Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Young Girl's Journey to Oz

The original 1908 cover to Dorothy and the Wiz...
The original 1908 cover to Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz by L. Frank Baum. Designed by artist John R. Neill, reproduced for a modern facsimile edition. Now out of copyright. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter 1

The Earthquake

The story opens as Dorothy is on her way to meet Uncle Henry at Hugson's ranch just outside of San Francisco. Her second cousin, a boy named Zeb, has come to pick her up.  Dorothy and Uncle Henry plan to return to Kansas the next day, but during a massive earthquake, the ground opens and Dorothy and Zeb fall deep into the earth.

Judging by the illustrations Dorothy appears to be a young girl who hasn't had her first period.

The surprise to modern eyes and the magic to young female readers is that she is unaccompanied by an adult and that the train has dropped her off at 5 o'clock in the morning in the dark and misty countryside.

"The train from 'Frisco was late. It should have stopped at Hugson's siding at midnight, but it was already five o'clock and the dawn was breaking in the east ..."

L. Frank Baum published this story, the 4th in the Oz series, in 1908, two years after the great earthquake in San Francisco.

The fact that the earthquake prone California setting reflects the way the earth seems to be always shifting under the feet of a pubescent girl speaks to the author's keen understanding of human nature.

If you have been, taught or lived with an 11 year old girl you'll know what I mean.

"... all night long there were times when the solid earth shook and trembled ..."

The author has a wonderful grasp of the the intelligence and courage of young girls as they journey towards womanhood, (the tragedy of the series is that Dorothy was never allowed to grow up and get that first period), but on occasion he seems to remember the norms of society and throws in a little something to placate his conscience.

"The horrible sensation of falling, the darkness and the terrifying noises, proved more than Dorothy could endure and for a few moments the girl lost consciousness.  Zeb, being a boy, did not faint ..."

And so chapter 1 ends, Dorothy is unconscious and she, Zeb, the carriage, Zeb's old horse, Jim, and Dorothy's cat Eureka are falling deep inside the earth.

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