Rilla Goes to Oz

August 28, 2013 @ 7:34 pm | Filed under:


Illustration by John R. Neill

I loved the Oz books as a kid. Loooooved them. Collected the whole series, the Baum-authored ones plus a couple of the Ruth Plumly Thompson sequels, and enlisted my father’s help to track down the Very Best Editions, the white-bordered oversized trade paperbacks with John R. Neill illustrations.


I reread the entire series regularly all through high school and even on college vacations. Dorothy, Ozma, Tik-Tok, Scraps, the Hungry Tiger, the Glass Cat, Betsy Bobbin, Billina, Polychrome, General Jinjur, the Shaggy Man, Button-Bright: this astonishing array of lively characters peopled my imagination and taught me a great deal about diversity, varying points of view, and fun. They were an outspoken bunch, these Oz folks. They had strong opinions; their perspectives clashed; they worked through conflicts and celebrated one another’s quirks. I adored them. Still do.

Strangely, the Oz books never seemed to take off for my kids as read-alouds. Baum’s prose is, I confess, a bit arch, sometimes saccharine. His genius was for character and plot, not lyricism. My older three girls went through waves of reading the series on their own, but they didn’t seem to catch Oz fever with the intensity I had.

Enter Rilla. Well, first enter Eric Shanower and Skottie Young, who are bringing the Oz books to a new generation of readers via truly gorgeous graphic novel adaptations published by Marvel. Oz, overflowing as it is with colorful, outlandish characters, was made for graphic depictions. Eric Shanower (who has become a friend of mine through Comic-Con and SCBWI) is a true Ozian—why, his own press is called Hungry Tiger, and his contributions to Oz literature and fandom are staggering. His adaptations are faithful, deft, and affectionate. And Skottie Young’s art, while a departure from the John R. Neill images burned into my brain as canon, is wholly delightful. It’s clear he is having tremendous fun bringing these creatures to life.

I’ve mentioned before that Rilla, as a reader, is drawn to books with a heavy illustration-to-text ratio. She prefers Brambly Hedge to Little House, for example; those gorgeous, intricately detailed drawing of tree-stump pantries and attics can occupy her for a full afternoon. She’ll spend an hour talking to me about Eric Carle’s techniques. For her, art is the magic; an accompanying plotline is simply a nice bonus.


We brought Eric and Skottie’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz home from SDCC last month, and Rilla—well, you’d have thought we gave her an actual trip to the Land of Oz, she was so excited. It’s the longest, hardest book she has read on her own. Oh yes, it’s a graphic novel, but the text is quite sophisticated: there’s some nice meaty vocabulary in the dialogue. Baum didn’t talk down to his young readers, and neither does Eric Shanower. (And of course I’ve written volumes before about the excellent reading skills imparted by comics: there’s a lot of complex decoding going on as a young reader navigates those panels.)

“Bad news,” she told me mournfully one day. “I finished the best book in the world.”

“Guess what,” I whispered. “There are more.”

Her gasp, her shining eyes: no Princess of Oz was more radiant.

The next week’s worth of bedtimes saw her poring over The Marvelous Land of Oz, one of my favorite books in the series (both the original and the graphic adaptation). Every morning, she narrated the previous night’s events to me, dancing with suspense as the story unfolded, and belly-laughing over the ending.


Then came Ozma of Oz, a book for which my deep affection renders me nearly incoherent. Even that sentence is on shaky grammatical territory. Imagine a lot of squealing noises and some Rilla-esque bouncing around. I mean, I mean, Tik-Tok and the Wheelers! The lunch-pail trees! The loathsome, fabulous Princess Langwidere and her collection of interchangeable heads. SHE WANTS DOROTHY’S HEAD FOR THE COLLECTION, YOU GUYS. Come on. And then the Nome King and his high-stakes guessing game (shades of Heckedy Peg), and Billina the Hen’s surprising trump card. Oh, oh, oh.

Don’t tell Rilla, but I’d already given a copy of Ozma to my goddaughter, Vivi, whose mother is, if anything, an even bigger Oz fanatic than I am. She even looks like Ozma. (Krissy, why why why didn’t we ever go as Ozma and Polychrome for Halloween?)

polychrome meets ozma

Polychrome, the Rainbow’s Daughter, meets Princess Ozma. Illustration by John R. Neill.

Rilla hasn’t met Polychrome yet. She will swoon, mark my words. The Rainbow’s Daughter? Polly of the swirling robes and floaty hair? Rilla’s a goner. Like Ozma, she’ll make Polly’s acquaintance in The Road to Oz. I can’t wait to see what Skottie Young does with Polychrome and the Shaggy Man. Both characters are bubbling over with the whimsy he captures so well.


But first comes Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. Even for Baum, this is a bizarre tale. Dorothy gets caught in a San Francisco earthquake and falls all the way to the center of the earth, where weird vegetable people (as in, they grow on vines) called the Mangaboos are on the verge of executing her when, whew!, who should float down in his balloon but Dorothy’s old acquaintance, the Wizard?


After that comes The Emerald City of Oz. Rilla and I may not be able to wait for the collected edition; we might have to start picking up the floppies from our local comic shop.


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12 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. sarah says:

    I never cared for the Oz books except Ozma of Oz – oh how I LOVED Ozma of Oz!! Thinking of it all these years (okay decades) later still makes me go all warm and happy.

  2. sarah says:

    Oh and what an incredible joy for Rilla to know that there were MORE books just like the best one in the world! We bibliophiles know that feeling when we discover our favourite new author has written many books, and its a delight to imagine a little girl experiencing it too. 🙂

  3. Nicole says:

    You have made me so happy with this post! Oh, the magical summer that I discovered Ozma of Oz in my grandparents’ town library, which introduced me to the whole series! I’m putting every one of those titles I can find, classic and graphic, on hold at the library. Right now.

  4. Christine says:

    Oh, my, this post is so timely for me right now as I’m in the midst of Oz with my 6 year old son who insists we cannot take breaks in between but must read the series straight through. We’re on book 13 now, The Magic of Oz, and while early on I was growing tired of some of the repetition (though I love Polychrome, The Shaggy Man, and Button Bright, parts of The Road to Oz nearly put me to sleep), I’m having fun reliving the series with him and having such fun seeing his delight in these crazy characters and their amazing adventures. I love the way Baum just keeps bringing back those old favorites and weaves the familiar from previous books into the new. Every time that silly Glass Cat tells us about her beautiful pink brains and reminds us that “you can see ’em work” we giggle together and roll our eyes. The places and people are so preposterous, but it just works for him. And I love that, despite his simultaneous adoration of all things Star Wars, my little guy still can be enamored of the relative innocence of these wonderful stories. I’m definitely going to have to look for these Marvel versions as I think my son would really enjoy them. I love the looks of the illustrations, too. While I find the old, original illustrations of the Oz books interesting, something about them isn’t quite right to me, and these new illustrations feel more “right” to me somehow. (But, wow, your friend does look just like the original Ozma! And you’d make a wonderful Polychrome!) Thanks for letting us know about these!

  5. Louise says:

    Oh, how I loved and love Oz. Carl started reading the Oz books to Joy after she turned five – they both fell nearly as deeply in love with them as I. Carl would come bouncing downstairs after Joy’s bedtime each night, bursting with Baum’s cleverness with words and characters, and then I would get to hear it all from Joy the next morning at breakfast. They haven’t made it through the entire series yet – they wore down around The Road to Oz and decided to take a break, read other things, and then come back when it felt fresh again. I’m wondering if these graphic novels wouldn’t be just the thing to perk Joy’s interest again!

  6. Emily says:

    Wait, there’s MORE Oz graphic novels?! Heaven! I didn’t know that! I love the first one, and I love many of the following Oz stories (I haven’t read them all, I Have to admit).

  7. Leah H says:

    I. want. those. I loved the Oz books as a child. Checked them out from the library multiple times. Why didn’t I ever ask my parents to buy them?! Anyway, I adored the illustrations, and as a budding artist tried to draw some of my own oz-like creations. So, while I will probably always favor the originals, these look like so much fun, and just the thing to draw my children into the marvelous land of Oz.

  8. Maria says:

    I’ve been eyeing these at the local comic shoppe for quite a while…..and think they shall be my next purchase from said comic shoppe. 😀

  9. Debbie Engel says:

    I just finished the 8th book, Tik-Tok of Oz with my 6 year old. In the past month, he laughs at a lot more of the funny parts which is nice. I even shared a snippet from an Oz book in my women’s group when I had to do a reflection on mercy – Ozma forgave Ojo the Unlucky and showed him mercy and kindness instead of dire punishment for disobeying the law. People were talking a lot after that!

    We have been reading the Oz series on the Kindle, so I can’t wait to surprise my little guy with a comic of Oz – how cool!

  10. Joann says:

    Must have been an Oz year. Dom (11) read them in the Spring and then the big brothers reread them over the summer. They just felt like it. So who is going to say to these 6 foot plus guys that they need to read more age appropriate books?
    Nope, not me. 🙂

  11. Jennifer G. Miller says:

    I just loved the Oz books. You just described my summers, I would read and reread them. We didn’t own them, but my cousins did, and our long vacations to their house I would read them again.

    My then-9year old just immersed himself this year into the Oz books. He read all that we could find, including the ones by the different authors. We listened to two on audio. My youngest (5) ate it all up. It was only until after they had listened and read that we watched the movie. I think this really helped them not to be so scared (as I was) by the witch.

    I was disappointed to recently learn that Baum was a big theosophist. Knowing that I can see some of it in his books, but the stories are nice, with morals and character flaws and virtuous behavior and right and wrong clearly defined, so all good in my book for fiction.

    The first book has been used as an allegory for the silver Standard of William Jennings Bryan and populist following.

    I didn’t know about the graphic novels. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for those!

  12. Alli says:

    Thank you, thank you for bringing these books to my attention. I think an Amazon order will be placed soon.