Some books are even better.

Sometimes, when I go back and reread a childhood favorite, I'm a bit disappointed. How could I not have seen the flatness of the characters, the plodding action, the misogyny, the triteness? (Although how a small child is supposed to recognize triteness when it's her first time reading about anything is beyond me — I'm reminded of Bernard Black's observation: "All children look surprised. Everything's new to them.")

However, I'm thrilled to find that the original Oz books — by L. Frank Baum, of course — are tiny miracles of arch, quietly hilarious social satire. Although the theory that they're political allegories of the party politics and bombast of the day has not been entirely persuasively argued, what is beyond question is the sly wink at the reader: You're reading this to your kid — and, in fact, the kid may even be a bit bored — but you can't keep a straight face, can you?

In fact, the Oz books didn't bore me at all when I was a child (although I think I tried them with Margaret a bit too soon). At the time, what I loved most of all was the world-building. It's elaborate and funny, and who cares about consistency and real-world principles of geography and sociology anyway? You need a desert for the plot, and lo! a desert. You need a swamp right next to it? Just put one there! It's all good! Magical "systems"? Why would you need a "system"? Magic is...well, magic!

A school friend had the whole set, and we read through them obsessively, maniacally, during fifth grade. That's a lot of world-building to enjoy!

These days I'm downloading them from Project Gutenberg (go here to get them for yourself) and reading them on an e-reader. I'm sad that the illustrations don't make it into the .epub files, but the stories are all still enormous fun (for the world-building and the social satire), and they're FREE. And you can always see at least some of the illustrations via Google Images.


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