The New Yorker:
A hundred years ago, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” by L. Frank Baum, was published by the soon-to-be-defunct Chicago-based firm of George M. Hill. The Library of Congress is hosting a commemorative exhibition, and Norton has brought out a centennial edition of “The Annotated Wizard of Oz,” edited and annotated by Michael Patrick Hearn ($39.95). Hearn, we learn from a preface by Martin Gardner, became a Baum expert while he was an English major at Bard College, and put forward an annotated “Wizard” when he was only twenty years old. Gardner, the polymathic compiler of “The Annotated Alice” (1960) and “More Annotated Alice” (1990), had been invited to do the same, in 1970, for Baum’s fable; disclaiming competence, he recommended the young Bard Baumist to Clarkson N. Potter, who published Hearn’s tome in 1973. In the years since, Hearn has produced annotated versions of Charles Dickens’s “Christmas Carol” and Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn,” added to the vast tracts of Baum scholarship, co-authored a biography of W. W. Denslow, the “Wizard” ’s illustrator, and labored at a still unpublished “definitive biography” of Baum. Presumably, he and Norton have been patiently waiting, with fresh slews of annotation and illustration, for the centennial (which is also that of Dreiser’s “Sister Carrie,” Conrad’s “Lord Jim,” Colette’s first Claudine novel, and Freud’s “Interpretation of Dreams”) to roll around.
It is not hard to imagine why Gardner ducked the original assignment. The two “Alice” books are more literate, intricate, and modernist than Baum’s “Wonderful Wizard,” and Lewis Carroll’s mind, laden with mathematical lore, chess moves, semantic puzzles, and the riddles of Victorian religion, was more susceptible to explication, at least by the like-minded Gardner. But Baum, Hearn shows in his introduction, was a complicated character, too—a Theosophist, an expert on poultry, a stagestruck actor and singer, a fine amateur photographer, an inventive household tinkerer, a travelling china salesman, and, only by a final shift, a children’s writer.
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