I never followed Oz because it seemed unreal

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The difference between fairy
and wonder tales

I recently stumbled upon an old print of Lyman Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz (1944). I’ve never been interested enough in the book to finish it, but the introduction is an exciting thing to read. In it, Baum distinguishes between fairy tales and wonder tales, and places Oz in the latter. The classic fairy tale, he says (almost in a prophetic tone), filled many “childish” hearts with joy,

Yet the old time fairy tale, having served for generations, may now be classed as “historical” in the children’s library; for the time has come for a series of newer “wonder tales” in which the stereotyped genie, dwarf and fairy are eliminated, together with all the horrible and blood-curdling incidents devised by their authors to point a fearsome moral to each tale. Modern education includes morality; therefore the modern child seeks only entertainment in its wonder tales and gladly dispenses with all the disagreeable incidents. Having this thought in mind, the story of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was written solely to please children of today. It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out.

I was surprised to find such a statement so clearly laid out by Baum. Not because it would be unlikely for him to say it, but because it finally helped me understand why I never could enjoy tales like Oz. As a kid, I remember finding them too shallow. Fairy tales, of course, are as fantastic as wonder tales. But in my “childish” mind, the challenges along Dorothy’s path seemed undeniably artificial, made up. They lacked that “disagreeable” quality that showed me—the reader—that suffering is a part of life. And I, like many other kids, wanted to read about things that felt more vivid, more real, perhaps even slightly cruel (so as to prove they were real!), rather than being pushed away from them.

—Alexia Raynal, Managing Editor

Original artwork from the book by Evelyn Copelman, adapted from the famous illustrations by W.W. Denslow

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