An evening of Myth and Poetry
February 1, 2017 in Trinidad, CO
©2016 Annette Meserve
The Land of Oz
It was the smell of the old Carnegie library, scents of wood floor varnish, old paper, and binding glue, that stayed with us when we were kids, as we carried away armloads of books, my sisters and I excited to learn about things and places we'd never seen.
It’s a rare smell these days, only found in the few odd Carnegies that haven’t succumbed to renovation, but it still makes my fingers itch to flip through a storybook taken off a tall wooden shelf.
It was the Oz series that first offered me relationship with an author, long dead but no less vibrant in his storytelling. As L.Frank Baum's stories trundled home in my arms, his fairy country, swept me away. His world was separated from mine by only a thin stretch of Deadly Desert, not so far away, really. It was a land where young women were powerful, talking animals had honor, and magic was used for the good of all... usually.
Baum became, for me, a kindly uncle and, through his books, I was introduced to the gentility of another age and the grace of unfamiliar words cleverly used. He would pick me up and carry me to a place of wonder, a place where problems were solved by smart little girls, a place where even the Gnome King had to be polite.
It was Baum who taught me to read fiction but there was even more to it than that. As an adult, I’ve seen analyses of Baum’s work, experts proposing that his characters, his plot lines, indeed the Land of Oz itself, were metaphors for the circumstances of his time. Commentary couched in story.
In this, my dear uncle offered me another teaching on the power of fiction to explore alternate routes within a make-believe world, to play with the building blocks of a society and maybe find creative solutions.
Many authors have used story to say what couldn’t be said plainly. Fiction can make us think.
But in the times when we want only to escape, we can just enjoy the story. We can be whisked off to Oz on a friendly cyclone and go adventuring with a cowardly lion and a hungry tiger and a bevy of clever little girls.