As everyone knows the hit Broadway musical “Wicked” is the spin-off of a novel by the same name from author Gregory Maguire. Of course, Maguire’s “Wicked: The Life And Times Of The Wicked Witch Of The West” is in turn is a twist on the timeless “The Wizard Of Oz.” However, most people forget that the beloved Judy Garland movie was also taken from a novel originally, written by a remarkable man named Lyman Frank Baum.
Who was this author who spawned such a legacy of work? Few have attempted to delve into the life of this important figure in our cultural history. So here is a brief look at the original man behind the magic.
Baum was born in 1856 near Syracuse in Chittenango, New York. He was a frail child with a weak heart (his health remained an impairment his entire life); he couldn’t undergo strenuous activity so he allegedly made up imaginary places and stories.
Frank read fairytales throughout his childhood, but did not like those that were frightening. He is quoted as saying: “”I demanded fairy stories when I was a youngster, and I was a critical reader too. One thing I never liked then, and that was the introduction of witches and goblins into the story. I didn’t like the little dwarfs in the woods bobbing up with their horrors.” This is ironic considering the often frightening aspects added to his fairy tale in the Broadway version of “Wicked.”
Baum was sent to military school by his parents in order to curb his imagination, which resulted in either a heart attack or nervous breakdown. He was subsequently taken away from the school and allowed to develop his creativity. His creativity was not restricted to storytelling. Fittingly, Baum was especially drawn to theater, and not only wrote plays, but starred in productions as well. Many consider his first major literary work to be the play The Maid of Arran. The play received a preponderance of positive reviews.
Though he is remembered today as the creator of one of the most popular stories in modern literature, Baum held many jobs throughout this life, including a poultry farmer with his family. While a farmer, he wrote columns for publications like the New York Farmer and Dairyman. He married Maud Gage in 1882 and they had four sons.
Baum’s life was fraught with health and financial difficulties. However, he continued to love children and write stories for them throughout his troubles. In 1897 he published Mother Goose In Prose. It was a success. After his poor health forced him to settle down into a more stable job (rather than the traveling one he had previously kept) he worked on his monthly trade magazine. It was during this time that he collaborated with a lifelong friend and illustrator, W.W. Denslow, creating “The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz.” The successful novel spawned no less than 17 sequels.
Despite the novel’s success, Baum’s final days were tragic. He was bedridden and in pain, but writing throughout the end. His story is one of courage in the face of adversity; it is claimed that he wrote to one of his sons serving in WWI: “for I have lived long enough to learn that in life nothing adverse lasts very long. And it is true that as years pass, and we look back on something that, at that time, seemed unbelievably discouraging and unfair. The eventual outcome was, we discover, by far the best solution for us.” His legacy lives on in the form of a wonderful fairy tale, which still speaks to us nearly 90 years after the author’s death in many different forms.