book – the one with Dick Martin’s dust cover and Dale Ulrey’s illustrations inside. I still have that battered old thing, though the dust cover is long gone. After that I read the few Oz books that were in our local library, over and over and over, and started collecting the white editions.
Do you have a favorite Oz book, and if so, why is it your favorite?
I really don’t have a favorite. As a kid I used to go on reading binges with series of books such as Narnia, Mary Poppins and Oz, and when that happened it was about the whole series and the wonderful characters who came back in story after story. A long series is a whole world that you can live in, book after book, over a period of weeks, and still wish it would never end.
What led you to write your first Oz story?
Questions! Baum unintentionally left a lot of gaps and contradictions and enigmas in his stories, and they’ve been the joy and the bane of Oz fans ever since. My particular questions had to do with the mysterious Queen Lurline, a legendary character who wasn’t even mentioned till the twelfth book but was then said to have made Oz a fairyland. Who wouldn’t want to know more about that? Button-Bright casually voices my questions about Lurline at the beginning of Time Travelers of Oz. In my youth I hoped that someone would take on this huge subject, but that never happened. So finally I did it myself.
What do you think it is about Oz that continues to be appealing after 100 years?
I think it’s that sense of wanting to immerse yourself in another world, a world where magic is an everyday thing that still has power to amaze, where kids are the heroes of their own stories, and where you are loved and appreciated because of your oddities rather than in spite of them.
You chose Button-Bright and Ojo as your main characters. Why them specifically? How challenging is it for you to write in the voices of pre-established characters?
I’ve always loved them, in their very different ways, and I noticed that in Glinda of Oz they are portrayed very much as a pair. They were minor characters in that book, so not much was made of their friendship. Still, there it was, plain to see, and when I decided to tackle the Lurline story, I immediately knew that they would be my heroes. Even so, it was only in writing the story that I found how central their friendship is to the structure of the story. They are separated early on, and getting back together becomes their goal almost in the way that getting home is Dorothy’s goal in Wizard. It goes on being a problem for them through Lost Boy and Law. They need to be together, so keeping them apart is paradoxically dramatic. As for their pre-established voices, I have my own internal sense of them that’s been with me for most of my life, and I let that guide me.
How did you come up with your ideas for plots, characters, settings? What’s the creative process like for you?
It’s been different for each story. In the case of Time Travelers, I knew that the boys would go back in time and see Lurline, but I didn’t know what else would happen to them. I had to sit down very deliberately and think about all the Oz villains I could bring in to cause trouble, as well as what Oz might have been like before it was enchanted. Lost Boy grew out of my short story “Mothers of Oz,” in which a Yookoohoo boy in the shape of a mouse decides to help a pregnant woman. I’d also been thinking about Button-Bright and his particular mysteries, and I remember asking myself, “COULD Button-Bright be that Yookoohoo kid? And if so, how on earth did he ever get to Philadelphia? And what does that say about him and his odd personality?” All this seemed radical and daring at first. But when the story took shape in my mind, it quickly came to feel like something that had always been true; all I had to do was find it. Law of Oz is essentially a question that comes out of the previous two: if the two boys suddenly have magic of their own, aren’t they in violation of the law that says magic can only be practiced by Ozma, Glinda and the Wizard? Part of the story comes out of that. The other part continues Lurline’s strange story.
Over a hundred years of Oz stories can prove daunting to an author who wants to write a traditional Oz story and not contradict what came before. You did a remarkable job adhering to Oz history. Did you find navigating the continuity of so many stories challenging, fascinating, frustrating?
All of the above! Baum’s internal paradoxes are crazy enough, but when you add in later writers the picture gets even crazier. In my heart I’m a Baum purist and prefer to keep post-Baum characters and events out of my stories. I wish I could regard all post-Baum Oz stories (including my own) as alternate universes, available but not essential. But at the same time I’m aware of the bigger picture and will make substantial concessions to accommodate it. Major example: the issue of immortality. My own stories wade right into those difficult waters and make use of a strict interpretation that comes right out of Baum. But Baum himself muddied those waters in other stories, and later writers seized on possible loopholes to develop their own interpretations. I got called on the carpet for my doctrinaire approach and had to find ways to incorporate a looser view of the matter while still using it to move the story. It works, I think, but it’s a struggle.
The Oz books lend themselves to the exploration of numerous themes. Without giving away spoilers, what particular themes do you think The Law of Oz and Other Stories explores?
A major theme for me is the use and abuse of power. Ojo and Button-Bright both confront this issue, both in themselves and in other characters, and they gradually develop quite a complex attitude toward it. Ozma has to deal with it as well, and so do Lurline and Tititi-Hoochoo and various other characters.
While keeping things very much in the Baumian tradition, your book takes some unexpected twists and turns. After readers finish the book, however, I think many will agree that the revelations were exciting and feel “right.” Did you have any trepidation making changes to the status-quo, taking these characters on the emotional/psychological rollercoaster rides they go on?
Trepidation is a good word for it! There were many points where I stopped short and asked myself, “Can I really do this?” And occasionally the answer was “No,” but often it was “Yes!” All post-Baum Oz writers have taken their share of liberties, some much more radical than mine, and they seem to have survived. So I try to keep a good balance, let the stories grow organically, and not stress too much about the status quo. Also, future Oz writers are totally free to ignore any or all of my changes.
Rumor has it you’ve got another book in the works. What can readers look forward to?
I have a theory that in Oz, whenever a story creates a problem or leaves an unanswered question, that’s exactly where you may find your next story. So true to form, my own next story – which is already pretty well finished and ready to be illustrated – picks up with a question left unanswered at the end of Law of Oz. The boys have gotten themselves some credibility, but their limits will be tested by a very tricky enemy – and there are surprises in store that will bring more changes to their lives.
The Law of Oz and Other Stories is available from Amazon.com and other online retailers
Illustrations ©Jaun Raza
You've now completed your second book, The Magic Umbrella of Oz, a sequel to The Law of Oz and Other Stories. How did you find the process of writing a full-length sequel to your own work? Were certain things easier? Harder? Had you gained any insights on the process? What are some of the rewards?
One big difference is that my brain is finally adjusting to long-form writing. This has been a real problem because my natural tendency has always been toward concision. That’s why my first volume became a collection of novellas rather than a full-length, stand-alone novel. Opening up into the wide open spaces of a true novel has been a tough journey. But I’m finally getting there. Another difference is that my first two stories (Time Travelers of Oz and The Lost Boy of Oz) grew directly out of Baum’s work and certain questions that he left open. Now, many years later, the stories I’m writing have acquired a momentum of their own, so that each one seems to generate ideas for the next. More than anything else, I want to find out what Button-Bright and Ojo will do next!
As any Baum fan will tell you, the Oz books have always featured powerful, capable, wise women in central roles. This is one of the things I love about the series, and I know many other fans feel the same way. Grandma Natch and her daughter Yada may not look or sound like Glinda or Ozma, but they’ve carved out their own place in that grand tradition and they definitely serve as role models and mentors for the boys – just as Glinda became a role model for Baum’s reformed Wizard. On the other hand, the Natch women’s personalities are something else again. Their power dates from before the coming of Lurline, so they clearly see themselves as representing a more ancient Oz – and they’re a bit snooty about it. They also reflect some personal values of mine that are not traditionally Baumian. Both reject the opulent lifestyle of Ozma’s palace, and they also mistrust people who use power to dominate others. They think the world would be a better place if everybody minded their own business! That said, events sometimes conspire to drag them out of their comfort zones into big city doings, which creates a new kind of drama for them. As old as they are, they still have a few things to learn from Ozma and Glinda – and Ozma and Glinda have things to learn from them.
Mrs. Yoop, whom I’ve given the first name Moyna, is one of only two
Yookoohoos who appeared in Baum’s books. As a child reading The Tin
Woodman of Oz, I thought she made a terrific villain – and a unique
one as well, beautiful and self-possessed, highly intelligent, utterly
implacable, and a bit too sure of her own power. Funny too, in her own
nasty way. She also commanded a kind of magic that was unlike any other in
the Oz books, very quick and tidy, with no messy powders or equipment or
ceremonies. Finally, she had what must have been a bizarre mismatch of a
marriage to the outlandish giant Yoop. What could possibly have brought
those two together? That’s a question I tackled in my first book, when
Button-Bright’s time travels brought him to the wedding feast of the Yoops.
In order to make this work, I had to do a lot of thinking about Yookoohoos
based on the two known examples – who have interesting similarities and
also perplexing differences. My fascination with Yookoohoos, and the
family group that includes Grandma Natch, Moyna herself, and two other
daughters, as well as Button-Bright, grew out of this. And Moyna Yoop’s
story was left unfinished at the end of Tin Woodman. Trapped in the
form a green monkey, deprived of her magic, where would she go? How would
she live? And what kind of vengeance could she wreak? She had to
come back to her Yookoohoo family! And when she did, what would she make
of them? What would they make of her? All this added up to a wonderful
character. Moyna is awful, but I hope readers will feel a little sympathy
for her too. She’s so alone with her misery and anger. No one wants to
wind up like that.
The Piper is one of Oz's more terrifying villains, ranking up there with Baum's Wicked Witches and Phanfasms. How did you conceive him? What do you think goes into creating a great villain?
The obvious inspiration for the Piper is Robert Browning’s famous poem, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin,” and the legends that underlie it. What a strange vision that story is – the appalling ease with which those children leave their parents behind, seemingly forever. What fate awaits them inside their mountain? And what does the Piper get out of it, aside from revenge? The story never says. I’m no longer sure exactly how that story connected itself with Baum’s Phanfasms in my mind, but the connection came fully alive in The Lost Boy of Oz and I’ve continued to explore it ever since. The Piper and his victims became the answer to the question, “What are the Phanfasms and how did they get that way?” He is the invisible spirit that made them what they are. But other questions had to be answered as well, for example: “If the Phanfasms are so powerful, why did they depend on the Nomes to get them into Oz?” For me, this led inevitably to a weakness or flaw in the Phanfasms themselves, something in their psychology that kept them pinned to their mountain. And what would the Piper make of this? All of these things – the terrible gifts that the Piper can bring, and the sorry use (in his view) that’s been made of them – went into my thoughts about the character. And then there’s his incorporeal nature, the notion of an enemy who cannot be seen or touched, but who insinuates himself into our dreams. How do you fight an enemy of this kind? How do you even find him? The seeming impossibility of this creates a huge challenge for Button-Bright and Ojo – and perhaps that, in the end, is the secret of a great villain. The case seems hopeless. What unexpected resources do the heroes find within themselves that can overcome this menace?
One of the things I love about Ojo and Button-Bright is that they never see themselves as key players in big events. They have no interest in power for its own sake, or fame, or influence. Those are matters that they happily leave to others whom they rightly see as wiser and more capable. And it’s this that makes it exciting and dramatic when they suddenly find themselves with power, fame and influence. What will they do? Events spin out of control, wiser heads are unable to act, and the boys are forced to respond. One thing that keeps them sane, I think, is that they always aim straight at their immediate goal, whatever it is. And when it’s been achieved, they want nothing more than to fade back into obscurity. Beyond that, though, they depend on each other to stay grounded. Their friendship is easily the most important thing in their lives, and they know each other very well. Grandma Natch and Yada Natch also help to keep them in line. On the other hand, their powers will increasingly make them a magnet for other people’s agendas. Where will it all end?
Baum left us a big challenge in this character! We learn in Wizard
that the Witch has enslaved the Munchkins and kept them in thrall. They
are unabashedly delighted when Dorothy’s house falls on her. Yet the
Munchkins Dorothy meets are the blooming and prosperous residents of a
blooming and prosperous country. So how bad was this supposed tyrant of a
witch? Later we learn that she caused the step-by-step dismemberment of
the Tin Woodman – admittedly a horrific act suggesting a pitiless enemy.
So perhaps it’s fear of this kind of treatment that keeps the Munchkins
down, rather than the kind of widespread brutality that we usually
associate with tyrants. It takes a certain kind of mind to operate this
way. That’s the germ of the character in Magic Umbrella. She’s
someone who has always preferred to keep things pretty and pleasant on the
outside (including her own outside) but who has used manipulation and
intimidation to make the Munchkins behave. When Button-Bright and Ojo meet
her, though, she’s a witch in crisis, and this adds a lot of new wrinkles
to her character! By the way, I love how our artist Jaun Raza has drawn
I wouldn’t say that I consciously aimed for that, and you can find plenty of female characters in my books who are untroubled by time issues – such as Ozma, Glinda and Dorothy. Even Grandma Natch, who despises Lurline’s spell in Time Travelers, has clearly made her peace with it since then. And poor Moyna is trapped by her own mistakes, not by anything to do with her gender. But I can certainly see your point with regard to the pregnant women and the vanity of the Wicked Witch of the East. The Witch represents a very Baumian theme, one that he embodied most perfectly in the non-Oz character of Queen Zixi of Ix. No male character ever faced a problem like that! But more than specific gender issues, I think these things have to do with my own ambivalent attitude toward immortality. Does that come as a surprise? Oz is a special place, and I absolutely love it that our favorite characters can remain just as they are for the rest of eternity. Yet for me personally, immortality is utterly against the laws of nature. Be warned – it’s a theme I’m not done with!
Strong women were hugely important in Baum’s life. His wife and mother-in-law were powerful and committed feminists whose influence and example is crystal clear in Baum’s work. But as you say, his view of the matter was not simple. In addition to intrinsically good characters such as Ozma and Glinda, there are wonderfully complex characters such as General Jinjur, Coo-ee-oh, Red Reera, and on and on. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that fabulous tradition? It’s irresistible. Of course I’m packing my own baggage with regard to power issues, and Lurline has her share of those! Giving power to people is not what I would call a favor, exactly. That said, I would dearly love to see many more women in positions of power in our own world. They could hardly cause more trouble than we men have done, and they might just make things a whole heck of a lot better. I hope they get the chance to try.
have some ideas, but they’re not as far along as they need to be. Lots to
be worked out still. Stay tuned!
Oh, gosh. Well, I’d have to do a little time traveling for some of the characters. Freddie Highmore at about twelve seems right for Button-Bright; and maybe a twelve-year-old Elijah Wood for Ojo. A fantastic Lurline right now would be Jessica Chastain – stunningly beautiful, obviously intelligent and complex, and capable of ethereal other-worldliness. She would also make an excellent Glinda, especially with her red hair. As for Grandma Natch, how about Pat Carroll at her glorious peak? That’s something I’d love to see! And wouldn’t Ruth Gordon have been a brilliant Wicked Witch of the East! For Yada Natch I nominate the brilliant Joan Cusack. Yada is tricky because I think it would be tempting to overplay the harpy side of her character. We need to see her humor, her hurt, and also her very real love for her son. Joan’s got it!
Illustrations © Bill Campbell & William Irwin
What brought you first to Oz, and how old were you when you discovered it?
Karyl: The very first Oz book I owned was the Julian Wehr "animated" Wizard of Oz. I was very young, probably not reading yet when I was given it. But I was read to daily by my dad, and frequently taken to the library by my Grandma and it was there that I was introduced to the whole world that is Oz. Too young to understand about due dates, I would keep the books for weeks on end. I remember the day when I finally read and understood the small print on the card envelope in the back of The Road to Oz. I was mortified, broke open my piggybank to pay the fine and rushed to the library, where the librarian explained that she had renewed the book for me. What a true and understanding friend to a young reader.
Eric: Like everyone else of (roughly) my generation, my first exposure to Oz was the annual showings of The Movie on television, and I have no idea when that started. But my sister and I were voracious readers, and my folks did the right thing by reading to us as well, so around first grade, my dad read The Land of Oz, The Wizard of Oz, and The Road to Oz to us after checking them out of the library. So I at least was aware that there was more beyond The Movie. But it was third grade that cemented things for good, as my teacher, Mrs. Frances Hanford, read The Wizard of Oz to us, and let me look at the rest of her books as well. Most were the then-current Reilly and Lee white editions, but she also had this enigmatic older book called The Silver Princess of Oz, which intrigued me (but I don’t think I ever tried reading or looking in it). Not long after, I started collecting the then-new Rand McNally paperback editions, and was hooked. I know I got a stack of books for Christmas that year, so I was eight.
Do you have a favorite Oz book? And if so, which one and why?
Karyl: All the Baum Oz books! OK, if I must choose one, The Patchwork Girl of Oz. It is such a wonderful celebration of not being cut off from the Land of Oz forever! And it has Scraps and the Woozy and Bungle--such marvelously unique characters.
Eric: I used to say Rinkitink in Oz was my favorite, probably because of the epic scale and adventures in it. Too bad about the ending! But I’ve matured and become a more sophisticated reader (I hope), and now I think I like them equally, if for different reasons. I even enjoy most of the fanfic and ephemera that’s out there, just because it’s fun to see what other people do with Oz. The only ones I don’t like are the ones who try to make Oz something that it isn’t.
You chose to write a sequel to Tik-Tok of Oz, involving a plot hint that Baum left behind (of Queen Ann's missing parents). Why did this particular topic and/or character strike you as something and/or someone you wanted to write about?
Karyl: Well, this goes back to when I joined the International Wizard of Oz Club in 1974. I joined in the Spring, too late to go to the Winkie Convention that year. Immediately putting the Oz map and the U.S. map together I named myself Queen Ann of Oogaboo and in that persona wrote an indignant letter to Fred Meyer (the club secretary) asking why my Royal snootiness had not received a special invitation and threatening to march into the next one with the Oogaboo Army. Fred was quite amused.
I did go to the convention the next year, with three of my sons in a VW camper though not in uniform, and I have missed only one in the ensuing 39 years. And I have "been" Queen Ann ever since. Of course I had to write the sequel to my first adventure!
Eric: When a bunch of local Northwest fans started gathering, we called ourselves the Oogaboos, since Oogaboo is in the northwest of Oz, and our meetings eventually gained the moniker Oogaboo Rendezvous. As Karyl said above, she just sort of appointed herself Queen Ann, and I dressed as Files one year at Winkies. So Oogaboo was just part of our local fandom. When I ran a story contest in my journal, The Oogaboo Review, naturally Karyl had an entry and she’s the one who came up with the adventure hook. But it works so well, why wouldn’t someone write a story about Ann’s missing parents?
What was the process of collaboration between the two of you? Also, was it daunting stepping into Baum's shoes in a way to try and carry on in his universe?
Karyl: Eric and I first met at those earliest Oogaboo Rendezvous. Eric knew, just as I did, that the Pacific Northwest is Oogaboo. So, we started having Oogaboo Rendezvous with all the Ozzy people we could find in the area. He is a year older than my youngest son and with an interest in Oz much greater than any of them so he fit neatly into my "family package."
Eric: I missed the first one, as I’d been on a Boy Scout hike when the invitation came. Not long after, I quit the Boy Scouts! So we most likely met at the second Rendezvous, in the fall of 1978. And although we can’t take credit for starting it, we’re probably two of the biggest reasons they’re still going. The leader in getting that going was the late Rob Roy McVeigh.
Karyl: But the collaboration is a whole other long story. Eric was publishing The Oogaboo Review, and he was seeking input from the readers. So he suggested starting a serial story. Inspiration! I wrote the first chapter, starting with Ann's letter to Shaggy. The serial died after about 4 chapters.
Then, in 1990, I had just become unemployed when out of the blue came a letter from Eric, who wondered if we two shouldn't revive the further adventures of Queen Ann. It was a life raft to grab at a very low point in my life. The writing itself went very easily. When one of us ran out of ideas or time we would send it off to the other, who always managed to pick it up and carry it on. Letters with similar ideas would often cross in the mail!
I had read and re-read all of Baum's Oz books to the point of nearly memorizing them—I was not at all intimidated about trying to follow in his footsteps.
Eric: It wasn’t daunting to me either. In fact, one of our goals was to write something much more traditional. We started writing in the early days of non-canonical Oz ephemera, and most of what was coming out was totally not Baum at all, like A Barnstormer in Oz and Was and that ilk. This was before the internet, of course—I think we may have had a much longer and more involved book if we’d had e-mail—so we just sort of started writing, and when we got to a good stopping point, or a particularly thorny barrier, we’d send what we had off to the other and carry on. The original plan was that we’d alternate chapters, but I don’t think we stuck with that too closely once we got going. I do remember Karyl once suggested a town of dentists, but that didn’t seem particularly Ozzy to me, so, having just gotten a haircut at the time, I thought barbers would work, and thus was born Barberville. Looking back on it now, however, there are at least some parts of the book that we’re not sure who wrote what!
For readers who don't know, you starred in a production of "Another Adventure With Ann," a prequel to Queen Ann in Oz (and included in the book) for the 1983 Winkie Convention. What sparked the creation of this? And when did you decide to portray the characters from the story?
Karyl: It was the 1988 Winkie Convention, and I was chairman. I wanted my convention to be lively and fun, not stuffy as some of them had lately been. So Eric wrote the skit, we recruited and bullied all the Oogaboos to act in it (some of them have never been to Winkies before or since that year) and it was a hoot! All singing! All dancing!
But there was no deciding to portray the characters, they just took over!
Eric: Karyl chaired the convention that year, and all it was meant to be was a bit of silliness to start off the convention, and sort of parallel the convention experience in Oz. I wrote the thing and cast most of the Oogaboos who were going, with the late Warren Hollister playing the Tin Woodman. Let’s just say that Ann (nor her temper) had not improved much with age since the events of Tik-Tok of Oz. I don’t think it really had much influence on Queen Ann in Oz, but we did manage to slip in a little reference to it as an inside joke. (Of course, now everyone is in on the joke.)
Photo ©Karyl Carlson
There are now a lot of fantasy worlds that have been created for literature, film and television. What is it about Oz that has kept you a fan all these years? What is it about Oz that keeps fans reading and writing further adventures?
Karyl: It’s a hard question to answer. Oz is so real to me—it is another world where new adventures keep happening just as they do here in this world. And people keep writing them and reading them because we want to know the news of that world just as we want to know the news of this one. Only the Oz world is more fun!
Eric: Good grief, if I knew the answer to that, I’d be as successful of a writer as J. K. Rowling! In my case, I think it was just right place, right time. But there also just wasn’t as much at the time. Mrs. Hanford, the teacher who got me hooked on Oz, also read to us The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and so also got me hooked on Narnia at about the same time as Oz. Even though I’ve done a lot more with Oz, I am also a Narnia fan, and the two are linked in my heart. Outside of Wonderland, a lot of those fantasy worlds were either created more for adults, or just weren’t around at the time. But Oz has two big advantages: One is that the books are self-contained. You don’t have to read the entire series to enjoy them, each one can be enjoyed on their own. And they’re in public domain, so that anyone can not only write an Oz book, but actually get it published if they’re so inclined. Plus, Oz is just a fun place!
Three big-budget Oz films have now been produced. What are your thoughts on: the classic Wizard of Oz? Return to Oz? Oz: The Great and Powerful? What would you like to see of a new Oz film?
Karyl: To me the Oz movies are just like the books--news from the other world I love and believe in. I would love to see a Disney Studios animation of The Patchwork Girl of Oz.
Eric: Hey, don’t forget The Wiz and Legends of Oz: Dorothy Returns. I think the reason The Movie and Oz the Great and Powerful succeeded is that they both, in different ways, actually managed to capture the magic of the books. Sure, they made changes, but that’s what you have to do to turn a book into a movie. I don’t think there has ever been a movie adaptation that hasn’t made any changes. Return to Oz came close to capturing that same magic, but they heaped on too much darkness and angst. If they’d stuck to a lighter-hearted adaptation of one of the books, it might have found a broader audience. And that’s what I think a successful Oz movie needs: Don’t stray so far from the source material. For the next Oz movie, I’d like to see a straightforward adaptation of either The Land of Oz or Ozma of Oz. But I suspect we’ll see a sequel to Oz the Great and Powerful and the Wicked movie first.
This publication of Queen Ann in Oz is the second, now revised and containing a sequel, Jodie in Oz. The original publication was way back in 1993, which was over 20 years ago and seems almost like a different world. Did you anticipate that your work would have such a lengthy span, and that people would still be interested in your adventures from far-off Ooogaboo?
Karyl: Well Baum's Oz books have lasted over 100 years—why wouldn't ours? Actually that is not something I ever thought about at the time—I was just so excited to be an Oz book author!
Eric: I don’t know if I actually anticipated it would have such a long life, but I’m not surprised. After all, look at how long people have been reading Baum’s original books. We tried to write something more traditional and timeless, and I think it’s safe to say we succeeded at that. (I remember one revision I made for this new edition, changing “VCR” to “video,” now that a VCR is outdated technology.)
You’re hosting an Oz convention next year. While that's still a long way off, can you tell us what that's all about? How are Oz conventions different than the standard fantasy/sci-fi convention?
Karyl: I will let Eric deal with this one.
Eric: Karyl and I, and to a lesser extent some of the other Oogaboos, have been attending and helping to organize Winkie Conventions for a very long time now, so when the opportunity arose, we decided it was time to bring the Winkies to our neck of the woods, in Portland, and give the convention an Oogaboo flair. With the long distance from its usual sites (this will be the first Winkie Convention ever outside of California) and the anniversaries of Rinkitink in Oz and Captain Salt in Oz, there will definitely be the feel of a sea cruise to a far and distant land. But we also don’t expect to get quite as big a turnout as San Diego did in 2014 and likely will in 2015, so it will probably be a little smaller and more intimate, although still bigger than an old traditional Winkie Convention. I’ve been saying for years that the Winkies need to look at other sic-fi and fantasy conventions for ideas and ways to grow, and I’m glad that that’s happened now. But I also know that some longtime Winkies were put off by just how big it got in San Diego, so Karyl and I are already trying to think of ways to bring some of that back, just on a bigger scale. (No, it’s not easy, and we haven’t even started the real heavy lifting yet!)
I’ve been racking my brain trying to think what makes Oz conventions so different, and even though I recognize that they are, I’m not sure I can explain why. A lot of it is just the atmosphere, however, with everyone being brought into the fold as long lost family members, even if it’s their first time.
If Hollywood were to make a motion-picture of your book, who would you like to see play some of the main cast?
Karyl: I think Disney could do a wonderful animated version of Queen Ann and Jodie in Oz. As for the voice actors—I don't know--Eric, any ideas?
Eric: Good grief, I have no idea. I think Jodie and the boys should be young, undiscovered newcomers, and let’s turn Mortomore over to the Henson workshop—unless it’s an animated movie instead, of course!
What brought you first to Oz, and how old were you when you discovered it?
My parents gave me Oz books as presents for Christmas and birthdays. I don't remember when they gave me the first one. The books came in no particular order, and the books by Ruth Plumly Thompson came along with the books by L. Frank Baum. Eventually I began to distinguish between the authors, but I suppose I was grown before that happened. When I wrote “The Utopia of Oz,” (included in the new version of Adolf Hitler in Oz, —ed.) I focused entirely on the 14 books of the Baum canon.
Do you have a favorite Oz book? And if so, which one and why?
No favorite one.
Was it daunting stepping into Baum's shoes to try and carry on in the universe he established? What is your opinion of Baum’s many successors?
I don't daunt easily.
I haven't read a lot of the post-Baum Oz books, except for those by Ruth Plumly Thompson, which I thought were the equal of the master's. I liked The Gardener's Boy of Oz, by Phyllis Karr, though I felt there were too many episodes. I looked forward to reading A Barnstormer in Oz, by Philip Jose Farmer, because I had read other things by him and thought he had a remarkable talent, but I was seriously disappointed. I didn't think Farmer really understood Oz. The four books on Oz by Gregory Maguire are magnificent in themselves, and stylistic masterpieces, but I didn't find them to have much to do with L. Frank Baum's Oz, except they did explain how the Cowardly Lion became cowardly.
There are now a lot of fantasy worlds that have been created for literature, film and television. What is it about Oz that has kept you a fan all these years? What is it about Oz in general that keeps fans reading and writing further adventures?
I can't answer why Oz appeals “in general”; I can speak only for myself. There is a kind of reality about Baum's Oz that made me believe it actually existed until I put the books down. And I found much in the Utopian aspects of the world Baum created that appealed to me: a world without money, with love the medium of exchange; a world where magic was not only possible but real; a world where the purpose of incarceration was to make the offender a better person; a world where war was a joke. I wished our world were more like Oz. Once I showed an early draft of Adolf Hitler in Oz to a friend of mine; she returned it to me with the comment, “I wish I lived there!” So do I.
Let’s dive right into the controversy. A lot of readers were put off by the concept of Hitler going to Oz and couldn’t get past the title. Besides not judging a book by its cover, why do you think they would actually enjoy your story?
Several people have been kind and honest enough to tell me that the title put them off. I was surprised. I still don't understand how a reading public that made Fifty Shades of Grey a best seller would find Adolf Hitler in Oz objectionable.
I was 11 years old when Hitler's Germany invaded Poland and started World War II, and I was 17 when Germany surrendered. But young as I was, I was always absolutely convinced that Germany would lose the war. In the book I put into the Wizard's mouth the reason why I believed so strongly that evil contained within itself the seeds of its own destruction.
When I started thinking seriously of books I wanted to write, I was 50, and that idea from my teens took charge of my mind. I wanted to express the idea that evil would always lose when it fought against goodness. As Mammy Yokum said, “Good is better than evil because it's nicer.”
I tried to think of someone to use to represent evil. I thought of Genghis Khan, but I really didn't know enough about him to use him realistically. But I did know enough about Hitler. Then I tried to think of a representative of goodness to oppose him, and the Land of Oz popped into my head immediately. So now I had the protagonist and antagonist of my book.
As the book developed, I never found a way to show why Hitler's failure was inevitable because of the nature of evil itself, and to that extent I did not succeed in writing the book I started out wanting to write. But at least I am pleased that I dramatized the victory of goodness and love over evil and hatred. I think any reader will find that in the book. And because it is an optimistic book, a triumphant book, I think readers who can get past the title to the story itself will like it.
It is also an optimistic book because it suggests that even Hitler could be redeemed, as Tollydiggle sets out to redeem him.
Several years ago there was a serial killer whose name was William Heirens. Heirens claimed that he had a split personality; it was the other personality, George Murman, that committed the murders, and he himself was dismayed by them. On the bathroom mirror at the scene of one of his crimes, he wrote in lipstick, “Stop me before I kill more.” The jury did not believe his split-personality defense, and he spent the last 65 years of his life in prison.
I do not believe that Hitler had a split personality, but I do believe that he did evil things wondering why no one stopped him. I believe that his father was very stern and believed in physical punishment for misdeeds, but that his mother thought she was doing him a favor by protecting him from his father's wrath. Thus Hitler grew up believing that he could get away with being bad, and so he would sometimes do things he knew merited punishment in order to see whether his mother would protect him. That is not uncommon; Hitler took it to an extreme. But such people can be redeemed by appropriate psychotherapy, and I found that Tollydiggle held to a similar philosophy as Carl Rogers's school of therapy.
In addition to the optimism of the book, I think a reader would enjoy it because it is somewhat suspenseful and also somewhat funny. I think those who persevere will find it entertaining and rewarding. One young man who read the book kept exclaiming, “I loved it!” And it was very favorably reviewed by Caroline Sposto in the Humor in America blog.
You chose to feature characters from Tik-Tok of Oz, and a concept (Oz’s “prison system”) first depicted in The Patchwork Girl of Oz. Why these particular topics and characters?
I read and reread the Oz books as a child, and then when my own sons were young I read and reread the books aloud to them. So all the books are jumbled together in my head, and I don't know which characters and which concepts come from which books. I just drew whatever characters and concepts I needed for my own purposes from the mass of Oziana in my mind.
One character I’d love to sit and have a meal with is Tollydiggle (who we interview here as well). She’s fascinating, kind and yet strong. Can you talk a little about her? And do you think her concept of rehabilitation, which you and Mr. Baum elaborated on, could work in the real world?
Thanks for your kind words. I hoped readers would find Tollydiggle just as you've described her. I remembered Baum's character for many years, proving that he could create memorable characters, and I used my recollection of her as a basis to build on.
Yes, I believe Tollydiggle's method of rehabilitation would work – and indeed has worked in helping thousands of clients of therapists to become human. The problem is that it works only one-on-one, and each therapist can take only a limited number of clients. Therefore Americans would rather lock up persons showing antisocial behavior, so that the persons would continue their behavior on being released, than train and hire enough therapists to socialize the antisocial, who would become constructive members of society upon release. Very likely it costs more to incarcerate these offenders than it would to treat them. This is one of many ways in which Americans are penny wise but pound foolish.
The story proved to be a lot funnier than I think many anticipated. Did the humor come naturally to you, or was it something you felt you needed to inject in the story to give it some balance?
I'm glad you found it funny. Comedy is harder to write than tragedy, because not everybody finds the same things funny. As Eddie Cantor remarked, “One man's gag, gags another man.”
I like comedy. To use the 18th century distinction, I like both wit and humor, though I prefer humor to wit (Jackie Gleason to Bob Hope). Three of my favorite authors are all humorous: Henry Fielding, Mark Twain, and Miguel de Cervantes. I like telling jokes – and hearing them. When writing fiction, I feel most natural when I can be funny. For instance, in my sequel to Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huckleberry Finn Grows Up, I am proud of having created two humorous characters, Doctor Potesto and Mr. Bascomb, and also proud of having written a passage in which Huck's wife, Sarah, reads the Bible to Huck, and Huck makes humorous comments on it.
But it is also true that in Adolf Hitler in Oz I made no effort to rein in my funny bone because I felt that making my point, that goodness and love will always triumph over evil and hate, would be dull and soporific if treated too seriously.
Three big-budget Oz films have now been produced. What are your thoughts on: the classic Wizard of Oz? Return to Oz? and Oz: The Great and Powerful?
The Wizard of Oz (1939) deserves its rating as one of the best films of all time. When it came out, my mother took me to see it at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Los Angeles. I was in junior high school, and I fell in love with Judy Garland. I wrote her a fan letter, to which she never replied. Of course I have seen it many times since then. Being an intellectual, I have always identified with the Scarecrow; I thought Ray Bolger was magnificent in the part. His facial expressions and the limberness of his legs were both impressive. I had listened to Bert Lahr on the radio and didn't think he would be suitable for the Cowardly Lion; I was pleasantly surprised. Frank Morgan was a splendid Wizard; I regretted Patricio Carbajal's selection of W.C. Fields (though Fields is a favorite of mine) instead of Morgan to represent the Wizard in my book. And Margaret Hamilton was great as the witch. On the other hand, Billie Burke was a little old for her part. The ending never bothered me; it wasn't Baum, but it was OK.
I saw Return to Oz once. I liked the fact that it was faithful to the Baum books that it cobbled together. All I remember of it now is the Wheelers; great special effects.
Oz: The Great and Powerful came out while I was in Thailand, and while I saw some trailers for it on the Internet, I have never seen the whole movie. So I have no opinion of it, except to say that from what I have seen of James Franco, it is hard for me to imagine him maturing into Frank Morgan.
If Hollywood were to make a motion-picture of your book, who would you like to see play some of the main cast?
I can't imagine that anyone would want to make a motion-picture of Adolf Hitler in Oz, and if someone did, the actors I would recommend are all dead, like Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. For many years I have not seen any current movies, and I have never heard of any of the “stars” featured on Dancing with the Stars. I have found it interesting that these days persons with no discernible talent in any field, like Kim Kardashian, can become “celebrities,” apparently just by going around saying, “I'm a celebrity.” Do you suppose that would work for me if I went around saying, “I'm a great writer”?
Addendun: The last question comes from a reader: How did Stan and Ollie wind up in Oz?
Possible in-universe answer: In 1939 the Wizard, with the help of Glinda, teleported himself to New York so that he could attend the World's Fair in that city. While there, he saw television in the RCA Building, which accounts for some of the byplay between him and Ozma in the book, which took place in 1945, before television was available to the public. Wandering around New York in that year, he was of course drawn to watching the newly released motion picture which bore his name; and he also attended a showing of old comedy movies in an art cinema. There he was impressed by Laurel and Hardy in The Music Box (1932) and thought the pair would be excellent additions to the fairyland, which they would find congenial. On his return to Oz he approached Glinda with the idea, and together they brought Stan Laurel (d. 1965) and Oliver Hardy (d. 1957) out of retirement to Oz, while their doppelgangers remained in the U.S.
Out-of-universe answer: I wanted to write a comic fantasy. Chapter 1 was mostly realistic, with only one or two comic touches. I needed more comedy in Chapter 2, and the comic incompetence of Laurel and Hardy came as an inspiration; it seemed to me just what I wanted. The physical resemblance to Goebbels and Goering occurred to me later.
For more on Sam Sackett and the Land of Oz, please read Adolf Hitler in Oz, published by The Royal Publisher of Oz, and available in deluxe version on Lulu.com and trade paperback in Amazon.com and all major online stories
This recently uncovered interview with Tollydiggle concerning the events of 1945, as revealed in Adolf Hitler in Oz, takes a serious look at the problem of evil in Oz and the penal justice system in the outside world. The opinions of Tollydiggle and the policies of Ozma of Oz do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher, but in this case they do!
For those who don’t know who you are, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Tollydiggle: Ok, well, my name is Tollydiggle. I’m originally from Munchkinland. I’m married to Omby Amby, and I’m the Royal Jailor of Oz. L. Frank Baum first wrote about me in his book The Patchwork Girl of Oz.
How did you ever get such a position?
Tollydiggle: I volunteered! Glinda has known me and my family for many years.
What were the qualifications?
Tollydiggle: Compassion, patience, and a good understanding of people. Where you’re in the outside world, you have to have acquired degrees from various schools and be licensed to practice psychology, but things are different here in Oz. That’s not to say we don’t value education because we do. The only difference is that here we go to a library and read. Also, because we have a supportive community, we talk and learn from each other.
Or you take some of Wogglebug’s pills…
Tollydiggle: (Laughing) No, that’s not been my way. I understand what he was doing when he first introduced his famous “learning pills,” but for me and a lot of Ozites, learning’s half the fun. Besides, we have all the time in the world here. So what’s the rush?
There are not a few in the Outside World who would look askew at the idea of taking pills in place of a decent education.
Tollydiggle: And in the outside world, they’d be right. It’s hard to judge another culture that you don’t understand. The Wogglebug’s methods work for some, and there are no side effects, but they haven’t shut down the schools or libraries. They’ve merely eliminated the tedium that still plagues education in the outside world, and which creates a dislike of learning. Most of Wogglebug’s students have gone on to increase their education, and without the use of pills. But say, for example, you have no aptitude for mathematics. You could repeat grades and in the process increase your frustration while still coming away with no greater knowledge of the subject. One of Professor Wogglebug’s pills could solve that.
Moving on to another controversial subject, you run the one official prison in Oz, and it’s a comfortable, beautiful home, where you personally care for the prisoner like he’s a long-lost relative. Americans would never go for that.
Tollydiggle: Sadly, no they wouldn’t. In their culture, people have been indoctrinated to believe that harsh punishments must be paid out to people who have done bad things, and there’s little to any look at the causes of those bad things. Your economic/political system requires a poor class, which perpetuates inequity, resentment and crime. Your media celebrates violence in numerous forms as the ultimate solution to problems. Worse perhaps is that your society places a much greater value on material things over living beings. It’s a complex issue, but one I hope you’ll solve.
Perhaps we need those education pills after all.
Tollydiggle: No, dearie, just a lot more love and understanding.
But what about evil? Certainly you’ve come across people who can’t be redeemed, who are purely evil. Should not they be punished?
Tollydiggle: Evil is a term I don’t throw around lightly. I’d say there are people who are damaged, many from childhood, when the values of right and wrong become corrupted…
But what of the Wicked Witches, what of Adolf Hitler, who you yourself once held in this prison?
Tollydiggle: I won’t speak of the Witches, since I never got to know them personally. Nor will I discount the presence of evil as an actuating force, both from within and without, but I will say that most people who the world labels evil are really just sick. And what do you do with a sick person?
Was that the case with Hitler?
Tollydiggle: Yes, he was probably one of the sickest persons I’ve known. But in Oz, we can cure such ailments.
Magic, you mean.
Tollydiggle: No, actually, though we can employ what you might call magic—what are really just the natural forces taken to a higher level—to heal physiological problems, such as chemical imbalances. Most of what we do, however, is put love in action. Love is the most powerful healer in fairyland and the mundane lands.
And what of evil?
Tollydiggle: I’m thankfully not the judge and jury, and I defer to Ozma and Glinda’s greater wisdom in such matters. I know that in several cases, they’ve felt the need to use the Waters of Oblivion…
Which makes you forget everything about your past?
Tollydiggle: Yes, a full glass will do that, though just a drop can erase as little as a day, or a week.
Is that as extreme as it gets in Oz when it comes to punishment?
Tollydiggle: Essentially. And the goal is never punishment—which is essentially retaliation—but stopping the bad, and healing the one causing it.
But I have to ask this again: what of evil? You acknowledge that it exists.
Tollydiggle: I do. And it won’t be tolerated here in Oz. We know a bit about the bad things that go on in your world, much of which can be deemed evil, particularly when it’s perpetrated on the innocent and defenseless. All I can say is that if the world would learn to be more like Oz, you wouldn’t have most of the problems you have.
Do you think we ever will?
Tollydiggle: Only the Supreme Master can say! But I’d like to believe so!
For more on Tollydiggle and the challenges she’s faced in her position, please read Adolf Hitler in Oz, by Sam Sackett, available in deluxe edition on Lulu.com, and trade paperback on Amazon.com and all major online booksellers.