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[Pacific Lutheran Scene]

Campus

Munchkins, Gillikins, and Suzanne Rahn head over the rainbow to the Land of Oz


Suzanne Rahn

By Nancy Covert

Somewhere over the rainbow, Munchkins, Quadlings, Hammerheads, Gillikins and others will be heading for the centennial celebration of L. Frank Baum's children's classic, "The Wizard of Oz." Among the guest speakers at the summer 2000 celebration, sponsored by the International Wizard of Oz Club in Bloomington, Ind., will be Suzanne Rahn, professor of English and director of PLU's Children's Literature Program.

Her recently published book, "The Wizard of Oz: Shaping an Imaginary World" (Twayne), explores the continuing appeal of this classic-one of the best known and best loved stories ever written, and the basis of one of the most viewed movies in history.

Hers is the first book-length study that probes Baum's creative process and the literary, historical and political forces that influenced him. She currently is compiling a book of analytical essays on the subject, scheduled to be published this year by Scarecrow Press.

Baum's Oz, the first fully developed, imaginary world ever conceived by an American author, has fascinated generations of people. The source of its appeal? Author Rahn explores this attraction and notes how the fantasy world reflects the utopian ideals of the era it was published in and looks forward to the New Urbanism, multi-culturalism, and even contemporary day theme parks.

Baum's Oz series became not only the most popular fantasy series in the history of children's literature but the most controversial, as well. In her critical history of Baum's first novel and its 33 sequels, Rahn cites the defenders of Oz, including writers such as James Thurber and Ray Bradbury. Later pieces by writers such as Gore Vidal and Salman Rushdie provide a wide variety of critical perspectives on the classic fairy tale.

Also included are comparisons between the book and the MGM film-which, Rahn suggests, not only diminishes Dorothy's power but, paradoxically, expresses a fundamental distrust of the imagination.

The book's final section for teachers offers a variety of suggestions, both creative and practical, for using the film and the novel in the classroom, from discussion topics and mapping activities to a curriculum about imaginary worlds, and includes an annotated bibliography.

Rahn also is author and editor of other books and journals on children's literature.

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