In an inscription in an earlier children's book that he gave his sister, L. Frank Baum (1856-1919) noted : " I have learned to regard fame as a will-o-the-wisp, which when caught, is not worth the possession; but to please a child is a sweet and lovely thing that warms one's heart and brings its own reward." With The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Baum won the fame that had eluded him in his early careers. By the time he died in 1919, Baum had written thirteen other books set in Oz.
W. W. (William Wallace) Denslow (1856-1915) was a well-known newspaper cartoonist and poster designer when he illustrated Baum's Father Goose, His Book (1899). Following its success, the two men teamed up for Baum's next work, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Because Baum and Denslow each thought that his own contribution was the main reason for the success of the book, their relationship deteriorated. Denslow illustrated only one more Baum book, and after he designed costumes for the 1902 stage version of the Wizard his collaboration with Baum ended.
At the beginning of their marriage, Frank worked in the world that he loved best, in theater in New York. However, when Maud became pregnant, he decided that he had to make a steady living for his wife and child, and moved to South Dakota, where they opened a dry goods store. Because he extended too much credit to his poor customers, the store went bankrupt (Drought-ridden South Dakota was later to become the prototype for gray Kansas in The Wizard of Oz). The Baums moved once again, this time to Chicago, where Frank worked as a newspaper reporter.
One evening while the family was gathered around the fire-place in their den, Frank began telling the story of a young boy who was carried away by a cyclone to a magical land. When one of his sons asked the name of the magical land, Frank, glancing at the filing cabinet labeled O-Z, replied "Oz." With his wife's encouragement, he started to write down his stories, with an eye to publication. Maud was, in this manner, the mother of Oz.
He settled in Hollywood, California, in 1901 to devote himself full-time to writing. Best known for his Oz series, Baum also wrote a number of other children's series, adult novels, and plays and musicals. He operated the Oz Film Company from 1914 to 1915.
Baum's Oz stories have been noted for their "Americanness," that is, for significant component of their fairy-tale lands created out of distinctly American materials; indeed, his collection entitled American Fairy Tales is a deliberate attempt to create a uniquely American form, with settings in the Midwest and other American locations. Often the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman of the Oz stories are cited as some of the best examples of fantasy characters derived from an American agricultural and industrial sensibility, and many of Baum's other stories are populated by farm animals and mechanical creatures.
There have been countless critical studies of Baum and his work of late, but they do not always deal exclusively with The Wizard of Oz. Many are more concerned with the movie than with the book. One of the most persistent in Henry M. Littlefield's "The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism" (American Quarterly, Spring 1964). It theorizes that Baum was thinking allegorically about his own time when he wrote the first of the Oz stories. While some valid points are raised, it too often strains for symbols that the text does not support.
The motion picture version of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) has, of course, greatly shaped many readers' impressions of the book. In the novel, however, Baum presents a much more ambivalent attitude toward "home." While it is true that, in the last chapter of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy exclaims, "I'm so glad to be at home again!" taken as a whole, Baum's "Oz" series rejects traditional views of the value of home. In fact, as the series progresses, Dorothy, herself, becomes an explorer who, along with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, eventually rejects her Kansas home and domestic life to join a community of homeless nonconformists.
The Oz novels do not explicitly refer to electricity, so it may seem strange, at first, to argue that it courses through, and in some ways defines, this imaginary land. Yet, the nonexistence, or rather invisibility, of electricity ultimately proves my point, since it suggests that Baum's tales consciously leave behind a technology he distrusted, even as the characters bring it with them anyway. Repressed electricity finds expression in the magic that pervades this country. A mysterious green glow emanates from the Emerald City; magic powder animates bodies and a homemade airplane-animal; magic shoes provide transportation. Magic gets many things done in Oz that would, sooner or later, have been done by some form of electricity on earth. Like the scientific frontiers in The Master Key, the frontiers in Oz—defined both as internal, gothic, domestic spaces and as external, adventure-filled regions—constantly shift, move, and change; characters always have a new destination, a new place to be. Central to the anxieties and the adventures is the unpredictability of occurrences—the utter lack of knowledge about what will or can happen next. Like the occurrences in Oz, electricity is unpredictable; it goes anywhere, as both a threatening and a productive force of contemporary science.
Lyman Frank Baum was born on May 15, 1856, in a frame house in Chittenango, fifteen miles east of Syracuse, New York. He was the seventh child of Cynthia Stanton and Benjamin Ward Baum.