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Page from the Past: Over the Rainbow, Into the Library

This post is republished from the September–October issue of LCM, the Library of Congress magazine. Read the issue in its entirety online.

Color plate illustration from “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” ranks as one of the greatest American books for children, and its evocative original artwork today is both cherished and exceedingly rare.

The phenomenally successful book, written by L. Frank Baum and published in 1900, soon inspired adaptions for the stage, silent film and, most famously, the iconic 1939 color film starring Judy Garland.

Baum’s book was illustrated by his friend William Wallace Denslow, with whom he collaborated on other books such as “Father Goose: His Book,” “By the Candelabra’s Glare” and “Dot and Tot of Merryland.”

The design of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was lavish for the time, with several color plate illustrations, backgrounds in different colors and illustrations on many pages.

The Library holds, among other Oz-related items, a first edition of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” that’s available for reading online and the original pen-and-ink drawing Wallace produced for the volume shown below (it appears on page 105 of the book).

Pen and ink drawing by William Wallace Denslow.

The image is a familiar one, depicting the Tin Woodsman and the Scarecrow saving the Cowardly Lion from the deadly poppy field with the help of the Queen of the Field Mice and her followers: “Soon they rolled the Lion out of the poppy bed into the green fields, where he could breathe the sweet, fresh air again, instead of the poisonous scent of flowers.”

Baum and Denslow eventually ended their collaboration in a dispute over money, and Denslow used part of his royalties from his work on “Oz” to buy an island off Bermuda and proclaimed himself King Denslow I.

Today, Denslow’s original artwork brings readers back to the original presentation of the classic “Oz” story, long before multiple publications and motion pictures altered the original vision of Munchkins, wicked witches, flying monkeys and the Great Humbug.

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