L. Frank Baum on Fairy Tales

Introduction to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)
What Children Want (1902)
Introduction to The Magical Monarch of Mo (1903)
Wogglebug’s Creator Tells of Inspiration (1904)
A Writer for Children (1909)
Modern Fairy Tales (1909)
From the Introduction to The Lost Princess of Oz (1917)

Introduction to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)

by L. Frank Baum

Folklore, legends, myths and fairy tales have followed childhood through the ages, for every healthy youngster has a wholesome and instinctive love for stories fantastic, marvelous and manifestly unreal. The winged fairies of Grimm and Andersen have brought more happiness to childish hearts than all other human creations.

Yet the old time fairy tale, having served for generations, may now be classed as “historical” in the children’s library; for the time has come for a series of newer “wonder tales” in which the stereotyped genie, dwarf and fairy are eliminated, together with all the horrible and blood-curdling incidents devised by their authors to point a fearsome moral to each tale. Modern education includes morality; therefore the modern child seeks only entertainment in its wonder tales and gladly dispenses with all disagreeable incident.

Having this thought in mind, the story of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was written solely to please children of today. It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out.

What Children Want (1902)

by L. Frank Baum

Chicago Evening Post (27 November 1902)

Many authors have an idea that to write a story about children is to write a children’s story. No notion could be more erroneous. Perhaps one out of a hundred alleged children’s stories possesses elements of interest to the real child – but that is a liberal estimate. Not that the writers are not competent, nor possessed of kindliest intent to interest the little ones; but to them child life is a sweet memory, idealized by lapse of years, and more or less their stories are infected by the life experiences that led them to regard childhood retrospectively and to color each humdrum incident of youth with absurdly sentimental rose tints. There is nothing humdrum about the average child. You cannot interest it by telling how little Angelina washed her face and curled her hair. The things that frequently interest adults in children often have no interest whatever to the children themselves.

It is said that a child learns more during the first five years of its life than in the succeeding fifty years. This may well be true, for all the marvels of life and the wonders of the universe are brought to its notice and registered upon the sensitive film of its mind in those years when it first begins to understand it is a component part of mighty creation. The very realization of existence is sufficient to set every childish nerve tingling with excitement, and when the mind has absorbed the astonishing circumstances of its environments there comes a time when comprehension pauses, to resume more deliberately the practical details of worldly experience. Thus the amazed child, wide-eyed, eager, nervous and filled with unalloyed vigor, steps upon the threshold of real life. Remembering this, is it strange that children indulge in mischievous pranks; that they whoop and romp and are well-nigh irrepressible? Then is it small wonder that the passive tales of their sedate elders fail to afford them amusement. The real surprise, in this connection, is that adults fail so evidently to grasp the physical or mental condition of the little one that is taking its first peep at the world’s wonderland.

Positively the child cannot be satisfied with inanities in its story books. It craves marvels – fairy tales, adventures, surprising and unreal occurrences; gorgeousness, color and kaleidoscopic succession of inspiring incident. Give it these for mental refreshment and the child’s nervous energy is soothed and rested; its heart beats become normal; the eager eyes take on a dreamy and contented look, while above the throbbing course of rich lifeblood the glowing cheeks wear a happy smile of satisfaction.

Nearly every great writer, at one time or another in his or her experience, has written a book for children. Scarcely can we name one that has written a children’s book. The old nurse’s tales – the folklore of peoples who were close to nature – are the ideal thing in children’s stories. They will live forever, preserved to us in their wise consideration for the coming child by John Newbury, the Brothers Grimm, Andrew Lang and other collectors. And above all stands the one great author of fairy tales – the revered Hans Christian Andersen – who knew well the child heart and child requirements and gave to all future ages the wonder tales that have been so instrumental in gladdening and soothing our restless little ones. These people lived with children and knew them; nor did they feed their minds with chaff.

No Distinction Between Sexes

In childish requirements sex is not clearly defined. There is little excuse for giving namby-pamby books to girls and adventurous ones to boys. The girls as eagerly demand and absorb the marvelous as their brothers; aye, and need it as much. Kindly maiden ladies and reverend grandmothers write many “sweet” stories for girls; and dignified, conservative publishers print them as “children’s literature;” and scholarly reviewers commend them as most excellent for the childish mind. But, oh, if the little girls could only tell in print what they think of these stories, what an astonished lot of writers and publishers and reviewers there would be! And in many cases the boy child is as grossly misunderstood as the girl.

I am aware that many placid parents prefer to force “nice” and “gentle” tales upon their children to giving them the exciting stories their natures demand, but you will observe that the children of these placid ones grow up to occupy very placid positions in life, their youthful vigor having been sapped in many ways by attempts to engraft the conservatism of maturity upon the riotous bud of childhood. And I have never known a boy less manly for having read wonder books nor a girl less tender and womanly through reading of fairies and nymphs. The child seldom errs by believing such stories true; nor is it misguided in after life by the marvels it has read of in books. But the wonderment, the joy, the satisfaction in these tales at a period when their earnest natures crave hearty food lend to their lives a vigor and strength that is all-abiding. And, as one of our great writers truly says, the child that can be influenced to evil by reading a wholesome fairy tale or a book of stirring adventure is not worth considering.

Until four or five years ago there has been a great dearth in America of new stories for children, outside the inevitable “goody-goody” books. But the liberal spirit fast permeating every branch of literature has at length reached the child story, and the child itself is beginning to be better understood. Therefore the modern juvenile book is not nearly so apt to prove inane and unsatisfying to its youthful readers as formerly and the gorgeousness of modern illustration lends an irresistible charm to most of the recent publications for children. Indeed, I am not sure that the great modern illustrators of children’s books, such as Peter Newell, Oliver Herford, Fanny Y. Cory, and W. W. Denslow, are not worthy as much love and reverence as the great story-writers themselves.

There seems no plausible reason why another Hans Christian Andersen should not arise to bless children with a modern collection of original fairy tales; and, indeed, some of the fairy stories of today seem to me to equal those of the glorious Dane in their marvelous construction and directness. Yet there still remains a lamentable failure on the part of many otherwise able authors to comprehend the child requirements in literature. Children do not relish descriptive passages, however beautiful they may be. They want their dialogue decisive and crisp. The action of the story must not lag – it should be a swift current whirling ever onward to the end. And the language employed should be simple and unadorned. As for a moral, children are quick to discover and absorb one, provided it is not tacked up like a warning on a signpost.

Introduction to The Magical Monarch of Mo (1903)

by L. Frank Baum

This book has been written for children. I have no shame in acknowledging that I, who wrote it, am also a child; for since I can remember my eyes have always grown big at tales of the marvelous, and my heart is still accustomed to go pit-a-pat when I read of impossible adventures. It is the nature of children to scorn realities, which crowd into their lives all too quickly with advancing years. Childhood is the time for fables, for dreams, for joy.

These stories are not true; they could not be true and be so marvelous. No one is expected to believe them; they were meant to excite laughter and to gladden the heart.

Perhaps some of those big, grown-up people will poke fun of us – at you for reading these nonsense tales of the Magical Monarch, and at me for writing them. Never mind. Many of the big folk are still children – even as you and I. We cannot measure a child by a standard of size or age. The big folk who are children will be our comrades; the others we need not consider at all, for they are self-exiled from our domain.

Wogglebug’s Creator Tells of Inspiration (1904)

Philadelphia North American (3 October 1904)

Idea Was Suggested by a Little Girl at the Seashore

Made Immediate Hit

“I was out on a California beach,” said L. Frank Baum. “There was a pretty little girl I was very much interested in beside me. She was making sand pies and enjoying herself immensely, when suddenly she saw one of those little sand crabs, fiddler crabs I suppose they are.

‘Oh, what is it? ’ she said.

‘A wogglebug,’ I said, unthinkingly, using the first term that popped into my head.

“The child was delighted and ran to her parents shouting: ‘Oh, see what I’ve got! It’s a wogglebug. Mr. Baum says it’s a wogglebug.’

“The name was so catchy that the same evening my wife told me I should put the Woggle-Bug in ‘The Marvelous Land of Oz.’ The book was one-third written and Jack Pumpkinhead was the hero, but I brought in the Woggle-Bug right away.

“After that H.M. Woggle-Bug T.E. was the hero and has become my most popular character. ”

In this little anecdote the creator of the most popular fairy tale of his day and generation yesterday told the origin of the wonderful humanized insect who answers the questions which puzzle his companions every week in The North American.

At the same time he was giving his interviewer an insight into why Mr. Baum for twenty years has been charming children wherever the English language is read. For the creator of the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, the Gump and all the other imaginative troupe loves children.

Many Letters From Children

“Not a day passes,” he says, “but I get a letter from a child. They come sometimes singly, sometimes in batches of 50 or 100. Entire classes, where school teachers have read my stories, have written to me. I answer every one personally. When I was a child I know how, if I had received a real letter from an author whose book I’d read, I would have been the happiest boy alive.

“And if I am to do any good in this world my highest ambition will be to make children happy.”

And this led to an inquiry into these fairy tales themselves, into what first suggested to Mr. Baum the idea of writing them. The answer might have been expected. It was that, in the first place, Mr. Baum had been just like most other children, a very vivacious reader of fairy tales. In the second place he had done what many other grown ones have done, told fairy tales to children.

“I demanded fairy stories when I was a youngster,” he explained, “and I was a critical reader too. One thing I never liked then, and that was the introduction of witches and goblins into the story. I didn’t like the little dwarfs in the woods bobbing up with their horrors.

“That’s why you’ll never find anything in my fairy tales which frightens a child. I remember my own feelings well enough to determine that I would never be responsible for a child’s nightmare.

“Then, when I had children of my own, I used to sit in front of the grate fire and tell fairy tales to them before they were sent to bed. My wife begged me to write them down; told me they were much better than lots that were printed. I did and there you are.”

Simple, isn’t it? That’s what started Mr. Baum on his way to becoming the most widely read author in the United States today.

He has written altogether sixteen books of fairy tales, every one of which is now selling.

“The Wizard of Oz” has sold 780,000 copies, the largest sale on record, and one which shows no sign of stopping.

His income from his books is larger than that of the President of the United States.

But better than all this, Mr. Baum thinks, is that he has opened up new fairy lands for children, peopled with new characters, grotesque enough to catch a child’s errant fancy, funny enough to amuse them, humanized enough to make them lovable.

“When I Was a Boy”

It was an odd idea thought the interviewer to endow such inanimate objects with life, and as a final question he asked Mr. Baum the origin of his curious beings who wander through his pages. And again the answer led straight back to the child.

“When I was a boy I was tremendously interested in scarecrows. They always seemed to my childish imagination as just about to wave their arms, straighten up and stalk across the field on their long legs. I lived on a farm, you know. It was natural then that my first character in this animated life series was the scarecrow, on whom I have taken revenge for all the mystic feeling he once inspired.

“Then came the Tin Woodman, named because of the oddity of a Woodman made of tin, and then Pumpkinhead, and now, of course, the Woggle-Bug.”

The interviewer couldn’t resist it. Here was the fountain head.

“And what, Mr. Baum, did the Woggle-Bug say?”

But Mr. Baum only smiled.

A Writer for Children (1909)

Interview with Frank G. [sic] Baum, author of the Father Goose book, The Magical Monarch of Mo, The Wizard of Oz, and fairy stories for children.

The Advance (22 July 1909)

I was over at Macatawa the other day and, in strolling along the beach, I found my old-time neighbor, Mr. Frank Baum, hovering over the beautiful flower bed which graces the front yard of his pretty cottage. We sat down where a cool breeze was coming across the lake, and the sea-green waves were softly gliding in from the wide waters and singing themselves to sleep on the shore. It was as charming a place as could be found to talk literature with one of the most successful writers of the day. And Mr. Baum’s distinction has been achieved in that difficult field where the mind of the child is at play and also at work. Knowing what tribulation editors have with grown-up subscribers who insist that children’s stories must also be grown-up and wear frock coats and collars and cuffs and stand as straight and stiff as a soldier on guard, I said to Mr. Baum, “You will do the readers of The Advance a favor if you explain why children’s stories must be written for children and not for men with whiskers and women with grey hair.”

“Well,” said the genial author of fairy stories, “my explanation begins with an endorsement of the statement that a child learns more in the first five years of its life than in the next fifty years. All the world is new to it. Everything which it sees is a wonder. It is in a wonder world. To us, a flower is commonplace; we have seen it until familiarity has reduced it to an every-day level. But to the child, it is a marvel. And so with all other objects: each is a marvel. The wave rushing in from the lake, the green tree bending in the breeze, the moon walking across the night, the stars peeping out of the blue, are all marvels. Thus its mind is opened and stirred and stored with knowledge under the principle of the marvelous. I observed this fact in my own children, and I studied it in other children. Hence, I reached the conclusion that, to interest children in literature, we must follow the line of the marvelous. That is the window through which they look at the world. To try any other window is to fail. The child is not looking through it. Put your literature on the level of men and women and you reduce it to the commonplace for the child. It does not appeal to the young mind. A child must have the wonderful in literature because that is what the world has been to it.

“But there is, or ought to be, a difference between the child-literature of the present day and of the past. In the early ages, the only stories were folk lore, myths, legends, fairy stories, and they were for all, young and old. Hence, they contained elements which are no longer needed, now that every age and class have their own literature. Fairy stories must have love with all its pangs, conflicts, and climaxes, when young men and women had only fairy stories. But love is not necessary in stories distinctly for children. They do not care for it. I leave it out.

“And the same is true of the tragic and the dreadful. This was natural when men and women used to war and blood had only the mythical, the legendary, or the marvelous. But it is not natural to the child with its young mind and tender heart. The tragical, the horrible, or the dreadful should have no place in a child’s book. I can remember how, in childhood, I used to be startled out of sleep by some horrible dream of the dreadful things which I had been reading. It is not good for children; I leave it out. There are other and better ways of appealing to the imagination. And when I say imagination, I am talking of one of the greatest factors and forces in human progress. Stunt, dwarf, or destroy the imagination of a child and you have taken away its chances of success in life. Imagination transforms the commonplace into the great and creates the new out of the old. No man ever made a new invention or discovery without imagination, and invention and discovery have made human progress. Really, there is nothing more wonderful in fairy stories than the steam engine, the telephone, wireless telegraphy, and the air ship. Think of trying to make Julius Caesar or Cicero or Plato believe in such a thing as the Atlantic cable or wireless messages. It would have been harder for them than it is to believe in the fairy stories of the day.

“In fact, man is the only commonplace being in the world. Nature is not commonplace. Man’s familiarity with the objects around him reduces him to the commonplace. Imagination and faith alone can keep him above it. That is why the Bible has such wonderful hold on the human mind. Its history has its marvels, and that history is not overthrown by discovery. Think of what they are now unearthing in the ruins of Babylon, confirmations of the Bible stories. And think, too, of the battles which those old heroes fought, and the sufferings which the martyrs endured through their faith in a higher power. I mention it as proof that we must be kept above the commonplace. Our success, our progress and achievements depend upon that.”

It was as fine a philosophical talk as I have heard in many a day, and it seemed to me to show, from a new angle of vision, the mistake made by men who would now lead the world, and yet are busy every day trying to eliminate all that is wonderful and mighty in belief, and to reduce religion to the level of the ordinary. It is so utterly contrary to all the principles of past progress that the success of such teaching can only doom the future to failure.

Modern Fairy Tales (1909)

by L. Frank Baum

The Advance (19 August 1909)

The earliest literature of which we have knowledge is that of fairy lore, and the fairy tale has survived through all the changing ages to this day, and is still as popular with childish minds as in the beginning. Yet it has necessarily undergone considerable evolution, and the modern fairy tale differs materially from the folk tales of the ancients.

It is only experience in life and contact with the world that changes the childish viewpoint to the adult viewpoint. When the world was young, and life’s experiences were few, men and women had simple minds and craved the same class of wonder tales that childhood has always loved. They were then told by professional story-tellers, and sung by wandering minstrels, and the folk tales – the legends and romances handed down from age to age by word of mouth – teemed with relations of fairy elves who assisted mankind in time of need; for it is to be remarked that even the oldest known fairy legends carried their morals, and never has a fairy tale lived, if one has been told or written, wherein the good did not conquer the evil and virtue finally reign supreme. Indeed, the editors of the first printed books of fairy tales took especial pains to place a moral at the end of each story, so that if by chance the reader carelessly missed it in the narration it would stare him in the face before he could finally escape. So that the fairies were originally intended, and are today, to be the benefactors of mankind. and the acquaintance of our children with them can lead to no harm at all.

What A Fairy Is

I once asked a little fellow, a friend of mine, to tell me what a “fairy” is. He replied, quite promptly: “A fairy has wings, and is much like an angel, only smaller.” Now that, I believe, is the general conception of fairies; and it is a pretty conception, is it not? Yet we know the family of immortals generally termed “fairies” has many branches and includes fays, sprites, elves, nymphs, ryls, knooks, gnomes, brownies and many other subdivisions.

There is no blue book or history of the imaginative little creatures to guide us in classifying them, but they all have their uses and peculiar characteristics; as, for example, the little ryls, who carry around paint-pots, with which they color, most brilliantly and artistically the blossoms of the flowers.

Inventor of Fairies Not Known

No one knows who invented fairies. The earliest record of intelligent man shows him conversant with fairy lore. Perhaps a dim realization that a beneficent guiding power directs our mortal footsteps first led to the conception of fairies.. Anyway, they were one of the first fruits of human imagination, and the idea of the quaint, merry helpful, and sometimes mischievous, little immortals proved so fascinating that it has never for a day been forgotten since the world has had a history.

Nor is the authorship of the oldest and most popular fairy tales known. They belong to legendary folk lore of nations, and no man can claim them for his own. It was once declared that Charles Perrault, a Frenchman who lived in the sixteenth century, wrote the first authentic fairy tales; but this has since been disproved. “The Sleeping Beauty,” “Cinderella,” and “Little Red Riding-Hood” are found to be folk tales of various nations, differing but slightly in form in each instance; so that Perrault must be classed with the Brothers Grimm, and later with Andrew Lang, as a collector and editor of the fairy literature prevalent in his time. Doubtless Perrault, the Grimms and Lang deserve undying fame for having thus rescued so many beautiful stories from threatened oblivion, for it has been impossible for modern authors to equal the charming imagery of those ancient tales.

Hans Christian Andersen

The first known creator of fairy tales, and perhaps the best known of all who have since followed him, is Hans Christian Andersen, the immortal friend of the childhood days of our grandparents. This great Dane had not only a marvelous imagination but he was a poet as well, and surrounded his tales with some of the most beautiful descriptive passages known to our literature. As children you skipped those passages – I can guess that, because as a child I skipped them myself – but as women you ought to read Andersen again, that you may revel in the beauties of his splendid descriptions, and enjoy the fascination of his poesy. Andersen wrote but one book of short fairy tales, yet that book will live forever, and all else that he wrote – and he wrote many books – is long since forgotten.

Alice in Wonderland

Singularly enough, we have no recognized author of fairy literature between Andersen’s day and that of Lewis Carroll, the quaint and clever old clergyman who recorded Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Carroll’s method of handling fairies was as whimsical as Andersen’s was reverential, yet it is but fair to state that the children loved Alice better than any prince or princess that Andersen ever created. The secret of Alice’s success lay in the fact that she was a real child, and any normal child could sympathize with her all through her adventures. The story may often bewilder the little one – for it is bound to bewilder us, having neither plot nor motive in its relation – but Alice is doing something every moment, and doing something strange and marvelous, too; so the child follows her with rapturous delight. It is said that Dr. Hodgeson, [sic] the author, was so ashamed of having written a child’s book that he would only allow it to be published under the pen name of Lewis Carroll; but it made him famous, even then, and “Alice in Wonderland,” rambling and incoherent as it is, is one of the best and perhaps the most famous of all modern fairy tales.

Some Other Successes

Frank Stockton once wrote a most bewitching story of the good class called “The Floating Prince,” and Howard Pyle’s dragon stories arc unsurpassed in drollery and imaginitive [sic] power. Another famous book is by Tudor Jenks, and is called “Imaginations.” Then there are Albert Stearns’ entertaining story books, and the clever stories of the English author, E. Nesbit. Just recently Mrs. Frances Hodgeson [sic] Burnett has written some little books of fairy tales that are all about children and the things children love. I do not wholly approve Miss Mulloch’s [sic] famous story of the “Little Lame Prince,” for although it is charmingly written it is too pitiful in sentiment. Doubtless many crippled children have derived a degree of comfort from the adventures of the little lame prince and his magic cloak; but a normal child should not be harrassed [sic] with pitiful subjects, and even the maimed ones prefer to idolize the well and strong.

Yes; there are many books to be had of the right sort; books that will entertain and delight your little ones without putting a single bad or repulsive idea into their heads. So I entreat parents, and those who present books to children, to be particular in selecting modern, up-to-date fairy tales, for in this way you will feed the imaginative instinct of the little ones and develop the best side of child nature. Glance into the book yourself, and see that the story is not marred by murders or cruelties, by terrifying characters, or by mawkish sentimentality, love and marriage. Because some fairy tales have these faults it would be folly to withhold all fairy tales from children. You do not ostracise all novels because you know some of them are vicious. Life at any period is robbed of half its pleasure if good books do not enter into it.

What the Child Skips

The child skips descriptive passages because it cannot understand or appreciate them, and such writers as Andersen, with all their kindly sympathy for the little ones, forget that their own keen appreciation of the beauties of nature is not yet shared by their youthful and inexperienced readers. Some years ago good old Dr. Skinner, pastor of the Mercer Street Church, in New York, made a ponderous attempt to do his duty by the lambs of his flock by preaching a special sermon to children every month. “My children,” said he, on one of those painful occasions, “I propose to give you this morning an epitome of the life of St. Paul. Perhaps some of you, my children, do not know what the word ‘epitome’ means. Now ‘epitome,’ my children, is in its signification synomous [sic] with synopsis.”

It is folly to place before the little ones a class of literature they cannot comprehend and which is sure to bore them and to destroy their pleasure in reading. What they want is action – “something doing every minute” – exciting adventures, unexpected difficulties to be overcome, and marvelous escapes.

To my mind a good book of this sort is just as necessary to the proper promotion of a child’s welfare as baths, exercise or wholesome food. There is no danger of deceiving the little one, or giving it a false impression of life. The children know very well that fairies and fairylands are apart from human life, even if they believe for a time that such things really exist. The myth concerning Santa Claus deceives few modern children, but delights them all; and so it is with the fairies. Childhood loves the vivid interest of fairy tales and the glamour of fairyland just as we adults love the play and the glamour of the stage, and there is no particle of harm in the entertainment thus afforded them if proper care is taken in the selection of their books.

From the Introduction to The Lost Princess of Oz (1917)

by L. Frank Baum

Some of my youthful readers are developing wonderful imaginations. This pleases me. Imagination has brought mankind through the Dark Ages to its present state of civilization. Imagination led Columbus to discover America. Imagination led Franklin to discover electricity. Imagination has given us the steam engine, the telephone, the talking-machine and the automobile, for these things had to be dreamed of before they became realities. So I believe that dreams – day dreams, you know, with your eyes wide open and your brain-machinery whizzing – are likely to lead to the betterment of the world. The imaginative child will become the imaginative man or woman most apt to create, to invent, and therefore to foster civilization. A prominent educator tells me that fairy tales are of untold value in developing imagination in the young. I believe it.

For commentary on some of this material see the opening post on my Oz blog