Friday, November 13, 2015

Up, Up, and Away! Meet the Flying Girl!

In 1910, at the end of The Emerald City of Oz, L. Frank Baum attempted to end the Oz series. Princess Ozma was concerned about the great outside world encroaching on the magical Land of Oz. She was concerned about a new kind of magic. The magic of flight. The magic of airships. The world was going airplane crazy! So Ozma (with Glinda's help) cut Oz off from the rest of the world with a Barrier of Invisibility. No more Oz. At least that’s what folks were saying back in 1910.

During Baum’s two-year hiatus as Royal Historian, 1911 and 1912, he wrote his two best non-fantasy novels, The Flying Girl and The Flying Girl and Her Chum. So let’s sit back, fasten our seatbelts, and see exactly WHAT’S UP with . . . the Flying Girl!

The original idea for the Flying Girl books may have come from Baum’s publisher, the Reilly and Britton Company of Chicago. In 1909 Reilly and Britton published a profusely illustrated five-hundred-page volume called Vehicles of the Air by Victor Lougheed. It was subtitled “A popular Exposition of Modern Aeronautics with Working Drawings.”  The book seems to have sold well. New editions were published in 1910 and 1911. It’s not unreasonable to assume Reilly and Britton might have sent Baum a copy of the book for research purposes.

But Reilly and Britton were publishing lots of other airplane books, too, including several aviation series for children. In 1909 they began The Airship Boys series by H. L. Sayler. And in 1910 they added The Aeroplane Boys series by Ashton Lamar.

In 1911 and 1912 Reilly and Britton issued two beautiful and oversized aviation fairytale novels: The Magic Aeroplane and The Flight Brothers, both by Mrs. L. R. S. Henderson. These are especially interesting, as they look a lot like giant Oz books, even down to the color plates and title page design. Interestingly, the illustrator is Emille A. Nelson, who also illustrated several of Baum’s Boy Fortune Hunters books.

But back to Reilly and Britton's aviation books. With all the interest the general public had in aviation, and the supposed end of the Oz series, you can see why they may have been putting some pressure on Baum to get “on board” for a juvenile aviation book.

On the other hand, the idea for The Flying Girl series may have come from Baum instead. He may have been inspired by meeting Glenn Curtiss or other early aviators during his winters living at the Hotel Del Coronado in southern California.

Whatever the inspiration was, Baum responded with the Flying Girl series. The Flying Girl was published in 1911, and its sequel, The Flying Girl and Her Chum, was published in 1912. Baum wrote both books under his popular pseudonym Edith Van Dyne, author of the highly successful Aunt Jane’s Nieces series. Here we see a copy of an inscription by “Mrs. Van Dyne” to his son, Robert Stanton Baum.

In the contemporary advertisement (below) we can see: “. . . a picture of L. Frank Baum’s home and gardens at Hollywood, California. In the center of the pergola is the little sheltered garden house where Edith Van Dyne, a guest of Mrs. Baum, wrote The Flying Girl.”

Reilly and Britton produced two handsome volumes bound in red cloth, stamped in black and white. You can see the lovely (and very rare) dust jackets still further down the page. The paintings for the jackets are by Joseph Pierre Nuyttens, who also provided four halftone plates for each of the books.

This first book, The Flying Girl, tells the story of how seventeen-year-old Orissa Kane becomes a celebrated aviator. The story opens in Los Angeles, where Orissa works as secretary for real estate agent George Burthon. She is the sole support for her blind mother and older brother, Stephen, who is hard at work designing and building his innovative new airplane. After her brother is injured Orissa flies in his place at an air-meet and proves herself an excellent aviator. After numerous travails the Kane Aircraft is proven a success, Orissa is the darling of popular attention, and everyone seems destined for a brilliant future.

In 1912 the second Flying Girl book was published. Suggested titles for  book were: The Flying Girl of Castaway Island, The Flying Girl’s Adventures, The Flying Girl’s Runaway Aeroplane, The Flying Girl’s Best Record, and The Flying Girl’s Exploits. In the end Baum and his publishers agreed on The Flying Girl and Her Chum.

In The Flying Girl and Her Chum, Orissa and her “chum” Sybil Cumberford are testing Stephen Kane’s new experimental Hydro-Aeroplane, which can land in the water. They take of from a bluff in San Diego, but when the aircraft is damaged, they’re forced to crash land near an isolated island in the Pacific. Their struggles to stay alive on the deserted island add quite a bit of realism to the book, although the cheerful demeanors they exhibit throughout might not have such a counterpart in real life. Meanwhile, a rich heiress, Madeline Dentry, sets out on her yacht with Orissa and Sybil’s friends in a dangerous attempt to find the lost girls. The book alternates between the girls on the island and the rescue party that’s trying to find them - a double-plot line device that Baum was very fond of. When the rescue party finally reaches the island, the entire group is threatened by a Mexican bandit and his band of cut-throats. Of course, the bravery of the Flying Girl and her chum saves the day and the story ends with the entire party sailing to Hawaii on the Dentry yacht. In this book Baum deals less with the world of aviation. Steve’s new Hydro-Aeroplane serves merely as entrance and exit to what is essentially a straight adventure story.

Baum's publisher, Reilly & Britton, seems to have really promoted the new series, arranging for both books to be serialized in newspapers around the country.

Newspaper serialization of THE FLYING GIRL AND HER CHUM.

Original dust jacket for the book.
The Flying Girl and Her Chum presents themes and devices found in other books by Baum, too. Baum-scholar Michael Patrick Hearn has pointed out how Glinda of Oz repeats the basic plot of The Flying Girl and Her Chum. Both books feature two girls becoming stranded on isolated islands and a second plot-thread is introduced when the girls’ friends form an expedition to rescue them.

The Flying Girl and Her Chum also has similarities to Baum’s Sky Island. Both stories begin in the San Diego area. In Chum an airplane carries Orissa and Sybil over the Pacific and beyond the island they intended, while in Sky Island a magic umbrella carries Trot, Cap’n Bill, and Button-Bright far beyond their Pacific island destination to an island in the sky.

Baum’s The Boy Fortune Hunters in the South Seas (1911), published under the pseudonym Floyd Akers, features a ship tossed onto the shore of a Pacific island, a near duplication of the beaching of the Dentry yacht in Chum. Furthermore, hostile forces threaten both vessels and an airplane takes off from the deck of each boat.

The famous California resort, the Hotel Del Coronado, where Baum himself stayed during winters from 1904 until 1908, appears both in Chum and in Baum’s Aunt Jane’s Nieces and Uncle John (1911).

The Hotel Del Coronado first opened in 1888 and is still today a functioning hotel and a National Historic Landmark, just across the bay from downtown San Diego.

Original dust jacket for the book.
From the tone of the Flying Girl books and the real people and incidents mentioned in them, we know Baum did do some first-hand research on aviation as he was writing them. In the guise of Miss Van Dyne, Baum thanked two of the most famous American aviators of his time in his short foreword to The Flying Girl:
The author wishes to acknowledge her indebtedness to Mr. Glenn H. Curtiss and Mr. Wilbur Wright for courtesies extended during the preparation of this manuscript.
Baum is well aware of aviation’s potential. He goes on to say:
These skillful and clever aviators, pioneers to whom the Art of Flying owes a colossal debt, do not laugh at any suggestion concerning the future of the aeroplane, for they recognize the fact that the discoveries and inventions of the next year may surpass all that have gone before.
If fact, Baum seems so aware of the leaps and bounds of early aviation that he places a caveat into his forward. It’s almost as if he fears that Orissa’s accomplishments may be eclipsed by the time his book sees publication when he states:
So the story of Orissa Kane’s feats has little exaggeration except in actual accomplishment, and it is possible her ventures may be emulated even before this book is out of press.
At that time the history of modern aviation was only eight years old. The Wright brothers’ first heavier-than-air flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, occurred on Dec. 17, 1903. But it was not until around 1909 that the public at large became enthused by airplanes. Newspaper headlines trumpeted each new aerial record achieved. Crowds flocked to aviation meets to watch the amazing new machines mount to the skies.

Despite Baum’s declaration of indebtedness to Glenn Hammond Curtiss and Wilbur Wright in the foreword to The Flying Girl, and whatever he might have gleaned from his research, his knowledge of the technicalities of heavier-than-air flight seems lacking.

In his attempt to make Stephen Kane’s invention distinct from other aircraft, Baum describes the Kane Aircraft as a biplane whose upper plane is placed at a right angle to the lower. In the Hungry Tiger press reprint of The Flying Girl, illustrator Eric Shanower draws what Baum describes, with the upper plane running perpendicular to the lower plane.

Eric Shanower's depiction of Stephen Kane's aircraft from THE FLYING GIRL.

Yet the Wright brothers’ innovation of placing one parallel plane directly above the other was both a key factor in their 1903 success and a safety feature of biplanes. Even Joseph Pierre Nuyttens, the original illustrator of both Flying Girl books, seems to have been confused by Baum’s crossed-plane arrangement; his illustrations show a triplane with the two upper planes crossed.

Joseph Pierre Nuyttens depiction of Stephen Kane's aircraft.

Baum is far more successful in integrating reality into his story by describing actual air meets at Dominguez Field. The Los Angeles International Air Meet was held January 10 to January 20, 1910.

It was among the earliest airshows in the world and the first major airshow in the United States. It was held in Los Angeles County, California, at Dominguez Field in present day Carson, California. Spectator turnout numbered approximately 254,000 over eleven days of ticket sales. The Los Angeles Times called it "one of the greatest public events in the history of the West." Baum was living in Southern California at the time of the Dominguez Field air meets. It remains unknown whether Baum actually attended the 1910 Air Meet, but he surely was aware of the extremely popular event.

Baum populated the background of the story of The Flying Girl with real-life aviators. Wilbur and Orville Wright, Glenn H. Curtiss, Hubert Latham, Archibald Hoxsey, Charles F. Willard, Philip O. Parmalee, Eugene Ely, Walter Brookins, and James Radley, all international figures in the history of flight, appear—albeit briefly—in the pages of The Flying Girl.

Baum continued his research into aviation for the second Flying Girl book. Baum’s letter on Jan. 23, 1912, to his publishers states, “I’ve been working on The Flying Girl and Her Chum, and my attendance at the present aviation meet was in furtherance of that plot. I’ve got aeroplanes down to date, and it will all help me in this volume.”

No female aviator—except Orissa Kane—appears in the first book, and the concept of an American female aviator is presented by Baum as unique. While this serves to heighten Orissa’s importance in the story, it deviates from reality.

Although in 1910 a French woman, Raymonde de Laroche, was the first woman to qualify as a pilot, Harriet Quimby was the first licensed and most celebrated American female aviator of her day.

Harriet Quimby with the Moisant monoplane.

Quimby's rise to prominence at the same time Baum began the Flying Girl series sparks the question: to what extent may Orissa Kane have been based on this real-life counterpart? The Delineator magazine of November 1911 reports that Harriet Quimby “is young, good-looking, energetic, ambitious and has lots of just plain, everyday nerve. . . . As she stands at the helm of her bird-craft . . . , it is a question whether the blue of her eye and the rose of her cheek call forth less cheering from the crowd of interested spectators than the fact that the little sky pilot represents the first type of buoyant young American womanhood.” This description could easily fit Baum’s own heroine. On April 16, 1912, Harriet Quimby was the first woman to fly across the English Channel.

Only weeks later, on July 1, 1912, she died while flying in the Third Annual Boston Aviation Meet at Squantum, Massachusetts. William Willard, the organizer of the event, was a passenger in her brand-new two-seat Bleriot monoplane. At an altitude of 1,500 feet the aircraft unexpectedly pitched forward for reasons still unknown. Both Willard and Quimby were ejected from their seats and fell to their deaths, while the plane glided down and lodged itself in the mud.

In the Flying Girl and Her Chum, Baum finally acknowledges the existence of other American female aviators: Blanche Scott, the first American woman to fly an airplane, and Matilde Moisant, who trained at her brother’s New York aviation school with Harriet Quimby.

Blanche Scott in her biplane.

The site of the Kane Hydro-Aeroplane’s launch may have a contemporary counterpart.

Baum’s text states that Stephen Kane’s aircraft hangar is near Glenn Curtiss’s aviation camp on a low bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. In reality Glenn Curtiss’s aviation camp was on North Island in San Diego bay. But there are no bluffs on North Island. However, a location near San Diego closely resembles Baum’s description of the Hydro-Aeroplane’s launch area.

The bluffs at the Torrey Pines Gliderport as they look today.

The Torrey Pines Gliderport perches on the bluffs north of San Diego, adjacent to the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Here on clear days, modern enthusiasts launch gliders, paragliders, and sailplanes to soar high above the Pacific coast. It’s tempting to see in this activity a continuity with Orissa’s fictional flight. At the base of the sandy bluff is San Diego's "clothing optional" Black's Beach.

Unfortunately the Flying Girl series ended after only two titles, though the fault was clearly not in Baum’s writing. The two books are arguably the best non-fantasy novels Baum ever wrote. They are almost completely free of the ethnic stereotyping and slurs that mar his other young adult novels. And Orissa is a strong female character - like Dorothy. Perhaps the books were too ahead of their time. Maybe boys wouldn’t read about a girl hero; and girls weren’t terribly interested in aviation? Reilly and Britton seemed to be carefully trying to find a balance.

In fact, the first-draft manuscript of The Flying Girl and Her Chum proved far too thrilling for the publisher. Sumner Britton in a letter to Baum on May 9, 1912, wrote,"We don’t need to have the second book any more daring than the first—which was very exciting. I read that myself and felt that it carried all the thrills we could possibly stand in a book of this kind. We are shooting at boys and girls from eleven to fourteen and we have to pass muster with their parents, teachers, and librarians.” Baum altered the manuscript.

A third volume in the series, to be titled The Flying Girl’s Brave Venture, was planned, but never appeared. Chum’s year of publication, 1912, brought both Harriet Quimby’s fatal air accident and Matilde Moisant’s retirement from flying after her own fiery crash. Fred Erisman, in The Baum Bugle, speculates that publicity surrounding these events may have caused parents to look on aviation as unsuitable for girls, resulting in poor sales for the Flying Girl books.

In January 1912, Baum wrote to his publisher, Sumner Britton, that a letter from Britton had remained unanswered, "Because I’ve been attending an aviation meet. But I’m through with that now. Saw a man killed yesterday and that settles the thing for me."

Whatever the reason, Baum abandoned the Flying Girl series and in 1913 he restarted his popular Oz series.

Although the Flying Girl series ended after just two volumes, it wasn’t the end of at least one of the characters. In Mary Louise Solves a Mystery (1917), the third of Baum’s Mary Louise books (which were also credited to Edith Van Dyne), Stephen Kane turns up as the owner of a successful flying-machine factory. Orissa’s career as an aviator seems to have subsided, but her oft-stated goal of showing the world the merits of the Kane Aircraft has been achieved; Baum states that “Stephen Kane’s aeroplane was now admitted to be one of the safest and most reliable ever invented.”

And it was all due to the bravery and skill of Orissa Kane - THE FLYING GIRL!

Both The Flying Girl and The Flying Girl and her Chum are available in beautiful reprint editions from Hungry Tiger Press! The Flying Girl is illustrated by award-winning illustrator Eric Shanower, who has also provided a new Foreword for The Flying Girl and Her Chum, which proved invaluable in the preparation of this essay.

The Flying Girl
by L. Frank Baum
Illustrated by Eric Shanower
Click here to order! 

Original halftone plates by Joseph Pierre Nuyttens
5 1/2"x 8 1/2"  - 188 Pages - Hardcover

From the author of The Wizard of Oz comes a high-flying adventure featuring intrepid girl aviator Orissa Kane. Like Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz, Orissa is intelligent, self-reliant, and always persevering.

Circumstances force young Orissa Kane into the air in her brother’s innovative new airplane. But a deadly foe is intent on sending her crashing back to earth. Soar to new heights with the Flying Girl as she braves countless dangers to achieve worldwide acclaim.


The Flying Girl and Her Chum
 By L. Frank Baum
Illustrated by Joseph Pierre Nuyttens
Click here to order!

5 1/2"x 8 1/2"  - 250 Pages - Hardcover
In this high-flying sequel to The Flying Girl, a damaged aeroplane strands brave Orissa Kane and her best friend Sybil on a barren rock somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. The two teenage girls must use all their wits just to survive. Meanwhile, in the best Oz-book double-plot tradition, Orissa's friends form a search party to find the missing girls. Throw in a ragged band of ocean-going outlaws bent on mayhem, and you have one of L. Frank Baum's most exciting non-Oz adventure stories, The Flying Girl and Her Chum

Eric Shanower provides a new Foreword detailing Baum's writing process and the history of women in early aviation including the young female aviator Harriet Quimby, who was likely a model for the Flying Girl!

"Baum had a way of writing juvenile series without writing down to his audience. At his best, his novels are tinged with a certain amount of cynicism--you weren't always sure at first who the good guys were....It can be very refreshing."
-Yellowback Library

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