Queer Oz: L. Frank Baum’s Trans Tales and Other Astounding Adventures in Sex and Gender

Univ. of Mississippi. (­Children’s Literature Association). Apr. 2023. 234p. Tr $99. ISBN 9781496845313; pap. $30. ISBN 9781496845320.
Pugh expertly takes on the onerous task of analyzing the life and works of the prolific L. Frank Baum, with an emphasis on how Baum portrayed gender and sexuality in his often fantastical worlds. Baum’s ties to queer culture may, at first, seem shallow and coincidental. However, Pugh is meticulous and relentless in his research, and, before long, it becomes impossible to not be on board with the notion that Baum’s focus on genderfluid and otherwise queer characters was executed with a degree of purposefulness. How else could readers be treated to such characters as Captain Gay, Dr. Gaylord, Lesba, and Figgot? Not to mention the deep, homosocial relationship between the Scarecrow and the Tin Man; or the lesser-known Ki-Ki, a race of men who remain in their same-sex couples for eternity; or countless characters who defy the gender binary. Pugh refers to resources regarding language and cultural touchpoints of Baum’s time to assess whether these connections were likely accidental or deliberate. Despite Baum’s characters being innovative in many respects, Pugh does not shy away from the plain fact that Baum was racist and xenophobic, not only in his depictions of Black and Jewish people, but also in his 1891 editorial, which calls for the mass genocide of Indigenous Americans. Pugh never depicts Baum as a hero, but rather as a deeply contradictory and often vile figure whose works have nonetheless made a tremendous impact on literature and culture. While academic in nature, this title manages to be charmingly conversational, thanks to Pugh’s distinctive voice and humor.
VERDICT Those with an interest in classic children’s literature or LGBTQIA+ history and culture should not miss this title.

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