The Way of Oz
Robert V. Smith and Dusty Higgins
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Buy *The Way of Oz: A Guide to Wisdom, Heart, and Courage* by Robert V. Smith and Dusty Higginso nline

The Way of Oz: A Guide to Wisdom, Heart, and Courage
Robert V. Smith and Dusty Higgins
Texas Tech University Press
288 pages
September 2012
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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"The original Oz book and its derivative stories have intrigued children and adults for generations." Robert V. Smith, an academic administrator, found himself fascinated by the Oz story when he applied for (and did not get) a job in Kansas--reading to prepare for his interview, he thought that all Kansans would naturally be knowledgeable about the books by L. Frank Baum and the world famous movie, since they were set partially in that state. His assumption was incorrect, but what began as a minor investigation became a consuming interest, with this book as the result.

The Way of Oz is a portmanteau, comprising a recap of the movie and the books on which the movie was (loosely) based, and a guide to living one's live on Oz-related principles. Baum was an odd man, initially something of a failure, who dabbled in various trades--breeding exotic chickens, selling fireworks, acting--until he found that he could use his talent for writing to compose what became rather popular children's books, beginning with Mother and Father Goose stories and followed by The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its many lesser-known sequels. Smith parallels happenings in Baum's life in the turn of the twentieth century with themes in his books. For example, he notes that the "ruby slippers" of filmdom were, in Baum's book, made of silver, and that this may have been a veiled reference to the "intense political debate in the 1890s about silver and gold standards for US currency." Similarly, though Baum never lived in Kansas, he did spend time in the South Dakota Territory and probably based the Oz locale on that. Baum was a liberal (by the standards of his times) who joined forces with the women's suffrage movement and the Theosophical Society--these nonconformist stances and others can be perceived in the Oz saga and other writings.

Smith seeks to link the interesting, highly symbolic story of Dorothy and her companions seeking liberation and wisdom in the Emerald City to a methodology for living all aspects of life, especially emphasizing themes of importance to college students. He has cleverly amalgamated the fantasy, with which so many Americans are familiar, to practical life skills and aspirations. Sometimes this is a stretch--for example, he admits that in Oz, there is no real democracy, hardly a model society. On the other hand, one undeniable theme of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is travel, and he advises people--especially young adults--to undertake study programs and community involvement overseas.

It is possible that the author has tried to do too much in one book and might usefully have divided his work into two or even three parts. Though his progressions are logical, the entire effect is overwhelming, with some loose ends. Still, many people are simply in love with the Oz fantasy and they will doubtless enjoy this new take on it.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Carole McDonnell, 2014

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