A Most Welcoming Road

A couple of weeks ago, I was very pleased to be invited by David Maxine (of Hungry Tiger Press) to contribute an essay for the International Wizard of Oz Club’s 2009 Winkie Convention to be held in Pacific Grove, CA. The group was gathering to celebrate the centennial of L. Frank Baum’s fifth Oz book called “The Road to Oz.”

David was serving as the program chairman for the event and told me he was assembling a commemorative program book in honor of the occasion. Little did I realize exactly what he would be producing, although, given his award-winning background in publishing, I should have guessed it would end up five-star caliber!

Cover of the 2009 Winkie Convention program book!

 

I didn’t hesitate to say yes when he asked me. David knew that “The Road to Oz” was my favorite in the series, based on a previous interview I had given for The Wizard’s Wireless. I was especially excited when he told me that my essay would be featured along with a handful of authors and Oz aficionados including Gregory Maguire (“Wicked”) and Ray Bradbury! I was very honored to be invited to participate.

Now that the convention has ended and, by all accounts, was a big success, I wanted to share this essay with you. Mr. Maxine has graciously granted me permission to reprint it from the program. However, I will ask you to use your imaginations just a bit. The program itself was designed with all the bells and whistles of an Oz book by L. Frank Baum! The typeface, page headers, illustrations, chapter separators … everything was laid out as though we were reading one of the classic Baum fairy tales. I was truly blown away by the effort and execution. David really makes me look good in print, too! Below is my essay. I hope you enjoy it.

A MOST WELCOMING ROAD – by Paul Miles Schneider

L. Frank Baum’s “The Road to Oz” was exactly that for me. A very appropriate title, indeed. As a young kid—maybe four or five years old—my mother would read the Oz books to me before I was able to handle the privilege myself. We didn’t have all of them, unfortunately. Just five or six. A couple of them well-worn first editions. They had once belonged to her father when he was a little boy, then they had passed on to my mother, and, ultimately, they came to me. I loved them dearly. Even then, I saw them as an important, cherished, family “legacy.” As I got a bit older, I wanted to know more about the fascinating world of Oz. Apparently, crowds of young readers at the turn of the twentieth century had shared this desire, and Mr. Baum had listened to their ardent requests for more. I was delighted to learn that he had actually written fourteen Oz adventures in all. So I set out to find the remaining volumes and devour everything I could about my favorite make-believe land. I located copies initially at my local library before purchasing the white, Rand McNally paperbacks published in the early 1970s. I used my own allowance money along with some “generous additional funding” from Mom and Dad to complete the collection.

That’s when I discovered “The Road to Oz” in more ways than one. Right away, this extraordinary book struck just the right chord with me—playful, a tad sardonic, and most definitely amusing. But, more than that, its underlying tone seemed to be celebratory. A big, lively party from the start—and everyone was invited. I adored the characters of Button-Bright, the Shaggy Man, and especially the ethereal loveliness of Polychrome, the Rainbow’s Daughter. I was pulled into its story almost as if I were trotting along the same curious road with Dorothy and her new friends. That had never happened to me before. I had been a fervent admirer of Baum’s Oz—appreciating, loving, and delighting in it. But with this book, I became a part of it.

Perhaps a great deal of that sensation sprang from John R. Neill’s magnificent illustrations. His Oz book artwork had always made a lasting impression on me, but never so much as with “The Road to Oz.” These drawings were more dramatic than usual, employing sweeping, Art Nouveau lines. More detailed. More passionate. They seemed to dance right off the pages at times. In fact, I was so inspired by them that, at the age of sixteen, I created my own acrylic painting based on one of them. It featured an enormous marble staircase in the royal palace of the Emerald City with Dorothy and Toto standing at the bottom of it. Dorothy’s hand was extended outward, gesturing excitedly. Button-Bright was eagerly peering around the base of a large pedestal while the Shaggy Man and Polychrome were looking on, smiling. At the top of the marble pedestal was an elegant statue of the Wizard surrounded by a flock of birds circling above it. The caption on the illustration read: “O, Jellia Jamb! I’m So Glad To See You!” And Jellia was hurrying down the stairs to meet Dorothy and her friends. Her arms stretched wide open for a hug. It was inviting and inclusive. I felt as if I were being warmly welcomed into the great city and the palace of Princess Ozma herself. It spoke to me in a profound way.

John R. Neill's inspiring illustration from "The Road to Oz."

 

From that moment on, I was no longer merely an outside admirer. I was a citizen of Oz. I belonged there. “The Road to Oz” had been my royal invitation to join the party. And oh, what a party it was! Like so many eager children, young and old, I attended the magnificent birthday celebration of Princess Ozma. And I got to meet Santa Claus along with the rest of the distinguished crowd. Queen Zixi of Ix was there. King John Dough and Chick the Cherub. Para Bruin and the Queen of Merryland.

Although the years have passed, I have never forgotten this book and the impact it had on me at an impressionable age. Oz has been a part my life and vice-versa for decades now. My ultimate road to Oz culminated in the writing of “Silver Shoes.” It’s my personal tribute to Baum, Neill, W.W. Denslow, and their brilliant imaginations—a modern, action-adventure story where a young boy discovers that Oz is a real place. It exists. And while dozens of experiences in my life have influenced me in the writing of this book, finding “The Road to Oz” is one of the most important. I have endeavored to capture the same feeling of discovery that I had while reading Baum’s novel for the first time. It was the book that made everything “real” for me, invited me into the fold, and left me a proud and happy resident for life.


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