L. Frank Baum, illustrated by W. W. Denslow and John R. Neill
I read all the Oz books the local library owned at least once, including the late ones written by L. Frank Baum’s relatives and in-laws and assorted hangers-on. I believed in Oz. Literally. There was a map, so it had to be real. I believed in Oz so fervently that if I had slipped though a crack in the sidewalk one day and landed anywhere in Oz, my first thought would have been: Yup. That seems right. I would have known my way around.
The first and most famous book in the series was not among my favorites. As far as I was concerned, the next five or so constituted the Gospel of Oz, with the first one an important foundational text. I love the W. W. Denslow illustrations of the first book now, but John R. Neill’s drawings were what created my vision of Oz as a kid.
The only real misstep for me occurred in the fifth book, The Road to Oz, when Santa Claus appears. This felt all kinds of wrong. It seemed like a bad TV cross-over episode or cheesy stunt casting. Oz was a real place as far as I was concerned, and Santa—a mythical being—had no business hanging out there, being treated as if he were real too.
Yikes. I’m just now realizing that Santa’s presence may have undermined my belief in Oz in a way that none of the fantastic happenings there ever did.