Real Fiction

Exploring the nexus of reading and writing

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Wisdom From Oz

Johnny Dooit’s* Song (See footnote):

The only way to do a thing
Is do it when you can,
And do it cheerfully, and sing
And work and think and plan.
The only real unhappy one
Is he who dares to shirk;
The only really happy one
Is he who cares to work.

The Road to OzFrom The Road to Oz, by L. Frank Baum, 1909: In which is related how Dorothy Gale of Kansas, The Shaggy Man, Button Bright, and Polychrome the Rainbow’s Daughter met on an Enchanted Road and followed it all the way to the Marvelous Land of Oz, encountering strange people and interesting adventures along the way.

My father read to me and my sister Diane, and we later read for ourselves, all 14 Oz books written by L. Frank Baum. There were more written by others after Baum died, but they didn’t come up to the standard his books established, according to both Dad and me.

I often think of Johnny Dooit when I am engaged in manual labor; he provides inspiration. I also learned to appreciate the value of tools and a can-do attitude through him, later buttressed by real life experiences.

The first book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the unforgettable movie made of it in 1939, are essential parts of my childhood. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” sung by Judy Garland, never fails to evoke tender feelings in me.

But, there is so much more to the full story of Oz. Here are the 14 books, in publication date order:

  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)
  • The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904)
  • Ozma of Oz (1907)
  • Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz (1908)
  • The Road to Oz (1909)
  • The Emerald City of Oz (1910)
  • The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1913)
  • Tik-Tok of Oz (1914)
  • The Scarecrow of Oz (1915)
  • Rinkitink in Oz (1916)
  • The Lost Princess of Oz (1917)
  • The Tin Woodman of Oz (1918)
  • The Magic of Oz (1919, posthumous)
  • Glinda of Oz (1920, posthumous)

You can access the text of all of these books online, here.

RinkitinkIn addition to The Road to Oz another favorite of mine is Rinkitink in Oz, King Rinkitink of Gilgad is a Falstaffian character who rides a surly billy goat who talks, of course, and in a most disrespectful manner to everyone, including especially the king. There is a young man, the Prince of Pingaree, who accompanies the King to Oz, in order to escape his kingdom’s enemies and to seek help from the ruler of Oz. The Prince has three magic pearls that figure in his ability to overcome great dangers on his trip to Oz.

Prince Inga’s father, King Kitticut, had told him, before the King and Queen were captured by enemies: “Each of the three possesses an astonishing power, and whoever is their owner may count himself a fortunate man. This one having the blue tint will give to the person who carries it a strength so great that no power can resist him. The one with the pink glow will protect its owner from all dangers that may threaten him, no matter from what source they may come. The third pearl — this one of pure white — can speak, and its words are always wise and helpful.” To add spice to the story, the Prince has trouble hanging on the the pearls as he, King Rinkitink and Bilbil the goat search for the the safety and the help of the Land of Oz.

woggleA major point in this book is that Dorothy Gale of Kansas is not the main character, as she is in so many others–and he is a boy. There is another book where the main character starts out, from our view, as a boy but is later transformed back into his original condition as Ozma, The Royal Princess of Oz. This occurs in the second Oz book, The Marvelous Land of Oz, the only book in which Dorothy Gale does not appear.

One of my favorite characters is introduced in this second book: “H.M. Wogglebug, T.E.” whom you see lecturing the assembled characters in the image on the left. H.M. stands for Highly Magnified (he escaped from a professor’s magnifying apparatus) and T.E. means Thoroughly Educated (after all, he was a living specimen for students and therefore lived at a university). This character exhibits all the pomposity and windiness of the quintessential caricature of a professor. I think Dad and I saw ourselves in him.

Dad started the tradition of collecting, keeping and passing along the Oz books to the generation that follows. Some of the books I held as a young boy (and my sister, as a younger girl) are now in the possession of my youngest daughter Analiese and her nieces, my granddaughters Sydney and Sonya, and my great-granddaughter Quinn.

As you may sense, I could go on and on about the many and surprising array of characters in the Oz books, not all of them nice people, or even people at all.

I urge to read one to see if you can resist reading others, no matter what your age.


  • Johnny Dooit – Johnny Dooit is a fictional “handyman” appearing in The Road to Oz. He is a little old man with a long beard who is friends with the Shaggy Man. His appearance in the novel is less than one chapter, in which he creates a Sand Boat to allow the Shaggy Man and his friends, Dorothy GaleButton-Bright, and Polychrome to cross the Deadly Desert into the Land of Oz.[28] Johnny has a tool chest from which he can pull out nearly any equipment he needs. At Ozma‘s birthday party, he builds an aircraft out of contents of the trunk, puts the trunk inside, and flies away as an entertainment while getting himself to the next place he is needed as he loves to work and keep busy.

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Darkness, and Light

Exploring the Limits of the Human Soul, in Two Books

The books are: “Heart of Darkness,” by Joseph Conrad; and, “Death Comes for the Archbishop,” by Willa Cather. Among other parallel attributes, the two novels show us the geopolitical forces of the times and places of their narration. 

“Heart…” is well known, but “Death…” is not as much, and should be, if for no other reason than as an antidote to the visions Joseph Conrad conveys to us. There are, however, other reasons, discussed further below.

A book important to one’s understanding of Conrad’s experiences and his development of “Heart of Darkness” is “The Dawn Watch,” by Maya Jasanoff, who “brilliantly places Conrad as a pioneer of understanding the forces that shape the modern world… Captain Korzeniowski [Conrad’s original Polish name] meant to stay three years in the Congo, but after just five months of navigating the great waterways between Kinshasha and Kisangani, he resigned, chronically ill and an emotional wreck. He retired to Switzerland “in a state of psychological and moral despair” convinced of “the universal potential for savagery, and the hollowness of civilisation…” But he brought back more from the expedition than dysentery and depression. The notes and jottings the captain had made on his journey infiltrated their way first into the manuscript of a novel named “Almayer’s Folly” that he worked on upriver to keep himself from boredom and madness; then into a short story called An “Outpost of Progress”; and finally, in 1899, into what would become his most famous novel, Heart of Darkness. (Source)

The Europeans who had invaded and enslaved the peoples along the Congo River were not constrained by ordinary social structures—only by the commercial considerations imposed by the Belgian company who bought and marketed the ivory they took, stole, from the country; they were otherwise free to act as they will, becoming beasts, in the worst sense of the word.

The fictional man at the heart of Conrad’s darkness is “Kurtz,” made even darker and more memorable by a film derived from the novel, “Apocalypse Now,” in which Kurtz is played by Marlon Brando.

Marlowe, the narrator of “Heart of Darkness,” as he proceeds hundreds of miles up the river toward Kurtz, describes the jungle in vivid details, and the horror that its alien nature directly imparts to him.

Kurtz has lived for years as the only European (with one unimportant exception), further up the Congo River in a jungle distant from anything that could possibly be called civilization. He has seen into the depths of his own soul and has therefore seen the truth of the soul in all humans, and he has acted upon what he finds there. He has become as a god to the people he lives with. The ‘truths’ are what Kurtz imparts before his death to Marlowe. Kurtz’s final words are “The horror, the horror.”

In contrast, the book “Death…” provides loving and colorful detail of the mountains, hills, and desert of southwestern USA, especially New Mexico of the mid-19th Century, even though similarly alien to the protagonists of the story, two French Catholic missionary priests.

The two books are much alike in at least one respect: poetic use of the language. The opening pages of “Heart…” are like a tone poem in its description of the London harbor at dusk, and in other passages. Likewise, in “Death…” the author, Cather, flows her words over the page in loving paeans to the land, especially, and to the human interactions of the two priests. I want to read aloud portions of both books to a receptive audience.

The human interactions of the priests include those with the church hierarchy in Italy, the native peoples of the land, the Mexican settlers with their mixed Spanish heritage, and “American” military, settlers and outlaws.

The priests, especially the archbishop, are exemplars of humility, kindness and wisdom. They are not superior humans but, have a characteristic not found in the Europeans in the Congo: they are respectful of life—all life—and of the earth.

The priests and their love of the people and the land, as depicted by Willa Cather, become objects of the reader’s love. Whereas, poor Marlowe is pitied, yet the reader is hopeful that he will recover and will have gained a degree of enlightenment which will comfort and sustain him.

The real meaning of enlightenment is to gaze with undimmed eyes on all darknessNikos Kazantzakis.





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The End of the World

I recently read The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.

Cormac McCarthy

It’s about the end of civilization, the action of the novel seeming to take place in what is left of the Western United States after, apparently, an atomic holocaust. It is a very dark novel in all respects, but it is a love story, too—about the love between a man and his young son, two of the very few survivors who are struggling to find food and shelter, and safety from other desperately foraging humans. Civilization collapses; cannibalism ensues. Everything is ashes. It is written simply and directly. I enjoyed the reading of it despite its darkness.

The book reminded me of two others I had read in the last dozen years or so, one twice: Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart. The other, I am currently reading for the second time to refresh my memory of it: Earth by David Brin. It’s a big book, but a quick read.

George Stewart

My favorite among these is Earths Abides. As in The Road there is a main male character, but in addition there is also a family with well-defined characters that collects itself from the few survivors of a world-wide epidemic of disease. Civilization collapses slowly, giving more time to see how much man has separated himself and protected himself from the natural, non-electro-mechanical world. It is beautifully told. A bonus for me is that it occurs in familiar territory, primarily in the hills of Berkeley, California. One image of it persists in my mind: the use of otherwise useless copper pennies for arrow tips.

David Brin

Earth is as big as the earth, it seems. It has everything in it: physics, astronautics, geography, hydrology, geology, sociology, economics, psychology, genetics, ethology, ecology, religious dogma, Earth as living Goddess (Gaia), sex, love, lots of Maori cultural stuff and more. The central story is a tiny but potentially catastrophic black hole in the middle of the Earth. In addition to this problem, the (future) earth has 50 billion people and rising seas due to global warming. But don’t worry, it’ll turn out all right because of the many heroes populating the novel, which has its villains too. I’m afraid, despite the wealth of thought-provoking information it gives us, it is a pot-boiler, made for Hollywood’s eventual attention. I probably won’t finish reading it this time.

We are fascinated with scenarios imagining and depicting the collapse of civilization upon which most of us depend, absolutely. There are people in the world able to exist directly from the land and forests they inhabit, but these souls seem to be fading from view.

A book I read a few years ago by Paul Theroux, Dark Star Safari, shows us, among many other things on his soulful journey, how the Africans who live in the bush or outback are the most likely to survive over time, as compared with those who flock to the teeming, filthy cities and lose their ability to cope with the vicissitudes presented by natural forces. The novel Earth, takes the implicit position that science and technology will save us from all foreseen and unforeseen events.
Any of these books, including Theroux’s, is useful, at the least, to remind us of our mutual interdependence on the complicated systems we have built to support us: water, agriculture, electricity, information, transport and so forth. The collective noun for all this is, I suppose, infrastructure.

How secure do we feel about our Infrastructure? In whom are we placing our trust to assure us everything is and will be OK—no matter what?