I had no idea.
Like most people, I only thought I knew the Wonderful Wizard of Oz: the book, the musicals, the films, both old and recent… I had no idea that L. Frank Baum, the creator of Oz, had trod the Yellow Brick Road so many times, or that he had dutifully done so in the company of one illustrator: John R. Neill.
All in all, there are fourteen Oz books by Baum and dozens more besides. In the decades following Baum’s death in 1919, publisher Reilly & Lee produced an additional 26 Oz books: 19 by avid Oz reader and children’s author Ruth Plumly Thompson between 1921 and 1939, all illustrated by John R. Neill, three written and illustrated by Neill himself, two by writer and L. Frank Baum scholar Jack Snow and one each by Rachel Cosgrove Payes and by children’s author Eloise Jarvis McGraw & her daughter Lauren Lynn Wagner. These are known to Oz aficionados as the Famous Forty.
There are more: those that are part of the official “canon” approved by Baum’s inheritors: seven published by the International Wizard of Oz Club after 1972, three recognized Oz sequels by Sherwood Smith (recognized by The L. Frank Baum Family Trust), three orthodox Oz sequels and a good twenty more, labeled “Alternate Oz”, that go beyond what is officially approved or include only references to the land of Oz… 
I may have left out a few; Oz scholarship is clearly a serious discipline and the world of Oz all-inclusive. One thing is certain; we are definitely not in Kansas any more.
Lyman Frank Baum was a fascinating and contradictory man. In turns poultry enthusiast, playwright, publisher, storekeeper, lubricant factory boss, newspaper editor, film producer, door-to-door salesman, he seems to be the epitome of turn-of-the century America: a restless, mobile, enthusiastic, self-made man, often on the brink of success, always on the way up or down. Two activities, though, remain a constant throughout: a life-long love of theatre, and repeated wanderings down the Yellow Brick Road. He was an astonishingly prolific writer, publishing under his own name and no less than half a dozen pseudonyms. He wrote a total of fifty-five novels (plus four more known to exist, but for which the manuscripts were lost), over eighty short stories, more than two hundred poems, an unknown number of scripts, editorials and other writings. He even claimed to have purchased an island off the coast of California to create an Oz theme park, though the island he spoke of seems to be as hard to situate as Oz itself…
Tracing L. Frank Baum’s life has already been done in great detail elsewhere and need not be recapitulated far less well here. After the Baum family moved to Chicago in 1891, at his mother-in-law’s urging, Baum had written down the nursery rhymes he had improvised for his children over the years. In 1897, the stories were published in book form, entitled Mother Goose in Prose, with pictures by a young illustrator named Maxfield Parrish.
Two years later, following the success of his first book, Baum collaborated with Chicago cartoonist and poster artist W. W. Denslow on Father Goose: His Book. They approached publisher George M. Hill, who agreed to do samples and publish the book if Baum and Denslow paid for the colour plates. The first edition of 5700 sold out rapidly and successive reprints quickly followed. At 175,000 copies, it was the best-selling children’s book of 1899.
Naturally, such success begged to be repeated. Baum’s ever-irrepressible enthusiasm had already led to many ups and downs in his life; one of his latest jobs was travelling salesman, hardly an enviable occupation for a man with a family of four boys. He was in his mid-forties when he began to toy with a story he called The Emerald City. Like many children’s authors, his young entourage provided a ready audience. He reputedly pulled the name Oz out of the air when one of the children demanded the name of the extraordinary country where Dorothy and her companions found themselves and his eyes fell on a filing cabinet with three drawers, labeled A-G, H-N, and O-Z. Baum finished writing the story down in 1889. (He framed the stub of the pencil he wrote it with and hung it on the wall of his study. Under the pencil he wrote, “With this pencil I wrote the manuscript of The Emerald City.”)
The most famous pencil stub in Oz, framed with the annotation “With this pencil I wrote the Ms, for “The Emerald City.”
Baum collaborated again with Denslow. When the publisher was reluctant to pay for colour printing, they paid for the plates themselves, as they had done with their previous book. The book came off the press in May 1900 and by August distribution was fully under way. With a cover price of $1.50, a little higher than the then-average price of $1.25, but amply justified by the production quality, with 24 tipped-in colour plates and colour used throughout the book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was an instant bestseller. The first printing of 10,000 copies sold out in two weeks, followed by a second printing of 15,000 and a third printing of 10,000. In November, there was a fourth printing of 30,000 and in January 1901, a fifth printing of 25,000. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz had sold 90,000 copies in six months and remained a bestseller for two years. Baum and Denslow received nine cents each for every book sold (they had accepted an advance of $1000.00 to be shared equally) and accorded to the publisher “the exclusive right of publication of any books or literary works which they may jointly produce, write or illustrate, during a period of five years from the date of the agreement.”
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Meet the Wizard: Various book covers and promotional posters for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Far right: The Wizard of Oz: Songs Sung in Hamlin and Mitchell’s Musical Extravaganza, published by M. Witmark, New York, 1905. The score was composed by Paul Tietjins.
In 1901, George M. Hill published Baum and Denslow’s latest – and doomed to be last – collaboration, Dot and Tot in Merryland. It was not successful, and is considered one of Baum’s weaker books. Shortly afterward, Hill went bankrupt and the contract binding Baum and Denslow was terminated. Hundreds of illustrations were sold at auction, including works by Denslow and material belonging to Baum.
The rights to Baum’s Father Goose: His Book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and Dot and Tot of Merryland were acquired by Indianapolis publisher Bobbs-Merrill. With them, Baum published The Master Key in 1901, (illustrated by Fanny Y. Cory), The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus in1902, (illustrated by Mary Cowles Clark), and The Enchanted Island of Yew in 1903, also illustrated by Fanny Y. Cory. All three books are classic children’s tales, with the possible exception of The Master Key, (the full title is The Master Key: An Electrical Fairy Tale, Founded Upon the Mysteries of Electricity and the Optimism of Its Devotees) which introduces the Demon of Electricity, an odd idea at best.
Advertising in Oz: promotional page for the Oz books from another of Baum’s books, Rab & His Friends from The Children’s Red Book series
In 1902, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was adapted as a Broadway musical, and Baum turned to writing full-time. Nevertheless, writer and illustrator had a falling out, quarrelling over royalty percentages from the stage adaptation, for which Baum wrote the script and Denslow designed the sets and costumes. According to Baum’s wife Maud, “Denslow got a swelled head, hence the change.“ Baum vowed never to work with Denslow again. Nor was he entirely happy with his relationship with publisher Bobbs-Merril.
A new publisher, Chicago-based Reilly & Britton, intent on associating a well-known author, solicited L. Frank Baum, and persuaded him to sign an exclusive agreement on January 16, 1904. Author and partners agreed that the best course was a sequel to Baum’s best-selling Oz book.
Initially, Baum’s working title for the sequel was His Majesty the Scarecrow. Reilly and Britton suggested Further Adventures of the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman. Baum demurred; his former partner’s Denslow’s Scarecrow and the Tin-Man, only just published by G. W. Dillingham in New York, had beat them to it. Together, author and publisher decided on The Marvelous Land of Oz, with Further Adventures of the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman becoming the subtitle. They of course needed a new illustrator, and the choice settled on John R. Neill. The sequel, entitled The Marvelous Land of Oz, speedily written and as speedily illustrated, came off the press later in 1904, in time for the Christmas season. It would be the first step of a long journey for John R. Neill on the Yellow Brick Road.
Trouble in Oz: W. W. Denslow’s Scarecrow and the Tin Man, published in 1904 by W. Dillingham Company, New York, in 1904. The back cover reads: The twelve books by Mr. Denslow, published in 1903, were so well received by children all over the world, that we take great pleasure in putting before them six new titles by the same author and illustrator, whose watchword is action, color, expression and clean wholesome FUN for the little ones. There were two editions: one at 20 cents, and one “Indestructible, Mounted on Linen” at 50 cents. Also in 1904, Denslow produced a comic page called Denslow’s Scarecrow and the Tinman, which ran for 14 weeks, made up of two episodes taken from the book, and an additional 12 new adventures. Another edition, Denslow’s Scarecrow and the Tin Man and Other Stories, also published in 1904, included six of Denslow’s picture books in one besides the title story: Barnyard Circus, Animal Fair, Mother Goose ABC, Simple Simon and Three Little Kittens.
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John Rea Neill was born in Philadelphia on November 12, 1877, the fifth of eight children. His father, Robert Rea Neill, who had emigrated to America from Ireland in 1863, died when John was ten. His mother, Mary G. Neill, who must have been strong-willed and energetic, managed to keep the large family together and run the family laundry business until John’s older brother Harmon took it over in 1889.
In June 1895, young John graduated from Philadelphia Central High School. As a youngster, he drew incessantly. His older brother Harry recalled “Mother discovered that a supply of drawing paper and pencils diverted him from annoying his sisters and brothers and kept him content for long periods of time.” Artistically inclined, (he had decorated school newspaper and/or yearbooks) he enrolled that fall in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where, academically disinclined, he quit after one semester, afterwards stating the school had “nothing to teach him.” He found work as a “cub reporter,” doing sketches in Police Court for a local newspaper, providing advertising art for the Wanamaker department store and soon after integrating The Philadelphia Inquirer where he remained for 3 years, producing features like Life Among the Macaronis and the Sunday page The Little Journeys of Nip and Tuck, on verses by W. R. Bradford (1909–10). In 1900, he left for New York, finding work at The New York Evening Journal. A year later, he was back in Philadelphia, where he rented an art studio at 1020 Chestnut Street and on October 2nd, 1902, he married a young local lady named Bessie Barrows.
In 1904, after a brief stint at the Public Ledger, he began working for The North American, a popular Philadelphia daily to whom a certain L. Frank Baum was a regular contributor, with a Sunday coloured comics section feature called Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz. Originally created as part of the promotion for the sequel to The Wizard of Oz, and illustrated by political cartoonist Walt McDougall, the feature ran for 26 weeks in the North American, the Chicago Record-Herald and other newspapers from 28 August 1904 to 26 February 1905 and starred the characters from Oz as visitors in the strange land of the USA. Denslow ran a competing Oz Sunday feature of his own entitled Scarecrow and the Tinman. The first episode, Dorothy’s Christmas Tree appeared in early December 1904, the series lasted for 14 episodes, ending in March 1905. The end of the Yellow Brick Road was drawing near for Denslow. 
John R. Neill must have been a busy man. Oz publishers Reilly & Britton were obliged to arrange three interviews before he could be persuaded to take on the commission. He set up his studio at “Devil’s Half Acre,” a reconstructed colonial house in Lumberville, Pennsylvania, where he illustrated most of the early Oz books. The Marvelous Land of Oz was published on July 5, 1904. The publishers were delighted. Neill had “caught the author’s grotesque imaginings in admirable fashion; and in both humour and technique his work takes equal rank with W. W. Denslow,” even going “a step beyond Denslow as an illustrator of children’s tales, having added a sketch here and there whose dainty charm and poetry of feeling will quickly appeal to the sentiment of the young reader, as much as the other fantastic creations will arouse his sense of the humorous and the miraculous.” While this is clearly copy written for a press release (they were hardly going to say they were disappointed with their new Oz artist), Reilly & Britton must have breathed a sigh of relief. Baum’s manuscript had only been delivered in March; Neill had dithered before reading it and reluctantly accepting the commission, and then had finished all the illustrations in time for fall publication and a release before Christmas. Somehow, he managed to keep up his work as staff artist, producing a comic strip called Toyland, illustrations for a book by Baum called The Fate of a Crown, a feature called Children’s Stories that Never Grow Old (later released as a series of twenty-four volumes by Reilly & Britton) and a Sunday page with verses by W. R. Bradford (from 1909 to 1910). Neill maintained his studio in Philadelphia and continued to work for The North American until 1911, when he left the newspaper to freelance full time.
Children’s Stories That Never Grow Old, 1908
In 1908, Reilly & Britton published Children’s Stories That Never Grow Old, a series of twenty-four small volumes illustrated in colour and black and white by John R. Neill: The Story of Peter Rabbit, Dick Whittington, Little Black Sambo, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Night Before Christmas, Mother Goose Rhymes, Black Beauty, The Little Lame Prince, Rab and His Friends, J. Cole, The Adventures of a Brownie, Swiss Family Robinson, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, The Three Bears, Jack and the Beanstalk, Robinson Crusoe, Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, The Ugly Duckling, Rip Van Winkle, Hansel and Gretel, and Snow White and Rose Red. Each volume has a stamped pictorial cover on orange cloth boards, red endpapers, pictorial advertising in the back lists the latest of Baum’s Oz books among other titles being offered by the publisher.
Also in 1908, The Children’s Red Books Series reissued twelve volumes from Children’s Stories That Never Grow Old. Nineteen of the original series were collected in a one volume under the same title, edited by Mary Stone. Three “reversible” volumes, each containing two of the Children’s Stories titles: Peter Rabbit and Little Black Sambo, The Night Before Christmas and Cinderella, and Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Bears as The Turnover Series in 1910.
Of his beginnings with Oz, Neill later said ”The stage was blazing with the success of L. Frank Baum’s “Wizard of Oz” at this time and for some reason the publishers hit on me to illustrate a sequel to “The Wizard.” From that day I have made pictures for “Oz” every year. We have a pile of “Oz” books higher than my oldest girl’s head and they come in very handy now to entertain my own children with.”
Full page feature on John R. Neill The Men Who Make the Argosy, Argosy Magazine, November 8th, 1930
In 1906, Reilly & Britton published John Dough and the Cherub, written by Baum and illustrated by Neill. Sales were solid, but the adventures of John Dough, a living gingerbread man, never attained the popularity of the Oz books or merited a sequel. Neill also worked for other authors, illustrating books in The Magic Wand Series by Tudor Jenks in 1905 and Altemus’ Illustrated Fairy Tale Series the year after.
In 1913, Neill left his wife, who subsequently obtained a divorce in 1915 on the grounds of desertion. Fortunately, they had no children. He moved back to New York, where he lived with his elderly mother. He found freelance work for many national magazines, amongst them The Delineator, The Designer, Everybody’s. Boy’s Life, St. Nicholas, Vogue, Woman’s World, Collier’s, McClure’s, The Modern Priscilla, Vanity Fair, The Ladies Home Journal, The Country Gentleman, McCall’s and The Saturday Evening Post. Neill serialized Jean Webster’s Daddy Long-Legs in the Ladies Home Journal in 1912. He worked steadily and extensively for the scouting magazine Boy’s Life; many of his illustrations were later reprinted in The Boy Scouts Year Book. In 1916, he wrote and illustrated a children’s page for The Housewife, a short-lived monthly. Of the brief interlude, he said, in his typical tongue-in-cheek fashion when speaking of himself, “It is lots of fun. I get $2.50 for the literature and $45 for the pictures. So I guess I’m not much of a writer.” He struck up a personal friendship with Arthur T. Vance, the editor of the Pictorial Review, who provided him with many of his most profitable commissions.
In 1919, he married again. Neill’s second spouse was Margaret Carroll, a stage actress born in 1889 in Kansas. Margaret Carroll was her stage name; she was born Margaret Lavinia Slattery in 1889 in Lyons, Rice County, Kansas. When she met Neill, she was appearing as “Moy Fah Loy” (Plum Blossom) in the Broadway drama The Yellow Jacket, at the Cort Theatre on 48th Street, in late 1916. (She died on December 28th, 1984, survived by three daughters: Natalie Mather, Annrea Sutton and Joan Farnsworth, 13 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.) They had three girls: Nathalie in 1921, Ann Rea two years later and Joan in 1929. Neill designed and built a house in Great Neck on Long Island in 1925. By all accounts it was the perfect artist’s house, with the studio the focus of the household. As one of Neill’s daughters remembered, the studio was “a large quiet room on the third floor of the house with wonderful light, many glorious colored pencils, jars of paint and glue, and marvelous scraps of very important papers all over the floor and everywhere you looked.” Neill qualified himself as “the highest-paid nursemaid in Kensington;” children were more than welcome. “I get up at seven in the morning and work seventeen or eighteen hours doing nothing,” he explained, “Oh, sometimes I plan a lot of work. But, then you know the children upset one’s plans… They storm the studio, grab pencils, crayons and paper, and then we get down to real work.”
Despite the regular Oz books, work was not always abundant. Publishing suffered during the early 30’s; many long-standing, reputable periodicals disappeared or turned to photography to illustrate articles. Neill found work for the pulps, such as All-Story Weekly, The People’s, Romance, Everybody’s, Adventure, and The Argosy, often providing single-handed the headers for an entire issue of the latter. While he seemed to keep the worst effects of the Depression at bay by dint of hard work, (in 1929, Neill received 600 dollars advance for an Oz book, and 1 cent per copy sold) between 1933 and 1935, in a move to save on expenses, the Neills rented their house at Great Neck and moved several times, first to Palm Island, near Miami, then to Townsend, Vermont, back to New York, then to Scotland, Connecticut. Nothing really suited. Finally, they settled on a 136-acre property in Flanders, New Jersey in 1936, which they renamed “Endolane Farm.” During this whole time, Neill had continued to illustrate Oz books, writing and illustrating the last three in 1940, 1941 and 1942. He died of heart failure on September 19, 1943, at the age of sixty-five.
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After the best-selling sequel in 1904, Baum continued to write Oz books. He invested heavily in the musical, supported in part by his royalties from the books. When these began to decline, he took up his writer’s tools again. Ozma of Oz appeared in 1907, the third of the fourteen Oz books Baum would write. The last book, Glinda of Oz, was published in 1920, after his death. John R. Neill continued faithfully illustrating them.
Despite being named imperial Illustrator of Oz (or Royal Painter; there is a distinct tendency to confer titles on individuals associated with Oz), Neill and Baum apparently did not have a close relationship. It took three meetings with the publishers at Reilly & Lee to convince Neill to accept the initial commission and author and illustrator met only a handful of times, all before Baum relocated to California in 1910. Baum occasionally wished Neill’s illustrations would contain more humour. Baum even wrote to Reilly asking for a new illustrator, one “who could infuse new life and a spirit of fun into the Oz characters, which in Mr. Neill’s hands are now perfunctory and listless.” Baum even suggested replacing Neill with Winsor McCay, the creator of Little Nemo in Slumberland, or George McManus of the comic strip Bringing Up Father. Reilly & Lee, however, had a good working relationship with Neill and must have been reluctant to pursue. When Baum did not insist, they let the issue drop. Baum himself had second thoughts, admitting that “perhaps no author is ever satisfied with his illustrator, and I see my characters and incidents so differently from the artist that I fail to appreciate his talent.”
Correspondence in Oz: Signed letter from L. Frank Baum to John Neill. Clearly, Baum and Neill were on cordial terms despite Baum’s occasional peevishness. The letter, undated, typed on Oz Film Manufacturing stationary, reads, “Dear Johnny Neill: Sharpen your pencil, sip an absinthe frappe and try to imagine this character in “The Scarecrow of Oz.” It is an Ork, quite a prominent actor in the story, and I quote this introduction from the text: (here follows an excerpt from the manuscript) You will observe the Ork is not a water creature, although it first appeared in a cavern, where it had escaped from the clutches of a whirlpool, as had Trot and Cap’n Bill. During the story it flies thru the air with Trot upon its back. There is also the “Bumpy Man” in the story: a fellow with little bumps all over him…. The principal character (sic) are Trot, Cap’n Bill, Dorothy, Ozma, Glinda, Wizard, Ork, Bumpy Man, Scarecrow, Button Bright, King Krawl, of Jinxland; Princess Gloria, his niece; Googly Gee, a wealthy old courtier; Pen, a gardener’s boy; a Wicked Witch named Blinkie. Warm regards; congratulations; affection; admiration–to our Johnny from (signed) L. Frank Baum
He was vexed by Neill’s publication in 1915, without consulting him, of The Oz Toy Book: Cut-outs for the Kiddies, but clearly not enough to end their collaboration. Sales for Tik-Tok of Oz, published in 1914, were considered disappointing by Reilly & Britton, who were determined to make a greater effort to promote the 1915 successor, The Scarecrow of Oz. As part of the advertising, they produced The Oz Toy Book, which consisted of 16 full-colour pages of cut-out paper dolls of Oz characters, with 54 figures drawn by John R. Neill. The publisher decided to sell it, rather than simply giving it away as a promotional item. It seems no one thought to consult Baum, who stumbled on it in the publisher’s catalogue. He complained loudly, finally accepting the publisher’s apologies and reassurances it would not happen again.
Error in Oz: The contentious Oz Toy Book, which provoked Baum’s ire. While it is obviously a shame he was not informed, the book itself is artfully drawn and well produced; it is now a rare and much sought-after item.
Baum’s petulance in regard to Neill is perhaps a sign of his own fluctuating fortunes and occasional dashed hopes in regards to Oz. The stage adaptations, while often successful, demanded much energy and investment, both in terms of time and finance. The Hollywood adventures were not nearly as bankable, the cinematic adaptation of the Wizard of Oz would only be made in 1939, two decades after Baum’s death. Even then the movie, which is now considered a milestone in American movie history, did not to well when it was released, earning only just over 3 million dollars on a production budget of $2,777,000.00. (Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer would only see a profit with the theatrical re-releases, debuting in 1949.)
Still, with Baum in Hollywood and Neill in New York, the distance, while logistically inconvenient, might have been beneficial to both, with the publisher providing a cushion between the two. In one instance, there are penciled notes signed by Baum on an original pen and ink drawing of the Woozy (the cubic pet cat of the Patchwork Girl) done by Neill for The Patchwork Girl of Oz. They read, “The Woozy is not made of wood. He is an animal – square or squarish in build – alive but not brought to life by any magical means. Skin like a hippopotamus and while carrying out the square idea in build, give him more of an animal appearance – less woodlike. Especially his mouth is unlikely. Please try again – take more liberties with the idea conveyed in text.” Woozy went to press unchanged. (Neill did sometimes comply, scraping off the Patchwork Girl’s mouth and redoing it when Baum remarked that it was “too stiff – not as jolly at the other sketches.”)
Not quite right in Oz: An original drawing of Woozy by Neill, with a terse note added by Baum, “The Woozy is not made of wood. He is an animal – square or squarish in build – alive but not brought to life by any magical means. Skin like a hippopotamus and while carrying out the square idea in build, give him more of an animal appearance – less woodlike. Especially his mouth is unlikely. Please try again – take more liberties with the idea conveyed in text.”
Over time, Baum seemed to come to terms with Neill’s work. After a bad stretch in 1914 and 1915 (culminating with The Oz Toy Book) when Baum remarked tersely, “It seems to me that Mr. Neill reached the climax of his good work in The Patchwork Girl and has fallen down in Tik-Tok and the Scarecrow,” Baum’s spirits had followed sales and had much improved by 1916. “Mr. Neill is good, and perhaps we could find no better,” he wrote to his publishers, adding that Rinkitink in Oz was “an enticing book.” He admitted, “Mr. Neill seems to have been at his best in the illustrations,” and that the book was “so attractive it should be called Baum’s Boom Book for 1916.” When The Lost Princess of Oz was published in 1917, Baum wrote to Neill in these words, “The pictures are exceptionally clever and attractive, … I’m so sorry not to have met you personally for so many recent years, as I remember our former foregatherings with real pleasure and think we would harmonize if we were jailed together in the same cell.” He invited Neill to visit him in Hollywood, but Neill was never able to make the trip. Baum’s emotional stake in Neill’s interpretation of his words is revealing as to the intense importance Baum attributed to the visualization of the books. This would ably explain his mercurial evaluation of the artwork, each frustrated bout of criticism stemming from a sense of proprietorship coupled with the knowledge that he had to leave the artist to find his own vision. His remonstrance was often followed with compliments. “I like Johnny Neill, and some of my books he has illustrated splendidly,” he admitted in 1913, “perhaps I unjustly disparage his present work through my eagerness to improve the books.” Naturally, the two worlds, word and image, are so intertwined over time that they become almost indistinguishable, the author unable to completely realize his vision without a second pair of hands; nonetheless, they remain the product of two creators a continent apart. Baum almost certainly must have regretted not being able to perch on Neill’s shoulder while he worked.
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While soldiering on with the Oz books, Baum was also busily writing well away from the Yellow Brick Road. In 1904, Baum published Queen Zixi of Ix, with pictures by well-known Chicago illustrator Frederick Richardson, initially serialized from November 1904 to October 1905 in St. Nicholas, a national children’s magazine and published in book form by The Century Company. Besides his ever-renewed forays beyond Oz as “the author of the Oz books”, the stories he wrote under his various pseudonyms would fill a respectable shelf of their own. Writing as Edith Van Dyne, the adventures of Aunt Jane’s Nieces Louise, Beth and Patsy totaled 10 volumes between 1906 and 1918. Mary Louise Burrows, a crime-solving 15-year old, appeared in five books recounting her adventures. As Floyd Akers, Baum wrote six volumes of the adventures of The Boy Treasure Hunters. Under four other pseudonyms, Baum wrote another seven books for children. He wrote a good number of plays, invested heavily in stage productions, and set up The Oz Film Manufacturing Company in 1914. The studio made only five features and five short films, of which four features (in part) and no shorts survive. It folded in 1915.
Baum and Neill also collaborated on Little Wizard Stories of Oz, a set of six short stories Baum wrote for young children to build interest in the series with younger readers. The six tales were published in 1913, as separate small booklets, sold at 15 cents each. Each booklet was 29 pages long and was printed in blue ink rather than black. (A collected edition was published in 1914, which many consider to be the 15th of Baum’s Oz books.)
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Left:The six books of The Little Wizard Series
Centre: A Baum by any other name: Laura Bancroft’s six Twinkle Tales, published in 1906
Right: The anthology L. Frank Baum’s Juvenile Speaker: Readings and Recitations in Prose and Verse, Humorous and Otherwise was published by Reilly & Britton in 1910, illustrated by Maginal Wright Enright and John R. Neill. Republished in 1912 as Baum’s Own Book for Children, it was later split up into a series of six smaller volumes, called Baum’s Snuggle Tales, with black and white illustrations by Neill. The titles are: Little Bun Rabbit and Other Stories (1916), Once Upon a Time and Other Stories (1916), The Yellow Hen and Other Stories (1916), The Magic Cloak and Other Stories (1916), The Gingerbread Man (1917) and Jack Pumpkinhead (1917). In turn, they were republished, with added colour plates, as the Oz-Man Tales in 1920.
Reilly & Britton also published collections of Baum’s stories. Baum’s Own Book For Children appeared in 1910, with “Stories and Verses from the Famous ‘Oz Books’, Father Goose: His Book, Etc. With Many Hitherto Unpublished Selections.” The material from this book was split into a series of six short books called the Snuggle Tales, four made up of material from Baum’s Own Book and two of other abridged stories. (They were yet again reprinted as the Oz-Man Tales by Reilly & Lee.) L. Frank Baum’s Juvenile Speaker: Readings and Recitations in Prose and Verse, Humorous and Otherwise was also published in 1910, with illustrations by John R. Neill and Maginal Wright Enright. The material is from Baum’s other books, and intended for use in schools. Clearly, the Reilly and Britton did not let potential material sleep in filing cabinets.
A selection of covers from the Junior Edition of the Oz books. Most of the covers are based on artwork by Neill, with occasional exceptions. The back covers feature the main characters of each book with the Oz logo.
Nonetheless, they did not always manage their literary empire as well as they might have. Baum’s 8th Oz book, Tik-Tok of Oz, published in 1914, sold 3000 fewer copies than the previous year’s offering, The Patchwork Girl of Oz. Sales declined in the face of cheap editions of several of the early Oz books, published by the reprint house M. A, Donahue and Co., who had purchased rights from Bobbs-Merrill. A new Oz book sold for $1.25, against a reprint at 35 cents. Baum’s own previous books were competing with the new ones. Reilly & Lee’s response was to limit costs, creating new editions that even more closely resembled the reprints.. Tik-Tok of Oz was more modestly produced, with only twelve colour plates instead of sixteen. This reduction in quality seems counter-intuitive, and would not have helped sales.
All was not always entirely rosy in Oz. Baum had attempted to close the Oz series in 1910. In the brief concluding chapter of The Emerald City of Oz, Dorothy Gale writes to the author to say, “You will never hear anything more about Oz, because we are now cut off forever from all the rest of the world.” Baum was weary of Oz, and wished to develop new stories.
Not in Oz any more: other books by L. Frank Baum.
Left: Mother Goose in Prose, illustrated by Maxfield Parrish, 1897; By The Candelabra’s Glare, a book of poetry, 1898; Father Goose: His Book, 1899; The Magical Monarch of Mo, 1900, and the re-edition of the same book as A New Wonderland in 1903; The Navy Alphabet, 1900 (The Army Alphabet was also published the same year); Dot and Tot of Merryland, published in 1901, and illustrated by W. W. Denslow; American Fairy Tales, 1901.
Centre: The Master Key, illustrated by Fanny Y. Cory, 1901; The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, illustrated by Mary Cowles Clark, 1902; The Enchanted Island of Yew, illustrated by Fanny Y. Cory, 1903; Cover and three illustrations from Queen Zixi of Ix, illustrated by Frederick Richardson, 1905; John Dough and the Cherub, cover and endpapers, illustrated by John R. Neill published in 1906.
Right: Father Goose’s Year Book, illustrated by Walter J. Enright, 1907; The Daring Twins, 1911; Phoebe Daring, 1912; The Wizard of Oz Waddle Book, a book of cut-out figures that could progress down a ramp; The Woggle-Bug Book, 1905; two books from the Boy Treasure Hunters series, written as Floyd Ackers (there were 6 in the series, published between 1908 and 1911); Aunt Jane’s Nieces Abroad, 1907, part of a series of 10 volumes, The Flying Girl, 1911, The Flying Girl and her Chum, 1912, all written as Edith Van Dyne; The Last Egyptian, published anonymously in 1908.
Neill was also keeping himself busy elsewhere. During 1909 and 1910 he illustrated The Neill Gift Book Series for Reilly & Britton. Four titles were published: Hiawatha and Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Snow-Bound by John Greenleaf Whittier and The Raven and Other Poems by Edgar Allan Poe. These cloth-bound gilt-edged volumes were illustrated with pictorial endpapers, embellished borders, in-text images as well as full-page illustrations.
A fifth volume was planned. Thanatopsis and Other Poems by American poet William Cullen Bryant was never published. Neill created a cover and a title page, but the series was discontinued. All four books are now expensive much sought-after examples of Neill’s non-Oz work.
Beyond the Yellow Brick Road: other books and illustrations by John R. Neill.
Left: Covers, endpapers, illustrations and dust jackets from The Sea Fairies and Sky Island, by L. Frank Baum and John R. Neill.
Centre: Covers and a selection of interior artwork for The Neill Gift Book Series, published in 1909 and 1910 by Reilly & Britton. From left to right: Hiawatha, Snowbound, Evangeline and The Raven, as well as the cover art and title page for the unpublished Thanatopsis.
Right: An illustration from Life Among the Macaronis, an early newspaper feature in The Philadelphia Inquirer; cover, endpapers and two illustrations from Peter and the Princess, 1920; undated illustration of Davy Jones’ Locker; cover of Boy’s Life, May, 1930; Beyond the Dark Nebula, illustration for Argosy magazine, May 1904; illustration from The Uncrowned King by Harold Bell Wright, published in Chicago by The Book Supply Company, 1910; the ambiguous Cherub (Baum refused to say whether the character was a boy or a girl) from John Dough and the Cherub, 1906; rabbits making cider, undated; The Boy From Treasure Island, 1914; a most unusual illustration for Neill: the cover of Jan of the Jungle, by Otis Adelbert Kline (this edition is a paperback from 1966, the original book was published in 1932)
Baum was unable to avoid a bankruptcy in 1911; his reaction was to write harder. That year, he produced five books. He launched two other series for young readers, with The Daring Twins, under his own name, and The Flying Girl, under the pseudonym Edith Van Dyne. Baum and Neill also published The Sea Fairies in 1911. Designed as the first volume in a new children’s series, it did not do well. The sequel, entitled Sky Island, appeared in 1912, also illustrated by Neill. It met with a lacklustre response from the public, selling only 11,750 copies in 1912, even less than the 12,400 of The Sea Fairies, and far below the previous sales figures of the Oz books. It is a grand shame, not only would success have lifted Baum’s spirits, the illustrations by Neill make for very attractive books. Baum would once again set out on the Yellow Brick Road with The Scarecrow of Oz in 1915, continuing on with the Oz books even when ill and bed-ridden during the last year of his life.
After Baum’s death, the Yellow Brick Road went on; Reilly & Lee found his replacement in the person of Ruth Plumly Thompson. Thompson was an avid reader of the Oz books and a young author of 19, her first book, The Perhappsy Chaps having been published in 1918. Her second, The Princess of Cozytown, was pending publication when William Lee, vice president of Baum’s publisher Reilly & Lee, solicited Thompson to continue the Oz series. Between 1921 and 1939, she wrote one Oz book a year, beginning with The Royal Book of Oz and ending with Ozoplaning with the Wizard of Oz, thirty-third in the Oz series. (Two more books, Yankee in Oz and The Enchanted Island of Oz, were published by The International Wizard of Oz club in 1972 and 1972 respectively.)
The Wonderful Game of Oz, produced by Parker Brothers in 1921. The cover, featuring Neill’s characters, is by an anonymous artist.
John R. Neill is justly credited with bridging the difficult gap between an original author and his successor, providing continuity and legitimacy in the eyes of the public. Ruth Plumly Thompson agreed, “Working with Johnny was one of the real bonuses that added to the pleasure of writing Oz adventures, and no one before nor since has been able to bring to life, as Johnny did, the curious and enchanted creatures of Oz.” Neill’s characters “fairly exploded across the pages of the books and almost exactly as L. Frank Baum and I imagined them.” Thompson recalls Neill as being “a completely unpredictable, restless, dynamic and altogether delightful person, …much miscast in an age of stern and stark realism.” She concludes, “No one could ever or will be able to depict the Oz characters as perfectly as Johnny did. Half the fun and zest left the books when other artists took over.” Neill felt the same about Thompson, sending Reilly & Lee his congratulations “on having secured an author of such superior qualifications to continue the work of supplying the Oz books.” He was delighted with her first story, Kabumpo in Oz, and was determined to echo the qualities of the text, “the whimsical, the humor, the interest and the zip” in his illustrations. King Features Syndicate approached Thompson and Neill do create a new Oz comic strip. Although they produced a sample, the project never materialized. (Given the volume of work Neill already produced, it’s hard to imagine he could have taken on more.) Neill also illustrated one of Thompson’s non-Oz books, The Curious Cruise of Captain Santa, in 1926.
After Thompson’s last Oz story, Ozoplaning with the Wizard of Oz, Neill became the designated “Oz historian” (he was already dubbed “Royal Painter of Oz”) and wrote and illustrated three more Oz books from 1940 to 1942 for Reilly & Lee. The Wonder City of Oz, The Scalawagons of Oz and Lucky Bucky in Oz are also considered part of the Famous Forty. The Wonder City, which necessitated a good deal of work within a tight deadline, since Neill had to supply a story as well, saw him pull out unused Oz illustrations; he had little time to devote to the text. Much to his dismay, Reilly & Lee hired a ghostwriter to extensively rework the story. Only minor editorial changes were made to the next two. Neill was working on a fourth when he died in 1943. While the text draft was finished, the illustrations were not, and the publisher declined to publish it, preferring to continue on with a new author and illustrator.
For many years, Neill pecked away at a project entitled The Foolosopher, an adult fairy tale. He was unable to find a publisher, despite several drafts of the text. He also created illustrations for the book, reputedly amongst his best work. Both text and illustrations remain unpublished today.
In 1946, The Magical Mimic of Oz, written by Jack Snow and illustrated by Frank Kramer was published; followed by The Shaggy Man of Oz in 1949. The Hidden Valley of Oz by Rachel R. Cosgrove (illustrated by Dick Gringhuis, 1951) and Merry Go Round in Oz by Eloise Jarvis McGraw and her daughter (illustrated by Dick Martin, 1963) are the last of the Famous Forty published by Reilly & Lee. Neill’s widow preserved his last manuscript, which was published in 1995 by Books of Wonder, illustrated by Eric Shanower.
John R. Neill’s sketches for The Runaway in Oz, his final book. The text was completed, but Neill died in 1943, before finishing the illustrations. The sketch shows Scraps, the Patchwork girl, hurtling along on her spoolicle. The back of the same sheet has a number of character sketches. The book was eventually published in 1995; story-wise, it is the 37th Oz book.
John R. Neill created literally thousands of illustrations for Oz, designed fonts and titles and conferred a distinctive style of the books which, rather than suffering dilution through repetition, shows enrichment and variety as he went. Only three Oz books had full-colour illustrations. He made 17 paintings each for Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz and The Emerald City of Oz; 16 colour plates and a front cover for each book. Neill also created an original painting for the dust jacket illustration used with The Road to Oz. For the most part, though, the books were illustrated in black and white throughout; colour was overprinted on a line drawing for the covers. Neill also considered the endpapers to be available canvases to try new ideas; they vary from book to book. Only The Wishing Horse of Oz, published in 1935, was without illustrated endpapers.
Endpapers of Oz. In no particular (publishing) order, a selection of John R. Neill’s various and varied endpapers. From left to right: Ozma of Oz, The Emerald City of Oz, Tik-Tok of Oz, Rinkytink in Oz, The Tine Woodman of Oz, The Cowardly Lion of Oz, The Giant Horse of Oz, The Lost King of Oz, Jack Pumpkinhead of Oz, The Silver Princess in Oz and Lucky Bucky in Oz, Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz, The Scarecrow of Oz, Grampa in Oz and The Hungry Tiger of Oz.
Neill also changed the approach to the characters. While Denslow’s Dorothy is a chubby auburn-haired child of 5 or 6, Neill’s blond girl of 12 or so was far more fashionable. Denslow concentrated on the characters – his Tin Man and Scarecrow would remain the templates for every other book, he accords little attention to the actual land of Oz. Neill uses every opportunity to explore the magical environments. Nonetheless, Denslow’s vision remains indelibly imprinted on elements of Neill’s work; Tin Man and Scarecrow, and to a little lesser degree the Cowardly Lion, are all sturdy branches in the Oz family tree.
John Rea Neill illustrated thirty-nine of the forty “canonical” Oz books and Oz remains the best-remembered part of his work. Oddly enough, unlike Tenniel with Alice and Wonderland, or more recently Frank Frazetta with the Conan books, his name has not become indissociable with the world he visualized.
John R. Neill in Oz: Providing a serious overview of the inventiveness and genius of John R. Neill’s illustrations would take a full book (and a lavish one to boot.) Here is a small selection, in no particular order, of illustrations from the Oz books.
Left: Princess Ozma of Oz, original watercolor for the color plate facing page 292 in The Emerald City of Oz, 1910; The Scoodlers capture Dorothy’s party, full page illustration from the Road to Oz; Miss Cuttenclip with her paper doll subjects, original watercolour for The Emerald City of Oz (1910); “The Royal Palace impaled fast on the spikes of Ruggedo’s giant head,” illustration from Kabumpo In Oz; “The Gargoyles wound their long arms around Zeb and the Wizard,” illustration from Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz; “Silently, they took their places,” illustration from Tik-Tok of Oz, the first appearance of the dreaded dragon Quox; The Scarlet Alligator of the Phanfasms, from The Emerald City of Oz
Centre: The Cowardly Lion meets Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, from The Emerald City of Oz, 1910; The A-B-Sea Serpent Managed to Make a Bridge of Himself and the Scarecrow Stepped Easily Over the Blocks, from The Royal Book of Oz, 1921; The Grand Army Sprang Upon the Back of the Saw Horse, from Kabumpo in 0z, 1922; The Running Buns of Bunbury, from The Emerald City of Oz; Illustration from page 210 of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, 1908; A conversation in Rigamarole, from The Emerald city of Oz
Right: Dorothy in Kansas, before going back to Oz once again, from The Emerald City of Oz; Zeb, Dorothy, and Jim the Cab-Horse falling through the earth to the land of the Mangaboos, from Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, 1908; The invaders approach the Fountain of the Water of Oblivion, from The Emerlad City of Oz; original pen and ink drawing from The Road to Oz, 1909; Polychrome being drawn back up to the rainbow by her father, from The Road to Oz, 1909; Ozga the Rose Princess being exiled from her kingdom, from page 63 of Tik-Tok of Oz, 1914; The Scarecrow’s New Corn Mansion, from the Emerald City of Oz.
Did Neill miss an opportunity to work on the Oz films Baum so tirelessly promoted by steadfastly remaining in the east, would his design sense have brought greater success to the enterprise, or was such a possibility even envisaged? Many illustrators, notably Gustav Tenggren and Kay Neilsen, left unforgettable marks in Hollywood. Neill certainly had the qualities necessary to become a Hollywood film designer.
The public has largely forgotten Neill’s other work, even the other non-Oz books he illustrated for Baum. Most of the articles on Neill’s life and work seem to have appeared in the Baum Bugle, the triannual member’s magazine of the International Wizard of Oz Club, which debuted in 1957. For a man who literally died while on the road, it seems a modest tribute at best. L. Frank Baum’s name justly lives on; Neill’s is unjustly ignored. A large, comprehensive book of Neill’s work, both of Oz and elsewhere, is long overdue.
Versatility on Oz: originals put to good use and some abuse. Neill’s artwork was often used on several different books, with adjustments for format and production. From left to right: The original artwork, originally done in black and white for the endpapers of image the Little Wizard series of books; the endpapers themselves, printed in blue ink, with a stippled shadow. In 1932, the image was re-used on some of the Little Wizard books, reprinted with sets of jigsaw puzzles, and later as advertising for Jello. The original figures were then apparently cut out and pasted on a larger sheet of paper, the black shadows painted white and a landscape drawn in, to become the endpapers a 1913 edition of The Patchwork Girl of Oz. The colour would have been done separately.
John R. Neill might be considered a central figure in the growth of a specifically American style of fairy tale, with few specific ties to older European models. Baum’s own comment is revealing, and demonstrates he well knew the difference when he considered Queen Zixi of Ix to be “nearer to the ‘old-fashioned’ fairy tale than anything I have yet accomplished.” Baum invented a new folklore, anchored in the New World. He learned his craft through practicing it; Neill had no formal art training. Both would have largely escaped exposure to the “classics”, both literary and artistic, that were the staple of academia. No late nights swotting Shakespeare and memorizing Milton for Baum, no endless hours drawing plaster casts of Greek statuary for Neill; both men inherited only their unassuming American upbringings and a taste for hard work. Naturally it is impossible to determine the exact influences of Baum and Neill, but they both proved to be men of remarkable talent, especially Neill, whose realistic and academic style must have been entirely self-taught. While his work respects many elements depicted by his predecessor, such resemblance is as much imputable to Baum’s text as to Denslow’s illustrations. There is something of the Gibson Girl in Neill’s Dorothy Gale, and his female characters have effervescence foreign to the languishing post-Pre-Raphaelite damsels that still presided over European fairy tales.
As far as I know, neither Baum nor Neill ever travelled abroad, with, in Neill’s case, two exceptions: a honeymoon in Europe with his first wife (in 1902 or 1903) and a brief visit to Mexico to invest in a silver mine on a sudden hunch. (He had dreamt of silver mines and two weeks later the president of a Mexican silver mine visited his studio. He travelled to Toluca, about 60 miles southwest of Mexico City, was convinced by what he saw and bought shares, only to watch the price of silver dwindle from 72 cents an ounce to 34.)
The result is a wide-ranging fantastical universe that has few boundaries. Baum also broke with the literary standards of the time; Victorian literature for children was more often than not tame, sugary and intended to drive home a suitable moral. Baum believed children were due more respect. In The Lost Princess of Oz, he states, “imaginations and dreams are likely to lead to the betterment of the world. The imaginative child will become the imaginative man or woman most apt to create, to invent and, therefore, to foster civilization.” Neill underlines the proximity of image and text in children’s literature in a penciled note on the original drawing for the half-title page from The Wonder City of Oz: “Dear Children, The question is… Were the pictures made for the story, or, was the story made for the pictures?”
Original half-title illustration for the Wonder City of Oz, annotated by John R. Neill.
John R. Neill’s work appeared in Drawing with pen and ink, and a word concerning the brush, by Arthur L. Guptill (the introduction is by Franklin Booth) published in 1928 by the Pencil Points Press, New York. After an rather pedant appreciation of the finer points of Neill’s work, Guptill finds that his work “shows a surprising variety of line and tone.” He adds, “The use of black accentuates the whole, yet nowhere is one conspicuous of any straining to produce the desired impression,” which is, unfortunately, a lengthy way of saying nothing at all. Elsewhere, Guptil noted, “Although this artist is particularly remembered for his imaginative concepts, his technique, composition and draftsmanship were eually outstanding.” Clearly, a critical appreciation of all aspects of Neill’s work is long overdue.
Dragons, staple fare in many fairy tales, are present in the Oz books in wholly unconventional forms, and are modern, post-Nesbit dragons in every sense. (One formerly ferocious dragon, Quox, carries passengers in seats strapped to his back, probably the first mass public transport wyrm in fiction.) The elderly Yellow Knight, Sir Hocus of Pokes (his steed is called the Comfortable Camel) is more of a blundering and amiable Connecticut Yankee than a knight of the Round Table. The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz himself has more of the politician or the circus showman, finally revealing himself as far less great and terrible than he led people to believe. “How can I help being a humbug… when all these people make me do things that everyone knows can’t be done,” he even complains. Emerald City would be more at home in a tale of Sinbad the Sailor. We are light years from the traditional sorcerer, and Neill’s depiction of him, like Denslow’s, owes more to the snake-oil seller or carpet-bagger than to Merlin. We may not be in Kansas any more, and we are certainly nowhere that would be familiar to Grimm, Asbjørnsen and Moe, Andersen or d’Aulnoy.
The clamour for American stories written by American authors was of course raised a good century before, though the flourishing of American literature was a slow bloom. (In 1850, Herman Melville still felt moved to bellow, “Let us away this leaven of literary flunkeyism towards England!”) Additionally, fairy stories and fanciful tales were considered a genre of their own in which inventiveness largely left the field to simple retellings for decades after American literature was recognized as such. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s A Wonder Book for Boys and Girls (1851) and the sequel Tanglewood Tales (1853) primarily retells classic myth, and even Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle is a story that would have been familiar to Europeans. By Baum’s time much had changed, but his stories represent a grand leap into modern fantasy. Oz is a post-modern land of fanciful beings and exotic places, a benign (if occasionally dangerous; Scoodlers for example, don’t object to using humans as ingredients in their soup) children’s version of Breughel and Bosch, with unexpected beings brought alive by all-pervading magic. Mechanics and magic mix easily, physics and fancies are indistinguishable, creatures speak, as do objects; the unexpected is the only thing you can count on in Oz. This is very much a child’s view of the world: the face-value of the marvelous is everywhere, but clever children keep their wits about them nonetheless. It is magic liberated from the hoary and confining traditions of Magick; even the Wicked Witch of the West would not have much to chat about with her overseas sisters in Macbeth. (She is afraid of the dark.) It is a magic of cyclones and cornfields; the Wizard is a Midwest Merlin fresh from a travelling circus or medicine show. Dorothy and her readers are very much at home, since it is from their minds, through the craft of L. Frank Baum, that Oz has sprung.
The Wizards of Oz: Promotional poster for the books of L. Frank Baum, Reilly & Britton, 1901. The Wizard of Oz by John R. Neill.
Neill’s art is the perfect visualization of this fresh post-industrial land of faerie wholly unencumbered by self-comparison to the genre of the illustrated fairy tale. The Oz books were being published at same time as the Coloured Fairy Books by Scots poet, novelist and anthropologist Andrew Lang, illustrated principally by Henry Justice Ford. Lang had no use for modern fairy stories, and repeatedly said as much. “But the three hundred and sixty-five authors who try to write new fairy tales are very tiresome. They always begin with a little boy or girl who goes out and meets the fairies of polyanthuses and gardenias and apple blossoms: “Flowers and fruits, and other winged things”. These fairies try to be funny, and fail; or they try to preach, and succeed. Real fairies never preach or talk slang. At the end, the little boy or girl wakes up and finds that he has been dreaming. Such are the new fairy stories. May we be preserved from all the sort of them!”
Neill adds a Progressive Era flourish to his artwork that anchors it firmly in the 20th century, an artistic Trust Buster of Victorian conventionalism in children’s illustration. We may no longer be in Kansas, but we are definitely somewhere we’ve never seen before.
Thompson reinforces this homegrown 20th-century magic; in The Lost King of Oz, Dorothy is accidentally transported to Hollywood where she meets Humpy, a living stunt dummy she brings with her to Oz. The circus is also a privileged source of characters and ideas. Magic is where you find it, and the Big Top constituted the focus of itinerant exoticism in America even after the movie industry began to flourish. Baum and his successors also breathe life into unlikely creations based on the unselfconscious pleasure of word-games. The Saw Horse is a living horse of wood, the Silver Princess comes from Anuther Planet, the Scalawagons run on Flabbergas and proper names like Anne Soforth abound.
Many elements of Oz are pure science-fiction, the cloud city of Airland in Ozoplaning in Oz is closer to Flash Gordon than fairy tale. The Stratovarians are described in these terms: “The Airlanders were a head taller than even the Tin Woodman. Their hair grew straight up on end, sparkling and crackling with electricity in a really terrifying manner. Their eyes were star-shaped and shaded by long, silver lashes; the noses and mouths were straight and firm, the foreheads transparent. Some shone as from a hidden sun, while across the brows of others tiny black clouds chased one another in rapid succession. Watching their foreheads would be a good way, decided Jellia Jam, to find out whether they were pleased or angry. Strut and his subjects wore belted tunics of some iridescent, rainbow-hued material, and silver sandals laced to the knee.” This blurring of genres is refreshing at very least and a key element of the magical utopian Oz; diversity and variety are welcomed.
Neill contributed more to the bustling effervescence of Oz through his art that through his prose, though the Scalawagons, driverless self-operated cars with eyes on their roofs sound eerily premonitory. His steadfast accompaniment of the Oz series should be considered in its own right as a factor of the success of the books, providing a unity of vision and ever-renewed inventiveness to a world that must have become terribly familiar to him.
Is it possible that his style so closely echoed the aspirations of the age in which it was drawn that the post-war shift to a less adult style of children’s book illustration simply left him behind, along with flappers, prohibition and petting parties? It is worth analyzing Neill’s audience; I suspect that parents found as much to look at in his work as their children did. Perhaps the actual format of the Oz books, medium length and heavily illustrated throughout, no longer fell into a convenient bookseller display category, or perhaps the publishers never stumbled on the correct formula for re-editions. Baum’s and Neill’s grandest accomplishment is that Oz, narratively and visually, does not fit in any convenient category. It occupies a class of its own defining and deserves to be recognized as such, as a unique journey into a brand new world of fable.
If we still must await a comprehensive overview of John R. Neill’s art, his work is showcased in Kansas; there is an Oz Museum in Wamego that opened in 2004. It is home to a good deal of Oz memorabilia, from books to toys and film, both vintage and modern.  (Toto’s Tacoz is next door if all that nostalgia leaves you famished.)
To close, a gallery the Oz books illustrated by John R. Neil, followed by the authors’ and publishers’ names and the year of publication. The place of honour preceding the list is naturally held by The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, illustrated by William Wallace Denslow, published by George M. Hill in 1899.
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Left:The Marvelous Land of Oz, by L. Frank Baum, Reilly & Britton, 1904. Three different covers for the sequel to The Wizard of Oz. Author and publisher decided on The Marvelous Land of Oz, with Further Adventures of the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman becoming the subtitle. The title was shortened to The Land of Oz in 1906. When the publisher’s name changed in 1919 to Reilly & Lee, the title became The Land of Oz, with the subtitle A Sequel to The Wizard of Oz.
Centre: Ozma of Oz, by L. Frank Baum, Reilly & Britton, 1907. Dust jacket and printed clothbound cover
Right: Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, by L. Frank Baum, Reilly & Britton, 1908. Pastedown colour cover and cover of a 1938 reprint, without the colour plates, from Sears, Roebuck & Company, with a largely lackluster copy of Neill’s characters.
Left: The Road to Oz, by L. Frank Baum, Reilly & Britton, 1909. Printed clothbound cover and colour pastedown cover
Centre: The Emerald City of Oz, by L. Frank Baum, Reilly & Britton, 1910. Three different editions, all with colour pastedown covers
Right: The Patchwork Girl of Oz, by L. Frank Baum, Reilly & Britton, 1913. Colour pastedown cover and printed clothbound cover
Left: Tik-Tok of Oz, by L. Frank Baum, Reilly & Britton, 1914; The Scarecrow of Oz, by L. Frank Baum, Reilly & Britton, 1915; Rinkitink in Oz, by L. Frank Baum, Reilly & Britton, 1916; The Lost Princess of Oz, by L. Frank Baum, Reilly & Britton, 1917; The Tin Woodman of Oz, by L. Frank Baum, Reilly & Lee, 1918
Centre: The Magic of Oz, by L. Frank Baum, Reilly & Lee, 1919; Glinda of Oz, by L. Frank Baum, Reilly & Lee, 1920; The Royal Book of Oz, by Ruth Plumly Thompson, Reilly & Lee, 1921; Kabumpo in Oz, by Ruth Plumly Thompson, Reilly & Lee, 1922; The Cowardly Lion of Oz, by Ruth Plumly Thompson, Reilly & Lee, 1923
Right: Grampa in Oz, by Ruth Plumly Thompson, Reilly & Lee, 1924; The Lost King of Oz, by Ruth Plumly Thompson, Reilly & Lee, 1925; The Hungry Tiger of Oz, by Ruth Plumly Thompson, Reilly & Lee, 1926; The Gnome King of Oz, by Ruth Plumly Thompson, Reilly & Lee, 1927; The Giant Horse of Oz, by Ruth Plumly Thompson, Reilly & Lee, 1928
Left: Jack Pumpkinhead of Oz, by Ruth Plumly Thompson, Reilly & Lee, 1929; The Yellow Knight of Oz, by Ruth Plumly Thompson, Reilly & Lee, 1930; Pirates in Oz, by Ruth Plumly Thompson, Reilly & Lee, 1931; The Purple Prince of Oz, by Ruth Plumly Thompson, Reilly & Lee, 1932; Ojo in Oz, by Ruth Plumly Thompson, Reilly & Lee, 1933
Centre: Speedy in Oz, by Ruth Plumly Thompson, Reilly & Lee, 1934; The Wishing Horse of Oz, by Ruth Plumly Thompson, Reilly & Lee, 1935; Captain Salt in Oz, by Ruth Plumly Thompson, Reilly & Lee, 1936; Handy Mandy in Oz, by Ruth Plumly Thompson, Reilly & Lee, 1937; The Silver Princess in Oz, by Ruth Plumly Thompson, Reilly & Lee, 1938
Right: Ozoplaning with the Wizard of Oz, by Ruth Plumly Thompson, Reilly & Lee, 1939; The Wonder City of Oz, by John R, Neill, Reilly & Lee, 1940; The Scalawagons of Oz, by John R, Neill, Reilly & Lee, 1941; Lucky Bucky in Oz, by John R, Neill, Reilly & Lee, 1942
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FOOTNOTES IN OZ
 Originally Reilly & Britton. The name changed in 1919, when Britton’s share was sold to long-time employee William F. Lee.
 Jack Snow (August 15, 1907 – July 13, 1956) is also the author of Who’s Who in Oz, Chicago, Reilly & Lee, 1954
 The Hidden Valley of Oz, the first book written by Payes, was published by Reilly & Lee in 1951. Her second, The Wicked Witch of Oz (1954) remained unpublished on the grounds that the Oz books were not selling and was finally published by The International Wizard of Oz Club in 1993.
 Merry Go Round in Oz, the last Oz book published by the original publisher Reilly & Lee in 1963. McGraw’s second Oz book, The Forbidden Fountain of Oz, was published by The International Wizard of Oz Club in 1993
 In Oz taxonomy, these fall into the Sovereign Sixty and the Supreme Seventy-Five, according to the Royal Timeline of Oz. (Grand titles are de riguer in Oz fandom.)
 Additionally, resuming in a few words the many Lands of Oz is impossible, it is a world bursting with ideas, characters and exotic locations; even attempting to summarize any one of the books succinctly requires several pages. Web sites such as Wikipedia will adequately supply all the basic information. Lyman Frank Baum was born on May 15, 1856 in Chittenango, New York and died on May 6, 1919 at his home in Hollywood.
 Other accounts mention two drawers. In the words of Robert A. Baum, one of Baum’s grandsons: “Frank leaned in to the children and began, “The Yellow Brick Road led them into a dark and scary forest. The further they walked into the forest, the darker it got. They held onto each other as they slowly kept walking. The trees almost looked like they were closing in on them, when….” Just then, one of the children asked, “Mr. Baum, Mr. Baum, where is this magic land?”
“Even though Frank had been working on this story in his head for some time, the right name for the magic land had not yet come to him. Looking around the room for the answer while still telling the story, he soon noticed his office filing cabinet in the next room. The top drawer was labeled A – N and the bottom drawer was labeled, well …let Frank tell you. “Why it is called the Land of Oz,” he said, smiling to himself. The oh’s and ah’s of the children told Frank he now had a name for his magic land.” (Admittedly, if you’ll permit an irreverence, the land of Ag or An hardly has the same resonance.)
Henry M. Littlefield, in The Wizard of Oz; Parable on Popularism, published in the American Quarterly in 1964, held that Baum intended Oz to mean the abbreviation of ounce, the standard measure for gold, with Dorothy’s silver shoes and the yellow brick road representing the Populist Party’s desire to construct a bimetallic standard of both gold and silver in place of the gold standard. These precious metals, though, are to be taken with a grain of salt. Littlefield, in a letter to the editor of the New York Times dated February 7, 1992, explained of his theory “that there is no basis in fact to consider Baum a supporter of turn-of-the-century Populist ideology.” In 1964 Littlefield was reading the Wizard of Oz to his children at night, and teaching turn-of-the-century politics to a summer school class during the day. He thought using the book’s characters as a device would help his pupils remember the political facts. He had not made an effort to explore Baum’s political stance.
 The book recounts the adventures of a little girl named Dot and a little boy named Tot in Merryland, reached by floating on a river that flowed through a tunnel.
 Fanny Y. Cory was a talented illustrator who would have been more than capable of picking up the Oz series.
 In all fairness, it was a sign of the times; the late 19th and earliest 20th centuries saw a spate of books where science was introduced to children by way of the fairy tale, resulting in some exceedingly odd books, which must have confused their young readers to no end.
 See Michael Patrick Hearn’s “Introduction to The Annotated Wizard of Oz.” The Annotated Wizard of Oz: Centennial Edition. New York: Norton, 2000.
 The title was shortened to The Land of Oz in 1906. When the publisher’s name changed in 1919 to Reilly & Lee, the title became The Land of Oz, with the subtitle A Sequel to The Wizard of Oz.
 Now that sounds familiar. My mother also kept me supplied with a sheaf of papers “clear on one side” for drawing when I was very small. I believe I still have one or two of the school yearbooks I decorated.
 While there, he became friends with Joseph Clement Coll (1881-1921) prolific artist known for his fine pen and ink work which influenced a generation of illustrators.
 Bessie was born in 1885 in the Germantown area of Philadelphia.
 The feature is a source of much speculation for Oz fans. Strangely, Baum seems to indicate Oz is somewhere in outer space, whereas a broad desert separates the Land of Oz from Kansas and the rest of “Great Outside World” in the first two novels. The Queer Visitors pass the North Star and five planets on their approach to America (the adventures chronicled in the feature follow directly on from the end of the second book) and Ozma’s “Proclamation Extraordinary” mentions their arrival on “your Earth planet.”
 Denslow’s only (posthumous) consolation is his headstone, which reads William Wallace Denslow, 1855 – 1915 Original Illustrator of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the dates flanked by vignettes of the Tin Man and the Scarecrow, with Denslow’s trademark seahorse signature between. He is buried in Kensico Cemetery, located in Valhall, Westchester County, New York.
Somewhat confusingly, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was also republished in 1899 0r 1900 as the New Wizard of Oz, with many of Denslow’s illustrations, by Indianapolis publisher Bobbs-Merril Company.
 Serialized in 1906 in the Philadelphia North American.
 “The Men Who Make the Argosy” was a regular feature in the Argosy magazine, providing autobiographical sketches of their contributors. Neill’s page was published for the November 8th, 1930 issue.
 Frank L. Baum died in his Hollywood home on May 16, 1919. He had undergone gall bladder surgery in 1918 and never fully recovered. Glinda of Oz is considered as the darkest of the books, likely due to Baum’s illness.
 See Rebecca Locraine’s The Real Wizard of Oz: The Life and Times of L. Frank Baum. New York; Gotham, published in 2009.
 The six titles in the Little Wizard Stories are: The Cowardly Lion and the Hungry Tiger, Little Dorothy and Toto, Tiktok and the Nome King, Ozma and the Little Wizard, Jack Pumpkinhead and the Sawhorse and The Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman.
 The last claim appears to have been stretching the truth a little; the book was entirely composed of previously published texts and illustrations.
 Another unjustly neglected illustrator of great talent.
 The prices of Oz books of course fluctuated over the years. The Wizard of Oz had a cover price of $1.50; Oz books between 1904 and 1916 sold for $1.25. (While the price remained stable, the number of colour plates steadily diminished.) The Lost Princess of Oz sold for $1.35 in 1917, the next two, The Tin Woodman of Oz and The Magic of Oz, for $1.50, rising to $2.00 from Glinda of Oz through to Grampa in Oz between 1920 and 1924. The price dropped to $1.60 between 1925 and 1930, from The Lost King of Oz through The Yellow Knight of Oz, rising to $1.75 for Pirates in Oz and the Purple Prince of Oz, and dropping again to $1.50 for the last 10 books illustrated by Neill. After the Wishing Horse of Oz, colour plates were no longer included.
 See L. Frank Baum, Creator of Oz: A Biography, by Katharine M. Rogers, New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2002
 The Sea Fairies was republished by Reilly & Lee in 1920; Neill did a new cover for the new edition.
 The Royal Book of Oz began with an introduction by Mrs. Maud Baum, “the wife of the Royal Historian of Oz.” Thompson retired from the Oz series in 1939; she died in 1976.
 There have been rumours over the years of a third unpublished Oz book by Snow, entitled Over the Rainbow to Oz, but no manuscript has ever been unearthed. Snow’s address book of Oz fans, discovered after he died, became the basis of the mailing that established The International Oz Club, founded by 13-year old Justin G. Schiller in 1957.
 Pinning down complete original editions is often difficult; the books were reprinted often and went through many versions. Neil probably produced upwards of 3500 illustrations for Oz during his career.
 Others’ work has endured, even though the general public has forgotten their creators’ names. Who recalls the name of the artist who illustrated all those novels by Jules Verne, even though chances are they would instantly recognize the artwork? I hope to make up for that with a future newsletter. There is also a distinctly American mythology in Frazetta’s work; if you’ll excuse me for continually remarking that another newsletter is in the works on that particular subject, it is. A personal aside: a good friend mentioned that her father had once offered her “a coloring book for Christmas. It was an oversized replica of the illustrations. And he told me, ‘This is a really good one because it has the right pictures.’”
 The nature of the Oz books, their abundance of characters, their youthful audience and their relatively short length hinders any borrowed references from gaining a momentum of their own. T. H. White’s Arthurian books begin in the same tongue-in-cheek fashion, filled with calamitous knight continually galloping about a-joustin’, until the pathos of the original material weighs on the author in the last book, transforming his light-hearted foray into an inevitable tragedy.
 Many have read into the character of the Wizard an implicit criticism of American politicians; the scarecrow is thought to represent the farmer of the American West, whose straw-filled head holds a sharper and more resourceful mind than expected. In a sense, Oz may represent an American utopia. This said, suggestions such as the one that hints Dorothy’s dog Toto may have been so named as an insidious dig at teetotalers and the Prohibition are more than far-fetched. It is possible, with a little determination, to read pretty much anything into Oz.
 And even – shocking – actually read by the English.
 This is not to compare the two series as such, but to underline the freshness of approach of Baum and Neill. Andrew Lang’s twelve coloured fairy books are amongst the finest books of myth, legend and fairy tale ever produced. The first, the Blue Fairy Book, was printed in 1889, and the last, the Lilac Fairy Book, in 1910. H. J. Ford is a marvelous illustrator – a lavish and comprehensive book on his work would not be unwelcome either. Lang’s other books on myth are undeniably some of the best written at the time.
 Ozoplaning in Oz is of course by Ruth Plumly Thompson, but her writing is faithful in spirit to Baum’s, who had no qualms about inventing extraordinary machines and other contraptions.
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MORE INFORMATION ON OZ
For more information on John R. Neill and Oz:
JOHN R. NEILL, The Royal Illustrator of Oz. This site is owned and operated by Neil’s granddaughter Jory Neill Mason
THE OZ ENTHUSIAST, Owned and operated by, well… an Oz enthusiast. Bill Campbell’s site is full of information hard to find anywhere else.
WANNABE WONDERLANDS: OUTSIDE OF OZ, If Oz is not enough
ILLUSTRATION MAGAZINE One of the best magazines on illustration today. Issue # 17 features the article on John R. Neill.
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VERY SPECIAL THANKS IN OZ
Special thanks to Jory Neill Mason, Arden Edwards, Nathalie Mather, Jane Albright and Bill Campbell for their kind help to a total stranger who wandered into Oz by chance and was made to feel very welcome. (And, in Bill’s case, allowing me to plunder his site for a wealth of details I would never have discovered elsewhere.)
I am also greatly indebted to the article on John R. Neill by Michael Patrick Hearn, published in Illustration Magazine # 17, in 2006. To date it is the most detailed and comprehensive review of Neill’s life and work. Hearn is the author of Myth, Magic, and Mystery: One Hundred Years of American Children’s Book Illustration, published by Robert Rinehart in1996.
Every step of the way on my short trip down a stretch of the Yellow Brick Road, I discovered new details, new artwork and novel and fascinating anecdotes about the books. I eventually had to stop adding bits and pieces here and there to this newsletter, or I would still be writing it. I hope that one day that lavish book on John R. Neill will become a reality. One day very soon.
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