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 honored to be invited to participate.

Now that the convention has ended and, by all accounts, was a huge success, I wanted to share this essay with you. Mr. Maxine has graciously granted me permission to reprint it from their 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 authentic Oz book. The typeface, page headers, illustrations, chapter separators … everything laid out as though we were reading one of the classic fairy tales by L. Frank Baum. I was truly blown away by this effort. David really made 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—an 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, just five or six. A couple were well-worn first editions that had once belonged to her father when he was a boy and had passed on to my mother. Ultimately, they came to me. I loved them dearly. Even then I saw them as an important, cherished family “legacy,” and as I got older, I wanted to know more about this fascinating world of Oz.

Apparently, hoards of young readers at the turn of the twentieth century had shared my desire, and Baum had listened to their requests for more stories. I was delighted to learn that he had 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 at my local library before purchasing the white paperbacks from Rand McNally, published in the early 1970s. I used my allowance money along with some additional funding from Mom and Dad to complete the collection.

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

Perhaps a great deal of this sensation sprang from John R. Neill’s magnificently detailed illustrations. His Oz artwork always made a lasting impression, but never so much as in “The Road to Oz.” These drawings are more dramatic than usual, employing sweeping, Art Nouveau lines. More detailed, more passionate. They often seem to dance right off the pages. In fact, I was so inspired by them, at the age of sixteen, I created my own acrylic painting based on one of them. It features an enormous marble staircase in the royal palace of the Emerald City with Dorothy and Toto standing at the bottom. Dorothy’s hand extends outward, gesturing with excitement. Button-Bright peers around the base of a large marble pedestal while the Shaggy Man and Polychrome look on. At the top of the pedestal is an elegant statue of the Wizard, surrounded by a flock of birds that circle above him. The caption on the illustration reads, “O, Jellia Jamb! I’m So Glad To See You!” as Jellia hurries down the stairs to meet Dorothy and her friends, her arms wide open for a hug.

This drawing is inviting and inclusive. I feel as if I’m being welcomed warmly into the great city and the palace of Princess Ozma herself. It speaks to me in a profound way.

John R. Neill’s inspiring illustration from “The Road to Oz.”

 

From that introductory moment on, I was no longer an outside admirer, I was a citizen of Oz. I belonged there. “The Road to Oz” became my royal invitation to join the party—and oh, what a party it was! Like 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 years have passed, I have never forgotten this book and the impact it made on me at such an impressionable age. Oz has been 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 tale of a young boy who 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 and inclusiveness that I felt 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 it left me a proud and happy resident for life.


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