Introduction: Before 1900

Until the publication of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900 the existence of Oz was known by few here on Earth.The most frequent travelers to the Fairylands (both Oz and other worlds) have been children, mystics and madmen and the rare written accounts they left behind were generally dismissed as youthful fantasies or sad derangement. I’ve tried finding mentions of Oz in histories prior to the Twentieth Century but have had little success. I’m partly hobbled by being only able to speak and read English so I’m undoubtedly missing references to Oz written other tongues. Vast swaths of literature are never acknowledged, much less translated, by native English scholars. If my researches turn up new information I’ll expand this document.

While its existence may have been suggested by earlier historians, the first  recorded description of Oz that I could find appears in about 700 AD in the journals of the Yemenese poet, Abd-al-Hazred. al-Hazred’s account is slight; part of a general listing of places to which he traveled during one of his quests; a description of a visit to a country of deadly sands and powerful magic ruled creatures of great power and wickedness. Whether this was actually Oz, another fairy realm or merely one of the poet’s visions is open to debate. al-Hazred claims to have brought a vial of the sands back with him and used the grains in powerful rituals. al-Hazred’s journals were translated into English in the 1500s and have occasionally been printed in limited editions since that time. They have never been generally distributed, being mostly of interest to religious scholars and students of obscure mystic traditions.

The first recorded mention of Oz that I could find in English, was found in the single (briefly) surviving work of the Irish poet, Liam the Blind. Little is known of Liam, only that he lived and wrote sometime in the late 14th century. Despite apparently being quite prolific only one example of his poetry survived until the 19th century and that only because the manuscript had been used as packing material for an English duke’s collection of Irish whiskeys. The Duke’s son discovered and transcribed the poem, publishing it anonymously in about 1800 as a small folio titled Ozelem of the Firey Sands. The son gave Lord Byron a copy while at Harrow in 1805. Byron writes of it dismissively in his diaries, saying it tells the tale of fairy queen’s struggle against devils and tells it poorly. No copies of the folio or the original poem are known to still exist.

From 1833 to 1834 twenty-six penny number issues of a “Penny Dreadful” titled Lizzie the Girl Knight or A New World were published in London and apparently saw very limited distribution. The author is given as George R. Thorndyke but this name is assumed to be a pseudonym. The serial tells of the adventures of a poor young English girl who rides a kite to strange land that is surrounded on all sides by a “Vile and Deadly Waste”.  The girl, named Elizabeth Clover, has a series of harrowing and sometimes bloody adventures before returning to Britain. The land is not identified as Oz but many of the places and creatures seem very similar to known Ozian lands and residents. In particular Elizabeth spends many chapters fleeing from a monster “half bear and half tiger” that can only be a Kalidah. The serial is not mentioned in any of the popular histories of “penny dreadful” literature. One bound collection of the series is owned by the British Library and may be viewed by appointment.

L. Frank Baum

W.W. Denslow

John R. Neill

Ruth Plumly Thompson

Steve Ahlquist

David Lee Ingersoll

Leave a Reply