I am eternally grateful to my mother for giving me a fascination with and love for words. It was she, by reading me stories even before I was able to understand many of the words—though I loved the sounds—who opened the doors of wonder contained in those words.
From the time I learned to read, the library was a very special place. I got some sort of award while in first grade for having signed out more books than anyone in my class. Most of them were pretty elementary stuff, but among the first "real" books I remember were the Oz series, by Frank L. Baum. The most famous of which, of course, is "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz", from which the classic movie was made. I saw it when it was released in 1938 and though I was not yet five years old, it enthralled me then, and it enthralls me now.
Once I discovered that there was an entire series of Oz books--fifteen in all--I'm quite sure I read most of them if not all. I can still close my eyes and see them...outsized, as I recall, with thick cardboard covers with wonderful illustrations. To open them was to open the door to the imagination and all the wonders therein.
The fifteen books, should you be curious, were The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Marvelous Land of Oz, Ozma of Oz, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, The Road to Oz, The Emerald City of Oz, The Patchwork Girl Of Oz, Little Wizard Stories of Oz, Tik-Tok of Oz, The Scarecrow Of Oz, Rinkitink In Oz, The Lost Princess Of Oz, The Tin Woodman Of Oz, The Magic of Oz, and Glinda Of Oz.
For a child (and later an adult) who never felt he belonged, books offered an escape from the world—and the restraints—of reality. The concept of the Oz books is that there is a special place, somewhere "over the rainbow" with enchanted creatures and wondrous fields and forests and cities where anything is possible. They acted like a magnet for my own imagination, and taught me that if I was not happy with the world in which I lived, I was free to create my own.
One of my favorite characters in the Oz series was a little boy named "Button-Bright," about my own age, who appears in several of the books. He got his name from his parents, who thought he was "bright as a button." I'm sure I strongly identified with him. As I recall, he was constantly getting lost, then being found, then getting lost again. Eventually, he moved to Oz permanently. I take particular delight, on looking back, to realize that he was a friend of Dorothy's, because a long-time code between gay men was to ask "Oh, are you a friend of Dorothy?" I certainly was, and am. And the rainbow about which Judy Garland sings in the movie, lent its colors and its symbolism to the gay community.
The Oz books contain all the ingredients required to nourish and enrich any child's imagination, as it did mine. They teach the child that the mind—the imagination—is not tied to the body; that it can go anywhere, do anything; that it can provide a refuge, a haven, when the real world is harsh and cruel. It teaches that there are other places, other worlds. Every book is an arrow, a path, a guide to where the imagination can take us.
In an inscription to his sister in one of his books, Baum wrote: "I have learned to regard fame as a will-o-the-wisp, which when caught, is not worth the possession; but to please a child is a sweet and lovely thing that warms one's heart and brings its own reward."
I'd take that one step further and point out that an adult with an imagination is still a child, and it is to the adult child that I have dedicated my own books. And so I embarked on a life-long journey to create my own arrows, my own paths, my own guides for others. It's been a wonderful journey, and I hope that when it is over I, like Button-Bright, often lost and often found, may move permanently to Oz.
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).