In a couple days it will be the birthday of a great writer and imaginative mind, L. Frank Baum. We all know him for The Oz series (particularly The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) but did you know that he was born in Chittenango, NY and was raised in Mattydale, NY? That he married Maud Gage, one of the daughters of Matilda Joslyn Gage, a local women’s rights activist and suffragette whose home in Fayetteville is a historical landmark? And that he also had an influence on future inventions and, also, on how children’s books should be written?
L. Frank Baum
“A prominent educator tells me that fairy tales are of untold value in developing imagination in the young. I believe it.” ~L. Frank Baum
Born on May 15, 1856 in Chittenango, NY and raised on an estate in Mattydale, NY, Lyman Frank Baum was a daydreamer even as a boy. As he grew older Frank, as he preferred to be called, was always a roamer and constantly finding new and wonderful jobs to take on to gain money. He raised fancy poultry (chickens), sold fireworks, was a traveling salesman, wrote for newspapers, but his real love was theater. His father even built him his own theater in Richburg, NY. Baum wrote the plays, the songs, and was the lead actor from the opening of the theater until it burned down in 1882. He was also a spinner of tales, the children in his family loving nothing more than to hear him tell stories. The daydreamer never really grew up.
The Gage Family
Maud was one of the daughter’s of Matilda Joslyn Gage from Fayetteville, NY. Maud married L. Frank Baum on November 9, 1882. The Gage’s were a large and loving family, Baum and his mother-in-law, Matilda, became fast friends from the start. She was always encouraging his writing and creativity. The first tales of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz were probably told out loud at the Gage household while the family gathered around the winter time fires. Baum loved to be theatrical and act out his stories for the children in the family. Matilda was probably a great influence both on the actual Oz stories and in their getting published.
Matilda’s influence was on the female characters of the Oz books, these character were unique for the time period. They were strong, decisive, and often time the leaders of the communities. In the second book of the series, The Marvelous Land of Oz, the girls and women revolt against the oppressor of Oz. Such a revolt would be right up the alley of Matilda Joslyn Gage who was a vocal activist in her own writings.
L. Frank Baum and His Influence
The works of L. Frank Baum predicted some of the great inventions of our time. In his book The Master Key he came up with inventions similar to the television and laptop computers. Tik-Tok of Oz had the first wireless telephone. Baum’s imagination knew no bounds.
He was also an influence in the children’s literature of his time and of the future. Baum felt that children’s stories were filled with morals and too much violence and romance. Stories, of course, could teach children. But not every single story had to have a moral or a lesson at the end of it. Although his stories still contained violence, Baum uses the violence as a means to entertain the readers who like those type of elements in stories. He does not dwell on them or make them driving forces in his stories.
“When I was young I longed to write a great novel that should win me fame. Now that I am getting old my first book is written to amuse children. For aside from my evident inability to do anything “great,” I have learned to regard fame as a will-o-the-wisp which, when caught, is not worth the possession; but to please a child is a sweet and lovely thing that warms one’s heart and brings its own reward. ” ~L. Frank Baum