Sunday, October 16, 2011

The successful hunt for an Oz-inspired story

D'oh! There was one more component to my Oz reading post yesterday that I forgot about. However, there's enough interesting background to it to make an interesting post on its own, so here it is. Many many many years ago, on some Oz mailing list I was on at the time, someone remembered a short story by Zenna Henderson in which the magic word in The Magic of Oz really worked, in the real world, and the resulting consequences. I saved the e-mail, thinking I might track it down some day. Well, some day came this summer, as I finally dug through my e-mail archives and found the note. So I decided to do a little research. The original poster thought the story was in Henderson's collection The Anything Box, so I figured I'd start there. My local library system didn't have the book, of course, but they have a great interlibrary loan department, and put in my request. Sure enough, they found one pretty easily, and I dug in, reading one story each day. Henderson is a fascinating writer, whose themes often involve childhood wonder and the innocent acceptance of everything around them, even things like, say, classmates from another planet. As she was a lifelong resident of Arizona, many of Henderson's stories are set in the southwest, and often the protagonist, or at least the narrator, is a teacher. I enjoyed reading The Anything Box, but there was no Oz story in it. Hmm, okay, so the original poster got it wrong. It happens. I did a little more research on Henderson's career, and found another promising collection of short stories, Holding Wonder. Yup, interlibrary loan found that, too.

Again, I read a story a day...and then my ears perked up about halfway through "The Believing Child". Sure enough, the first grade teacher who's relating the tale starts reading the Oz books to her students, and Dimsey, the title character who really, truly believes in anything you tell her, not only believes in the power of "Pyrzqxgl" to enact transformations, she learns how to pronounce it correctly! (By the description of its pronunciation in the story, I think we regular folks are quite safe reading The Magic of Oz out loud.) So them Dimsey uses the word on the two class bullies...

If you want to read it, there's your local library, of course, and used copies of Holding Wonder are out there, but some can be pretty pricey. I can now add Holding Wonder to the list of books I want to add to my collection. If you really want to go to extremes, the story first appeared in the June 1970 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It's definitely a fun, yet slightly chilling, read.

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