Exhibit: Following the Yellow Brick Road

by Mark Wolfe - September 10, 2010

The M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives Presents: Following the Yellow Brick Road: Imitation and Influence in Children’s Literature

Classic children’s books endure for their originality and timeless value to generations of young (and older) readers. A handful of these books distinguish themselves as exemplars and definers of entire genres. Six such examples are presented in this exhibit. They are: The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678); Robinson Crusoe (1719); Gulliver’s Travels (1726); Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865); The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900); and The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902).

Presented here are small selections of books, some classics in their own right, which take influence from their groundbreaking predecessors in a broad variety of ways. Some are explicit sequels or pastiches, while others borrow structural, stylistic, or symbolic elements, but are otherwise independent entities. Some are written by associates of the influencing novel’s author, and some even share visual similarities with their parent work. Still more are abridged or excerpted versions of classics intended to make them accessible to even the youngest readers, or to convert works originally written for adults into child-friendly formats.

Selected Exhibit Highlights:

In 1899, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum, was published and enjoyed a moderate but quickly burgeoning popularity. Itself an imitation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz saw imitators as soon as two years after its publication with the release of Zauberlinda the Wise Witch, by Eva Katherine Clapp (1901). Zauberlinda is the story of a Midwestern prairie girl named Annie who falls down a rabbit hole with her cat, Silvertip, into the land of the Gnome King. Interestingly, L. Frank Baum would introduce the Nome King and his underground Nome Kingdom six years later in Ozma of Oz (1907). In addition to plot similarities, Mabel Tibbitts illustrations from Zauberlinda are noticeably similar to those of W.W. Denslow in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

The Wizard of Oz and Zauberlinda the Wise Witch are similar in plot and in illustration. Above is an example of an illustration of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz (l) and an illustration of Annie from Zauberlinda (r).

Seven years following Zauberlinda, Frederic Chapin, composer for L. Frank Baum’s 1905 musical, The Woggle-Bug, wrote Toodles of Treasure Town and Her Snow Man(1908). The story is of a little girl who is whisked away in a magical snowglobe to Treasure Town. En route, she and her odd assortment of companions are intercepted by the evil Hi-Ho and his Harum Scarums. An army of cockatoos transports them to Walnut Town, where they are held hostage until they agree to hand over a magic bracelet belonging to the Fairy Queen Elinora of Treasure Town. Toodles and her companions are nearly one-to-one telegraphs of Dorothy, Toto, the Tin Woodman, Cowardly Lion, and Scarecrow. Elinora stands in for Glinda the Good, Hi-Ho for the Wicked Witch of the West, his cockatoos for the winged monkeys, the magic bracelet for Dorothy’s silver slippers, and so on. Particularly striking is Toodles visual similarity to Baum’s Oz in both illustration and typography.

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Above is an illustration of Dorothy and a winged monkey from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (top) along with Toodles and a Cockatoo soldier from Toodles of Treasure Town (below). The illustrations are strikingly similar in composition and style.

Following Frank Baum’s death in 1919, the legacy of Oz continued with Ruth Plumly Thompson’s 19 Oz-influenced books, beginning with The Royal Book of Oz (1921) and ending in 1939 with Ozoplaning with the Wizard of Oz. All of Thompson’s books were illustrated by John R. Neill, who also illustrated all of Baum’s Oz books apart from the original, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Neill himself wrote three Oz derivatives before his death in 1942.

In 1904, two years following the publication of The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (London: Frederick Warne, 1902), the Henry Altemus Company of Philadelphia published the first pirated American edition as part of their “Wee Books for Wee Folks� series. The majority of illustrations in the piracy are redrafted versions of Potter’s originals. Notably, four illustrations appear in the pirated edition that do not appear in the Warne editions following the first three printings. As a result, readers of the piracy benefit from seeing the entire body of Potter’s illustrations, albeit in redrafted form.

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Above is a comparison of illustrations for The Tale of Peter Rabbit as published by the Henry Altemus Company in 1904 (top row), with Potter's original illustrations as published by Frederick Warne (bottom row). The Altemus illustrations are attributed to John R. Neill, illustrator of L. Frank Baum's Oz books following The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Following the Yellow Brick Road: Imitation and Influence in Children’s Literature is viewable in the atrium of the Science Library on the University at Albany’s Main Campus.

Erin Shoudy, Graduate Assistant, Miriam Snow Mathes Historical Children’s Literature Collection, selected the items from over 12,000 titles in the collection. The Mathes collection is accessible in the Department of Special Collections and Archives on the University Science Library’s third floor. Further information is also available at: http://library.albany.edu/speccoll/children.htm