Behind the curtain
The TALE: Tehachapi Art, Literature and Entertainment
November 6, 2021
Do you know where the idea of “The Wizard of Oz” came from, where Laura Ingalls Wilder and Louisa May Alcott ended up living the rest of their lives, or how a lion and a dragon became stars of their own adventures?
Some of our most beloved books have multiple and interesting behind the scenes stories and mysteries that are not shared in the original stories themselves.
In “The Wizard of Oz” Toto pulled back the curtain to reveal the wizard was not only a mere man, but that he really had no magic at all. But as L. Frank Baum created each story in his Oz series, the magic evolved through his delightful and horrible characters and their antics. “Finding Dorothy” is a book written by Elizabeth Letts. She reveals what was behind the scenes of Oz through the eyes of L. Frank Baum’s wife Maud. Letts describes the meager beginnings in the lives of Frank and Maud Baum in South Dakota, clear to the Hollywood film set where Maud meets Judy Garland. She sees her husband’s first book of the Oz series come to life in the classic movie that we love today.
Somewhere over that rainbow an imagination was born and visualized, of a scarecrow, tinman and lion who wove their friendship around Dorothy and Toto, from Kansas and back again. If you have only seen the movie and never read the books (there are 14 of them), treat yourself and be prepared for the bizarre, past the first encounter of the wicked witch to a whole line of unusual characters. Pull the curtain back a little bit more and expand your view of Oz though Maud Baum’s eyes in “Finding Dorothy.”
Louisa May Alcott didn’t want to write a sweet story about four sisters. She wanted to be published as an author of dashing sword fights and bar brawls and raucous adventures. But when you pull her curtain back, you find that the publishers wanted something wholesome and nurturing from her, and she found her success through “Little Women,” “Little Men” and “Jo’s Boys.” After “Eight Cousins,” “Rose in Bloom” and multiple shorter stories, Susan Cheever wrote the biography “Louisa May Alcott” that fills the reader in on how Louisa lived through those early days and then after. You might not know she became a Civil War nurse.
The same curtain can be pulled back on Laura Ingalls Wilder. She wrote her series of books about her family’s travels as they migrated into untamed lands of early America. Through “Pioneer Girl,” an annotated autobiography edited by Pamela Smith Hill, the reader receives further insights and stories. Wilder’s daughter Rose edited this manuscript written by Laura herself but it wasn’t accepted for publication at that time. Weaving through both additional and fictional events, new stories became episodes in the television show “Little House on the Prairie.” True fans of the books and the show will appreciate a deeper look.
“Once Upon a Wardrobe” by Patti Callahan takes you to the famous and mysterious entrance into Narnia and beyond. This new adventure begins with a young college student Meg, who is determined to ask C.S. Lewis himself where Narnia came from, so she can go home to her sick and dying brother and give answer to his yearning curiosity. But Lewis being Lewis does not answer the question directly. However, both she and her brother are given something even greater. Pull that curtain back for yourself and receive the unexpected gift from the Lewis wardrobe.
I would be remiss if I didn’t include “John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkein” by Caroline McAlister. This is a picture book biography, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, which starts out saying that “John Ronald loved dragons... He searched for them everywhere... even while fighting in the Great War. And when he didn’t actually find one, as a grown man still very much a boy at heart, he decided to create one of his own.” John Ronald created magic. And he pulls back the curtain and shows us how, in a very delightful way.
Many times in life we take things at face value. But pulling back the curtain and looking beyond the first glimpse of a story can make that story fuller, or clearer, or even take you to unexpected places. When authors write stories for us, they put pieces of themselves within the words like those clever eggs embedded into a video game or movie. Pull the curtains back to find them!
Good books. Good reading.
*Midge Lyn’dee is a fictional character used for the purpose of entertainment though the reviews are real and sincere.