From Publishers Weekly
Baum created Oz in 1900 and wrote 14 Oz novels but sometimes had a less cohesive and consistent idea of Oz than his devoted fans, who faithfully welded together the scraps of information scattered throughout the books. Riley, though a professor of children's literature, is for the most part simply an academically grounded fan. Unlike such critics as Roger Sale (Fairy Tales and After), who saw Baum's faults as clearly as his achievements, Riley sanctifies Baum's (1856-1919) artistic and personal life. Born to a happy and eventually wealthy Syracuse, N.Y., family, Baum grew up with ambitions for a life in theater. Except for the huge success of a stage musical based on (and quite different from) The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Baum's show-business aspirations all ended disastrously. His identity as creator and sustainer of Oz was thrust upon him through economic desperation and reader demand. Riley reads Baum's many other, non-Ozian stories and novels as "drawn together into a single Other-world" with the Oz books, which really just means that Baum's creations are characteristically Baumian. He demonstrates how Baum expanded, distorted and changed Oz through both intention and carelessness, as when, in the fifth book in the series, he "banished natural death from Oz... Oz has become more than a haven from danger; it has become a haven from death itself." But rather than explore the meaning of this shift, Riley simply details the inconsistencies it creates in earlier books.
Copyright 1997 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
L. Frank Baum (1856-1919) was a complex visionary who created a distinctly American form of mythology?an enduring and unforgettable other-world that continues to influence American culture and literature. Riley (Castleton State Coll.) here examines Baum's life and richly creative imagination. Evaluating Baum's writing career within the context of his childhood and adult experiences, he amply explores his literary links to such notables as J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, George MacDonald, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In this comprehensive account, he also reviews previous studies of Baum's work and chronologically details significant historical and cultural influences. A literary history examining a rich and varied past, this is a most readable guide to that land over the rainbow, firmly establishing Baum's importance to the history of American children's literature and to the fantasy/folklore tradition. It will inspire renewed appreciation for a great writer's magical vision.?Richard K. Burns, MSIS, Hatboro, Pa.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.